Female Nazi guards tortured and killed thousands, beat naked women to death & ‘made lampshades from human skin’

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RIDING through the grounds of Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany, Ilse Koch spotted a tattooed prisoner and pointed him out to a nearby guard – sealing his gruesome fate.

Like many of his fellow inmates, the man would be murdered and stripped of his skin – which would be used to make a lampshade in Koch’s home.

Isle Koch in an internment centre after her arrest

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Isle Koch in an internment centre after her arrestCredit: Time & Life Pictures – Getty

Sadistic Koch – known as the “Witch of Buchenwald” – was just one of many women who murdered, maimed and tortured Jewish prisoners in the Holocaust.

Among the 55,000 guards at the concentration camps, 10,000 were women and they were trained to be every bit as vicious as their male counterparts.

Often low paid workers who took the roles to earn more cash, they were trained at the all-women Ravensbruck camp, in Northern Germany, where they became hardened to the cruel torture of inmates and learned to administer punishments with boots, truncheons, whips and riding crops.

Some went on to be involved in administering lethal sterilisation experiments, others helped select victims of the gas chambers, set dogs on young girls and murdered inmates before incinerating their bodies.

This week, a 95-year-old woman was arrested in Germany and charged with complicity in the murders of 10,000 people – the first such case in recent years.

The former secretary, who lives in a care home and is unnamed, had worked at the Stutthof camp near Danzig, in Nazi-occupied Poland. She is “accused of having assisted those responsible at the camp in the systematic killing of Jewish prisoners, Polish partisans and Soviet Russian prisoners of war” between June 1943 and April 1945.

Here we look at the horrendous role these guards – known as Aufseherins, or female overseers – played during the War.

Women prisoners are put to work at Ravensbruck concentration camp

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Women prisoners are put to work at Ravensbruck concentration campCredit: Alamy
A roll call at Buchenwald camp, where Ilse Koch chose her victims

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A roll call at Buchenwald camp, where Ilse Koch chose her victimsCredit: Alamy

Lampshades made from tattooed skin and real human foot

As the wife of Commandant SS Col Karl Koch, Isle Koch’s extreme sadism meant she was as feared as any of the Nazi leaders.

The former librarian, from Dresden, was a keen horsewoman who used stolen cash from prisoners to build an indoor riding arena at the Buchenwald camp, which housed 20,000 slave labourers.

She was known for whipping prisoners with her riding crop as she rode past and, according to some accounts, forcing them to have sex with her.

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Ilse Koch at her trial in Germany in 1950

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Ilse Koch at her trial in Germany in 1950Credit: AP:Associated Press

Ilse also had a deadly fascination for tattoos and, at a later trial for war crimes, witnesses said she selected men with the best body art for slaughter – turning their skin into lampshades and book covers.

Koch told the court the shades were goatskin, and prosecutors at the trial found there was “no evidence” to prove they were human flesh.

But the Buchenwald Memorial Foundation says two credible witnesses, Austrian prisoner Dr. Gustav Wegerer, who ran the infirmary, and Josef Ackermann, a political prisoner and secretary of the camp doctor, confirmed the existence of the lamp.

'Tattooed human skin' found at the house of Ilse Koch after her arrest

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‘Tattooed human skin’ found at the house of Ilse Koch after her arrestCredit: Rex Features
Tattooed swatches are shown at the trial of Ilse Koch

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Tattooed swatches are shown at the trial of Ilse Koch

Wegerer told the trial that in 1941, “a lampshade made of tanned, tattooed human skin was being prepared for Koch” and that she arrived at the infirmary “to choose among the available tanned, parchment-thin human skins, the ones with suitable tattoos, for the lampshade.”

Ackermann, who delivered the lamp, said that its base was made from a human foot and shinbone and the shade had tattoos and even nipples.

The lamp disappeared after the SS leadership found out.

Karl Koch was hanged in 1944, for embezzling millions from wealthy Germans and, in 1950, Ilse was jailed for life in Germany, for war crimes. She committed suicide in 1967.

‘Beautiful Beast’ beat prisoners with whips and belts

Irma Grese beat women to death in the concentration camps

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Irma Grese beat women to death in the concentration camps

Former farmworker Irma Grese had wanted to become a nurse but, at 17, the labour exchange sent her to work at Ravensbrück concentration camp – which held 132,000 women throughout the war.

Rising to the rank of supervisor at 19, she also worked at Auschwitz and Belsen, where she was arrested by British forces in 1945.

At the subsequent trial, liberated prisoners said Grese – dubbed the Beautiful Beast – tortured prisoners both physically and emotionally and enjoyed shooting prisoners in cold blood.

It was claimed that she beat women inmates to death and whipped others to within an inch of their lives using a plaited cellophane whip, a belt and a walking stick.

Survivors testified that she seemed to derive sexual pleasure from her sadistic acts.

A boy walks down a road lined with dead prisoners from the Belsen camp, after its liberation in 1945

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A boy walks down a road lined with dead prisoners from the Belsen camp, after its liberation in 1945Credit: Getty – Contributor

One witness said: “I was working in the kitchen at Birkenau (Auschwitz) when I saw a woman, whose daughter was in an adjoining camp, go to the dividing wire in order to speak to her daughter.

“Grese, who was passing on a bicycle, immediately got off, took off her leather belt and beat the woman with it.

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“She also beat her on the face and head with her fists, and when the woman fell to the ground she trampled on her. The woman’s face became swollen and blue.”

She also personally selected women and children for the gas chambers, on one occasion, in 1944, sending 3,000 to their death.

A narcissist who had numerous affairs with SS officers, she was said to have deliberately chosen women she considered more beautiful than her.

Arrested with Josef Kramer – the Beast of Belsen – Grese was sentenced to death by the British Military Court and, in December 1945, she was hanged.

Trained dogs maul prisoners to death

Juana Bormann set dogs on the inmates

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Juana Bormann set dogs on the inmatesCredit: Alamy

Known, chillingly, as the “woman with the dogs”, Juana Bormann used trained dogs in sadistic attacks on inmates at Ravensbruck and later Auschwitz, where she served under Irma Grese.

Overseeing working parties that left the camp ln slave labour, she would attack women who became too sick or weak.

At her 1945 trial, survivor Dora Silverberg testified that Juana knocked her teeth out when she reported that her friend was “very sick” and couldn’t walk to the working site because she was so weak.

She then ordered her dog, known as the “big, bad, wolfhound” to attack the sick girl, who was sitting on the ground, She later died from the bites.

Another prisoner said Bormann grabbed another female prisoner by the hair, threw her to the ground and ordered dogs to “bite her so severely that she was a mass of blood.” The woman died at the scene.

Found guilty by a British Military Tribunal, she was sentenced to death and hanged on December 13 1945, aged 52.

Vicious beatings and selecting gas chamber victims

Elizabeth Volkenrath selected victims for the gas chamber

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Elizabeth Volkenrath selected victims for the gas chamberCredit: Getty Images – Getty

Often described as one of history’s cruellest women, Elizabeth Volkenrath selected thousands of women and children to be sent to the gas chambers.

On one occasion, she selected 1,100 of 1,400 prisoners present to be sent to their deaths.

She was also notorious for beating inmates unconscious, often with a rubber truncheon, and she once pushed an old lady down a flight of stairs, killing her instantly.

In another cruel punishment – known as “making sport” – she ordered prisoners to strip before making them perform strenuous exercise in full view of other prisoners, before being beaten.

She was sentenced to death, alongside Bormann and Grese, after being found guilty of crimes against humanity.

Threw children into gas chamber lorries by their hair

Hermine Braunstein was known as the "stomping mare"

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Hermine Braunstein was known as the “stomping mare”

The first Nazi war criminal to be extradited from the US, in 1973, Hermine Braunstein was known as the Kobyla – meaning “stomping mare” – because of her tendency to kick women to death with her steel-capped boots.

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At Ravensbruck and Majdanek, Braunsteiner whipped women to death and was said to have “thrown children by their hair onto trucks that took them to their deaths in gas chambers”.

She also personally hanged young female prisoners and beat two women to death with a leather whip.

One survivor, Lila Givner, told her 1978 trial: “Kobyla was tall. She kicked the prisoners and literally walked over people. Kobyla kicked me, and I still bear the scars.

“I met her in the field and did not manage to get out of her way in time. She kicked me so hard that I fell. As I was lying on the ground she kept kicking. While I was standing, she kicked me in my back, causing me to fall. Even then, she continued kicking me, then walked away and left me there.”

Braunstein was sentenced to three years in jail by a British court in 1958 and emigrated to the US, where she married a construction worker.

After being tracked down by Nazi hunter Simon Weisenthal, in 1973, she was retried and jailed for life by a Dusseldorf court. She died in 1989.

Beaten to death for eating peelings

Hertha Bothe was known as the Sadist of Stutthof

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Hertha Bothe was known as the Sadist of Stutthof

Standing at 6ft 3in, Hertha Botte was an imposing figure, who also stood out from other SS guards because she wore civilian clothing instead of the hated uniform.

But the former nurse became known as “the Sadist of Stutthof” due to the vicious beatings she meted out to inmates at the camp, in Nazi-occupied Poland.

The Belsen Trial heard that she beat an 18-year-old girl for eating peelings in the kitchen and, when others protested, she told them, “I will beat her to death.” The girl was later declared dead by camp doctors.

Other witnesses said she beat women to death with wooden sticks and shot at women who were too slow when carrying heavy containers of food.

Bothe was sentenced to 10 years in prison for war crimes. She died in 2000.

Tied naked to a post and beaten

Maria Mandl stripped and beat women "mercilessly"

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Maria Mandl stripped and beat women “mercilessly”Credit: Wikipedia

Austrian Maria Mandl was one of the most notorious SS officers at Auschwitz, where she personally sent over 500,000 female prisoners to the gas chamber.

After beginning her career at the all-female camp, Lichtenberg, the dedicated Nazi used brutality and cruelty to work to her way up to the highest female rank possible, Oberaufseherin, or chief guard.

In a 2017 book, Holocaust survivor Lina Haag claimed Lichtenberg prisoners were stripped naked and tied to wooden posts, where Maria Mandl “would then beat us mercilessly until she could no longer lift her arm.”

Mandl looked for women who had broken the rules by curling their hair and even one single curl would mean a woman was kicked to the ground and beaten around the head, or she would shave their head and parade them around the camp with a sign around their neck that read: “I broke the rules and curled my hair.”

At Auschwitz she would pick kids as “pets”, with one survivor recalling how she dressed one “in fine clothing, parading it around like a puppet” – only to send the child to the gas chamber when she got bored.

In 1945, she was captured by the American forces after attempting to flee to Bavaria.

At the Auschwitz trial in Krakow, in 1947, Mandl was declared a war criminal and was executed by hanging on Jan. 24, 1948. She was 36.

Not all the female guards were monsters – with many sharing food and clothing with inmates at considerable risk to themselves.

But the few that took pleasure from the horrors within the walls of the camps proved the female of the species really can be deadlier than the male.



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