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Staff From the Nazi Concentration Camps
Many of the staff from the Nazi concentration camps were arrested and tried for murder and acts of brutality against their prisoners after World War II. Some 3,600 women worked in the concentration camps and around 60 stood trial for before War Crimes Tribunals between 1945 and 1949. Of these 21 were executed and their cases are detailed below. (In total, 5,025 men and women were convicted of war crimes in the American, British and French zones and over 500 of these were sentenced to death, with the majority executed.)
It was decided that those sentenced to die should suffer death by hanging for both sexes, although no standard execution protocol was agreed. Each country carried out executions in accordance with its normal procedure. This led to the use of British style measured drop hanging in private, for those executed in the British sector, short drop hanging in public or private for those in the Polish and Russian sectors and standard drop hanging in semi-private for those executed by the Americans at Nuremberg, Dachau and Landsberg. Some of the American hangings were televised and shown on the news. No women were executed in the US Sector.
Executions under British jurisdiction.
A total of 190 men and 10 women were hanged at Hameln Prison (near Hanover) in Germany under British jurisdiction. The executions were carried out by Albert Pierrepoint who was flown in specially on each occasion. Generally he was assisted by Regimental Sergeant Major O'Neil who was a member of the Control Commission there. The hangings took place in a purpose built execution room at the end of one of the prison's wings. The gallows having been specially constructed by the Royal Engineers to allow the execution of prisoners in pairs.
Belsen Concentration Camp staff.
Bergen-Belsen was started as late as April 1943 in Lower Saxony near the city of Celle as a transit centre. It was turned into a concentration camp by its second commandant, SS-Hauptsturmführer Josef Kramer, and was used to house those prisoners who had become too weak to work as forced labour in German factories. It was liberated by the British army on April 15th, 1945. The British soldiers found 10,000 unburied corpses and 40,000 sick and dying prisoners of whom a staggering 28,000 subsequently died after liberation.
As a result of these atrocities, 45 former members of staff from Bergen-Belsen, including some inmates who had taken part in acts of brutality against other prisoners, were charged with either being responsible for the murder of Allied nationals or the suffering of those in Bergen-Belsen in Germany (first count) or Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, (see below for details of this camp) (second count). Some defendants were charged with both counts.
The accused comprised of 16 men and 16 women, including Josef Kramer, Belsen's commandant, plus 12 former prisoners (seven men and five women).
The Belsen Trial as it was known was conducted by the British Military Tribunal at No. 30 Lindentrasse, Lüneburg, in Germany from September 17th to November 17th, 1945 under court President Major-General H.M.P. Berney-Ficklin, sitting with five other officers. The prosecution was in the hands of a team of 4 military lawyers and each prisoner was represented by counsel. All the prisoners were tried together and sat in the large dock, each wearing a number on their chest.
On the afternoon of November 16th the verdicts were delivered. Thirty one prisoners were convicted on one or both counts and 14 acquitted of all charges. Irma Grese and Elisabeth Volkenrath were found guilty on both counts, Juana Bormann guilty only on the second charge. The following day the sentences were read out to the prisoners. Eleven of them were sentenced to death and 19 others to various terms of imprisonment.
The death sentences were pronounced as follows by Major-General Berney-Ficklin:
"No. 1) Kramer, 2) Klein, 3) Weingartner, 5) Hoessler, 16) Francioh, 22) Pichen, 25) Stofel, 27) Dorr. The sentence of this Court on each one of you whom I have just named is that you suffer death by being hanged".
He then passed sentence on the women as follows "No. 6) Borman, 7) Volkenrath, 9) Grese. The sentence of this court is that you suffer death by being hanged." Click here for photos.
The sentence was translated for them into German as "Tode durch den strang," literally death by the rope. All the prisoners were returned to Lüneburg prison. Nine of the eleven condemned appealed to the convening officer, Field-Marshal Montgomery, who rejected their appeals for clemency. Elizabeth Volkenrath and Juanna Borman decided not to appeal. On Saturday the 8th of December the appeals of the others were rejected and the condemned were transferred to Hameln jail the following day to await execution, being housed in a row of tiny cells along a corridor with the execution chamber at its end. The 11 from Belsen had been joined by two other men, Georg Otto Sandrock and Ludwig Schweinberger, sentenced for the murder of Pilot Officer Gerald Hood, a British prisoner of war at Almelo, Holland, on the 21st of March 1945.
The executions were set for Friday, December the 13th, 1945 and were to be carried out at half hour intervals starting at 9.34 a.m.
Irma Grese, who at 21, was the youngest of the condemned prisoners, followed by Elisabeth Volkenrath at 10.03 a.m. and Juana Bormann at 10.38 a.m. The men, including Joseph Kramer, were hanged in pairs afterwards, all 13 executions being completed by 1.00 p.m. In view of the proximity of the condemned cells to the gallows, each one of them must have heard the preceding hangings. I have read contemporary newspaper reports stating that Elizabeth Volkenrath was executed first, with Irma Grese second but this does not accord with Albert Pierrepoint’s recollection of the events.
For a detailed account of Irma Grese's case click here and here for Juana Borman’s
Elisabeth Volkenrath was 26 years old. She was convicted of numerous murders and made selections for the gas chamber. She was described as the most hated woman in the camp. Juana Borman was known as “the woman with the dogs” and took sadistic pleasure in setting her wolfhounds on prisoners to tear them to pieces.
The afternoon before execution each prisoner was weighed so the correct drop could be calculated for them. Irma Grese smiled at Pierrepoint when he asked her age. Elisabeth Volkenrath was steady but looked nervous and Juana Borman limped down the corridor looking old and haggard.
Ravensbrück concentration camp.
Ravensbrück concentration camp near Furstenberg in Germany was the only major Nazi concentration camp for women and also served as a training base for female SS supervisors. Some 3,500 women underwent training there. They then worked in Ravensbrück or were sent to other camps. The camp was established in 1938 and liberated on April 30th, 1945 by the Russian Army. The estimated number of victims there were 92,000!
Sixteen members of the staff of were arrested and were tried between December 5th 1946 and February 3rd 1947 by a court in the British zone on charges of murder and brutality. All were found guilty on Monday, the 3rd of February 1947, except one, who died during the trial. Eleven were sentenced to hang, including five women, head nurse Elisabeth Marschall, Aufseherin Greta Bösel, Oberaufseherin Dorothea Binz and Kapos Carmen Mory and Vera Salvequart.
41 year old Mory cut her wrists during the night of April 9th with a razor blade she had concealed in her shoe and thus escaped the noose. She was buried within the prison grounds. Swiss born Mory was unusual in that she had worked as a spy for the French, the Nazis and finally the British before and during the War and had been sentenced to death by each in turn but always managed to dodge her execution, by good fortune on the first two occasions. She was a prisoner in Ravensbrück, having been reprieved by the Nazis, and here she made the most of her situation by becoming a Kapo and spying on other prisoners and assisting the staff. Due to a shortage of personnel, the SS frequently used prisoners (Kapo’s) to supervise other non German inmates.
On the 2nd of May 1947, Albert Pierrepoint hanged the remaining three women, one at a time starting with Elisabeth Marschall who was nearly 61 years old, followed by 39 year old Greta Bösel at 9.55 a.m. and then by 27 year old Dorothea Binz.
Elisabeth Marschall had been born on the 24th of May 1886 and became a nurse in 1909. She rose to the rank of Oberschwester (Head Nurse) in the Revier (hospital) barracks at Ravensbrück. Here she maltreated sick prisoners and also took part in horrific experiments. She also made selections for the gas chambers.
Greta Bösel was born on May 9th, 1908 in Elberfeld, Germany and was a trained nurse. She went to work in Ravensbrück in August 1944. Her job was to supervise female working teams. She is supposed to have said: "Let them rot if they can't work." During her trial, she made contradictory statements about her role in selecting prisoners for the death camps.
Dorothea Binz had been born on the 16th of March 1920 in the town of Dulstarlake and had never married. She had joined the staff of Ravensbrück in April 1939 and worked as an Aufseherin in the women's camp before being promoted to Oberaufseherin. She was arrested inHamburg in May 1945 and came to trial at the first Ravensbrück trial.
The third woman, 28 year old Czechoslovakian born Vera Salvequart had not been an SS guard, but rather a prisoner herself in Ravensbrück. She was born on the 26th of November 1919 in Wonotsch and had trained as a nurse. She had also served several periods in prison. She claimed to have stolen plans for the V2 rocket and passed these to Britain. She was sent to KZ Ravensbrück in December 1944 and as a Kapo worked as a nurse in the camp's hospital wing. Here she was said to have administered poison in form of a white powder to some of the patients although most survived.
Vera Salvequart petitioned the King for a reprieve in view of her passing secrets to the British. She was granted a stay while this was considered but the Royal prerogative of mercy was withheld and on the 26th of June 1947 she followed the other three to the gallows, her body being buried with the rest in the grounds of Hameln prison. Click here for photos.
The third Ravensbrück trial, the so called "Uckermark trial", was held between April 14th and April 26th 1948 to hear the cases of five women officials from the Uckermark concentration camp and extermination complex. This was a satellite camp that housed girls aged 16 – 21. Two of the women were acquitted, two received prison terms but Ruth Closius was condemned to death.
Ruth Closius, (married name Neudeck) was born in July 1920. She had belonged to the SS guard staff of Ravensbrück and had worked there in various capacities from the 3rd of July 1944, including work in the punishment barracks in late 1944. She was promoted to Oberaufseherin (senior supervisor), at Uckermark in early 1945 and worked there until the camp was liberated. She was convicted of the torture and murder of men, women and children and of selecting prisoners for the gas chambers. She was hanged on the 29th of July 1948.
The seventh series of Ravensbrück trials was held between July 2nd and July 21st, 1948 to hear the cases of Aufseherin accused of maltreatment of prisoners and making selections for the gas chambers. Two of the six were acquitted, two given prison terms and two sentenced to death. These were 60 year old Emma Zimmer, nee Menzel, and 36 year old Ida Bertha Schreiber (or Schreiter) who were hanged on the 20th of September 1948. No other women were executed as result of the other Ravensbrück trials although others received death sentences which were later commuted to prison terms.
The bodies of the first 93 executed up to 1947 were originally buried at Hameln but transferred to Wehl cemetery in 1954. The bodies from the later 127 executions were interred directly at Wehl.
Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
Auschwitz was established in May 1940, on the orders of Heinrich Himmler, on the outskirts of the town of Oswiecim in Poland. The Germans called the town Auschwitz and this became the name of the camp. It was expanded into three main camps, Auschwitz I, Birkenau, Auschwitz II - Monowitz and had some 40 satellite camps. Initially, Auschwitz was used to house Polish political prisoners, Soviet prisoners of war and gypsies. From June 1942, it was used as an extermination camp for European Jews who were killed in the gas chambers at - Birkenau. It is thought that around one million people died in this camp. It was liberated by the Red Army on January 27, 1945.
The trial of the staff who had been captured took place at Krakow in Poland in the autumn of 1947 and concluded on the 22nd of December of that year. Twenty one defendants, including ex-commandant Liebehenschel, and two women, Maria Mandel, head of the women's camp and Therese Rosi Brandel, were condemned to death by the Supreme People's Court in Krakow.
SS-Oberaufseherin Maria Mandel, a 36 year old blonde, was born at Munzkirchen in Austria in January 1912 and joined the SS in 1938. From October 1938 to May 1939, she was Aufseherin at KZ Lichtenburg and then from May 1939 to October 1942 she was Aufseherin in KZ Ravensbrück. She then transferred as an Oberaufseherin to KZ Auschwitz where she worked until the 30th of November 1944. She was moved on to KZ Mühldorf where she continued until May 1945. Her arrest came on August 10th, 1945. She was reported to be highly intelligent and dedicated to her work. The prisoners, however, referred to her as "the beast" as she was noted for her brutality and enjoyment in selecting women and children for the gas chambers. She also had a passion for classical music and encouraged the women's orchestra in Auschwitz. The orchestra were kept busy playing at roll calls, to accompany official speeches, to welcome transports and at hangings. Click here for photo.
Therese Rosi Brandel been born in Bavaria in February 1902 and began training at Ravensbrück in 1940. She worked as an SS Aufseherin in KZ Ravensbrück before transferring to Auschwitz in 1942 and then to the KZ Muehldorf (a satellite camp of Dachau). She beat her prisoners and made selections for the gas chambers. In 1943, she received the war service medal for her work there. She was arrested on the 29th of August 1945 in the Bavarian mountains. Click here for photo of her.
On January 24th, 1948, all twenty one prisoners were executed in groups of five or six within the Montelupich prison in Krakow. The hangings commenced at 7:09 a.m. with Maria Mandel and four male prisoners, Artur Liebehenschel, Hans Aumeier, Maximilian Grabner and Carl Möckel. Each prisoner in turn was made to mount a simple step up. When they were noosed, this was removed leaving them suspended, slowly strangling to death. The four men were hanged one at a time, followed by Maria Mandel. It is reported that it was 15 minutes before they could be declared dead.
A second group of five prisoners, all men, were hanged at 7.43 a.m. with a further five men following them at 8.16 a.m. The final group comprising of five men and the other condemned woman, Therese Brandl, went to the gallows at 8.48 a.m. Again, they were hanged one by one and were certified dead 15 minutes later.
After execution, the 21 bodies were all taken to the Medical School at the University of Krakow for autopsy and as specimens for the students to practice anatomy on.
A further woman to be hanged at Krakow was 46 year old Elizabeth Lupka. (Click here for photo of her) She was born on the 27th of October 1902 in the town of Damner and married in 1934. The marriage was childless and soon ended in divorce. From 1937 to 1942, she worked inBerlin in the aircraft industry before becoming an SS Aufseherin in the KZ Ravensbrück. From March 1943 until January 1945, she worked in the KZ Auschwitz Birkenau. She beat her prisoners (women and children) and participated in the selections for the gas chambers. She was arrested on the 6th of June 1945 and brought to trial on the 6th of July 1948 at the district court in Krakow where she was convicted of war crimes and sentenced to death by hanging. She was executed on the 8th of January 1949 at 7.05 a.m. in the Montelupich prison in Krakow. Her body was also taken to the Medical School at the University of Krakow for use as an anatomical specimen by the medical students.
Margot Drexler (also given as Dreschel) was another SS Aufseherin in Auschwitz who was particularly feared by the women inmates, whom she beat and starved to death. She had last worked at the Ravensbruck subcamp of Neustadt-Glewe. After the war, she tried to escape but was caught in Pirma-Bautzen in Czechoslovakia in the Russian zone in May 1945 and hanged in May or June of that year in Bautzen. Maria Mandel told her trial that Drexler had made selections for the gas chambers.
Stutthof Concentration Camp.
Stutthof concentration camp, 34 km. from Danzig , was the first concentration camp created by the Nazis outside Germany, in September 1939. From June 1944, Stutthof became a death camp as part of Hitler's programme of exterminating European Jews. It expanded rapidly over its five year life and had many satellite camps. This expansion required a commensurate increase in staff and local people with Nazi sympathies were recruited.
Altogether some 110,000 men, women and children were sent to Stutthof. It is estimated that as many as 65,000 of these were put to death in the gas chamber or by hanging or shooting, while many died of disease and ill treatment.
The camp was liberated by the Russians on May 10th, 1945 and the Commandant, Johann Pauls, and some of his staff were put on trial by the Polish Special Law Court at Danzig between April 25th and May 31st, 1946. All were represented by counsel. Eleven of the defendants, five women and six men, were found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to death. These were Johann Pauls, SS-Aufseherins Jenny Wanda Barkmann, Elisabeth Becker, Wanda Klaff, Ewa Paradies, Gerda Steinhoff and five other men who had been Kapo's in the camp. Click here for photo of them in the dock.
They had all pleaded "not guilty" to the general charge of war crimes and the women did not seem to take the trial too seriously until the end. After the sentence, they appealed for clemency but these appeals were rejected by the Polish president.
Thus all 11 were publicly hanged before a large crowd, estimated at several thousand, at 5.00 p.m. on July 4th, 1946 at Biskupia Gorka hill near Danzig. A row of simple gallows had been set up in a large open area, four double ones with a triple gallows in the middle. A fleet of open trucks brought the prisoners to the execution ground, their hands and legs tied with cords. The trucks were backed under the gallows and the condemned made to stand on the tailboards or on the chairs on which they had sat. A simple cord noose was put round their necks and when the preparations were complete, each truck was driven forward leaving them suspended. They were not hooded and given only a short drop, and as can be seen from the photos, some of them struggled for some time after suspension. It is alleged that one man and two women (un-named) struggled and fought with their guards prior to being hanged, although the others seemed to accept their fate calmly. The whole event was recorded by official press photographers, hence the clarity of the pictures. Click here for photo.
Twenty four year old Jenny Wanda Barkmann was thought to be from Hamburg and was nicknamed "The Beautiful Spectre" by the camp inmates who considered her to be a ruthless killer. She was arrested in May 1945 at a railway station near Danzig trying to escape. At her trial she is reported to have flirted with her male guards and wore a different hairstyle each day. She is reported to have said after being condemned: "Life is a pleasure and pleasure as a rule is a short distance".Click here for photos.
Elizabeth Becker was not quite 23 years old and had been born locally on the 20th of July 1923 at Nowy Staw near Danzig. She had married in 1936 and had been a member of the NSDAP and the BDM from 1938 to 1940. She worked in agriculture from 1941 to 1944 in Nowy Staw and joined the staff of Stutthof in September 1944 becoming an SS Aufseherin in SK-III Stutthof (the women’s camp) where she made selections for the gas chambers. After she was condemned, she submitted an appeal for commutation of her death sentence to the Polish president. The court recommended the commutation and substitution of a 15 year term of imprisonment because she had committed far fewer and less dreadful crimes than the others. The president, Boleslaw Bierut, however, rejected this request and she was executed with the rest of the women. Click here for photos.
Wanda Klaff (nee Kalacinski) was of German origin but had been born in Danzig on the 6th of March 1922. When she left school in 1938 she initially worked in a jam factory, leaving in 1942 to get married to one Willy Gapes and becoming a housewife. In 1944 Wanda joined the staff at Stutthof satellite camp at Praust, moving later to Russoschin sub-camp. She contracted typhoid and was hospitalised in Danzig where she was arrested on the June the 11th, 1945. It would appear form the photos that Wanda, unlike the other four, was hanged by a woman, rather than a male former camp inmate. Click here for photos.
Gerda Steinhoff was 24 and also from Danzig. She worked on a farm in Tygenhagen and later in a baker's shop in Danzig until 1944. She married in January 1944 and had one child. She went to work for the SS at Stutthof in October 1944 and was quickly promoted to Oberaufseherin at KZ Danzig (a satellite of Stutthof). In January 1945, she moved to KZ Bydgoszcz (another satellite camp) where she remained until it was liberated. She received the “Iron Cross” for her wartime efforts. Click here for photos. She was arrested by Polish police on the 25th of May 1945.
Ewa Paradies was born at Lauenburg, (now Lebork) in Poland on the 17th of December 1920 and had various jobs after leaving school in 1935. She joined the staff of Stutthof SK-III in August 1944 and was trained as an Aufseherin, being transferred to the Bromberg-Ost subcamp of Stutthof in October 1944 and returning to Stutthof in January 1945. She was arrested in May 1945 at Lauenburg. Click here for photos.
There are records of at least three other women who were executed.
Else Lieschen Frieda Ehrich, who had been the women's camp commandant at Majdanek concentration camp, was hanged on the 26th of October 1948 in the prison at Lubin in Poland. Click here for photo.
Ruth Elfriede Hildner was tried by the Extraordinary People's Court in Písek, Czechoslovakia on the 2nd of May 1947 and hanged six hours later, presumably using the pole hanging method. She had been a guard at Zwodau, a subcamp of Flossenburg, in Czechoslovakia.
Sydonia Bayer. Virtually nothing is known about this woman other that she trained at Ravensbrück and was tried and hanged in Poland.
One can only wonder, looking back from 50 years later what turned these women into virtual monsters. Was it their total belief in the rightness of Hitler's policies or did they possess a latent sadism or perhaps a mixture of both? It is terrifying the acts that people can commit when they are out of control and have no fear of the consequences. I suspect that these women thought that Germany would win the war and that they would rise in the regime. Typically, they viewed their prisoners as "dreck," the German for rubbish and as sub-humans. Therefore, the prisoners' lives and feelings were completely irrelevant, and it was just a simple matter of controlling them through fear and brutal repression. One wonders too whether they just became inured to the continuous acts of cruelty. Many of the people tried for war crimes insisted that they were just carrying out orders from above but this doesn't really ring true, either now or to the judges at their tribunals, when one looks at the acts of sadism that they visited on their prisoners.
It is easy to have sympathy with the young women from Stutthof, whose unnecessarily cruel executions were so well documented, but one must remember what they did. As a young soldier said to Pierrepoint on the eve of the hangings of the Belsen women, "if you had been in Belsen under this lot, you wouldn't be able to feel sorry for them." (Pierrepoint had expressed some sympathy for the prisoners.)
Had it not been for the war, one suspects that these women would most probably have lived normal lives with jobs, husbands and children.
It is notable that in many cases it was quite junior people who were caught, tried and in some cases executed. A lot of the more senior ones were able to escape justice. However, the Commandants of many of the concentration camps were caught and in most cases given the death penalty.
The execution of Women by the Nazis During World War II
This is a tribute to the amazing courage of so many young women during World War II who were put to death for plotting and fighting against the Nazis, as resistance fighters, partisans and activists in towns and concentration camps.
It is estimated that more than 4,000 women of various ages were hanged by Nazi forces between 1939 and 1945. Many more were shot or guillotined and many were tortured before minimal or non-existent trials. They could be sentenced to death by People's Courts and executed within prisons, by the commandants of concentration camps or by military commanders in the field and summarily executed, usually in public. Some of these "field" executions were documented and photographed. A lot of the photographs were private snaps taken by individual soldiers and discovered after they had been captured or killed. Hanging was the preferred method for the execution for partisans as it produced more of a public spectacle than shooting and was used to terrorise the local populace as well as entertain the troops. Guillotining within prisons was used for German citizens convicted of treason and other offences after trial by the People's Courts.
Executions in the field.
A gallows was used when the Nazis wanted to make a particular example of the prisoner and these were usually crude and simple structures that did not have a trapdoor or drop. They typically consisted of just a post with a short beam projecting from the top cross braced to the upright. Trees or balconies were also used as was any other structure that was available, e.g. the roof beams of a barn.
Prisoners were never hooded and rarely blindfolded. Their hands were normally tied behind their backs with cord but their legs usually left free. They were given little or no drop, partially to prolong the pleasure of the soldiers and because their cruel and slow deaths would act as a stronger deterrent to the local people who were often made to witness the event. Typically a thin rope was used, fashioned into a simple slip knot. It was not unusual for prisoners to kick and struggle after suspension and to lose control of their bladders and bowels. The bodies could be left hanging for several days as a grim reminder to others. In cold weather, they were sometimes left hanging for a week while in summer they would be taken down sooner, perhaps two to three hours after the hanging.
Masha Bruskina was a Russian teenage female partisan. She was a 17 year old Jewish high school graduate and was the first teenage girl to be publicly hanged by the Nazis in Belorussia (Belarus), since the German invasion of Soviet Union on the 22nd of June 1941. Her execution and that of the two men hanged with her took place on the 26th of October 1941 in the city of Minsk. In the photos of her, you will see that she has blond hair, but her natural colour was dark. She dyed her hair when she started to work for the underground. Witnesses to her hanging, testified that Masha struggled hard and lost control of her bladder and bowels. After hanging for three days, she and the men were taken down and only when her body was traditionally washed before her burial by local people and members of her family, did her dark hair show up. She worked as a nurse in a military hospital and was a member of an underground cell which aided Soviet officers hospitalised there to escape and join the partisans. The members of this cell were informed on and quickly rounded up. Masha and two of her male comrades, Volodya Sherbateivich and Krill Trous, were sentenced to death. They were led through the streets with Masha wearing a large placard proclaiming that they were partisans and hanged one at a time, Masha first, by the 707 Infanteriedivision, who meticulously filmed the proceedings. Click here for photographs.
Zoya Anatolyevna Kosmodemyanskaya & Vera Voloshina.
Zoya Kosmodemjanskaja was another Russian partisan. She was born on the 14th of September 1923 and belonged to the Diversionsabteilung no. 9903 of the Soviet secret police (NKVD), which ran some 400 agents.
On the night of the 27th of November 1941, Zoya, together with two comrades, set fire to a building in the village of Petrischtschewo nearMoscow. German soldiers quickly caught one of them - Wassilij Klubkow. Under interrogation he betrayed Zoya. She was arrested and tortured before being sentenced to hang.
Eighteen year old Zoya was executed near Moscow, on the 29th of November 1941. Round her neck was hung a sign describing the reason for her execution. Just before she was pushed off the stack of boxes they had placed under the simple gallows, she told the soldiers, "You can’t hang all 190 million of us." Her partly clothed body was left to rot in the snow. Click here for photographs.
During Zoya's interrogation, she used the name of Tanya (a popular Russian first name) as an alias and her real name was only discovered much later. Even in the newspaper article, where her execution was described in full detail, the author calls her Tanya. Zoya adopted this name from a woman called Tanya (last name unknown) who was one of the heroes of Civil War in Russia (1918-1922) and had been hanged by the White Guards. Zoya was posthumously decorated a Hero of the Soviet Union as was her brother, Shura, for his service in the Red Army tank corps. Vera Voloshina served in the same partisan group as Zoya and was described as a pretty 23 year old blonde. She had been wounded in the shoulder during a gun fight with German soldiers and captured. After torture, Vera Voloshina was also publicly hanged, later the same day.
Soviet partisan Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya was hanged by the Wehrmacht for sabotaging buildings behind German lines near Moscow.A statue of Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya stands vigil over Moscow’s World War II-eraPartizanskaya metro station. Image used with permission.
One of the most famous Soviet war heroines and the first woman decorated as Hero of the Soviet Union during World War II,the 18-year-old had quit school to volunteer for a partisan unit only a few weeks before her hanging as Russia mobilizedagainst Hitler’s race towards Moscow.
Known simply as “Tanya”, thenom de guerre which was the only information she volunteered during two days of torture, the power of the press offered her apotheosis into a propaganda coup for the Kremlin, and a symbol of courage that would long outlive Stalin. Before the public execution, the Nazis paused to photograph the scene; Kosmodemyanskayaavailed the lull to harangue the Germans — “you can’t hang all 190 million of us!” — and call on the Russian villagers present to resist occupation.
Her bayoneted body hung on the gibbet until the Red Army recaptured the village; witnesses related the tale of her dying heroism to a newsman.
It was only after the story of “Tanya” hit the press in January 1942 that her identity was established … and then promulgated widely. Anonymous and obscure in death, Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya would inspire millions and become the heroic emblem of other women partisans.
Klava Nazarova was hanged in 1942 and is one of the three women who were later made Heroes of Soviet Union. The other two were Zoya (above) and Maria Kislyak (see below).
Klava was born in 1918 and was 24 when she died. She was said to be quite an attractive girl. Klava was a Komsomol member and when the Germans occupied her town of Ostrov in Russia in 1941, she and her friends organised an underground resistance squad. On November the 7th 1942, Klava and another girl, Nura Ivanova with two young men, Nikolai Mikhailov and Konstantin Dmitriev, and the parents of another organisation member, husband and wife Nadezhda and Ivan Kozlovskiy, were all arrested. After torture, they were each sentenced to death.
The Nazis made a big show of the hangings to intimidate the town's people. On December the 12th 1942, a wooden gallows was erected in the town square of Ostrov and the townsfolk were forced to watch the proceedings. The executions were carried out in three parts.
Klava and Nura were first to suffer. The girls were led out and the soldiers hoisted Klava onto a stool beneath the beam. She was wearing a light grey coat without a hat or scarf and her hands were tied behind her back. The executioner put the noose around her neck and one of the officers took pictures of her. A moment before the stool was removed from under her feet, Klava, screamed to the crowd: - Farewell! We'll win! We... The next moment she was hanging. Nura was then hanged beside her.
From Ostrov a procession of soldiers went to the next village, Nogino. The executioners stopped at a barn in Nogino and put up two nooses on a crossbeam. Here they hanged Ivan and Nadezhda Kozlovskiy. Nadezhda was said to have been almost unconscious before she hanged.
The final pair of this series of executions took place in the village of Ryadobzha where Nikolai Mikhailov and Konstantin Dmitriev were hanged together.
Maria Kislyak was born in March 1925, in the village of Lednoe in the Kharkov region of the Ukraine. The village had been occupied by the Germans during 1943. Maria and her school friend, Fedor Rudenko, who were both Komsomol members, hatched a plan to murder a German officer as an act of revenge for the cruelty inflicted by the Nazis on the local people. The plan was for 18 year old Maria, who was very pretty, to make friends with a German Lieutenant. She suggested to this man that they went for a walk in the countryside to which he naturally agreed. Outside the village, Fedor was waiting for them and came up behind the soldier and hit him over the head with an iron crowbar. Maria was arrested the next day and violently beaten during her interrogations but maintained her innocence throughout. As they could not prove anything, they finally let her go.
Several months later, Maria and her friends murdered another officer in the same way. This time the Germans arrested nearly 100 inhabitants as hostages and declared that they would execute them all if the murderers didn't come forward. The following day Maria and her friends gave themselves up to the Gestapo and confessed to the murder. Maria claimed that she was the leader of the group.
On June the 18th, 1943, Maria, Fedor Rudenko and their comrade Vasiliy Bugrimenko (both 19) were publicly hanged on the branch of an ash tree.
Three nooses dangled from the branch each with a box under it. The prisoners were made to step up onto the boxes, the executioner noosed them and then boxes were kicked out from under their feet leaving them to slowly strangle to death.
Click here for photograph.
Seventeen year old Lepa Radic was also publicly hanged from the branch of a tree, in Bosanska Krupa in Bosnia in January 1943, for shooting at German soldiers. She was made to stand on a large chest, her hands were tied behind her and she was noosed with a thin cord. The chest was pulled away leaving her suspended. Click here for photographs.
The reasons for executing young girls in public were several fold. They were viewed as terrorists by the Germans (which in a sense they were), the hangings served as a grim example to the local population - if the Germans would hang a teenage girl then they would hang any adult, and finally that the executions provided a morbid entertainment for the soldiers.
Lots of men were hanged too and many men and women were shot. But hanging was always preferred for young girls for the reasons above. Many of these young people met their deaths with amazing courage. They were very brave anyway to do the things they did against the Nazis. Many of them also demonstrated a strong streak of defiance - they were not going to let the hated enemy soldiers see them cry or break down. I am sure they were very frightened - knowing that they would have a cruel and degrading death in public but they resolved to hide their fear. The last words of several of them indicate this defiance. I think there may well also have been a sense of martyrdom. They would have seen the appalling treatment of their people by the Nazis and decided to avenge it and didn't mind dying for what they believed in, having done so.
Executions in the concentration camps.
Every concentration camp had a gallows and these were used to make an example of prisoners who had tried to escape or committed certain offences against the camp rules or members of staff. It was normal for all the camp inmates to be paraded and made to watch the hangings. In addition to hangings, many prisoners were shot and Auschwitz had a "death wall" where these executions were carried out. Click here for photographs. Guillotining was not used in the camps and the gas chambers were not seen as a method of execution but rather as a method of extermination.
Roza Robota & Ala Gertner.
Roza Robota was a Polish Jew who was an underground activist in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. She was a member of the Birkenau Sonderkommando. In 1944, this group planned an uprising in the women’s camp at Auschwitz. The plan was to blow up one of the crematoria which it was hoped would lead to a general uprising in the camp.
Using dynamite that had been smuggled in stick by stick by girls who worked in the ammunition factory, they managed to blow up Krema IV (Crematorium 4) on October the 7th, 1944.
Ala Gertner, was a 32 year old married woman, who also became part of the resistance movement in the camp and recruited Estera Wajcblum and Regina Safirsztajn because they had access to explosives. They passed whatever they could steal to Ala, who transferred it to Roza, who in turn, gave it to other members of the Sonderkommando in preparation for the operation.
Roza and her three comrades, Ala, Regina Saperstein and Estera Wajcblum were arrested, interrogated and condemned for the theft of the explosives. All four went to the gallows on January 6th, 1945. They were led out and made to stand on folding chairs placed under the beam. Once they had been noosed and their death sentences read out to the assembled inmates, the chairs were taken away and they were left suspended. Roza's last word prior to her execution was, "Nekama!" Revenge! She enjoined the other inmates to "Be strong, have courage".
Twenty two year old Mala Zimetbaum was another Polish Jew who been interned at Auschwitz. She was the first woman to escape from the camp but she and a young soldier named Edek, who absconded with her, were soon caught and returned to Auschwitz. Both were sentenced to hang in front of the assembled inmates. She was led out and mounted the gallows but while her sentence was being read out, she slashed her wrists with a razor blade she had concealed up her sleeve. As the guards tried to take the blade from her, Mala slapped one across the face with her bloodied hand and yelled, "I fall a heroine and you will die as a dog." She was not hanged but bled to death, dying on her way to the crematorium on a handcart pulled by women prisoners. Mala's story became a legend at Auschwitz as a symbol of courage and defiance.
Click here for photographs of these brave women.
There is eyewitness testimony of how a female guard named Braunsteiner ordered a 14 year old girl to be hanged in one concentration camp. An SS man was told to get a stool so the girl could step up into the noose dangling from a simple crossbeam gallows. She had the man ask the girl in her own language if she understood that she was going to be hanged. The girl said she understood it but didn't cry or scream. Moments later the stool was removed leaving her hanging.
Executions in Berlin's Plötzensee prison.
Plötzensee prison in Berlin was designed by architect, Ludwig Alexander Herrmann, and was constructed between 1869 and 1879 to serve as the new state prison. It occupied a plot of 62 acres with a six meter high perimeter wall. Within the walls were five three story prison buildings which were originally designed to hold 1,400 prisoners. These buildings, together with the workshops, other smaller buildings and a church, were separated by open courtyards creating a totally self-contained environment for the inmates. It can still be visited and there is a memorial centre to those who died there.
In the years 1928 to 1932, the number of executions in the whole of Germany had dropped to two or three a year but with the rise of the National Socialist party in 1933, there was a sudden increase in the application of the death penalty. Before 1933, only murder and high treason were capital crimes and in Berlin, beheading (with the axe) was the only lawful method of execution. (Other states used beheading with the axe or the guillotine). One of the last executions by the axe in Plötzensee were those of the Baroness Benita von Falkenhayn and her friend Renate von Natzner , who were convicted of spying and beheaded by the executioner, Carl Gröpler, on the 18th of February 1935. In all, 45 people were beheaded in the prison courtyard between 1933 and 1936. Only 36 had been beheaded here in the period 1890–1932, all for murder.
There were 64 executions in Germany in 1933, 79 in 1934, 94 in 1935 and 68 in 1936.
When Hitler came to total power, he decided that criminals and those who opposed his regime should suffer death by either guillotining or from 1942, hanging, and he ordered the construction of 20 guillotines. Hitler also greatly increased the list of capital crimes. Between 1933 and 1944, a total of 13,405 death sentences were passed. Of these, 11,881 were carried out. In 1940 alone, some 900 German civilians were put to death. In 1941, the minimum age for execution was reduced to just 14 years.
The execution rate had risen to over 5,000 by 1943. Between 1943 and 1945, the People's Courts sentenced around 7,000 people to death. In the first few months of 1945, some 800 people were executed, over 400 of them being German citizens.
Condemned prisoners were kept in a large cell block building (House III) directly adjacent to the execution building. They spent their final hours shackled in special cells on the ground floor, which was known as the ”house of the dead,” before being led across a small courtyard to the execution chamber which was located in a separate two roomed brick building. Plötzensee's guillotine was delivered on the 17th of February 1937 from Bruchsal prison in Baden. In late 1942, a steel gallows beam was erected in the existing execution chamber, and originally had five, later eight hooks, for attachment of nooses. The two execution areas were separated by curtains.
Between 1933 and 1945, some 2,891 people were decapitated or hanged in this building. Many of them were opponents of Hitler's National Socialist government. They had been sentenced to death by the People's Courts, having been found guilty of various offences against the regime. Some of them had belonged to Communist resistance groups, others to the Harnack/Schulze-Boysen Organization (the Red Orchestra), and still others to the Kreisau Circle. On the 20th of July 1944, an attempt was made on Hitler's life by a group of army officers led by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg. The attempt failed, and between the 8th of August 1944 and the 9th of April 1945, a total of 90 people were executed in Plötzensee for their parts in the conspiracy. For a list of their names go to http://www.gedenkstaette-ploetzensee.de/13_e.html
Initially Roettger, the executioner, normally came twice a week and carried out his work in the early evenings. Guillotinings could be carried out at three minute intervals. Hangings were notably cruel, the prisoner was led in with their hands tied behind them and made to get up onto the two step step-up, the executioner following them and placing the thin cord slip knot around their neck. They were not hooded or blindfolded. The executioner got down and simply pulled the step-up from under them leaving them suspended with little or no drop. Second and subsequent prisoners had to witness the struggles of the first before it was their turn. On the night of the 7th–8th September 1943, 186 prisoners were hanged in groups of 8 at a time to prevent their escape from the prison following heavy damage by an Allied bombing raid in which the guillotine was destroyed. A further 60 were to be hanged over the next few nights.
Some individual cases.
Liselotte “Lilo” Hermann was a 29 year old German student. She passed information she had received from Artur Göritz about Hitler’s secret rearmament program and the production of armaments in the Dornier plant in Friedrichshafen and about the construction of an underground munitions factory near Celle to the Central Committee of the German Communist Party in Switzerland. She was arrested in December 1935 and finally sentenced to death for high treason by the “People’s Court” in Berlin on the 12th of June 1937, becoming the first woman to be condemned for this offence by the Third Reich. She was guillotined together with her accomplices, Stefan Lovasz, Josef Steidle, and Artur Göritz, on the 20th of June 1938.
Mildred was born Mildred Fish in Milwaukee USA on September 16th, 1902. In 1926, she married Arvid Harnack, whom she met while studying literature at Wisconsin University. In 1929, she and her husband moved to Berlin where she was a lecturer at the university. They became friends with Martha Dodd and were often invited to receptions at the American Embassy where she met many influential Germans. When the war started, Arvid and Mildred supported the resistance movement against the Nazi regime through their friendship with Harro Schulze-Boysen and the spy ring known as "The Red Orchestra". On September 7th, 1942, she was arrested and taken to Gestapo headquarters. At her trial in December 1942, she was sentenced to six years in prison for "helping to prepare high treason and espionage". On December 21st, Hitler rejected the sentence and ordered another trial which took place in January 1943 and resulted in a death sentence. At 6.57 p.m. on February the 16th, 1943, Mildred Harnack was guillotined, becoming the only American woman to be executed for treason in World War II. (By September 1943, all 51 members of the “Red Orchestra” had died, two by suicide, eight on the gallows and 41 by guillotine, including Harro Schulze-Boysen and his wife Libertas on the evening of the 22nd of December 1942).
Eva was a bookseller and also worked for the Schulze-Boysen-Harnack resistance group. She was arrested on October 10th, 1942 for passing messages to French slave workers in factories. On February 3rd, 1943, she was sentenced to death by the People's Court and was reportedly hanged on August the 5th of that year. (It is more likely that she was guillotined, however, as this was the normal method for women.)
Cato Bontjes Van Beek.
Cato was born in 1921 and grew up in Bremen, the daughter of an artist. In 1942, she joined the resistance group and spy ring "Rote Kapelle" but left after only six weeks because of disagreements within the group. When the German authorities investigated the group, her name was discovered and this was enough evidence on which to arrest her, charge her with treason and sentence her to death. She was guillotined in the early evening of August the 5th, 1943.
Elizabeth Charlotte Lilo Gloeden was a 31 year old Berlin housewife, who with her mother and husband, helped shelter those who were persecuted by the Nazis, by hiding them for weeks at a time in their flat. Among those they took in was resistance leader, Dr. Carl Goerdeler and the Mayor of Leipzig. Elizabeth, her mother and husband, were all arrested by the Gestapo, and subjected to torture under interrogation. OnNovember 30th, 1944, all three were guillotined at two minute intervals.
Gertrud was 28 years old at the time of her execution and was a nurse and social worker. She had been born in Berlin and served for a time in the Nazi Labour Corps. She was arrested in 1944 for helping Jews to escape Nazi persecution and for "defeatist statements designed to undermine the moral of the people". She was tried before the People's Court in Potsdam and executed on the 12th of January 1945.
Thirty one year old Ilse Stöbe worked for the German Foreign Secretary during World War II and was also involved with "Rote Kapelle”. In the spring of 1942, she warned the Soviets about the planned attack on Russia but was ignored by the Soviet leaders. Her warnings were intercepted by the Gestapo and she was arrested and charged with treason. She was guillotined at 8.27 p.m. on the evening of December 22nd, 1942.
Sophie Scholl – guillotined in Munich.
Sophie Scholl was a 22 year old philosophy student at Munich University and she, her older brother Hans and his friend, Christoph were members of an anti- Nazi organisation called The White Rose. They were caught helping to distribute an anti-Nazi pamphlet in the university and were taken to Wittelsbach Palais, where they were interrogated for four days by they Gestapo before coming to trial on February the 22nd, 1943. They were quickly found guilty and sentenced to death. All three were guillotined by Johann Reichhart in Munich's Stadelheim prison within hours of the verdict on that same day. Sophie was taken to the guillotine first and reportedly walked to her death "without batting an eyelash". Her last words were "Die Sonne scheint noch," which translates as "The Sun still shines." She is buried in the Perlach Cemetery next to the prison.
Click here for a photo of Sophie.