They called her “The Bitch of Buchenwald”

One of the most notorious war criminals in Nazi history was a woman, Ilse Koch. AKA the Bitch of Buchenwald, or sometimes the Butcher Widow.

Ilse Koch was a vibrant redhead who strolled provocatively through the concentration camp, daring prisoners to look.

Ilse Koch was a prison guard in 1936 at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp where she met and married Otto Koch, the camp’s Commandant.

An attractive redhead, Ilse would stroll through the camps provocatively, daring the prisoners to look at her. The prisoners grew to hate her for it. According to the Buchenwald Report, Ilse had a reputation of being a hedonist who took baths in red wine that was poured into the bathtub.

Prisoners later testified that Ilse Koch was simultaneously having love affairs with Dr. Waldemar Hoven and with Deputy Commandant Hermann Florstedt while her husband was stationed at another post.

She even had a private indoor riding facility built with money extorted and embezzled from her prisoners. The indoor arena was reserved for her private use and she rode her horse around inside it daily.

But the more terrifying aspects of Koch’s character would not become known about her until later at her trials.

The atrocities of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp were not discovered until after the war. Here, a British delegation sees piles of dead bodies of prisoners.

Morris Hubert, a Buchenwald survivor talked about a grotesque practice that was the brainchild of Ilse Koch: “In the camp there was a cage with a bear and an eagle. Every day, they would throw a Jew in there. The bear would tear him apart and the eagle would pick at his bones.”

At her trial, American prosecutors displayed Ilse’s collection of shrunken heads, dried skins with tattoos, and lamp shades made from the human skin of her executed prisoners.

Furnaces at Buchenwald where bodies were cremated.

In April 1947, Ilse Koch was brought before an American military tribunal in Dachau, where she was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. She was retried by a German court and found guilty a second time, and sentenced to life in prison. She committed suicide in prison in 1967.


Editor’s note: it should be pointed out that the German people and even the authorities during the war did not condone the atrocities at Buchenwald or other camps, though they seemed to have been commonplace in hindsight. Otto Koch was convicted of his crimes by the Nazi hierarchy and was shot to death. Many other Commandants of concentration camps were punished and removed from power for crimes against prisoners during the war.

Ilse Koch as a prisoner after the war.
Ilse Koch at a U.S. Military Tribunal that found her guilty and sentenced her to life in prison.

Soap that was said to have been made from human fat from deceased prisoners.

The notorious lamp shades that were supposed to have been made of human skin. Later testing revealed that was only legend and they were made of animal skin.
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