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Karl Otto Koch (August 2, 1897 – April 5, 1945), a Standartenführer (Colonel) in the German Schutzstaffelmarker (SS), was the first commandant of the Nazi concentration camps at Buchenwaldmarker and Sachsenhausen, and later also served as a commander at the Majdanek concentration campmarker.

Early life

Koch was born in Darmstadtmarker, Grand Duchy of Hessemarker on August 2, 1897. His father worked in local registrar's office and died when Karl was only eight years old. After completing elementary school in 1912, Koch began studying business and worked as a messenger and a apprentice in a bookkeeping department in a local factory. In 1916, he volunteer to join the army and fought on the Western Front until he was captured by the British in 1918. Koch spent rest of the war as a POW and return back to Germanymarker in 1919. As a soldier he conducted himself well and was awarded the Iron Cross 2. Class, the Observer's Badge and the Wound Badge in Black. Following WWI, Koch work as a accounting supervisor in a bank and later also in the same role in an insurance company. In 1931, Karl Otto Koch joined the NSDAP and also the Schutzstaffelmarker.

Service with the SS

Koch served with several SS-Standarten until June 13, 1935, when he became commander of the Columbia-Haus concentration camp in Berlin-Tempelhofmarker. In April 1936 he was assigned to the concentration camp at Esterwegenmarker. Four months later he was moved to Sachsenhausen, and on August 1, 1937, he was given command of the new concentration camp at Buchenwaldmarker. He remained at Buchenwald until September 1941, when he was transferred to the Majdanekmarker concentration camp for POWs. That was largely due to an investigation based on allegations of his improper conduct at Buchenwald, which included corruption, fraud, embezzlement, drunkenness, sexual offences and a murder. Koch commanded the Majdanek camp for only one year; he was relieved from his duties after 86 Soviet POWs escaped from the camp in August 1942. Koch was charged with criminal negligence and transferred to Berlin, where he worked at the SS Personalhauptamtmarker and as a liaison between the SS and the German Post-Office.

Prosecution and death

Koch's actions at Buchenwaldmarker first caught the attention of SS-Obergruppenführer Josias Prince of Waldeck and Pyrmont in 1941. In glancing over the death list of Buchenwald, Josias had stumbled across the name of Dr. Walter Krämer, a head hospital orderly at Buchenwald, which he recognized because Krämer had successfully treated him in the past. The Prince investigated the case and found out that Koch, in a position as the Camp Commandant, had ordered Krämer and Karl Peixof, a hospital attendant, killed as "political prisoners" because they had treated him for syphilis and he feared it might be discovered. Waldeck also received reports that a certain prisoner had been shot while attempting to escape. By that time, Koch had been transferred to the Majdanekmarker concentration camp in Poland, but his wife, Ilse, was still living at the Commandant's house in Buchenwald. Waldeck ordered a full scale investigation of the camp by Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen, an SS officer who was a judge in a German court. Throughout the investigation, more of Koch's orders to kill prisoners at the camp were revealed, as well as embezzlement of property stolen from prisoners. It was also discovered that prisoner who was "shot while trying to escape" had been told to get water from a well some distance from the camp, and he was shot from behind, he had also helped treat Koch for syphilis. A charge of incitement to murder was lodged by Prince Waldeck and Dr. Morgen against Koch, to which later added were charged of embezzlement. Other camp officials were charged, including Koch's wife. The trial resulted in Koch being sentenced to death for disgracing both himself and the SS. Koch was executed by firing squad on 5 April 1945, one week before American allied troops arrived to liberate the camp.


Koch first married in 1924 and had one son. However, his marriage ended in divorce 1931, due to his infidelity. On May 25, 1936 Koch married Ilse Köhler with whom he had a son and two daughters. Köhler later became known as "The Witch of Buchenwald" (Die Hexe von Buchenwald), usually rendered more alliteratively in English as "The Bitch of Buchenwald." When Koch was transferred to Buchenwald, Ilse was appointed an Oberaufseherin (overseer) by the SS and thus had an active, official role in the atrocities committed there. There have been many unverified rumors about a lampshade made from human skin, which has become an often repeated legend since the war, but no one could testify that they had actually seen such a thing during Ilse's trial.Acquitted by Morgen, Ilse Koch was sentenced after the war to life in prison. She hanged herself in prison in 1967.



  • Benoit Cazenave, L’exemplarité du commandant SS Karl Otto Koch, Revue de la Fondation Auschwitz, Bruxelles, 2005.

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