Ilse Koch, born Ilse
Köhler (September 22, 1906 – September 1, 1967), was the wife of Karl
Koch, the commandant of the concentration camps Buchenwald from 1937 to 1941 and Majdanek from 1941 to
She was one of the first prominent Nazis to be tried
by the US military.
After the trial was remitted under worldwide media attention,
survivor accounts of her as a Satanic figure resulted in other
authors describing her abuse of prisoners as 'sadistic'; a shadow
image as "concentration camp murderess" transfixed itself to
post-war German society. She was accused of taking souvenirs from
the skin of murdered inmates with distinctive tattoos
. She was known as "The Witch of Buchenwald"
("Die Hexe von Buchenwald") by the inmates because of her sadistic
cruelty and lasciviousness toward prisoners. She is also called in
English "The Beast of Buchenwald" and "The Bitch of
Ilse Koch at the US Military Tribunal
in Dachau, 1947
Ilse Koch at the US Military Tribunal in Dachau, 1947
Dresden, Germany, she was the
daughter of a factory foreman.
Collection of prisoners' tattoos Ph
Jules Rouard -Buchenwald 1945
She was known as a polite and
happy child in her elementary school. At the age of fifteen she
entered an accountant school. Later, she went to work as a
bookkeeping clerk. At the time the economy of Germany had not yet
recovered from Germany's defeat in World War
. In 1932 she became a member of the rising Nazi Party
. Through some friends in the Nazi
organizations SA and SS she met
Karl Otto Koch in 1934, whom she
married two years later.
to infamy began in 1936 when she began working as a guard and
secretary at the Sachsenhausen concentration
camp near Berlin which was commanded by her soon-to-be
In 1937 she came to Buchenwald not as a guard, but
as the wife of the commandant.
It was alleged there that, under the influence of her husband, she
began torturing the inmates of the camp. It was alleged that she
would often force prisoners to rape one another in plain sight and
would later be disciplined by Nazi authorities for her sexual
In 1940 she built an indoor sports arena, which cost over 250,000
, most of which were taken
from the inmates. In 1941 Ilse became an Oberaufseherin ("chief
overseer") over the few female guards who served at the camp.
In 1941 Karl Otto Koch became the commander of Majdanek. In 1943
both he and Ilse were arrested by the Gestapo for embezzlement of
SS funds, and the murder of certain inmates in an attempt to cover
up these crimes. Ilse was imprisoned by German authorities until
late 1944 or early 1945 in Weimar. In early 1945, her husband was
sentenced to death by an SS court in Munich and executed in April
1945. Ilse was acquitted by an SS court and went to live with her
surviving family in the town of Ludwigsburg. She was arrested by
U.S. authorities on June 30, 1945.
The most famous 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.
She was tried by a war crimes tribunal
sentenced to a life term in 1947. Prosecuting her was future U.S.
Court of Claims Judge Robert L. Kunzig, shown seated in the lower
right corner of the picture from the tribunal above. Koch was
charged with "participating in a criminal plan for aiding, abetting
and participating in the murders at Buchenwald." In 1947, an
American military tribunal found Koch guilty and sentenced her to
had served a mere two years, General Lucius Clay, the interim
military governor of the American zone in Germany, issued her
Due to international condemnation, however, Koch was
re-arrested in 1949 and tried before a West German court for
instigation to murder in 135 cases. She was sentenced to
life-imprisonment on January 15, 1951.
committed suicide by hanging herself at
Aichach women's prison on September
She was sixty years
The commandant in Lina
's film Seven
was based on Koch. So was the title character of
the 1974 Nazi exploitation
Ilsa, She Wolf of the
Some sources claim that the character of Hanna Schmitz
played by English actress
critically-acclaimed film The
is also based on Ilse Koch . However, the author of
the book on which the film was based has denied this in an
The 22nd episode of the 5th season of CSI: New
, titled Yahrzeit
centered on Holocaust items being sold at auction and later crimes
committed during the Holocaust. Among the cache of Holocaust items
recovered from the murder victim's home was a lampshade that DNA
tests confirmed was made of human skin. Mac
(the CSI crime lab supervisor) recounts the story of how
the wife of the Commandant at Buchenwald made the prisoners line up
naked so she could choose the tattoos she liked and those prisoners
would have that portion of skin cut off and tanned to be made into
lampshades. This is a reference to Ilse Koch.
Höhne, "The Order of the Death Head" (subtitled: "A history of
the SS"). The author notes the irony that the SS prosecutor,
Morgen, investigated some cover-up murders of inmates in detail
while being ignorant of, or willfully ignoring, the industrialized
mass murder going on in the camps further to the East.
- New York Times, Sept. 24, 1948, p. 3
- Encyclopedia of the Third Reich, Macmillan, New York, 1991
- Bernhard Schlink author of 'The Reader' on Q TV
- Massimiliano Livi, "Ilse Koch". In: War Crimes and Trials:
A Historical Encyclopedia, from 1850 to the Present by
Elizabeth Pugliese and Larry Hufford. ABC-CLIO: Santa Barbara
- The Holocaust Chronicle, p. 117.
- Israel Gutman (ed.), Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, p.
- Walter Lacqueur (ed.), The Holocaust Encyclopedia, p. 97.
- William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, p.
- David A Hackett (ed.), The Buchenwald Report, p. 43 n. 19.