Ilse Koch’s childhood is not what one would expect from a sadistic villain who would go on to earn the nickname the Bitch of Buchenwald in one of the worst concentration camps in Nazi Germany. Born in Dresden in 1906, Ilse had a regular upbringing. Her teachers described her as a polite child, always happy during her stay in elementary school. Her father was a factory foreman in a local factory and was able to provide the family with a decent living. At the age of 15, Ilse enrolled in an accountancy school, and after the graduation, she was able to find a job as a bookkeeper.
The 1930s were tough times for Germans. The country was suffering one of the worst inflation in history. Coupled with political violence, the economic crisis threatened to unravel the very fabric of German society. Like many of her fellow countrymen, Ilse fell for the rhetoric of Adolph Hitler and joined the Nazi Party in 1932. Two years later she met Karl-Otto Koch, a rising star in the SS.
Koch was in command of Sachsenburg Concentration Camp at the time. He was praised by his superiors for his administrative abilities and slated for bigger commanding positions in the future. In 1936, he and Ilse got married and next year, Koch, a colonel by then, was appointed the commander of the new concentration camp at Buchenwald.
The Kochs set up their home in a lavish villa inside the camp. Their lifestyle was like something out of a badly written horror story. Ilse Koch discovered her love for riding and kept a horse inside an indoor sports arena built with funds embezzled by her husband. One of her favorite activities was riding around the camp and singling out prisoners with interesting tattoos. She would then proceed to have them killed and skinned. The house was filled with lampshades and other objects made out of human skin. Ilse became known for beating prisoners to death with her riding crop.
There were also rumors of orgies Ilse and Karl-Otto hosted regularly. Finally, the word of their debauchery reached German command and Koch was transferred to Majdanek camp. Ilse stayed in Buchenwald until she was arrested in 1943, together with her husband. He was sentenced to death for private enrichment, embezzlement, and the murder of prisoners to prevent them from testifying against him, but Ilse was acquitted and released. She lived with her relatives in Ludwigsburg, where she was arrested by the Americans in 1945.
Ilse Koch had two trials for her crimes. In the first one, she received a life sentence for “violation of the laws and customs of war.” However, her sentence was reduced, and she was released in 1948. When the news became public, the uproar was so great that she was arrested again in 1948 but this time sentenced to life in prison. She committed suicide in her cell in 1960.