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

Published April 12, 2016
Updated October 16, 2020
Trial Of Ilse Koch

Wikimedia CommonsIlse Koch at her trial.

The public was aghast at her release, and she was rearrested shortly thereafter. Throughout her second trial, which began in 1950, she collapsed frequently and had to be removed from the court. Over 250 witnesses were heard throughout the trial — including 50 for the defense.

Four of the witnesses testified that they had seen Koch selecting prisoners specifically for their tattoos, or that they had seen or been involved in the manufacturing of the human-skin lampshades. As had happened due to lack of evidence before, this charge was eventually dropped.

On January 15, 1951, the Court gave its verdict in a 111-page decision. Koch was not present. She was convicted of “charges of incitement to murder, incitement to attempted murder, and incitement to the crime of committing grievous bodily harm,” and again sentenced to life imprisonment with permanent forfeiture of any civil rights.

During her time in prison, she petitioned for appeals several times but was always dismissed. She even protested to the International Human Rights Commission, but was rejected.

While in prison, her son Uwe, who had been conceived during her imprisonment at Dachau, discovered that she was his mother. He came to visit her in prison often over the next several years at Aichach, the prison where she was serving her life sentence.

On September 1, 1967, Ilse Koch committed suicide in prison. The next day, Uwe arrived for their visit and was shocked to find that she had died. She was buried in an unmarked, untended grave at the prison’s cemetery.

Human Remains From Buchenwald

Wikimedia Commons Human remains and images of tattoos from Buchenwald.

The lampshades have never been recovered, and many historians seem to doubt their existence. However, a writer — also Jewish — named Mark Jacobson has made it his mission to authenticate their existence. His grim quest began when a man named Skip Hendersen purchased a lampshade touted as a Nazi relic at a post-Hurricane Katrina garage sale.

Hendersen sent it to Jacobson, who even traveled with it to Buchenwald, but has been unable to definitively determine its origin. DNA testing conducted initially revealed that the lampshade was likely made of human skin, but later testing revealed that the shade is more likely made of cowskin. It seems, in the end, that this was one secret the Bitch of Buchenwalk took with her to the grave.

After learning about Ilse Koch, “The Bitch of Buchenwald”, read about Ravensbruck, the women’s concentration camp.

Abby Norman
Abby Norman is a writer based in New England . Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Independent, Bustle, Mental Floss, Atlas Obscura, and Quartz.