Herta Bothe was a German concentration camp guard during World War II. She was imprisoned for war crimes after the defeat of Nazi Germany and was subsequently released from prison early on 22 December 1951 as an act of leniency by the British government. She was 6ft 3in, which must have been quite intimidating for the prisoners.
In September 1942, Bothe became the SS-Aufseherin camp guard at the Nazi German Ravensbrück concentration camp for women. The former nurse took a four-week training course and was sent as an overseer to the Stutthof camp near Danzig (now Gdańsk). There she became known as the “Sadist of Stutthof” due to her merciless beatings of female prisoners. On other accounts he was also known as the “Sadist of Bergen-Belsen.”
At the age of 24, she accompanied a death march of women from central Poland to Bergen-Belsen. At the Belsen trial, she claimed that she had stuck prisoners with her hand as a means of discipline but never used an instrument to do so, nor did she claim to have killed anyone. She was sentenced to ten years in prison and is still alive today. In a rare interview she said:
“Did I make a mistake? No. The mistake was that it was a concentration camp, but I had to go to it, otherwise, I would have been put into it myself. That was my mistake.”
That was an excuse former guards often gave. But it was not true. Records show that some new recruits did leave Ravensbrück as soon as they realised what the job involved. They were allowed to go and did not suffer negative consequences.
The Allied soldiers forced her to place the corpses of dead prisoners into mass graves adjacent to the main camp. She recalled in an interview some sixty years later that, while carrying the corpses, they were not allowed to wear gloves, and she was terrified of contracting typhus. She said the dead bodies were so rotten that the arms and legs tore away when they were moved. She also recalled the emaciated bodies were still heavy enough to cause her considerable back pain. Bothe was arrested and taken to a prison at Celle.
At the Belsen Trial, she was characterized as a “ruthless overseer” and sentenced to ten years in prison for using a pistol on prisoners. Bothe admitted to striking inmates with her hands for camp violations like stealing but maintained that she never beat anyone “with a stick or a rod” and added that she never “killed anyone.” Her contention of innocence was deemed questionable as one Bergen-Belsen survivor claimed to have witnessed Bothe beat a Hungarian Jew named Éva to death with a wooden block while another teenager stated that he saw her shoot two prisoners for reasons he could not understand. Nevertheless, she was released early from prison on 22 December 1951 as an act of leniency by the British government.
Bothe died on March 16,2000 at the age of 79.
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