Female guards were generally middle to low class and had no work experience, and their professional background varied: mentions former matrons, hairdressers, street car ticket takers, opera singers, or retired teachers. Volunteers were recruited by ads in German newspapers asking for women to show their love for the Reich and join the SS-Gefolge (an SS cousin organisation for women).
Additionally, some were conscripted based on data in their SS files. TheHitler Youth acted as a vehicle of indoctrination for many of the women 3. A head female overseer, Helga Hegel referred to her female guards as "SS" women at a post war hearing. She placed the SS in quotes because the women were not official members of the SS, but many of them belonged to the Waffen-SS.
Only less then twenty women were true SS members because Hitler's SS corps did not allow regular women members. The few women guards who belonged to the SS (as close as they could) served in the camps. Other women belonged to the Death's Head Units such as Therese Brandl and Irmtraut Sell.
At first, women were trained at Lichtenburg (1938). (Some sources say that some women were trained in 1936 at Sachsenhausen, including Ilse Koch, but no record of this has ever been found.) After 1939, women were trained at Ravensbrück camp near Berlin. When the war broke out, the Nazis built other camps in Poland, France, Holland, Belgium and most other countries they occupied.
The training of the female guard was similar to that of the male SS guard. The women took classes which ranged from four weeks to half a year, taught by the head wardresses. (Near the end of the war little training was given-if at all.) Former SS woman, Hertha Ehlert who served at Ravensbruck, Majdanek, Lublin, Auschwitz, and Bergen Belsen described her training at the Belsen Trial as "physically and emotionally demanding." (Brown, 2002)
The trainees were told about the corruption of the Weimar Republic, how to punish prisoners, and how to look out for sabatoge and work slow downs. Dorothea Binz, head training overseer at Ravensbruck after 1942 trained her female students on the finer points of malicious pleasure. (Brown, 2002) One survivor at a camp stated after the war that "the Germans brought a group of fifty women to the camp to undergo training.
The women were seperated and brought before the inmates. The woman was then told to hit her [a prisoner]. Of the fifty women, only three asked the reason why they had to hit the inmate; only three asked the reason why, and only one refused, which caused her to be put in jail herself. The rest of them quickly got into the swing of things, which they had been warming up for their whole lives for."
Many women survivors commented after the war that the only thing the female guards had to claim their superiority by was their uniform. As the 1996 story about the former Ravensbruck and Belzig female guard, Margot P. commented, "Heavy leather boots, a blouse with a tie. That is what the custodians [SS women] wore at the women's KZ Belzig ."
This was, in fact the uniform of female guards in the majority of the women's camps. Female guards also wore a military style visor hat, and some wore a cape. Kitty Hart took the coat of a captured SS woman after she was liberated from the Salzwedel subcamp, and had the buttons cut off. Later she told her story to aUS officer who asked her where she had gotten her coat from. The man looked shocked when he heard that it was an SS woman's coat: "All that time when we were freezing, some of us to death, we hated those vicious bitches in their wind proof, water proof coats. And now I have one for myself."