The Female Concentration Camp Guard So Depraved Even The Nazis Arrested Her

We rarely hear about female Nazis from the days of the Holocaust, but they did exist and one of the worst was undeniably Ilse Koch. Koch acted as a guard over the concentration camp at Buchenwald, where she tortured, killed, mutilated, and constantly taunted inmates. She was flippant with her sadism, given the nickname The Beast of Buchenwald, and her husband, the Commandant, was equally evil. Some of the atrocities Koch committed are enough to make even those with strong stomachs squirm.

Please keep in mind that some of what you read here is graphic and disturbing, so this is not for the faint of heart. However, what happened to prisoners at the hands of The Beast of Buchenwald was real and well-documented. All can rest assured that not only were her evil deeds found out, but she was punished for her crimes against humanity. Some may argue not strongly enough.

Buchenwald concentration camp guard Ilse Koch is widely regarded as one of the most evil women to have ever lived and once you're done reading about the heinous things she did, you'll likely be inclined to agree.

  • She Married A Man As Evil As Herself
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    She Married A Man As Evil As Herself

    Ilse Köhler worked as a bookkeeping clerk in the 1930s before she joined the Nazi Party. It was in her time working for the Nazis that she met a man named Karl-Otto Koch. Karl-Otto was a sadistic sort of man who quickly rose through the ranks to become a commander, serving at several concentration camps. Ilse, rather than be horrified by the atrocities and crimes her husband was committing, instead involved herself in his work, supporting his actions.

    In 1936, the pair were married, and less than a year later, Karl-Otto was made Commandant of the Buchenwald concentration camp. This was one of the larger camps, focused on not only imprisoning but also exterminating Jews, Homosexuals, and other victims. The iron gates to the entrance touted a sadistic message to any who came in. 

    "To each their own" or more bluntly "you'll get what you deserve" was written across it. Ilse took the opportunity at Buchenwald to get involved on a more personal level, becoming a guard. She quickly gained a reputation for being even more sadistic than her husband.

  • She Collected Tattooed Skin

    One particular bit of sadism that Ilse indulged in was the act of seeking out tattooed prisoners. Some accounts say that she did this at the request of a doctor at the camp, to do research on correlations between tattoos and criminality, which he later wrote a dissertation on. Some say it was for her own enjoyment. 

    Koch would ride her horse through the camp and when she saw a distinctive tattoo she liked, she would have the prisoner captured. The prisoner was then stripped of his or her skin, preserving the tattoos, before being killed and incinerated. Ilse didn't turn all of the skins over to the researchers.

    She kept several patches as morose trophies in her home. Her skin samples would be a key part of her later trials.

  • She Loved Taunting Prisoners Who Were About To Be Tortured Or Killed

    Above all else, Ilse Koch enjoyed seeing the prisoners suffer, both physically and emotionally. She would ride through the camp, taunting prisoners, and when one would dare to look up, she would brutally whip them with her riding crop. She would laugh at those who were being sent to gas chambers and her house was visible to the entire camp, as if always ominously looking down at them.

    When she was selecting prisoners to be taken away to have tattoos removed, she would take her time in the selection, drawing out the prisoners' terror. Perhaps most distressingly of all, Ilse took her most sadistic pleasure in knowing children were dying.

    Surviving prisoners later recalled that she had always seemed the most excited when children were about to be sent to the gas chambers. 

  • She Made Household Items From Human Skin
    Photo: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum/courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    She Made Household Items From Human Skin

    Ilse Koch is perhaps best known for her love of human skin and the horrifying arts and crafts projects she used it for. She had a hobby of collecting not only skin, but also things made from skin. After prisoners with tattoos - or any that she just didn't like that day - were killed, the SS guards would tan their skin and then store it. They would later turn it over to Ilse who supposedly used it to make book covers, gloves, and lampshades for herself and the other officers.

    She even took to making shrunken heads and skulls for display in her house. In her entire personal collection of ornamental human skin items, Ilsa had one item she was supposedly most proud of: a lady's handbag made. Ilse would happily carry the bag for officers and prisoners to see. Some accounts say it was made from tattooed skin.

    While many of these items have been noted by others, none of the skin lamps were ever recovered.

  • She Forced Prisoners To Do Harmful And Sexual Things To Each Other

    Whenever the fancy took her, Ilse enjoyed making the prisoners hurt one another. If she could not find a tattoo she particularly liked, she would sometimes make one of the prisoners tattoo another in a manner that pleased her. The tattooed prisoner would then be killed for their newly-inked skin.

    However, one of her other interests involved sexually taunting and torturing the inmates. She would go out of her way to wear very short skirts, very tight sweaters, and would behave sexually openly around starved and tortured male prisoners. She'd watch as they performed exhausting activities, or flaunt and prance around like a movie star.

     She would even, for her own amusement, force them to perform sexual acts on each other. This is one of the reasons the inmates began calling her the Witch (sometimes Bitch) of Buchenwald.

  • She Displayed Human Organs In Her Home
    Photo: Jule Rouard - Luc Viatour / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    She Displayed Human Organs In Her Home

    Although human skin may have been a preferred source of amusement, Ilse didn't stop there when it came to body parts. Maybe because of her close relationships to the doctors and guards of the camp, she began collecting human body parts and organs. She experimented with making shrunken heads andalso collected preserved organs. Lungs, brains, hearts, livers, and more, were all preserved and used as decorations in her home and in the homes of other guards.

    Some had previously been experimented on, but most were taken solely for decoration. Because these organs were so well preserved, many were recovered and used as evidence in future trials.