Infamous Guards

Brutal and sadistic women obviously overshadowed the presence of their ‘ordinary’ peers, then and now. They not only commanded attention among the prisoners who were on the receiving end of their cruelty, they attracted notice of their superiors, and were duly rewarded for their ‘efforts.’ These were the women who were assigned nicknames by the prison population, and thus became singled out and separated from the homogenous group of female overseers,” (Partee, 6).

While there were over 3000 female guards, a small percentage of those were so extreme that they stand out in the memory of prisoners and guards alike.  These women have become infamous for their war crimes, and serve as examples of the brutality that women can become a part of. Often times it seems that because women are expected to be more naturally more nurturing and caring than men we are especially shocked and appalled by the acts of these female perpetrators.

Maria Mendel

imagesMendel was aptly nicknamed “the beast” by those prisoners she guarded. She is believed by many to have been at least partially responsible for the deaths of more Jewish inmates than any other female camp guard (Cline).  Mendel conducted selections and was personally responsible for possibly as many as 500,000 deaths.  She liked to have “pet Jews,” little children who she would pamper and then dispose of at whim.  She is a confusing character, as one testimony speaks of her sending a hungry little girl to go get more food from the supply office.  This random act of kindness is in stark contrast to actions like setting her dogs on prisoners so they were forced to run to their deaths at the electric fences.   In 1944, Mendl received a Military Cross of Merit Second Class for her service to the Nazi state, and was eventually arrested in 1945 by American authorities.  She was tried for her war crimes and executed in 1948 (Sarti).

Dorothea Binz

34905586_123728602744Binz worked at Auschwitz and was accused, and found guilty of many acts against the female prisoners she guarded. Included in the list are many acts of sexual violence. Binz was said to have supervised gas chamber operations, shootings, starvations, and freezing of prisoners (Bergoffen and McNeely, 26-27). One report says that she chopped a prisoner to death with an axe. 

Ilse Koch

220px-Ilse_KochKoch was actually the wife of Karl Koch, who was a high–powered guard at Buchenwald. Ilse Koch used this position of power to torture and harm prisoners without actually becoming a guard. Perhaps the most disturbing anecdote about Koch is her collecting the tattoos from the skin of female prisoners, and subsequently using them to decorate her house. She received a life sentence after the war (Bergoffen and McNeely, 26-27).

Herta Bothe

220px-Bothe_hertaConsidered one of the more disturbing cases available for study is that of this nurse turned camp guard at Bergen – Belsen. She is described as “sadistic” and “inhumane” by former prisoners, but was only sentenced to ten years imprisonment after the war. Bothe’s is an especially strange case because not only was she supposed to be a nurse for prisoners among others, but also that she couldn’t admit to having made a mistake long after the war was over (Alvarez).