Maria Mandl was among the first group of women to work in Nazi concentration camps, having volunteered to do so in 1938. Born in Upper Austria in 1912, she began her career as a guard at Lichtenberg, one of the earliest camps and the first to be used exclusively for female prisoners.
Mandl showed an early enthusiasm for the work, as her brutality set her apart from other guards. Holocaust survivor Lina Haag recalled how Lichtenberg inmates would be beaten for the slightest infraction; they were stripped naked, tied to wooden posts, and Mandl “would then beat us mercilessly until she could no longer lift her arm.”
Mandl’s penchant for using physical violence to keep prisoners in line ensured she quickly rose through the ranks of guards. In 1939, Lichtenberg was replaced by Ravensbrück, a much larger women-only camp where Mandl relished her new role as an Oberaufseherin, or chief guard.
One prisoner recalled how Maria Mandl and her fellow guard Dorothea Binz “preferred to beat people themselves rather than have someone else do it,” earning her the nickname “The Beast.”
The Beast would go out of her way to find reasons to savagely beat the inmates. One of her preferred methods was to look for women who had curled their hair (against camp regulations) and either beat them or force them to shave their heads. Once, prisoner Maria Bielicka witnessed Mandl kick a fellow inmate to death.
In contrast to her insatiable bloodlust, Maria Mandl was described as “a highly intelligent and sophisticated woman, with nuanced tastes in literature, cuisine, and most famously, in music.” Bizarrely, shortly after Bielicka had watched The Beast kill a prisoner during roll call, another inmate reported hearing “the most beautiful music” while cleaning the guards’ quarters and found Mandl playing it, “lost in a world of her own – in ecstasy.”
In 1942, Mandl was sent to work at Auschwitz where she oversaw all female inmates.
Whether inmate or guard, every woman at the camp was subordinate to her. In addition to doling out punishments, Mandl was responsible for choosing which prisoners were sent to the gas chambers and which would be subjected to grotesque medical experiments.
During her time at the infamous camp, she sent an estimated 500,000 people to their deaths. Survivors recalled Mandl’s “hatred of Jews” along with her “bestial enjoyment of inflicting pain.” One female prisoner noted that “her violence against us was unprovoked; performed for her enjoyment, clearly.”
Maria Mandl took a savage pleasure in her job of selecting women, and particularly children, to be gassed. Sometimes she would pick prisoners as “pets” and have them work for her personally, only to send them to be murdered as soon as she tired of them.
Her whims and mood swings meant the difference between life and death to the women she oversaw. One of them recalled how Mandl had once selected a child whom she dressed up “in fine clothing, parading it around like a puppet.” For a while “the child was constantly with her. She led it around by the hand,” but when “she’d grown tired of her little game, she herself took the child to be gassed, throwing the screaming little one into the chamber.”
Mandl indulged her love of classical music by setting up a women’s orchestra at Auschwitz, which consisted of inmate musicians who were often spared from the gas chamber. Heinrich Himmler was said to be a great admirer of Mandl’s orchestra and the sadistic Dr. Josef Mengele was reportedly brought to tears by some of their music.
Maria Mandl’s reign of terror came to an end as the Allies advanced into Germany.
She was captured by the American forces after attempting to flee to Bavaria and finally made to account for her crimes at the Auschwitz trial in Krakow in 1947. The Beast was declared a war criminal for her role in the torture and murder of countless prisoners. She was executed by hanging in Jan. 24, 1948.
After reading about Maria Mandl, read how Dachau concentration camp guards received their comeuppance. Then see these haunting photos of history’s first genocide during the Boer War.