Sick world of 'Hitler's handmaidens'… including 'nurse' who slaughtered 70 a DAY (2024)

FOR Hitler, the women of Nazi Germany had one sole purpose - motherhood.

Their motto was to be Kinder, Kuche, Kirche - children, kitchen, church - to create the perfect home and sanctuary for their men and to produce as many children as possible for Hitler’s dream of an Aryan race.

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But when war broke out, those women needed to leave their kitchen sinks and nurturing roles to return to work in munitions factories and farms, while well-to-do girls from well-off families were given office work.

For some women, though, their roles in Hitler’s Third Reich were to be far more sinister. They were to become Hitler’s she-devils, willing to follow any order, no matter how horrific.

From the secretaries who typed up death lists, to medics who betrayed their solemn oath to care for the sick and dying, to women who poisoned, beat and mutilated without remorse, these women were all instrumental in keeping Hitler’s killing machine running at full speed.

A new Sky History documentary, Hitler’s Handmaidens, now looks at the role the Fuhrer’s females played in the war and how society has struggled to reconcile the terrifying brutality of these women, so much so that very few of them were ever brought to justice.

When American soldiers liberated the Ravensbruck concentration camp for women, they saw evidence of unimaginable atrocities.

But one person in particular haunted the survivors. They told of a “beast masquerading as a human”— female doctor Herta Oberheuser.

Historian Wendy Lower explains: “She’s been assigned to experiments to test the effects of wounds on the human body. If they can see how a wound that’s inflicted by shrapnel is going to affect an ordinary German soldier and all the ways that could be treated.

"She’s putting sawdust in there, putting glass shards, putting various chemicals and rubbing that in.

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"Of course, these so-called kind of procedures are done with no anesthetic. There, the prisoners are conscious. It’s torture, it’s sad*stic.”

Prisoners had tried to document all they could, and footage taken on a smuggled camera was later used at the Nuremberg war crime trials.

Five skeletons with hands and feet missing discovered at ‘Wolf’s Lair’ home of Hitler crony Herman Goring

There were bones broken with hammers, limbs cut off and transplanted onto other prisoners, all done without anesthetic.

She would even beat pregnant prisoners to cause miscarriages before killing their newborns.

At her trial, she argued she had tried to give her patients care, but she was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to two years in prison.

But she was released early and, unbelievably, resumed her medical practice before she was identified by a former prisoner and was shut down. She died peacefully in her 80s.

Psychologist Anna Motz says: "The idea that someone who was trained as a physician, a doctor, taking a Hippocratic oath like Herta Oberhauser could go into the camps and start to do hideous experiments on people shows us something about the success of the Nazi ideology.

"That the greatest duty is not to your medical profession or your sense of moral good, but it’s your duty to the party and your duty to further the cause of Nazism.”

'Career killer'

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In late 1939 Hitler turned his attention to euthanasia in the pursuit of racial purity. His sinister secret T4 programme was an opportunity for him to murder anybody who they thought of as disabled.

The name T4 is an abbreviation of Tiergartenstraße 4, a street address of the department who recruited personnel for the sickening campaign.

Victims were taken to the Grafeneck Castle near Stuttgart and were murdered by the nurses who were meant to care for them using lethal injections of morphine.

Pauline Kneissler was one of the nurses hand-picked to make the castle an efficient killing site.

She would travel to different institutions with a list of names and then bus them back to the castle and murder them.

“Pauline Kniessler became a career killer,” says Wendy Lower. “She killed on average between 1939 and 1945 seventy people a day. Mostly children.

"She moved around different facilities. She was transferring her expertise to these different facilities.”

Experts have differing theories on why she became a cold-blooded killer - maybe a hatred of communism after her family lost their money in the Bolshevik revolution, or that she had been seduced by years of Nazi indoctrination.

At her post-war trial she confessed: “We didn’t feel very good about it but we had no moral reservations.”

Auschwitz in stats

• 1.3million people were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camps.

• 1.1million of those were murdered.

• The majority of people sent there were Jews. They made up 90% of all deaths.

• 865,000 people were gassed on arrival.

• People who were not gassed were starved or beaten to death.

• 802 prisoners tried to escape - 144 were successful.

• Freight trains delivered people from all over Germany.

It was at Grafeneck that the Nazis trialled gas as a means of murder for the first time, before rolling it out to the concentration camps.

Kniessler said at trial that she found the gassings frightening but said they were “not really all that bad” because, she reasoned, “death by gas doesn’t hurt".

At her trial in Frankfurt in 1948, she was sentenced to just four years in prison and then continued to work as a nurse until her retirement in 1963.

Psychologist Anna Motz believes that in the 1940s and '50s, the gender of women involved in war crimes was instrumental in them receiving lenient or shorter sentences.

“Because, again, the prevailing view that women can’t be violent, that women don’t have agency, that if they’re cruel, it’s only under the coercion of man it’s a myth,” she says.

“But it’s a pervasive one. So the women’s participation in Nazi brutality was rendered invisible or really only focused on just a few cases, when in fact it was far more pervasive.”

'Hyena of Auschwitz'

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There was one woman whose crimes were so brutal and sad*stic that the Nuremberg judges had no choice but to order her execution. - Irma Grese.

Known as the Hyena of Auschwitz, she had a reputation for stomping on prisoners or setting her attack dogs on them.

She was the lover and accomplice of the camp’s ‘Angel of Death’ Josef Mengele, helping him with the selections where prisoners were chosen for monstrous medical experiments or sent to the gas chambers.

As well as her affair with Mengele, Grese was also believed to have had flings with male guards, and it was alleged she even raped female prisoners.

But after her arrest, she was unrepentant for her part in the atrocities, saying it was their duty to exterminate anti-social elements so that Germany’s future could be assured.

“Irma Grese was one of the most sad*stic concentration camp guards,” says Motz. “Known to be sexually sad*stic, as well as just generally.

"And yet, at her trial, she’s rolling her eyes, smiling, acting as though this is a matter of great indifference to her.

"It’s very interesting to know about that because it makes me wonder, was there such a dissociation in her, such a disavowal of her own aggression?”

'Stomping Mare'

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Despite Irma Grese’s death penalty, most of the female concentration camp guards escaped justice, and many went on to live long and happy lives.

One of these was Hermine Braunsteiner, the woman known as the “Stomping Mare” - a camp guard at Majdanek who liked to stomp on prisoners and was known for her particular sad*stic tendencies.

She married an American in her native Austria after the war and moved to the US. However, she was later discovered living in New York and was extradited.

Hermine stood trial in Dusseldorf in 1975 alongside other guards in what would become the longest and most expensive trial in West Germany.

In 1981, nearly 40 years after her crimes, she was convicted of direct participation in the murders of 80 people, abetting the murder of 102 children and collaborating on the murder of 1,000 people.

She was sentenced to life in prison but was released on health grounds in 1996. She died three years later, having lived more than half a century longer than her victims.

Motz says that to continue their lives after the war, these women would have had to live in a state of denial.

“Women who took part in the Nazi machinery, like Hermine Braunsteiner, did re-enter society, and in many ways, the kind of denial of their perpetration and their roles helped them to feel that they could simply reintegrate,” she explains.

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“They would have shut away the horrors that they had perpetrated.”

Hitler’s Handmaidens is on Sky HISTORY every Tuesday at 9pm

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Sick world of 'Hitler's handmaidens'… including 'nurse' who slaughtered 70 a DAY (2024)
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