Letter to Irma Grese, originally published in 1945

Reprint of open letter penned by surviving victim addressed to Nazi official, originally published in 'Palestine Post.'

Hall of Names at Yad Vashem 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Hall of Names at Yad Vashem 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Frau Aufseherin Grese,
You are on trial and a Major Winwood is your defence counsel. I am one of your victims, by some stroke of luck, one of the few to survive, and I cannot understand why you, the “terror of Oswiecim,” should have been granted the protection of the law to that extent. You were responsible for the destruction of so many lives, that it is hardly possible that there can be any justification for your deeds, which brought sorrow and torture to so many thousands.
You will no doubt plead that you were under orders, bound to obey the SS formation of which you were a member. But there can be no excuse for the new tortures and forms of persecution which you evolved, no justification for the way in which you gave rein to your beastly sadism.
Justice Must Be Done
We still await the verdict. You may have to face a firing squad or you may be hanged by the neck until you are dead. Even so, your victims will not consider that justice has been done. Only if you are made to suffer as you made others suffer can it be said that justice will have been done.
We, your victims, do not want you to die. We would much rather that you live, as we had to, with billows of filthy black smoke from the chimneys of the crematoria.
We want to see you dragging heavy stones, barefoot and in rags. We want to see you beaten, cruelly and mercilessly, as you, cruel and without mercy, beat us. We want to watch you being jeered at, as you jeered and mocked us in our despair. We want you to go so hungry that you cannot sleep at night, as we could not. We want to see your blonde hair shaved off, as you made us shave our heads.
You, too, must be forced to look on while those who are dear to you are burned to death.
We want to see you, the “handsome girl,” degenerate into a “muselweib”, a bag of skin and bones, through hunger and exhaustion, like those of us who were jeered at and called by this name. You too should be turned over to the “Himmelskommando” who will show you, as they showed us, the “road to heaven” through the gas chambers. Let them push you alive into the furnace of the crematorium, as they did with so many of us.
All these things have been done to countless thousands of us, your victims. Only if they are done to you in your turn will justice have been done. You made us suffer the torments of hell. Now it is our turn to hate you and to cry out for revenge.
“Achtung, Frau Aufseher Grese kommt!” (Attenshun! Warder Grese’s coming). I shall never forget the terror that this command struck in our hearts. I shall remember you as you strutted through the camp in your SS uniform, that enormous dog by your side which you used to love to set on us “just for fun.” I shall always remember your gleaming and elegant jackboots, and the way you kicked us with them.
I was one of thousands. The number they gave me, No. 45554, is tattooed on my arm and will go with me to my grave. There I was, a dirty grey rag tied round my shaved head, wearing the trousers of a Red Army soldier who had been tortured to death, and a ragged shirt, bearing on it my number and a Shield of David.
As you came along, I stood stiffly to attention, though my feet could scarcely bear the weight of my body, emaciated though it was I wore wooden clogs, both for the left foot and far too big. I had to wind rags around my feet – and the rags were torn “tallesim,” the prayer shawls of my religion. The clogs tore at my feet, but the ragged “tallesim” tore at my heart. What did you care about all this? You walked through our lines like a tyrant, your hands gloved so as not to come into contact with us even when you whipped us. Did you never feel the burning hate that smouldered in the thousands of eyes fixed upon you?
By some good fortune I escaped the gas chambers and the “Himmelskommando.” I am alive and free. I look like an ordinary human being again. Even my hair has grown. I wear shoes that fit, socks of the same colour, clean linen and an ordinary frock, without stripes, without a number and without the Shield of David. But on my arm I still carry my prison number – 45554 – for no one and nothing can erase that. I am not ordered to go at the double. I am not guarded by a sentry. I am free to come and go as I will.
Sometimes I wake while it is still dark, thinking for a few brief seconds that I have to be on parade at 6 a.m. But, thanks be to God, those days have gone. I can speak to a man without being whipped to within an inch of my life. And... I again have a name, a first name and a surname. Once more I am “Isabella,” or “Miss Rubinstein.” Only the blue mark on my arm reminds me that I was once No. 45554.
One Example
You are in the dock, Warder Grese, and evidence is being given for and against you. I could fill a book with the list of your crimes. Let me remind you of only one of them, not the worst of them, but typical. Do you remember a day in June 1943? It was at Camp Birkmann, Block 14. On one side of the square the Aryan women were lined up, and on the other, the Jewesses.
Behind us there was a bench where a few women were sitting, so broken in body and spirit that they could not stand on parade. As you passed, one of the poor wretched creatures made an involuntary gesture of fear.
You, Irma Grese, made out that she tried to kick you.
That she, poor victim of the Nazi terror, should have tried to kick you, the mistress of life and death for her, – what a cruel joke! Do you remember what you did to her? You pushed her into the middle of the square, though she could scarcely walk. You made her kneel on the flagstones, made her hold two heavy pieces of rock above her head, made her repeat incessantly “I kicked the Warder! I kicked the Warder!” I was so frightened that I couldn’t count how many strokes of your whip you gave her. Perhaps you remember.
Then your friend Ritter of the SS came along. He began to kick her in the face with his spurred jackboots, until the blood ran. Then you shouted, “Get up, you...” and let the woman go back to her cell.
Two weeks later she was dead.
Our Verdict
You have forgotten all these things. You plead mitigating circumstances as you stand on trial. The eyes of the world are fixed on Lueneburg, awaiting the verdict.
But your victims have already passed judgment on you.
We sentence you to live and suffer as we did, and never again to see the light of freedom.
Schutzhaeftling No. 45554 – (Now again called; Isabella Rubinstein)
View the original article published a1945 edition of The Palestine Post here.