According to Wikipedia, “Buchenwald’s second commandant was Karl Otto Koch, who ran the camp from 1937 to 1941. His second wife, Ilse Koch, became notorious as Die Hexe von Buchenwald (“the witch of Buchenwald”) for her cruelty and brutality.”
(Warning to readers in Germany: if you don’t believe in fairy tales, you could go to prison for 5 years.)
Ilse Kohler had met and married Karl Otto Koch in 1936 while Koch was the Commandant at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp and Ilse was a guard there. She was dubbed “the Bitch of Buchenwald” by the American press after the camp was liberated by American troops on April 11, 1945. According to information at the camp Memorial Site and in the camp guidebook, Ilse selected prisoners with tattooed skin to be killed by her lover, Dr. Waldemar Hoven, in order to make leather lamp shades to decorate her home.
Leather lampshade, found in Ilse Koch’s home is shown on the right
The photo above shows a display table that was set up for the benefit of the German citizens of Weimar (the closest city to the Buchenwald camp) who were marched, at gunpoint, to the camp on April 15, 1945 to see the atrocities that “had been committed in their name,” only five miles from their homes. Also shown on the display table are two shrunken heads, made by the evil Germans from two Polish prisoners in the camp.
Spread out on the table, shown in the photo above, are several pieces of tattooed skin that were found in the camp, but no lampshade with tattooed skin was ever found — until a few years ago when the lampshade shown below was found in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The lampshade was tested and found to have been made from human skin.
Human lampshade found in New Orleans after the hurricane
The following quote is from this website:
When the flood waters of Hurricane Katrina receded, they left behind a wrecked New Orleans and a strange looking lamp that an illicit dealer claimed was ‘made from the skin of Jews.’ This whirlwind journey takes us from Chicago to Buchenwald… from CSI-type labs to the remains of the pathology department where the SS conducted medical experiments on inmates. Before journey’s end, we go back in time to meet the most notorious Nazi villainess of all: Ilse Koch, the so-called ‘Bitch of Buchenwald.’ […]
That this particular lampshade is human seems incontrovertible. Back in 2006 it was tested by the same DNA lab the FBI chose to identify the 11,000 body parts left after 9-11. And that lab determined that the lampshade was indeed “of human origin.” […]
So far, our forensics tests done at some of the world’s best crime labs have pointed back to origins in Nazi Germany and WWII. The truth behind the lampshade’s important. For years it dwelled between myth and reality. Because although there’s absolutely no doubt that human skin artifacts were made at Buchenwald, a human-skin lampshade has never been found.
What? You don’t believe in fairytales? The fairytale of “Die Hexe von Buchenwald” is true. It was proved, along with other facts, at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal.
Well, not exactly proved — but it was brought up at Nuremberg. On December 13, 1945, the US prosecution introduced Exhibit #253, which consisted of three pieces of tanned human skin that had been removed from prisoners by doctors at Buchenwald. A forensic report confirmed that it was human skin. Although this skin had not been fashioned into a lampshade, US prosecutor Thomas Dodd said that Ilse Koch had ordered tattooed human skin to be made into lampshades for her home. Exhibit #254, also introduced by Dodd, was a shrunken head, allegedly used by Ilse Koch as a paperweight, which Dodd said was the head of a Polish prisoner at Buchenwald.
Everything introduced into the Nuremberg IMT is absolutely true. But it wasn’t just at Nuremberg that the lamp shade story was proved; it was also proved at the trial of Ilse Koch conducted by the American Military Tribunal at Dachau — NOT!
Ilse Koch testifies on the witness stand at Dachau
According to Joshua M. Greene, author of Justice at Dachau, the prosecution introduced ten witnesses who testified against Ilse Koch at the American Military Tribunal. One of these witnesses, Kurt Froboess, testified that he had seen Frau Koch’s photo album, which he said had a tattoo on the cover. He said that he had seen this tattoo on a piece of preserved human skin, which he said had been removed from a fellow prisoner, in the pathology department at Buchenwald, and he later recognized this same tattoo on the cover of the photo album.
Apparently this photo album had been confiscated by the American liberators, but it was not introduced into evidence in the courtroom. In her plea for mercy from the court, Ilse Koch pointed out that Newsweek magazine had published an article in which it was stated that the US military government in Germany was in possession of her photo album. Frau Koch claimed that the album contained several photos of her home which showed lampshades made from dark leather; Frau Koch said the photos showed that the lampshades were clearly not made from human skin.
At least two witnesses at the trial of Ilse Koch testified about a lamp with a shade fashioned out of human skin and a base made from a human leg bone, which they claimed had been delivered to Frau Koch. One of these witnesses, Kurt Wilhelm Leeser, testified that he had previously seen the tattoos on this lamp shade on the arms of a fellow prisoner, Josef Collinette, before he died. This lamp was not introduced into evidence in the courtroom and there were no witnesses from the American military who testified about its existence.
The Jewish religion frowns upon tattoos and a Jew who is tattooed cannot be buried in consecrated ground, so it would have been unusual for a Jewish prisoner at Buchenwald to have had a tattoo. It was pointed out by defense counsel that Dr. Wagner was doing a study of tattoos and criminal behavior at Buchenwald. Tattooed skin had been removed from dead criminals and preserved at the pathology department where autopsies were done.
Dr. Kurt Sitte points to three pieces of tattooed skin found at Buchenwald
Three pieces of tattooed skin and a shrunken head were exhibited in the courtroom at Dachau as evidence of the ghastly crimes committed by the staff at Buchenwald. The photograph above shows Dr. Kurt Sitte, on the far right, who is identifying the three pieces of tattooed skin, found in the pathology department at Buchenwald. This same exhibit was shown at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal on December 13, 1945 as evidence of Crimes against Humanity. (In the trials conducted by the American military, the ex-post-facto law called “Crimes against Humanity.” was not used.)
According to the forensic report prepared for the trial of Ilse Koch, the three pieces of skin had been determined to be human. Joseph Halow, a court reporter for some of the other Dachau trials, claims that he saw a lamp shade that was part of the evidence at the proceedings against Ilse Koch, but if this lamp shade was tested, the results were not included in the forensic report. No one else, that I know of, ever mentioned seeing a lamp shade in the Dachau courtroom.
In the testimony given at Dachau, there was no reference by any of the attorneys to a lamp being on display in the courtroom during the proceedings. Dr. Sitte identified the shrunken head that was exhibited in the courtroom, but he did not mention a lamp being in the courtroom during his testimony.
Dr. Sitte, who had a Ph.D. in physics, was one of the star witnesses against Ilse Koch. He had been a prisoner at Buchenwald from September 1939 until the liberation. He testified that tattooed skin was stripped from the bodies of dead prisoners and “was often used to create lampshades, knife cases, and similar items for the SS.” He told the court that it was “common knowledge” that tattooed prisoners were sent to the hospital after Ilse Koch had passed by them on work details. Dr. Sitte’s testimony of “common knowledge” was just another word for hearsay testimony, which was allowed by the American Military Tribunal.
According to Joshua M. Greene, author of Justice at Dachau, Dr. Sitte testified that “These prisoners were killed in the hospital and the tattooing stripped off.”
Under cross-examination, Dr. Sitte was forced to admit that he had never seen any of the lampshades allegedly made of human skin and that he had no personal knowledge of any prisoner who had been reported by Frau Koch and was then killed so that his tattooed skin could be made into a lampshade. He also admitted that the lampshade that was on the display table in the film was not the lampshade made from human skin that was allegedly delivered to Frau Koch. Apparently the most important piece of evidence, the lampshade made from human skin, was nowhere in sight during the trial of Ilse Koch.
During his cross examination of Dr. Sitte, defense attorney Captain Emanuel Lewis tried to introduce a plausible explanation for the removal of tattoos at Buchenwald when he asked:
“Is it not a fact that skin was taken from habitual criminals and was part of scientific research done by Dr. Wagner and into the connection between criminals and tattoos on their bodies?”
Dr. Sitte answered:
“In my time, skin was taken off prisoners whether they were criminal or not. I don’t think that a responsible scientist would ever call this kind of work scientific.”
In a ceremony to commemorate the 50ieth anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald, one thousand survivors of the camp participated along with some of the American veterans who had liberated the camp. As quoted in an article about this event by Stephen Kinzer in the New York Times International, one of the former inmates shared his memories of Ilse Koch:
“She was a very beautiful woman with long red hair, but any prisoner who was caught looking at her could be shot,” recalled Kurt Glass, a former inmate who worked as a gardener at the Koch family villa. “She got the idea she would like lamp shades made of human skin, and one day on the Appellplatz we were all ordered to strip to the waist. The ones who had interesting tattoos were brought to her, and she picked out the ones she liked. Those people were killed and their skin was made into lampshades for her. She also used mummified human thumbs as light switches in her house.”
If the human thumb light switches were ever found, they were not introduced as evidence into the trial of Ilse Koch.
Just before the American liberators arrived at Buchenwald on April 11, 1945, Karl Otto Koch, the husband of Ilse Koch, had been executed by the Nazis themselves on April 5, 1945, two days before they began evacuating the Buchenwald camp. Koch had been incarcerated in the Buchenwald camp prison ever since he was arrested in August 1943 and tried in December 1943 by SS officer Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen in a special Nazi court. Koch was found guilty of extortion for taking bribes from Jewish prisoners, and he was also found guilty of two counts of murder for ordering the deaths of two Buchenwald prisoners.
Ilse had also been arrested by the SS for embezzlement and had been put on trial in Morgen’s court, along with her husband, but she had been acquitted of all charges. Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen had investigated the human lamp shade accusation, but had thrown this charge out of his court case for lack of evidence. Ilse Koch had been implicated in the crime of embezzlement at the Buchenwald camp because she shared a joint bank account with her husband, who was accused of extorting the equivalent of 100,000 dollars from the prisoners. As the wife of the Commandant, she came under the jurisdiction of the SS special court. She had been taken to the city jail in Weimar in August 1943 to await her trial, and had never returned to her former home just outside the Buchenwald camp.
According to a book entitled The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS, by Heinz Höhne, Otto Koch had extorted money from Jewish prisoners who were sent to Buchenwald in November 1938 following the state-sponsored pogrom known as Kristallnacht. Approximately 10,000 Jewish men had been brought to Buchenwald in November 1938 but they were offered the opportunity to be released if they promised to leave Germany with their families within six months. Koch was accused of taking money from these prisoners without official authorization. Koch had also ordered the deaths of two prisoners, allegedly in an attempt to cover up his misdeeds.
Another version of the story, according to The Buchenwald Report commissioned by the US Army, is that Koch had syphilis and he had ordered the deaths of two hospital orderlies to prevent them from revealing his secret.
Before his crimes at Buchenwald were uncovered, Commandant Karl Otto Koch had been transferred to the Majdanek death camp in Poland in September 1941, but his wife stayed behind, continuing to live in the Commandant’s house. According to The Buchenwald Report, it was rumored that Ilse Koch was having simultaneous love affairs with Dr. Waldemar Hoven, a Waffen-SS Captain who was the chief medical doctor at Buchenwald, and Hermann Florstedt, the Deputy Commandant.
Waldemar Hoven, a doctor at Buchenwald
Both Florstedt and Dr. Hoven had been put on trial in the special Nazi court, which was run by Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen, who was also an officer in the Waffen-SS. Florstedt was convicted by the Nazi court and was executed. Dr. Hoven, who was a Communist sympathizer, was convicted of killing non-Communist Buchenwald prisoners by injecting them in the heart. He was sentenced to death by the SS court, but his sentence was never carried out. After serving 18 months in the Buchenwald camp prison, he was reprieved because there was a shortage of doctors in the camp and his services were needed.
After World War II ended, Dr. Hoven with again charged with killing Buchenwald political prisoners by injection. He was one of the 23 Nazi doctors who were put on trial in June 1947 in the case of USA vs. Karl Brandt and others at Nuremberg, where he was again convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Dr. Hoven was executed by hanging on June 2, 1948.
In April 1947, Ilse Koch was convicted by the American Military Tribunal in Dachau and sentenced to life in prison. She was not convicted of ordering lamp shades to be made, but rather she was found guilty on a charge of participating in a “common plan” to violate the Laws and Usages of War under the Geneva Convention. During the review process, her sentence was reduced to time served, or four years, and she was released in 1949 by General Lucius D. Clay who said that the lamp shades in her home had been made from goat skin.
Ilse Koch was then retried in a German court on charges of cruelty to the prisoners and ordering prisoners to be murdered. She was convicted again and sentenced again to life imprisonment; after 20 years in prison Ilse committed suicide in 1967. The German court had not charged her with making lamp shades, but the judges did take judicial notice that lamp shades, made from human skin, had been found in her home, although this had not been proved during the proceedings of the American Military Tribunal at Dachau.
Room at Buchenwald where lampshades were made
The photograph above shows a room in the pathology annex at Buchenwald, which is called the Gedenkraum, or Place of Thought in English. A plaque on the wall of this room says that this is the room where the skin was flayed from dead prisoners to make lamp shades. I took the photo above in 1999 when I visited the Buchenwald Memorial Site. No lamp shades, nor even a picture of them, were displayed anywhere at the Buchenwald Memorial Site when I was there.
The Jewish newspaper Forward reported on April 4, 1997 that the National Archives in College Park, Maryland has identified “a human skin lampshade, or part of one,” taken from the Buchenwald concentration camp and kept with government documents, and that the National Museum of Health and Medicine holds three pieces of tattooed human skin also taken from Buchenwald.
Of all the propaganda published by the American liberators of the Nazi camps, in order to demonize the German people, the fairytale “Die Hexe von Buchenwald” is the most egregious, in my opinion.
I previously blogged about the lampshades at Buchenwald here.