Irma Grese was born to a working class family in the small rural town of Wrechen near Mecklenburg on 1 October, 1923. Her father Alfred was a dairy worker who if not exactly a reluctant Nazi (he joined the Party in 1937) was certainly less than a committed one but the same could not be said for his daughter.
A failure at school where she was regularly bullied and considered somewhat of a dunce she neglected her studies to spend more time with the Bund Deutscher Madel, or League of German Maidens, where she was made welcome and enjoyed the physical outdoor nature of their activities and the fact that she wasn’t required to think.
Her preoccupation with the Nazi’s only increased following the suicide of her mother Berta in 1936, which now saw her increasingly absent from the family home.
Against her father’s wishes Irma left school aged 15, with no qualifications and no real prospects other than short-term low paid jobs and increased Nazi Party activity. She appeared to have no interest and a good marriage seemed out of the question.
She made only one half-hearted attempt at self-improvement when she applied to train as a nurse but her application was declined and so she continued to do casual jobs punctuated by periods of sustained unemployment which at least gave her more time to spend with her Nazi friends.
German women were expected to remain at home, their contribution to the Third Reich was to have children and be good homemakers, as a result unemployment among single young women was particularly high.
In July 1942, according to Irma, she was sent against her will by the Labour Exchange to work at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, though it would appear unlikely that someone as enthusiastic a Nazi as Irma would be quite as disinclined to work for the SS as she made out.
Her new employers were impressed enough with her that in March 1943, they transferred her to Auschwitz where she very quickly rose to be a senior guard. For a woman whose life up to that point had been one of disdain and no little abuse to wield such control over the female prisoners under her charge was something she had never experienced before, and she reveled in her new power.
She very soon became notorious for both brutality and sexual sadism roaming the Camp in her SS uniform, carrying a whip, and accompanied by her dogs. In this manner she terrorised the 30,000 mostly Jewish women she was responsible for.
Some of the inmates later testified that she indulged in physical, emotional, and sexual torture often screaming orders, regularly beating prisoners for the merest infraction of the rules, or threatening to set her dogs upon them. She would also force many of the younger prisoners to strip naked and perform sexual acts upon each other while she looked on. This she did for her own gratification, like making the women cry or to see them naked shivering in the cold. If they refused to comply she was inclined to shoot them out of hand.
Irma was to remain at Auschwitz for the duration of the war and as the Allies closed in on the Camp she made no attempt to flee or hide. She was taken into custody by the British in April 1945, after being pointed out to them by some of the prisoners. And it was following their testimony that it was decided to try her for murder.
Surly and bitter throughout the Court proceedings Irma denied any wrongdoing and showed little if any remorse declaring that she had been made to work at the Camp under duress and that not to do so would have meant her own execution.
She was not the only one of many Nazi war criminals brought to trial who found the oft-repeated mantra ‘I was only obeying orders’ was no defence.
She was found guilty and sentenced to hang.
Defiant to the end as the noose was placed around her neck she simply cried – Schnell! Schnell! No doubt the same words she had so often screamed at her prisoners.
Irma Grese died unrepentant of her crimes on 13 December 1945. She was just 22 years of age.
Ilse Koch was born Ilse Kohler, in Dresden on 22 December 1906, the daughter of a factory foreman and was by by all accounts a happy and contented child raised in a stable middle-class home who worked hard at school and was popular with her fellow pupils.
After leaving school she trained as a bookkeeper and worked for a local accountancy firm where she became interested in politics joining the Nazi Party in 1932 and regularly attended local Party meetings; and it was at one of these meetings she met her future husband, Karl Otto Koch, an SS Officer.
During 1941 she worked briefly as a secretary at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp before being transferred to Buchenwald where her husband was soon to be made Commandant.
For a time Ilse was happy to play the role of the dutiful hausfrau but soon began to enjoy her new found status as the Camp Commandants wife and began to play an ever greater role in the running of the Camp. No doubt with her husband’s approval she was promoted to SS Aufscherin, or Overseer.
By all accounts Ilse Koch was a violent and callous brute of a woman who intoxicated with power regularly beat prisoners senseless and enjoyed riding her horse through the Camp striking out with her whip at anyone who dared hamper her progress. But her love of violence, it would seem was only bettered by her passion for collecting -in particular her collection of household artefacts made of human skin.
To help facilitate this passion she would select prisoners with extravagant tattoos for execution. Their skin would then be removed, tanned and made into items for her personal use such as lampshades, gloves and book covers. She was known to have used a handbag made of human skin and liked to decorate her home with the shrunken skulls of her victims.
In 1943, Ilse and Karl Koch were arrested by the Gestapo for embezzlement of funds. Found guilty Ilse was sentenced to a year in prison whilst her husband was executed by firing squad. Upon her release she went to live with relatives.
If she thought that imprisonment by the Nazi’s and her absence from the Concentration Camps during the closing years of the war would serve to protect her from justice she was to be mistaken – the Beast of Buchenwald would not be so easily forgotten.
On 30 June 1945, she was arrested by the Americans and tried at the War Crimes Tribunal being found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. Her lawyers worked hard on her behalf however, and pleading lack of evidence she was released just four years later.
But freedom for Ilse was to be short-lived for such was the outcry in a Germany trying to come to terms with its recent past that the she was now arrested by the local Authorities, retried, and again sentenced to life imprisonment.
She could not cope with prison and found little solace in the many lovers she took. Often physically ill and emotionally unstable she hanged herself in her cell at Alcharch Prison in Bavaria on 1 September, 1967.