At first, concentration camp guards during the Nazi regime of World War II were male. However, with the introduction of female guards to Auschwitz and Majdanek, a new era began and German officials soon learned that these incoming women were quite good at their jobs. By the end of the war, more than 3,500 women acted as camp guards, making up almost 7 percent of all Nazi guards employed.
With no special training or particular background, these women either volunteered or were recruited through shrewd marketing techniques. Mostly young women and unmarried, or possibly married to a man who worked in the camp. Many felt they were doing their duty to their country.
1. Maria Mandl
Maria Mandl was one of the head guards at Auschwitz, despite her gender, and was known for her cruelty, which aptly earned her the nickname “The Beast”. It’s supposed that she had her hand in up to half a million deaths. While she was unable to climb the ladder in her field to the very top as a woman, she had absolute control over all the female prisoners and the rest of the female employees. She was only forced to answer to one man. Her tactics vary, but tales of her behavior resonated with prisoners.
Many say she would stand at the entry gate and, if any inmate happened to look over at her, that individual would be taken away, never to be heard from again. She also put together an orchestra at the camp and, after regular work hours were over, the prisoners would be forced to march in time to the music. The orchestra often coincided with executions.
After Auschwitz was liberated, Mandl fled to Bavaria. After her capture, she underwent interrogations, and showed high levels of intelligence. She was turned over to Poland, and was sentenced to death by hanging.
2. Irma Grese
Grese was one of Mandl’s inferiors, who also worked at Auschwitz and served as a warden for female prisoners. Her reign, however, was short and she only made it to the age of 22 before being executed for her war crimes. This was still plenty of time for her to earn her own nickname, just like “The Beast” — her boss. Grese became known as the “Hyena of Auschwitz”.
She managed to earn the second-highest rank available to females, and routinely participated in picking which of the prisoners would go to the gas chamber.
Greece’s actions are immortalized in a memoir that was written by one of the camp prisoners. It says that Grese loved to terrify the women in the camps, and that she specifically picked women who were remotely beautiful, sick, or weak.
During her trial, witnesses said she would allow half-starved dogs to attack prisoners; she also enjoyed shooting prisoners and would beat them to death with a whip. In addition, Grese also had several love affairs at the camp, one of which resulted in a surprise pregnancy; she then entrusted one of the prisoners to give her an abortion. After the war was over, she had hoped to pursue a career in acting.
3. Hermine Braunsteiner
Braunsteines was the first Nazi war criminal extradited from the United States. Working at Majdanek, she was known as the “Stomping Mare”.
Her most infamous actions include lifting children by the hair to throw them onto trucks headed to the gas chambers, hanging young girls, and stomping women to death. She became known for her crazy tantrums and could be expected to lash out with a riding whip at the slightest provocation.
As the Soviets approached, Braunsteiner fled to Vienna, then remained jailed for a year. She was later granted amnesty and lived in Austria, under the radar, until she met an American on vacation. They married, moved to Canada and then later to the United States.
No one knew of her past and she became known as a friendly housewife. A Nazi hunter and a reporter ran across her in Queens and exposed her actions. While her husband said he knew of her work, he did not know exactly to what extent her cruelty ranged.
4. Margot Dreschel
Dreschel headed to Poland in 1942 for the new Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration camp. She headed up all the camp offices and soon became known as a horrific sight for most prisoners. She often disguised herself as a doctor and went to conduct indoor selections within the camp. With a trained dog in tow, she would make all prisoners undress, take their shoes and then make them stand for hours, naked.
She frequently went to and from various camps to help with the selection of women and children for the chambers. She fled the camp after Germany’s surrender, and while in the Russian zone, several former prisoners abducted her and took her to the Russian Military Police. She was executed by hanging within the month.
5. Ilse Koch
Koch worked at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp and later at Buchenwald. She is mostly known for her participation in an experiment during which she picked out prisoners with tattoos to be murdered and then skinned. The skins would then be used for study, as one of her colleagues was writing a paper on the relation between tattoos and criminality.
She was arrested in 1943 by the Germans for charges of enrichment and embezzlement, then acquitted in 1944; however, she was arrested again by the U.S. in 1945.
The trial process was not easy, though. During her first trial, she announced that she was eight months pregnant, from one of her many affairs. She was given life in prison and then served two years, before her sentence was lessened to four years, due to lack of evidence. However, she was re-arrested and tried again. Witnesses stated they saw her with human-skin lampshades made from the tattooed skin.
She was delusional and thought that her victims were coming back to harm her. Eventually, Koch committed suicide in her jail cell at the age of 60. Her son, who regularly visited her after being born in prison, was shocked by the news. Now, her body rests in an unmarked grave.