Ilse Koch, the Bitch of Buchenwald

While depicting a typical Nazi in your mind, you will – most likely – think about a well-built young male. However, we must not forget that women became aware members of the NSDAP and, of course, of the SS. SS women underwent strict training during which they learned how to become an efficient cog in the killing machine. Make no mistake – they committed unbelievable atrocities just like their male counterparts.

Margarete Ilse Koch, born Köhler, is considered one of the most notorious war criminals and sadistic SS-overseers (SS-Aufseherin) in history. Her alleged obsession with human skin went down in history. Perhaps you know her nickname - "the bitch of Buchenwald" or "the witch of Buchenwald".

Ilse was born on September 22, 1906, in Dresden. She joined the Nazi party in 1932 and initially worked as a secretary and typist. On May 25, 1936, she married Karl Otto Koch. A year later, her husband was appointed to the position of the newly established German Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald. The couple lived in the villa in the vicinity of the camp. Ilse, a devoted Nazi, was soon promoted and became the main supervisor of the women’s camp. One of her hobbies was horse riding – she would often ride around the camp, trampling, pushing, and whipping random prisoners. However, her biggest obsession was human skin. She would often order prisoners to strip naked, looking for skin that would fascinate her most, especially covered with tattoos. Selected prisoners were murdered with a lethal injection and their skin was later used to produce bags, book covers, and even pieces of furniture.

Between 1938-1941, Ilse gave birth to three children. In 1941, Karl Otto Koch was transferred to KL Lublin (Majdanek) concentration camp to become the commandant. However, Ilse decided to stay in Buchenwald, where she lived a busy sex life. She had an affair with Arthur Florstedt (who later became the commandant of the Majdanek concentration camp) and Waldemar Hoven, the chief physician. Moreover, she regularly participated in orgies with SS men and their wives, watched male prisoners rape female prisoners, walked around the camp almost naked, and provoked the prisoners, punishing them for making eye contact (often with death). Her behavior did not go unnoticed – she was repeatedly punished by the SS.

In August 1943, Ilse and her husband were arrested by the SS on charges of corruption, triple murder, and misappropriation of property from prisoners in the camp. Karl Otto Koch was found guilty. His execution was carried out in early April 1945. Ilse was arrested by the US military on June 30, 1945. She was the only woman who was brought to trial, which took place in 1947. Initially, she was sentenced to life imprisonment for her crimes against humanity. Her punishment was soon changed to 4 years in prison – one of the reasons was Ilse’s pregnancy…

She was brought to court once more, at the end of 1949. Finally, on January 15, 1951, the court in Augsburg sentenced her to life imprisonment. Ilse protested, but the court rejected each of her appeals. At the beginning of September 1967, she hanged herself on a sheet in her cell at the prison in Aichach.