Ilse Koch

Ilse Koch

Isle Koch, the daughter of a laborer, was born in Dresden, Germany in 1906. She worked in a tobacco factory and joined the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) in April 1933. Soon afterwards she began working as a secretary for the party.

Koch worked in Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp and in May 1937, married Karl Koch, the commandant of the camp. In August, 1937, her husband was appointed commandant of Buchenwald. She went with him and became a SS-Aufseherin (overseer) at the camp. Known as the "Bitch of Buchenwald" she liked to ride through the camp where she selected prisoners who displeased her to be whipped by Schutz Staffeinel (SS) guards.

According to Louis L. Snyder: "A strapping red-haired woman of ample proportions, she liked to ride on horseback, with whip in hand, through the prison compound, lashing out at any prisoner unfortunate enough to glance in her direction. Her hobby was collecting lampshades, book covers, and gloves made from the skins of dead inmates. On occasion, she gave orders for new prisoners with 'interesting tattoos' to be reserved for her."

In August, 1943, Karl Koch was arrested by the Gestapo and charged with embezzlement and forgery. Found guilty, he was executed in April, 1945. Isle Koch was charged with receiving stolen goods but was acquitted. At the end of the war Koch was arrested and charged with "participating in a common criminal plan for encouraging, aiding, abetting and participating in the atrocities at Buchenwald." In 1947 Koch was found guilty and was sentenced to life-imprisonment. While in prison she gave birth to a son, Uwe. The father is unknown.

Isle Koch
Isle Koch in 1947

After serving only two years General Lucius D. Clay, the military governor of the American zone in Germany, ordered her release on the grounds "there was no convincing evidence that she had selected inmates for extermination in order to secure tattooed skins, or that she possessed any articles made of human skin". As a result of the international condemnation this decision received, a United States Senate committee investigated her crimes. On 27th December, 1948, it reported that she had taken part in killing or beating hundreds of prisoners: "This bestial woman's guilt in specific murders is irrefutably established."

Rearrested in 1949, Isle Koch was brought to trial before a West German court for crimes against German nationals. Psychiatrists who examined her judged her to be "a perverted, nymphomaniacal, hysterical, power-mad demon". On 15th January, 1951, she was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Isle Koch committed suicide in Aichach Prison on 1st September, 1967. In her last note to her son, Uwe, she wrote: "I cannot do otherwise. Death is the only deliverance."