Out of the stories of the World War Two and the evils and atrocities of the Third Reich were born a few ghost stories. Stories of military apparitions dot the European countryside, phantom fliers cruise the skies of the North Sea and spectral paratroopers wander aimlessly on forgotten airfields. War has a tendency to create ghosts as far and flung apart as the ghosts of Gettysburg, Valley Forge and Little Big Horn. In all the ghosts created from the Second World War, no haunting is as mysterious or as obscure as that of Irma Grese.
WHO WAS IRMA GRESE?
Irma Grese was born in Wrechen, Germany on October 7, 1923. She was one of four children of a diary farmer. When she was thirteen, her mother committed to escape an unhappy marriage. Irma was a poor student in school and bullied by her classmates. She was fascinated by the Nazi Female Youth, a fact her father disapproved. She dropped out of school at fifteen and became an apprentice nurse in Hohenluchen.
In 1940, the Labor Exchange stationed her to work at a dairy in Furstenburg. Afterward, she applied for SS Assistant Training and was sent to train at the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. Her father reportedly disowned her after that. Meanwhile, the Third Reich was busy building more concentration camps to hold Jewish refugees, Gypsies, political dissidents, criminals and just about everyone else.
IRMA GOES TO CAMP…AND EXCELS IN CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY ACTIVITIES
By March 1943, Irma was assigned for duty at the Auschwitz near Birkenau, two miles from the original Auschwitz prison and not far from the third Auschwitz at Monowitz. Here, her duties were as a postal clerk, answering phones and the gardening squad, but she completed her training and received the second highest rating as a Senior Supervisor. She was in charge of 30,000 Jewish female prisoners and decided who would be sent to the crematoriums, but by January 1945, she was sent to Bergen-Belsen.
It was here that she was captured by British Armies on April 17, 1945. Irma would be tried along with forty-four people in the Belsen Trial alongside Elisabeth Volkenrath, a female guard from Bergen-Belsen, and Juana Bormann from Auschwitz II Birkenau, for crimes against humanity. She was accused of ill treatment and murder of prisoners, setting dogs on inmates and shootings and sadistic beatings with a plaited whip.
Survivors described murders, tortures, cruelties and sexual excesses in which Grese indulged; she was reportedly lovers with Dr. Josef Mengele and the camp commander. Lamps covered in human skin were found in her barracks. Hardly the picture of one who aspired to be an apprentice nurse, Grese was said to have habitually wore heavy boots and carrying a whip and pistol; she was practically the inspiration of the sadist pulp fiction that inspired later murderers like Ed Gein. Dubbed “The Beautiful Beast,” she was reportedly obsessed with becoming a film star after the war.
IRMA GRESE’S DEATH
Irma Grese was subsequently found guilty of crimes against humanity at both Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen and sentenced to hang. Remaining defiant, she argued she was only following orders; her subsequent appeal was rejected.
On December 13, 1945, Irma was among Volkenrath, Bormann and eight men hanged at the Hamelyn Jail. According to the British executioner, Albert Pierrepoint, Irma’s cell was two small for him to enter with her in it and she was brought out to receive her instructions from him repeated in German by a translator. At 9:34 a.m., she was walked to the execution chamber where she noticed the other soldiers present. According to one story, she “smiled at the MPs mesmerized by her looks and charm.”
The women were hung separately, the men in pairs. Executed only hours after her commandant, she stood on a chalk mark made by Pierrepoint where a white cap was placed over her head, her languid voice uttering one word, “Schnell,” the German word for “quickly.” The drop gave way under her, she crashed down and twenty minutes later, she was taken down and placed in a coffin for burial.
The youngest woman to die judicially under English law, she was buried in the Hamelyn prison yard, but in 1954, she was reportedly moved and reburied in Am Wehl Cemetery. According to legend, her spirit walks not at the prison where she was held nor at Bergen-Belsen where she was captured but back at Krema Three at Auschwitz II Birkenau.
IRMA GRESE’S GHOST – FACT OR FAKED?
German propaganda actress Leni Riefenstahl is described as wanting to make a movie about Irma’s ghost, but the German government threatened to arrest her if she followed through with the idea.
However, as is the case in several ghost stories, the haunting legend does not completely correspond with the historical version. Several points and instances do not match with accounts from Pierrepiont’s personal testimony nor the book, Auschwitz by Teresa Swiebocka and translated by Jonathan Webber and Connie Wilsack.
For one, Irma Grese is said to have sung German folk ballads at night in her cell, supposedly humming these as she walked to the gallows. She was dubbed “Stirb nicht,” or “little singer,” but the correct German translation of “Stirb nicht” is “don’t die.” If the teller of the Irma’s legend doesn”t know basic German, one has to wonder what else he got wrong.
Two: The website, Judicial-inc.biz, used to have a page where they out-lined the general history of Irma’s life and her ghost. However, the photo of Krema Three where Irma’s ghost walked was actually an edited photo of Krema IV from page 69 of the Auschwitz book. It’s cropped much more closely and a tree was edited out, but it’s obviously the same photo. It was also edited a third time to appear boarded and locked up.
Three: The website claims that the hauntings began when the night watchman, Harak Visen, saw Irma’s ghost on January 12, 1948. The Russian caretakers closed off the building than have the legend continue, but in 1992, researcher Heim Lansky lead a team to Krema Three and didn’t make the fright. The Auschwitz book disputes this. It reveals that at the time Irma was recorded as being in Belsen-Bergen that the SS had partially dismantled the crematoriums at Birkenau in order to cover up their atrocities. An aerial photo of the area on page 191 confirms this. By Early 1945, the SS blew up the structures just before deserting camp so by time Irma Grese was hung, there was no Krema Three for her to haunt in the first place or for a watchman to see her ghost, and yet, there’s a photo of a woman between two crematorium machines in a crematorium destroyed years before? How is this possible? How many of the other attributed claims to her legend concerning court-marshaled guards or an original hangman who committed suicide are true?
Irma reportedly claimed she would return from the dead if Samuel Lutzheim, a Jewish hangman, touched her. Irma alledgedly refused her hood and became violent until Lutzheim slapped her repeatedly and forced the rope over her head. Reportedly, he miscalculated the rope and Irma slowly suffocated as she fought the rope for three minutes. None of this is part of Pierrepiont’s testimony, but it does make the legend of Irma’s ghost that much more ghoulish.
According to the Auschwitz book, the Polish Parliament had Auschwitz II Birkenau declared a national monument and set up museum administration to preserve the 150 buildings including the barracks, watchtowers and 250 ruins. The old barracks house displays and exhibitions. Terrifying original artifacts rest behind glass of the proof of the Holocaust. Not one of the crematoriums was rebuilt so there was never a building for a watchman or a researcher to leave in the middle of the night. With this sort of erroneous info about the ghost of Irma Grese, it’s doubtful she was ever seen in the first place, but if she is there, she still has the surviving structures to wander through, possibly along with the poor souls of 75,000 ethnic Poles who met their deaths there.