Known as The “Bitch of
Buchenwald” because of her sadistic cruelty towards prisoners, Ilse Koch was married to another wicked Nazi SS, Karl Otto Koch, but outshone him in the depraved, inhumane, disregard for life which was her trademark. She used her sexual prowess by wandering around the camps naked, with a whip, and if any man so much as glanced at her she would have them shot on the spot.
The most infamous accusation against Ilse Koch was that she had selected inmates with interesting tattoos to be killed, so that their skins could be made into lampshades for her home (though, unfortunately, no evidence of these lampshades has been found). After the
Second World War she was arrested and spent time in prison on different charges, eventually hanging herself in her cell in 1967, apparently consumed by guilt.
Buchenwald, Koch engaged in gruesome experiments; selected tattooed prisoners were murdered and skinned to retrieve the tattooed parts of their bodies. This was allegedly done to help a prison doctor, Erich Wagner, in his dissertation on tattooing and criminality.
In 1940, she built an indoor sports arena, which cost over 250,000 reichsmarks (approximately $62,500), most of which had been seized from the inmates. In 1941, Karl-Otto Koch was transferred to
Lublin, where he helped establish the Majdanek concentration and extermination camp. Ilse Koch remained at
Buchenwald until 24 August 1943, when she and her husband were arrested on the orders of Josias von
Waldeck-Pyrmont, SS and Police Leader for Weimar, who had supervisory authority over
Buchenwald. The charges against the Kochs comprised private enrichment, embezzlement, and the murder of prisoners to prevent them from giving testimony.
Ilse Koch was imprisoned until 1944 when she was acquitted for lack of evidence. Her husband was found guilty and sentenced to death by an SS court in Munich, and was executed by firing squad on 5 April 1945 in the court of the camp he once commanded. She then lived with her surviving family in the town of
Ludwigsburg, where she was arrested by U.S. authorities on 30 June 1945.
Koch and 30 other accused were arraigned before the American military court at Dachau (General Military Government Court for the Trial of War Criminals) in 1947. Prosecuting her was future United States Court of Claims Judge Robert L.
Kunzig. She was charged with "participating in a criminal plan for aiding, abetting and participating in the murders at
Koch stated in the courtroom that she was eight months pregnant but on 19 August 1947, she was sentenced to life imprisonment for "violation of the laws and customs of war".
Koch hanged herself at Aichach women's prison on 1 September 1967 at age 60.
Ilse and Karl Koch had one son and two daughters. Their son committed suicide after the war "because he couldn't live with the shame of the crimes of his parents."
Another son, Uwe, conceived in her prison cell at Dachau with a fellow German prisoner, was born in the Aichach prison near Dachau where Koch was sent to serve her life sentence and was immediately taken from her. At the age of 19, Uwe Köhler learned that Koch was his mother and began visiting her regularly at
BOOKS & FILMS
Koch's life inspired the documentary The Bitch of Buchenwald directed by Gerry Malir and narrated by Peter Morgan Jones. The movie was released in 2009 to detail the life and crimes of Ilse Koch.
There were numerous books written, including the limited series The Buchenwald trilogy. The very first of the series, titled The Beasts of
Buchenwald: Karl & Ilse Koch, Human-skin Lampshades, and the War-crimes Trial of the Century, explored official crimes, accusations, as well as life outside of the concentration camps for Ilse and Karl Koch.
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