Ilse Koch, The Bitch of Buchenwald, Convicted of Making Human-Skin Lampshades

American soldiers liberated the Buchenwald Concentration camp located five and a half miles northwest of Weimar on April 11, 1945. Captain Frederick Keffer, an Intelligence officer from the 6th Armored Division, was one of the first liberators and recorded his experience of seeing hundreds of emaciated “walking corpses”, hundreds of dead bodies tossed in ditches and wagons, and the intense smell of urine, feces, and death. Author Flint Whitlock in his historical account about Camp Buchenwald referred to the camp as “Dante’s Inferno without the compassion.”

Hundreds of corpses piled up on a wagon in the Buchenwald Concentration Camp.


General Patton, after visiting Camp Buchenwald after liberation, became ill after seeing the atrocities that were committed on the inmates. Patton ordered the entire German town of Weimar, and all of its citizens, to take a full tour of the camp so they can see firsthand what their German neighbors have been doing for the last eight years.

After arriving at the camp inmates were giving a number and photographed. SS guards completely dehumanized the inmates so they could justify their cruelty. They beat prisoners to death or near death with fist, sticks, dog leashes, clubs, hoses, whips, shovels, rocks, or whatever else was handy.

The SS officer in charge of the camp for the most of its existence was Karl Otto Koch. Karl Koch was born in Darmstadt on August, 2 1987, and he was one of two sons born to a bureaucrat. However, Koch’s father died when he was only six years old and moved in to his mother’s new husband’s home with six other stepsons. There is no evidence that Karl Koch was ever beaten or sexually assaulted as a child. We know not much else about his youth besides he left school at fourteen and took a job in a booking department until he joined the German war effort as an infantryman. Koch was injured in France, earned the Iron Cross Second Class and was captured by the British on October 20, 1918, where he was a prisoner of war until October 11, 1919. Karl Koch joined the Nazis on March 1, 1931 (number 475,586) and was promoted quickly to the rank of second lieutenant. Soon after his promotion he met Margarete Ilse Köhler, which soon became his wife.

Karl and Ilse Koch and their dog.

Ilsa Köhler was born on September 22, 1906, to Emil and Anna Köhler. Ilsa’s father was a general laborer and similar to her future husband Karl, the family struggled financially through childhood. Before meeting her husband, Ilse worked as a typist, secretary, and stenographer until she joined the Nazi party in 1932 (member 1,130,863).

Ilse Koch known as The Bitch of Buchenwald.

Ilse quickly became known as the “Die Hexe von Buchenwald” which translates in English to The Bitch of Buchenwald. Joshua M. Green, author of Justice at Dachau, describes Ilse Koch, “Ilse earned the nickname ‘Bitch of Buchenwald’ for her cruelty, wanton behavior, quixotic anger, and indifference to suffering.”

While thousands of Buchenwald prisoners were starving to death, Ilse was living the high life in at the Villa Koch. Ilse had expensive fur coats, a cellar full of the finest wine, expensive dresses, and even an indoor horse riding arena that she could use if it was raining or cold outside.

Human skin samples presented as evidence at the tribunal of Ilse Koch and other SS and Buchenwald staff.

Ilse is most infamous for her interest in making furniture out of the human skin of her prisoners. The most notable pieces of furniture were human skinned lampshades that would give as gifts to visiting SS officers.

Human skin book bindings still had hair on the covers.

It was also claimed that Ilse had guard’s skin prisoners to make book bindings, skin gloves, purses, and there are even reports of human thumbs light switches.

Part of a lampshade made from skin of Nazi victims at Buchenwald Concentration Camp. It was used as evidence in the Nuremberg war crimes trials, ca. 1945-1946. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Human skin book bindings recently found.

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