Ilse Koch
The Bitch of Buchenwald
[loose translation of camp-era nickname "Hexe"=witch, used by English press during trial]

This page was created by Angela Mesna, a senior English major at UCSB (link to author page). I became interested in Ilse because of her nickname and decided to more research on her. Most of my information came mainly from various Internet sources (sources).
[note Feb. 1, 2009: a reader brought to my attention that Holocaust denier used some vagueness and a single typo on this page as part of his effort to dispute the veracity of the Holocaust itself. I (Prof. Marcuse) have responded to that video in bracketed comments like these--most of them are irrelevant and mere smokescreen intended to confuse viewers. The original denier video can be viewed at:]

There is little known about the early years of Ilse Koch. She was born in Dresden Germany in 1906. She worked in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp before marrying her husband Karl Koch in 1937. When her husband was appointed to be commandant at the Buchenwald concentration camp she willingly went with him.

Ilse did not opt for the removed position of a wife of a camp official but rather became an SS Aufseherin (overseer) of the camp. Ilse used the position to express her sadistic and cruel nature. She was known for riding her horse through the camp and whipping and beating any prisoner who caught her particular interest. She would also ride through the camp and select specific prisoners with tattooed skin or interesting skin markings. She had these individuals killed and their skins tanned in order to make lampshades and other household items.

This is a picture of a lampshade made of human skin found in Koch's apartment.
[actually, we don't know exactly where within the Buchenwald camp it was found,
and the Kommandant's villa was not within the prisoners' camp]

The drawing is a tattoo that was on the man's chest.

It was not altogether uncommon for officers to have lampshades made of human skin, but as one witness recounts, her handbag was made of human flesh, and her extreme pride in it was very disturbing. [a more recent detailed discussion of the human skin objects can be found on]

Karl was arrested shortly before the end of the war in 1944 for his exploitation of camp workers [he was so greedy and corrupt that the Nazis themselves arrested and executed him!] and Ilse was arrested when the camp was liberated. Karl was charged and executed in 1945. Ilse was also found guilty of "participating in the atrocities at Buchenwald" and was given a life sentence. She only served two years of this sentence. She was later re-arrested for killing German nationals and again given a life sentence. Ilse Koch committed suicide on September 1, 1947 [typo corrected Feb. 1, 2009]: 1967. [again, see for more details]

It is difficult to determine whether Ilse Koch was a product of Nazi ideology and anti-Semitism or rather found the Holocaust as an opportunity to divulge in her already sadistic nature. Because there is little available on her childhood and early childhood behaviors, it is difficult to attempt to make a definitive answer. What is clear is that this woman found, under the rule of Hitler, the capacity in herself to brutally torture her prisoners and keep pieces of them for her personal decoration.

UCSB Hist 33D course homepage

Hist 33D web projects index page

Hitler's Women homepage
Angela Mesna
Brittney Smith
Jessica Evans

Nazi Relatives:
Eva Braun
Magda Goebbels
Winifred Wagner
Leni Riefenstahl
Zarah Leander
Marlene Dietrich
Concentration Camp Guards:
Ilse Koch
Irma Grese
Herta Bothe
Images and Bibliography pages

Content by: Angela Mesna
Web Design: Brittney Smith
Date created: December 8, 2003, updated Feb. 1, 2009 by hm