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Early Life And Education:

Early Life and Education:

Margarete Ilse Köhler, also known as Ilse Koch was born in Dresden, Germany on September 22, 1906 (Commire & Klezmer, 2002). Köhler’s father was a supervisor for a factory construction crew. Little information is known about her mother at the time. Ilse’s childhood was considered surprisingly normal for a girl that would grow up into a sadistic, cruel and manipulative woman. Whitlock (2011) stated that there is no exact information if Ilse had been treated well or mistreated in the hands of her parents growing up. When in adolescence around age 15, Ilse entered accounting school and eventually ended up being a bookkeeper in the 1920s (Mesna, 2009). Since there was not a lot of job opportunities for women at the time, she took advantage of the Nazi party’s uprising towards power. When the enforcement of the Treaty of Versailles was established, Germany felt humiliated and defeated. Even though, World War I was over Germany’s economy was still recovering from the depression. Hyperinflation was at its highest because of all the money, resources and borrowing that happened during World War I. During the next couple of years, the Nazi party ended up being a solution for all Germans because of what Adolf Hitler said about restoring Germany to its glory days. Since this was occurring at the time, this may have influenced Ilse Koch to be open to the Nazi party and be open to their beliefs. As an accountant, she would want to support the Nazi party that is going to get the country out of financial ruin and help her career for the future.

Zeitgeist:

During Koch’s bookkeeping days, she started contributing to the Nazi party in small but effective ways. According to Commire & Klezmer (2002), Ilse ended up getting a secretary job at a factory that produced Sturm-Zigaretten (cigarettes) for the Nazi party. Commire & Klezmer (2002) also stated that selling these cigarettes was one of the many ways for fundraising before the Nazi movement came into power. “Most of Germany wanted to get rid of the Weimar republic and replace it with a system that was more efficient. This may have been a big contribution to Ilse’s influences because of Adolf Hitler actions such as his beliefs, speeches, and dedication to making Germany great again. Hitler was known as a persuasive man that had great tactic strategies and knew how to draw his audience in and this worked for Ilse Koch when she joined the Nazi party in 1932. Isle received her membership card and her number was 1,130,836 (Whitlock, 2011). Koch was fascinated by uniforms and ended up dating SS and SA officers (Whitlock, 2011). She ended up falling in love with an SS officer named Karl Otto Koch, they had a month-long romance and continued even when he was transferred somewhere else (Whitlock, 2011). As their romance progressed Ilse and Karl Otto Koch got transferred to work at the concentration camp in Buchenwald.

Discipline:

When Ilse entered the new concentration camp in Buchenwald with her new husband Karl, she took the position as a SS-Aufesherin (supervisor) (Whitelock, 2011). She fit in this criteria because of her early life in business with accounting which made her eligible. She was one of first few women to be a supervisor in a concentration camp. It is possible that her husband had an influence on whether she became a supervisor or not for the camp. Since she was beginning to be known around the camp for her unique supervising skills, no one knew what they were about to get into. Ilse was passionate about her authority position and was loyal to the Nazi party. She wanted to do a good job even if it means being the most gruesome woman in any way possible. Ilse developed a terrifying attitude towards her prisoners, and she got a unique nickname called “The Witch of Buchenwald”. During her time in Buchenwald, she was intrigued by prisoners with tattoos, so she would murder them, and then skin them afterwards. What made her interested in tattooed individuals was a camp physician named Erich Wagner (Whitlock, 2011). Erich and Ilse performed experiments on prisoners by skinning them and injecting them with substances (Whitlock, 2011). Ilse had unique collections of unusual objects during her time in Buchenwald. Ilse was productive during day to day operations, “including the selecting of tattooed prisoners to be killed and their decorated skin made into ghoulish household objects” (Whitlock, 2011). When the Nazi’s got captured, they found all types of evidence that made Ilse and her husband Karl guilty. These objects where found such as some shrunken heads, the human lampshade, household objects made of skin, tattoo skin artifacts. Ilse was a good manipulative woman towards others. Although Ilse was one of the many wives in Buchenwald, she made an impression of being someone who does not make friends easily (Whitlock, 2011). People would describe her as “vain, cruel, cold-blooded, sadistic, degenerate, and power hungry—perhaps more so than her husband” (Whitlock, 2011). Ilse and her husband Karl Koch were a match made in heaven because in their own ways they supported each other’s hobbies.

Ideas, Theories, and Schools of Thought:

Ilse was well driven by the fact that she had power over others. Since she was described to have a perfectly normal childhood, individuals question how she came to the conclusion to be so gruesome, cruel, sadistic and manipulative. Ilse was born into a middle-class protestant household (Przyrembel, 2001). It is not known if she still practiced as a protestant at the concentration camp of Buchenwald with her husband Karl. Religion is personal to individuals and they try to follow all the sayings, beliefs and praying. It was mentioned that she started acting abusive after the liberation of Buchenwald (Przyrembel, 2001). The attitudes of the Nazi Regime may have influenced her to forget her religious beliefs and act out. Ilse was known to walk around the camps beating her prisoners for no reasons, or just because she could. She knew she was an attractive woman, so she would walk around the camps just to get attention from prisoners and if she knew someone was looking at her inappropriately she would punish or sentence them to death (Commire & Klezmer, 2002). Ilse developed a spoiled mentality as well, after her indoor sports arena was built she would ride her horse every morning with an SS band playing by her side (Commire & Klezmer, 2002). As the years progressed, psychologists of today conducted similar experiments on testing human’s tolerance with authority and afflicting pain to others. The Stanford Prison experiment was known to test individual’s authority and see if behavior changes when you are given a state of power (Zimbardo, Haney, Banks, & Jaffe, 1971). People were assigned to be guards and others were assigned to be prisoners. It was said that the ones that were assigned to be guards took advantage of their positions and ended up being abusive towards their prisoners just because power was given to them. Authority could have affected how Ilse treated others but having her own fascinations and hobbies with torturing people is on another subject. Authority has a big influence on what type of person you will be, and Ilse was given a lot of authority.

Conclusion and Personal Thoughts:

Ilse Koch was known as the “Witch of Buchenwald” because of the cruel atrocities that happened in the concentration camp of Buchenwald under Hitler’s rise in power. There are no justifications on why Ilse came out to be the way she is, but we can conclude that building Germany’s economy back up again is a contributor. She was young and naïve, got attracted into the fantasy that Hitler could save Germany again if we payed close attention to his theories. Survival of the fittest applies to everyone throughout the German economy, especially being a woman. Women did not have many choices, they were just given rules. If women disobeyed their destinies of being wives or mothers, they are seen as insane. Back in the day, women were vulnerable to any opportunity and chance they could get. Maybe Ilse did not want to go to accounting school, but she did it because she had to survive in her life. There is no explanation on why Ilse was abusive to others. It may be a possibility that she has some psychopathic tendencies. If we knew more about how she has grown up with her parents in depth, there could be a conclusion on why she turned out to be the way she is. It is obvious that she was clever but not efficient in the long run. I do not believe that punishing people and making objects out of skin was beneficial towards society. I’m curious as to why she thought it was a good idea to make lampshades, keep shrunken heads, and have sexual relations with her prisoners. It was known when Ilse was on trial she did not get sentenced to death because she was pregnant at the time, but it was not known if the child was her husband’s or a prisoner’s baby. This made me think if this happened out of coincidence or if it was planned so she could be given mercy. Although, Ilse served her time in jail she committed suicide in her prison cell. Jedem das Seine means “everyone gets what he deserves” this was displayed on the camp (Whitlock, 2011).

Published Works

Santoro, G. (2010). A Lampshade Sparks an Odyssey into the Black Heart of the Holocaust. World War II, 25(4), 22-23.

This periodical is about the human lampshade that was found after hurricane Katrina. This lampshade was the first step to tell others about the real horrors of Isle Koch. Even in this periodical there are holocaust deniers saying that it isn’t real, and we shouldn’t bother giving it the time of day. Each time Santoro tries to give the lampshade to others, people don’t want anything to do with it because its distracting. Although there were many films and photographs they found this lampshade to be distracting. The lampshade was considered to be a symbol and depending on the person it could be interpreted in many upsetting ways. But isn’t that what makes it real and convincing? Finding objects like this means a lot in today’s society, history is all around us and it deserves its story to be told no matter how gruesome and cruel it is. The author came to a conclusion if Ilse Koch even felt any kind of remorse towards the prisoners she’s tortured and killed. How could humans go so low to kill people just like us. We are all human at the end of the day, shouldn’t we support one another. He mentions how Ilse’s son is born into prison and how he feels bad that he’s going to grow up and find out what his mother was really like before. Although, we do not know Ilse’s life in full depth it would be interesting to find out if we could.

Douglas, L. (1998). The Shrunken Head of Buchenwald: Icons of Atrocity at Nuremberg. Representations, (63), 39-64. doi:10.2307/2902917

The Shrunken Head also known as “Little Willie” was brought in Ilse Koch’s trials. The shrunken head contained no bones, stuffed and preserved. Many people didn’t want to believe that such cruel atrocities have been done at the concentration camp of Buchenwald. This shrunken head is real evidence that there are people out there that do sickening actions during the holocaust. Shrunken heads, human lampshades, and tattoo ornaments were found as evidence for Ilse’s doings. Individuals that were shown this in each trial were still surprised that this woman was capable of doing this. The shrunken head story wasn’t there to make others feel uncomfortable but to make a point. The point is that stories like this should be shared so we don’t repeat history in the future. There were other occasions were others made soap out of humans and gave them to the prisoners to shower with. Every reaction that was received made other people believe that this event did happen, and we should acknowledge it.

Heineman, E. (2002). Sexuality and Nazism: The Doubly Unspeakable? Journal of the History of Sexuality, 11(1/2), 22-66. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3704551

I thought this article was interesting because individuals don’t really hear about Sexuality and Nazi’s at the same time. Since Ilse was a Nazi, she got a unique diagnosis from a physician in 1951. This quote sort of reminded me of penis envy from Freud. “The multiplicity of her loves is explained by a thirst for vengeance because of her resentment at not being born a man”. The physician looked at this at a psychoanalysis perspective and I thought this would be useful for this paper or insight. I believe it would be interesting if we looked at Nazi’s in this perspective, I’d love to learn more about that. That quote really opened my eyes. This also goes into detail on how female guards actually acted when they were on duty.

Przyrembel, A. (2001). Transfixed by an Image: Ilse Koch, the ‘Kommandeuse of Buchenwald’. German History, 19(3), 369-399.

This article was mainly about introducing Ilse Koch’s trial and giving a little background on what happened in the Buchenwald concentration camp. This is divided into 3 sections throughout the article in intensive detail. It begins by introducing Ilse and her life before the Nazi party, not a lot was shared exactly about her childhood, but that it seemed perfectly normal. It was described on how she was an accountant for a while then ended up being a secretary for the Nazi party. It was mentioned that she was a tattoo collector throughout the camp and that more than 40 prisoners with killed for their tattoo skins. She was known as a nymphomaniac by prisoners and even some authority figures. When the Nazi’s got captured the soldiers found “Buchenwald souvenirs” throughout the camp that Ilse had collected throughout her time there.

When it was time for Ilse’s trial they brought pictures of what was confiscated. The author describes how this is important to bring pictures instead of describing in words because of the symbolism it represents. They needed real events to understand what happened during the Nazi Regime. Tattooed skins, shrunken heads, human lampshade and handbags made of skin were brought. This is important for this biography because it gives insight on her actual trial and how sneaky she is when she speaks about her times in Buchenwald. Witnesses mention how she would go around the camp and abuse people just because she could. She loved humiliating the prisoners and would get a joy out of it. Ilse was on trial for being a criminal and a sexually deviant perpetrator.

When Ilse had the chance to describe her times in Buchenwald, she mainly described her times as just being a supporting wife and mother for her family. All she’s done was for her family because it’s her duty to do so. She didn’t respond to the cruel actions she’s done within the camp and all she had for an explanation was that she was being a wife and mother. No one knew about Buchenwald in much detail because there were no documents about the role of SS wives in that concentration camp. Ilse denied a lot of things that were said into court. One example she said was that she did love riding her horse but that she didn’t have the indoor sports arena built just for her. Ilse was known as an “outside the power of the apparatus of the SS”.

During the trials, Ilse was pardoned twice, and people complained that she deserved a life in imprisonment. So, when her last trial happened they brought this evidence again. Ilse was pregnant at the time, so she didn’t get sentenced to death, she had her child in prison. Many of Ilse’s statements didn’t seem believable and individuals thought they were for propaganda and mass suggestion. She was trying to get remorse from others because she didn’t have a choice but to act like that during the times in the concentration camp. She committed suicide eventually in her prison cell. References:

Commire, A and Klezmer, D. (2002). Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Waterford, CT. Yorkin Publications. 1999-2002.

Douglas, L. (1998). The Shrunken Head of Buchenwald: Icons of Atrocity at Nuremberg. Representations, (63), 39-64. doi:10.2307/2902917

Heineman, E. (2002). Sexuality and Nazism: The Doubly Unspeakable? Journal of the History of Sexuality, 11(1/2), 22-66. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3704551

"Koch, Ilse (1906–1967)." Dictionary of Women Worldwide: 25,000 Women Through the Ages, edited by Anne Commire and Deborah Klezmer, vol. 1, Yorkin Publications, 2007, p. 1046. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com.summit.csuci.edu:2048/apps/doc/CX2588813013/GVRL?u=csuci&sid=GVRL&xid=f6649850. Accessed 1 May 2018.

Mesna, A. (2009, February 1). Ilse Koch: The Bitch of Buchenwald. Retrieved May 03, 2017,

from http://www.history.ucsb.edu/faculty/marcuse/classes/33d/projects/naziwomen/ ilse.htm.

Przyrembel, A. (2001). Transfixed by an Image: Ilse Koch, the ‘Kommandeuse of Buchenwald’. German History, 19(3), 369-399.

Santoro, G. (2010). A Lampshade Sparks an Odyssey into the Black Heart of the Holocaust. World War II, 25(4), 22-23.

Whitlock, F. (2011). The Beasts of Buchenwald: Karl & Ilse Koch, Human-Skin Lampshades, and the War-Crimes Trial of the Century. Brule, WI: Cable Publishing.

Zimbardo, P., Haney, C., Banks, W. C., & Jaffe, D. (1971). The Stanford Prison Experiment: A Simulation Study of The Psychology of Imprisonment. Pdf: Stanford.