Karl and Ilse Koch

 Karl Otto Koch is reputed to be the most brutal, sadistic, Jew-hating camp commander of all the camp commanders, which is saying a lot.  His wife Ilse shared equally in the brutality, justifiably becoming known as the ‘Bitch of Buchenwald.’

Koch (pronounced like ‘cook’) joined the Nazi party in 1931. In 1932 Ilse also joined the Nazi Party, and was one of the very first women to do so.  So naturally she only dated members of the SS, the more decorated the better. She was known for being a beautiful red head with sparkling green eyes.  When they met in 1936 he was commander of Sachsenhausen ‘preventive custody’ camp.  When they married in May 1937 they were married on the grounds of Sachsenhausen in an SS wedding ceremony – Christian ceremonies having no place in the lives of the SS.  Shortly afterwards they moved into a grand house on the grounds of Buchenwald, which became known as the Koch villa. Ilse gave birth to three children in the villa by 1940.
The Kochs became rich by skimming funds from camp funds, prisoner funds, the valuables of incoming Jews and other enterprises.  A huge indoor horseback-riding arena was constructed solely for Ilse’s use, lined with mirrors so she could watch herself ride. Thirty prisoners died building the structure. The basement of the villa was stocked with foodstuffs hard to find during the war; her closets were stuffed with expensive clothes and jewels.  And the location?  Only 1,000 yards from prisoner grounds.  Ilse was known for riding her horse around the camp and whipping prisoners in the face with her riding whip just for looking at her, hardly the behavior you’d expect from a new mother with babies at home.  She also had a fascination for tattoos – more on that later.
Koch left Buchenwald on New Year’s Day 1942 to lead Majdanek concentration camp. However, in August 1943 the Nazi’s arrested both the Kochs on charges of embezzlement, forgery, and other charges.  Karl was found guilty; Ilse was set free due to insufficient evidence.  She moved back to the Koch villa at Buchenwald and stayed there until February 1944. Koch remained imprisoned in Weimar. On April 3,1945 the SS killed him by firing squad at Buchenwald, as a lesson to other would-be corrupt commanders.  Two weeks later the Americans reached Buchenwald. 
Ilse lived quietly until her arrest after the war by the Allies. She went through years of trials and appeals, gave birth in jail after an affair with a guard in Dachau where she was held, and was eventually convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.  She hung herself in jail in 1967. The Americans came into possession of her personal scrapbook; today some of her personal and family photos are in the U.S. National Archives.  
There were only two commanders of Buchenwald: Karl Otto Koch (1937 –1942) and Hermann Pister  (1942 – 1945).
Sources: Whitlock, Flint, The Beasts of Buchenwald; Buchenwald Concentration Camp 1937-1945compiled by Harry Stein, published by the Buchenwald Museum; Kogon, Eugen, The Theory and Practice of Hell.
Photo – Ilse and Karl Koch, U.S National Archives.