“The Bitch of Buchenwald”: The Story Of One Of The Holocaust’s Biggest Monsters

Published April 12, 2016
Updated December 12, 2017
Life Inside A Concentration Camp

Life inside one of the concentration camps. Image Source: Wikipedia

Her other hobby, which would later become a major point of contention during the Nuremberg Trials, was her collection of lampshades, book covers, and gloves, said to have been made from human skin.

Witnesses later recalled that Ilse Koch often took her horseback rides through the camps to scout out prisoners who had distinctive tattoos. The prisoner would be stripped of his or her skin before being incinerated, and Koch allegedly kept the skin on display in her home with the Commandant. These artifacts were recovered after the camp’s liberation and served as key evidence during her trial.

She and her husband were arrested on August 24, 1943 at Buchenwald on charges of embezzlement and murder of prisoners. Despite the Nazis’ mass murder of prisoners and their tortuous medical experiments, even they did not find the Kochs’ methods of torment suitable to their ideology — although mainly because any punishments had to be cleared by the main office in Oranienburg, and the Kochs were acting of their own accord.

It was also alleged that Commandant Koch had ordered the execution of the orderly who had diagnosed him with and treated him for syphilis, so that the secret would never be revealed. Frau Koch, in the meantime, had taken several lovers at Buchenwald, and it was widely accepted that her marriage to the Commandant had been an open one.

While Commandant Koch was sentenced to death just a week before Buchenwald was liberated, Frau Koch was acquitted, mostly due to lack of evidence — specifically, that investigators could not prove the lampshades and other items were actually made from human skin. For her part, Ilse insisted they were made of goatskin.

Abby Norman
Abby Norman is a writer based in New England, currently writing a memoir for Nation Books. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Independent, Cosmopolitan, Medium, Seventeen, Romper, Bustle, and Quartz.
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