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Forgotten Figures: 7 Infamous Women in Nazi History

These are the most terrifying and infamous women in Nazi history 

If you’re a follower of our page, then you know that most of the time we focus on writing about Nazi men and famous figures that shaped the Third Reich. However, there were also a couple of female members of the Nazi party who committed (almost) the same terrible acts as the men, and not many people know about them.

First stationed at Ravensbrück, the female concentration camp, these female Nazis supervised female captives (their name means “overseer inside”). Later, when personnel were limited, they were dispatched to other regions within the Third Reich. Many Aufsherinnen were able to ascend to positions of high authority and considerable influence within the Nazi camps as members of the SS (also known as the Schutzstaffel, the Nazi paramilitary corps).

While there was a wide range in the acts of the 3,000–4,000 Aufsherinnen, all of them had comparable origins and ranged in degree of dedication to the Nazi cause. The majority of Augsherinnen were single, worked in factories, on farms, or as bakers, and were able to blend into post-Nazi Germany after the war. On the other hand, the top-level Augsherinnen faced consequences and went on trial for their actions.

Let’s dig deeper into the subject and talk about some of the most infamous women in Nazi history:

Photo credits: Silverside (Sgt) No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Herta Ehlert

We start our list with one of the most infamous women in Nazi history, which is Herta Ehlert. Initially, Herta was a bakery worker and was called up for service to the SS in 1939. She was trained to be a camp supervisor at Ravensbrück. Afterward, she was sent to the Majdanek extermination camp in 1942.

Two years later, she was sent to Auschwitz before working as a guard at Bergen-Belsen. After the war, she faced a trial for war crimes, but to defend herself, she said she never beat any prisoners and tried to intervene whenever other guards did that. Despite her testimony, the jury wasn’t impressed, and she was sentenced to 15 years.

Wanda Klaff

Even though Wanda Klaff didn’t join the Aufseherinnen until 1944, her commitment to her work didn’t change. Klaff had worked in a jam factory before being transported to Stutthoff Concentration Camp, where she supervised the work groups of women.

Compared to Herta, Klaff was straight-up evil in her testimony, saying aloud with a smile, “I am very intelligent and very devoted to my work in the camps. I strike at least two prisoners every day.”

Five more female guards attended the trial, hoping to receive a lighter penalty due to their gender. But luck wasn’t on their side because, in 1946, Wanda Klaff and the other female guards were executed by hanging.

Dorothea Binz

As a little girl, Dorothea Binz moved about a lot with her family, as her father, Walter Binz, was a forester. In the village of Altglobslow, where her family had migrated in the middle of the 1930s, they were seen as outsiders, so when Binz joined the League of German Girls at the age of ten, she discovered a kind of community. Even though Binz had a history of health problems in the late 1930s, including a TB episode, she managed to find employment as a cook. Of course, when the possibility came up in 1939, she accepted the position of guard at Ravensbrück.

Because she was a fast learner, she became the supervisor and trainer of all the new guards. According to various sources, Binz was one of the worst female Nazis because she was violent towards the prisoners, beating and whipping them. She became romantically involved with SS officer Edmund Bräuning, with whom she would often observe the beating of captives.

Although she tried to run away after the war, she was captured and executed in 1947.

Maria Mandel

Maria Mandel had worked at many of the Reich’s concentration camps before taking over as commander of the female guards at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944. In Ravensbrück, she swiftly climbed to the top of the Aufseherinnen ranks throughout her training.

Anyone who crossed Mandel’s path started to fear her. She was accused of treating the prisoners as though they were her pets, forcing them to play “fetch” for her, sending women and children to the death chambers marching on classical music, and, after becoming an Auschwitz-Birkenau supervisor, she started beating the prisoners alongside her subordinates.

She was found guilty of 500,000 deaths and executed in 1948.

Alice Orlowski

There is no doubt that one of the most evil female Nazis was Alice Orlowski. Known as a very violent person, she had a cruel “trademark” which was to beat prisoners with a whip in the eyes. In another “space-saving operation,” she piled young children on top of adults as they traveled to the death chambers.

She was “forgiven” and given a life sentence in place of a death sentence after she eventually showed the inmates some kindness by giving them water. She only served for seven years. In 1975, she and fifteen other war criminals were tried in Majdanek. However, Orlowski passed away in 1976 before the end of the trials.

infamous women in Nazi history
Photo credit: The National Archives UK, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

Elisabeth Volkenrath

Elisabeth Volkenrath (right corner) worked as a hairdresser until she was recruited for the Aufseherinnen SS in 1941. Later in 1942, she was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she would meet her future husband, the SS officer Heinz Volkenrath.

Although she was seen beating imprisoned women at Auschwitz-Birkenau because she supervised a workforce and took part in the process of choosing who would be put in the death chambers, her testimony, after the war ended, was in her words, “I never knew what the selection was for.” Elisabeth was found guilty of war crimes and executed in 1945.

Irma Grese

Around the age of ten, Irma Grese and her younger sister Helene joined the Bund Deutscher Mädel or League of German Girls. Irma was keen to join the party, even though her father detested the Nazis.
She studied in 1939 at Hohenlychen, an SS hospital, where she worked with Dr. Gebhardt, who conducted the majority of his tests on patients since she wanted to become a nurse. She tried her hand at nursing but failed, so she became a machinist. She started training at Ravensbrück at the age of 18.

Irma’s “angelic” appearance was more like a wolf in sheep’s clothing because, according to the Holocaust survivors, she was one of the worst supervisors. She always wore heavy boots, a pistol, and a whip while walking around the camp with two dogs that were trained to kill.

Together with Drechsler and Mengele, Grese made life-or-death decisions during the dreaded selections. She also enjoys using her whip to strike female inmates in the face, making them kneel for hours or carry heavy rocks in their hands.

Her trial ended pretty quickly because she never tried to convince others of her innocence. In 1945, she was sentenced to death by hanging, making her the youngest female Nazi to be executed.

Of course, I couldn’t include all the women of the Third Reich in my article, that’s why I recommend reading further about this topic in the book called Women of the Third Reich: From Camp Guards to Combatants. Available on Amazon for $12.59 for the Kindle version, this book is a fascinating, delightful, terrible, disturbing, and relentless journey into the dark depths of human consciousness. Curious? Order your copy now.

I managed to pitch your curiosity and you want to know more about Nazis? I got you covered for sure! Check out Heinrich Himmler: 7 Least-Known Facts About the Architect of Terror


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