Those who failed to make a niche for themselves were doomed, although exceptional energy or toughness might delay the end. A prisoner who had won a privileged position for herself then had to defend it with efficiency, vitality and iron will . . . and luck. -- Dr. Ella Lingens-Reiner
The top SS woman officer of the women's camp at Birkenau, SS Obersturmbannführerin Maria Mandel, was a commanding figure. Tall, blonde, and impeccable in her black cape, gray uniform, and silk stockings, she had to be addressed as "Oberaufseherin (Inspector-General) Mandel." A woman with a fanatical admiration of beauty and love of music, she could also display sadistic brutality. In her previous station at the Ravensbrück concentration camp, she was credited with a special way of striking women, the first blow making the victim's nose bleed. She is known to have broken a jaw at Rajsko, part of the Auschwitz complex, according to testimony at the postwar Cracow trial of December 1947 when she was sentenced to be hanged.
Born at Münzkirchen in Upper Austria, a few miles south of Hitler⊥'s birthplace Braunau am Inn, Mandel was ambitious and demanding. She had a lover among her fellow SS at Auschwitz (variously identified as SS Bischoff, the chief of construction, and SS Janisch), and she kept a handsome horse to ride for recreation. Her love of children was the subject of gruesome legend among the prisoners, yet she is known to have been cruel toward newborn babies and their mothers.
Fania Fénelon, a French singer with the orchestra in its final months, related the tale of a ringleted Polish toddler who arrived at the camp with his mother, destined for the gas. 1 As Mandel strode through a crowd of women and children awaiting their turn in the "shower," the little boy ran up to her. Instead of kicking him away, she bent to pick him up, covered his face with kisses, and carried him off. For a week she took him wherever she went, giving