Scrapbookpages Blog

July 8, 2015

Oh Goody! A new 865 page book about the Holocaust

Filed under: Buchenwald, Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 8:34 am

The latest Holocaust book is entitled A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps

Written by Nikolaus Wachsmann

Illustrated. 865 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $40.

The New York Times article about the new book, which you can read in full here, begins and ends with Buchenwald.

A photo of Ilse Koch, “the bitch of Buchenwald,” is shown at the top of the New York Times article about the book.

Ilse Koch and her husband Karl Otto Koch

Ilse Koch and her husband Karl Otto Koch

Take a look at the photo of Ilse Koch and her husband, shown above. Note the flirtatious look and the way that Ilse pulls back her coat to show off her figure. You know she’s trouble with a capital T. You just know that she had human skin lamp shades made to decorate her home. I am sure that this will be explained in great detail in the new book.

The Buchenwald concentration camp was located near the German city of Weimar where Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Germany’s most famous writer, had lived from 1775 until his death in 1832. The area where the Buchenwald Memorial Site now stands was Goethe’s favorite forest retreat, where he had sat under his favorite oak tree.

The Buchenwald camp was built in the spot where Goethe used to sit under this oak tree

The Buchenwald camp was built in the spot where Goethe used to sit under this oak tree

When a spot in the forest on the Ettersberg was cleared for the Buchenwald camp, Goethe’s oak was left standing, and when the tree was killed in an Allied bombing raid on the camp on August 24, 1944, the Nazis cut it down but carefully preserved the stump, which is shown in my photo below.

The stump of Goethe's oak tree is located on the grounds of the former Buchenwald camp

My photo of the stump of Goethe’s oak tree on the grounds of the former Buchenwald concentration camp

The article about the new book begins and ends with Buchenwald. The photo of Ilse Koch is at the top of the article and the article ends with the story of how the Nazis saved Goethe’s oak.

In the following paragraphs, I am quoting from the New York Times article:

This explanation is given: Wachsmann focuses on one [prisoner]. His name is Moritz Choinowski, a Polish-born Jew detained by the Gestao in 1939 in the German town of Magdeburg. By the time of his liberation on April 29, 1945, Choinowski has survived Buchenwald, Auschwitz, a slowly growing German camp called Gross-Rosen and finally Dachau as well as the nightmarish forms of transportation between them. Is this possible? he sobs in the Dachau infirmary. It was, just.

Wachsmann, a history professor at London University’s Birkbeck College, has written a work of prodigious scholarship. At 865 pages, it is, in every sense, no light read. In fact it is claustrophobic in its evocation of the depths to which people can succumb. Readers may find themselves wanting out, but there is always worse to come. The book does not upend our understanding of the camp system, whose core elements are well known by now. But it imbues them with agonizing human texture and extraordinary detail. This is as relentless a chronicle of the collapse of an entire society and civilization — from its doctors drawn to every inhuman experiment to its foot soldiers looting the dead — as may be imagined.

Were the SS camps “typically German,” as some prisoners believed? Wachsmann answers that this “seems doubtful” in that “the men behind the KL system were far more invested in radical Nazi ideology than most ordinary Germans, who felt more ambivalent about the camps.”

[…]

One Olga Lengyel arrives in Auschwitz determined to protect her son from hard labor. She is asked by an SS physician (strange oxymoron), Dr. Fritz Klein, how old her son is. She says he is under 13, although he looks older. The boy is promptly sent to the gas. As Wachsmann writes, “Those under the age of 14 were almost all gassed on arrival.” After the war, Lengyel writes in despair, “How should I have known?” How indeed could anyone, so far had the Nazis gone in the application of the unthinkable.

[…]

The mystery remains. The Holocaust can never quite be digested, even when it is dissected into such minute detail. Buchenwald stood near Goethe’s hometown, Weimar. As Wachsmann writes, the connection with Goethe could not be severed: “A large oak tree, under which he had supposedly met with his muse, stood right on the new camp grounds; because it was protected, the SS had to build around it.”

They did and, step by step, Höss and his ilk found a way to usher Germany from the inspiration of its greatest writer to the inferno of mass murder.

End of quote from the New York Times.

I visited the Buchenwald Memorial Site several years ago, and wrote about it on my website at http://www.scrapbookpages.com/Buchenwald/index.html

The Buchenwald gate house with the clock stopped at 3:15 p.m.

The Buchenwald gate house with the clock stopped at 3:15 p.m., the exact time that the prisoners liberated themselves, before the Americans arrived

February 23, 2013

“Die Hexe von Buchenwald” — a famous German fairytale

Filed under: Buchenwald, Germany, Holocaust, World War II — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 9:00 am

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 shown on the right has no tattoo

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

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

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. Sitte points to three pieces of tattooed skin

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

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

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.

September 1, 2012

Did Ilse Koch really order human skin lampshades to be made at Buchenwald?

Filed under: Buchenwald, Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 9:33 am

My blog post today is in answer to a comment made by The Black Rabbit in which he gave a link to a post on his blog here.

This quote is from the blog of The Black Rabbit:

Jack Werber who survived in Buchenwald for over 5 years, writes in his 1996 book that Ilsa Kock’s human skin lampshade – was one of his friends

“One day, Ilse Koch passed by the building we were putting up and noticed a bare-chested man, a German prisoner named Hans, who was working with me on the scaffold. She became intrigued by his tattoos and wrote down his number. That evening, at the appel (roll call), his number was called and he was told to come to the gate. There, he was taken away and executed.

His skin was removed and brought to the tannery to be made into parchment for a lampshade. The Jehovah’s Witnesses were the only ones who worked there and they refused to do this. So the Nazis hanged three of them, one after the other, to scare the others into obeying but it didn’t help and they gave up in their efforts. Instead, the skin was taken to Weimar to be made up…”


Ilse Koch, shown at her trial, August 19, 1947
Photo Credit: INP Soundphoto

The photo above shows Ilse Koch at her trial before an American Military Tribunal in 1947. Ilse had somehow become pregnant while she was a prisoner of the Allies.  I previously blogged about Ilse Koch here.

After World War II ended, Ilse Koch did not go into hiding. When former prisoners in the camp began telling stories about her behavior to the American military, it was easy to track her down and arrest her as a war criminal. Starting on April 11, 1947, she was put on trial by an American Military Tribunal, along with 30 men associated with the Buchenwald camp, who were charged with participating in a “common design” to violate the Laws and Usages of war under the Hague Convention and the Geneva Convention of 1929. The specific charge against Ilse Koch was the crime of selecting Buchenwald prisoners to be killed by her alleged lover, Dr. Waldemar Hoven, in order to have lamp shades made from their tattooed skin.  Dr. Hoven was put on trial at a later date.

The American Military Tribunal proceedings against the staff at Buchenwald included only crimes committed against Allied nationals between January 1, 1942 and April 11, 1945, the day that Buchenwald was liberated. This was roughly the period of time during which America was at war with Germany. The charges against the accused in the proceedings of the American Military Tribunal did not include Crimes against Humanity, Crimes against Peace, nor War Crimes, as defined in Control Council Law No. 10 at the Nuremberg IMT.

The Buchenwald camp had been in existence since July 1937, and Ilse Koch had been at the camp since August 1937, but there were no charges against her that involved crimes committed in the camp before January 1, 1942, nor were there any charges involving crimes committed against German citizens at Buchenwald. Any lamp shades made from human skin that came from prisoners killed at Buchenwald before January 1, 1942, if any existed, could not be included in the evidence against Ilse Koch at Buchenwald.

According to Jack Werber’s story, Ilse Koch ordered a lampshade made from the skin of a German prisoner.  Would Ilse Koch have ordered a lampshade made from a German citizen, even though this was not a crime, according to the ex-post-facto laws of the Allies?

Frau Koch had been previously investigated for 8 months by Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen, an SS judge who had been assigned in 1943 to look into accusations of corruption and murder in the Buchenwald camp. She had already been put on trial in December 1943 in a special Nazi Court where Konrad Morgan was the judge. The rumor, circulated by the inmates at Buchenwald, that lamp shades had been made out of human skin, was thoroughly investigated by Dr. Morgen, but no evidence was found and this charge against Frau Koch had been dismissed by Morgen.

Even though Ilse Koch had been acquitted in Morgen’s court, the former inmates at Buchenwald were convinced that she had ordered prisoners to be killed, so that their tattooed skin could be made into lamp shades. When the American liberators arrived, they were told about the gory accessories found in Frau Koch’s home. A display table was set up and a film, directed by Billy Wilder, was made to document the atrocities in the camp.

The photograph below is a still shot from Billy Wilder’s film. It shows two shrunken heads, along with preserved pieces of tattooed skin laid out on a table, and a table lamp with a shade allegedly made from human skin.  Notice that there are no tattoos on the lampshade and the base is not made from a human bone.  This is not the lampshade described by Jack Werber.

Lampshades and shrunken heads made at Buchenwald

Ilse points to the location of her home on a map of the Buchenwald camp

In the photograph above, taken on July 8, 1947, Ilse Koch points out the location of the Commandant’s house, where she lived, just outside the Buchenwald camp. In the lower left-hand corner of the map, the buildings shown in a semi-circle are the barracks of the SS soldiers. To the right, down the hill from her home, are the barracks for the prisoners. Lt. Col. Denson, the chief prosecutor, is standing to her left, with his back to the camera. Members of the press are sitting at a table on the left. An interpreter is standing to the right of Frau Koch.

According to Joshua M. Greene, author of  the book Justice at Dachau, the prosecution introduced ten witnesses who testified against Ilse Koch. 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.

At least two witnesses 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. During the trial, 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. Sitte testifies at the Buchenwald trial

In the photo above, prosecution witness Dr. Kurte Sitte identifies 3 pieces of tattooed skin

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. Kurte 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.

According to the forensic report prepared for the American Military Tribunal proceedings, the three pieces of skin were 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, in his book 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.

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.”

American clergymen at the trial of Ilse Koch

The trial of Ilse Koch was a big event, which attracted world-wide attention.  I can remember seeing news reels about it.  The photo above shows 14 American Clergymen who traveled to Dachau, where the American Military Tribunal proceedings were held.

On April 16, 1947, five days after the start of the trial against the Buchenwald war criminals, an SS man named Werner Fricke took the stand to testify for the prosecution. Fricke had served as a clerk at Buchenwald from 1937 to 1945.

Fricke said the following in his testimony at the Buchewald trial, according to the book The Beasts of Buchenwald by Flint Whitlock:

When the action against the work slackers started in the fall of 1940, I believe, a prisoner was sent into the camp on account of Paragraph 175, Homosexuality. This prisoner, who was totally insane, did not, in my opinion, belong in a concentration camp but in an asylum.  That prisoner was tattooed all over his body from face to toe. In fact, even his sexual organs were tattooed.  Koch made a show out of this man in front of the camp gate, having him stand there nude.

About two or three weeks later, when I had to see the camp commandant on account of a matter of vital statistics [Fricke worked in the camp’s Vital Statistics office], I saw a book bound in human skin lying on his desk. The tattoos seemed so familiar to me that I suspected right away that it was the skin of the prisoner mentioned. The trusted friend of Koch, SS-Master SergeantMichael [and, according to Eugen Kogen, a nephew of Commandant Koch] confided to me upon a question after that prisoner that this book which I had seen in Koch’s place was actually bound with the skin of this prisoner. He said that the prisoner had died and that he had received instructions from Koch to have the skin tanned in camp and have a book bound with it.  I do not know about a lampshade or a hand bag, and I never saw those either.  However, I freely admit the possibility, for nothing was impossible with Koch.

Did I mention that hearsay evidence was allowed in all the trials before the American Military Tribunal, as well as at the Nuremberg IMT?

Apparently the infamous photo album, that was seen by the SS man and some of the prisoners, was 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.

 

September 14, 2010

Why did Ilse Koch (the human lampshade lady) hang herself in prison?

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust, movies — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 8:45 am

Ilse Koch, the wife of the Commandant at the Buchenwald concentration camp, was accused of ordering lampshades to be made from the skin of tattooed  prisoners.  If you believe that, I have another story to tell you:  After 20 years in prison, Frau Koch hanged herself in her prison cell, just after her son had started coming to visit her.  She was expecting his next visit the following day when she killed herself the night before.

Does this sound like a movie plot?  That’s because the same thing happened in the 2008 movie, The Reader, in which the character “Hanna Schmitz,” played by Kate Winslet, unexpectedly killed herself after serving 20 years in prison.

Ilse had become pregnant while she was in prison at Dachau, awaiting trial for allegedly ordering lamp shades to be made from human skin. At the age of 19, Ilse’s son, who had been born while she was in prison, found out that Ilse Koch was his mother, and he began visiting her regularly at the Aichach prison near Dachau. They got along well and Ilse wrote poetry for her son, according to Joseph Halow, the court reporter at the Dachau trials, who wrote a book entitled Innocent at Dachau.

On one of his scheduled visits, Ilse’s son was stunned to learn that his mother had killed herself the night before. Frau Koch never revealed the name of the man who impregnated her, except perhaps to her son, but if he knew, he never mentioned his father’s name. Today the body of the “Bitch of Buchenwald” lies in an unmarked and untended grave in the cemetery at Aichach. According to Joseph Halow, author of  Innocent at Dachau, her son disappeared after learning of his mother’s suicide.

Did Ilse Koch really kill herself, just when she had established a relationship with her son?  Why did her son disappear after learning of her alleged suicide?

Ilse Koch’s mug shot after she was arrested

The display table at Buchenwald after the camp was liberated

After the Buchenwald camp was liberated by American troops on April 11, 1945, a display table was set up and German civilians were marched at gunpoint to the camp to see the exhibits of atrocities committed at Buchenwald.  The photo above shows two shrunken heads and pieces of tattooed human skin removed from prisoners at Buchenwald, along with a lamp shade that is supposed to look like it was made from human skin.  The alleged lampshades made from human skin were either stolen by the American liberators, or they were never found.

Ilse Koch walks into the courtroom at the start of her trial, April 1947

Ilse Koch faces the judge to hear her sentence, August 1947

Notice that Ilse appears very arrogant as she walks into courtroom on April 11, 1947, wearing a nice dress with matching jacket.  She appears to be of normal weight and a little on the heavy side.  Contrast that with her appearance in the second photo, taken a month before her baby, conceived while she was in prison, was born in September 1947.  She appears to have lost weight, as well as her self esteem.

How did Ilse Koch become pregnant while being held as a prisoner at Dachau, awaiting her trial?  No one except the American military men who were involved in the proceedings of the American Military Tribunal had access to her prison cell.

I have been re-reading the book Justice at Dachau, written by Joshua M. Greene and published in 2003.  The following quote is from the book:

One of Ilse’s former lovers, an officer from Buchenwald, worked in the prisoner’s kitchen at Dachau. They met in the kitchen by chance, and Ilse told him where she was being held. The officer dug a hole to her barracks, and when she finally walked up to the witness chair in the Buchenwald trial, she was visibly pregnant. The press had a field day.

In his book, Greene did not identify the father, nor did he give a source for this information about how Ilse had become pregnant.

According to Dachau court reporter, Joseph Halow, in his book Innocent at Dachau, there were unverified rumors that Frau Koch had engaged in numerous affairs with SS officers, and even with some of the inmates, at the Buchenwald concentration camp. Halow also mentions that he was shocked to learn that Ilse Koch may have turned to other men because her husband was a “homosexual.” According to the Buchenwald Report, her husband had also suffered from syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease.

Frau Koch was 41 years old at the time she became pregnant, and she was being kept in isolation at Dachau, with no contact with any men except the American interrogators. According to Halow, there was speculation among the court reporters that the father was Josef Kirschbaum, a Jewish interrogator who was one of the few men who had access to her prison cell.

Halow wrote: “At Dachau many of them (the Jews) scarcely concealed their hatred for the Germans. Their feelings may have been understandable, but it was unconscionable for American authorities to put men such as Harry Thon, Josef Kirschbaum, and Lt. William Perl in positions where they had their enemies at their mercy.”

Frau Koch had been previously investigated for 8 months by Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen, an SS officer who had been assigned in 1943 to look into accusations of corruption and murder in the Buchenwald camp. She had already been put on trial in December 1943 in a special Nazi Court where Konrad Morgan was the judge. The rumor, circulated by the inmates at Buchenwald, that lamp shades had been made out of human skin, was thoroughly investigated, but no evidence was found and this charge against Frau Koch had been dismissed by Morgen.

Even though Ilse Koch had been acquitted in Morgen’s court, the former inmates at Buchenwald were convinced that she had ordered prisoners to be killed, so that their tattooed skin could be made into lamp shades. When the American liberators arrived, the prisoners told them about the gory accessories in Frau Koch’s home. A display table was set up to show a lamp shade, allegedly made from human skin, and a film, directed by Billy Wilder, was made to document the atrocities in the camp.

On August 14, 1947, Ilse Koch was found guilty of participating in a “common plan” to violate the Laws and Usages of War under the Geneva Convention of 1929 and the Hague Convention of 1907, by an American Military Tribunal at Dachau and sentenced to life in prison on August 19, 1947.

Ilse Koch was convicted by a panel of 8 American military judges on the charge of participating in a “common plan” to violate the Laws and Usages of War, but the specific accusation of ordering human lamp shades to be made from the skin of tattooed prisoners had not been proved in court.

In October 1948, General Lucius D. Clay, Commander in Chief of U.S. Forces in Europe and Military Governor of the U.S. Occupation Zone of Germany, commuted Ilse Koch’s sentence to four years, or time already served. This caused an international uproar.  There were rumors that General Clay was the father of Ilse’s baby and that is why he was so lenient in her case.

According to Jean Edward Smith, who wrote his biography, Lucius D. Clay, an American Life, the general maintained that the leather lamp shades were really made out of goat skin. The book quotes a statement made by General Clay years later:

There was absolutely no evidence in the trial transcript, other than she was a rather loathsome creature, that would support the death sentence. I suppose I received more abuse for that than for anything else I did in Germany. Some reporter had called her the “Bitch of Buchenwald,” had written that she had lamp shades made of human skin in her house. And that was introduced in court, where it was absolutely proven that the lamp shades were made out of goat skin.

Ilse Koch was tried again in a German court in 1951 and found guilty, but not guilty of ordering human lampshades to be made.

After serving over 20 years in prison for her second conviction, Ilse was founded dead in her cell at Aichach on September 1, 1967. Her death, by hanging, was ruled a suicide.