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Ilsa Koch – the Witch of Buchenwald


Ilsa Koch - Nazi crmiinalIlsa Koch, wife of the German commander of the Buchenwald concentration camp from 1939 to 1942, Colonel Karl Koch, was notorious for her perversion and cruelty. Known as the Witch (or Bitch) of Buchenwald, she acquired the reputation of a sadist and nymphomaniac beating the prisoners with her whip and requiring that they participate in bizarre orgies. Her atrocities were so gruesome, even the Nazis were appalled.

Buchenwald was one of the first and largest German concentration camps, located on a wooden hill near Weimar, Germany. Riding around the Buchenwald concentration camp in scanty attire, prisoners were severely beaten when caught staring at her. A confidential Nazi S.S. report called her “the most hated person at Buchenwald, and a perverted, nymphomaniacal, power-mad demon.” Cruelty aside, she also had an penchant for collecting human skin.

According to official trial transcripts (as explained below, she was eventually tried for her crimes), “In the summer of 1940 all the tattooed prisoners were photographed. Then the majority of them were killed by lethal injection. Their bodies were skinned in the Pathology lab in order to be made into leather and for other uses. The accused showed a passionate interest in beautiful tattoos. She herself possessed objects made of human skin. Very often, she noted down the number of a tattooed prisoner and had those tattoos lifted by her accomplices in the S.S.”

Ilsa Koch at an American military tribunalThese accusations were supported by camp medical staff who testified that tanned human skins were routinely given as gifts to visiting officers and other high-level guests. Indeed, when Americans liberated the camp in 1945, thirteen human skins with tattoos were discovered. An invoice for shipmen of 142 tattoos was also found. “The finished products (i.e. tattooed skin detached from corpses) were turned over to Koch’s wife, who had them fashioned into lampshades and other ornamental household articles.” Indeed, photographs existed of a lampshade fashioned on leg base made of human bone.

Prisoners testified of objects they had seen in Ilsa’s house that were made of human skin including lampshades, “leather” bound books, knife cases, handbags, gloves, and even a pair of shoes. One prisoner noted that at the hanging of a prisoner who had an elaborate tattoo, “Oh, he’s handsome. He’s not going to the oven, he’s all mine.” It was known that her rides around camp on her horse, were specifically used to spot prisoners with distinctive tattoos.

Skin samples from the trialThe prisoner misery stopped in 1942 when Colonel Koch was relieved of his command, and after an eight month investigation, convicted of corruption and financial misdeeds. He was executed three years later by the SS. In 1947, Ilsa was also convicted and sentenced to life in prison by an Allied military tribunal. While in prison, Ilsa gave birth to a child fathered by a prison guard. After 20 years behind bars, Ilsa committed suicide on September 1, 1967 by hanging herself with bed sheets tied to her prison bars.

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