May 23, 2013 by calamity3039
I became interested in the Holocaust a few years ago. I had learn about it in school, but not much of a detailed picture of the horrors of the camps. Most history teachers just talk about the persecution of the Jewish people. Certain parts are left out of the conversation. Largely how the camps started and evolved to become mass slaughter factories. There had been many genocides before the Holocaust, but none of them compare. The Nazis were the first and only to take the practices of factory efficiency to mass kill.
It has been debated how many German people knew about the kill factories. I suspect most knew about them from seeing Jews disappear from their communities. They knew they were removed from society, but I doubt they knew that they were being exterminated on such a large scale. For the most part, ordinary citizens were shielded from the actual camps. Some who lived nearby the camps saw the ash clouds from the crematoriums, but nearly none of the locals saw the inside the camps. The Nazis were very selective of those who would be allowed to work in the camps.
One of the most notorious female guards in Aucshwitz was Irma Grese. She was one of the many guards who selected upon arrival which people were to be sent to the gas chambers. Her selections meant death more then any of the other guards. She had worked her way up in the camp in only one year. Her power gain in that one year held the same sway as Dr. Mengele. She was one of the very few female guards to reached that status.
Before being trained as a guard she had spent two years trying to become a nurse. When the Labour Department refused to allow her to become a nurse, she trained as a guard instead. Over the course of two years she would become one of the most murderous and demented guards. A lot of people became guards in the camp because of no other options. Most took the same path towards brutality. Working in the camps transformed ordinary citizens into the most callous murders.
Towards the end of the war Grese was sent to the camp Burgen-Belsen. In the early months of 1945 an outbreak of Typhus plagued the camp. Due to unsanitary conditions 35,000 people died of the disease. The deaths in the camps were too vast to dispose of the bodies in a timely matter. Most prisoners lived in the same quarters with the dead. Many more died because the spread of disease became more rapid in these conditions. One of the most now famous inmates that died at the time was 15 year old Anne Frank. She died one month before the liberation of the camp.
The liberation of Bergen-Belsen was the first of the Americans. It was the first camp that then General Eisenhower and General Patton witnessed personally. They were disgusted by what they saw upon entering the camp. That quickly turned to fury against the guards and the local towns people. By force the Generals made every person in the local town enter the camp. They force every man and woman were to witness what had been happening in their backyard. It wasn’t until that moment most people could confirm what had been suspected. The mayor committed suicide then next day.
The time to be vengeful towards the towns people ended quickly. They had too many people to bury to waste time punishing the towns people. They had even less time to give aid and nurse back to health the prisoners. The Generals made the remaining guards bury the dead themselves. It took quite a few days to dig the mass graves. During this time the BBC first reported on the liberation of the camp. It was the first camp to be toured by the media. The Generals insisted on the world witness these crimes against humanity.
The Belsen Trial was the first war crimes trial of Nazi Germany. It was the first ever war crimes trail against persons not in the military. All the guards who had been at the camp during the liberation were accused of crimes against humanity. The testimonies of surviving inmates were horrifying for most to hear. Irma Grese became the focal point of the trial. Not just because of the extent of her crimes, but it was unheard of at the time for a woman to commit these depraved acts.
“The accusations against her centred on her ill-treatment and murder of those imprisoned at the camps, including setting dogs on inmates, shootings and sadistic beatings with a whip. Survivors provided detailed testimony of murders, tortures, and other cruelties, especially towards women, in which Grese engaged during her years at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. They testified to acts of sadism, beatings and arbitrary shootings of prisoners, savaging of prisoners by her trained and allegedly half-starved dogs, and to her selecting prisoners for the gas chambers. Grese was reported to have habitually worn heavy boots and carried a whip and a pistol. Witnesses testified that she used both physical and emotional methods to torture the camp’s inmates and enjoyed shooting prisoners in cold blood. They also claimed that she beat some women to death and whipped others using a plaited whip.’
All the guards were convicted of war crimes and hanged:
“… we climbed the stairs to the cells where the condemned were waiting. A German officer at the door leading to the corridor flung open the door and we filed past the row of faces and into the execution chamber. The officers stood at attention. Brigadier Paton-Walsh stood with his wristwatch raised. He gave me the signal, and a sigh of released breath was audible in the chamber, I walked into the corridor. ‘Irma Grese’, I called.
The German guards quickly closed all grills on twelve of the inspection holes and opened one door. Irma Grese stepped out. The cell was far too small for me to go inside, and I had to pinion her in the corridor. ‘Follow me,’ I said in English, and O’Neil repeated the order in German. At 9.34 a.m. she walked into the execution chamber, gazed for a moment at the officials standing round it, then walked on to the centre of the trap, where I had made a chalk mark. She stood on this mark very firmly, and as I placed the white cap over her head she said in her languid voice, ‘Schnell’. [English translation: 'Quickly'.] The drop crashed down, and the doctor followed me into the pit and pronounced her dead. After twenty minutes the body was taken down and placed in a coffin ready for burial.“
Irma Grese had been hanged two months after her 22nd birthday. All the horrible crimes she had committed were between the ages 19-21. Most historians speculate that it not been for the war, Grese would have been just some dumb farm girl. She probably would have just married and had children. History would have never known her name.