They Made Furniture Out Of Human Skin: The Sickening Story of Ilse & Karl Koch | Horrific History & True Crime Series With Caledonian Kitty

(Ilse and Karl Koch. Picture credit: Death Camps Memorial Site

 I know what you're thinking when you see the title of this post, you're probably thinking.....Ed Gein & I wouldn't blame you (I actually covered the life and story of Ed Gein back in 2020 here if you're interested in reading). I originally intended to focus on just Ilse Koch for this post until I did further research into her husband who happened to be just as sick and twisted as she was. 

The pair of them cut a very sadistic and evil pair and I'm surprised that they are not talked about more when the subject of evil couples in history are discussed. I really appreciate all of the amazing feedback I have gotten so far in this series (In case you haven't read the first two subjects of my Horrific History & True Crime series, check out Irma Grese and Josef Mengele).

With a lot of people, especially young people like myself who are just learning more about everything that went on with the evil Nazi regime and the role of the concentration camps, it's easy to forget how huge the whole operation was. Some people think that the camps were limited to a small number, mainly being Auschwitz but when you do your research you see how it was a whole lot more, more than you could even imagine. 

Auschwitz concentration camp was like a little city in itself, there was a theatre, a cinema, a sports hall, swimming pool, restaurant etc and right next to this was blocks of hell where people were starved, beaten, tortured, raped, experimented on and murdered. It's so hard to describe not just Auschwitz but all of it's neighbouring camps because they were literally hell on earth.

Sometimes I think about visiting Auschwitz to go and lay some flowers, pay my respects and possibly write more about it but then the thought leaves my mind and I decide to leave it. I don't know if I ever will because I think I would find it very difficult from all of the research I have done. It's one thing reading and researching but to see everything, the belongings of the victims, the remains of the gas chambers right there in front of your eyes....I'm not sure how I would cope with that. I think it would haunt me. 

I have read a lot of comments from people who have actually visited Auschwitz and they have spoken about how huge the place actually is and the very uncomfortable feeling when you are taken by the tour guide into the gas chambers with other tourists. Some people find it morbid, others think that it's important that we face it and see the reality of the situation that these things happened. For me, I can imagine people having panic attacks in such a place. I'm not sure how I would react. What are your thoughts on this? 

But, moving on to my subjects in this post, Ilse and Karl Koch, these two were another set of components in the Nazi regime. Like most Nazis, they came from unremarkable backgrounds and there was nothing in their childhoods to suggest any major trauma or what was to come later. Ilse was born in Dresden, German in 1906 as Margarete Ilse Kohler, she officially joined the Nazi party in 1932. Karl-Otto Koch was born in Darmstadt, Germany in 1897, he joined the Nazi party just a year before Ilse, in 1931. 

Karl had been a decorated soldier but he was no stranger to controversy having previously spent time in prison for forgery. He paints a very dishonest individual who would cheat on his first wife (who wasn't accepting of his Nazi views) which eventually resulted in divorce in 1931. He was a fanatical and ambitious Nazi (like a lot of them were) and became a favorite amongst the likes of Heinrich Himmler (he was said to have been far worse than Adolf Hitler himself and was the architect of the Holocaust) who selected him as not only a model Nazi but for further promotion up the ranks (Himmler and his fellow Nazis had observed and heard about Karl's sadistic methods of torturing prisoners at the concentration camps and were very impressed with him). He also introduced him to Ilse and the pair were married in 1936. 

A year after the marriage, Karl was promoted to commandant (Officer in charge of the camp) at Buchenwald. The role of the camp was for the prisoners to be worked to death. Life expectancy, due to the conditions, torture, starvation and slave labour, was said to be 2 to 3 months at most although some prisoners were able to survive for much longer. Ilse didn't have an official role, like most Nazi wives, she was expected to remain in the home and raise a family. Ilse had other ideas and took it upon herself to become a a guard and overseer of the camp. With her husband in charge there was nothing that she couldn't do. 

(Karl-Otto koch. Picture credit: WW2 Database

The couple lived in luxury as the prisoners lived in appalling conditions and like all of the Nazi guards and commandants at the various camps, they over abused their positions and even more sadistically than one could imagine. They both enjoyed torturing prisoners. Ilse was bored at home and used the camp as her own sadistic playground. 

Knowing that the camp was full of men of all ages, Ilse (who some would describe as an attractive woman) would wear provocative clothing to tease the sex starved prisoners. A lot of these men had not had intimate relations with a woman for years so this was another form of torture that she enjoyed very much. She was a sexual sadist, who would tease male prisoners and then have them punished or murdered for daring to look at her. She loved and craved attention from men and was rumoured to have had affairs with some of the guards from the other camps whilst still being married to Karl. 

As Ilse and Karl had not been brought up with much money, they both enjoyed the novelty and trappings that came with being considered 'The Nazi Elite'. They enjoyed living in their luxury home with servants, delicious food, wines and expensive clothing as well as their sadistic playground on the other side where they tortured prisoners. 

Like a lot of Nazi criminals at the time, Ilse and Karl would help themselves to various items that were taken from the prisoners in the camp. They went a step further with the thefts and began taking more money and expensive items and using them for their own gain, stealing money and building a personal sports facility so that Ilse could ride horses. They kept the stolen money in private bank accounts. They were basically stealing from their fellow Nazis and this didn't go down well in the slightest. 

As well as ripping off their fellow Nazis (even though all the goods and money originally belonged to the prisoners of the camps) Ilse had been conducting some evil torture and experiments of her own, she would select prisoners from Auschwitz who had certain tattoos and arrange for these people to be murdered so that she could have their skins, if they had gold teeth, she would have them removed and would add to her and her husband's private stash. Ilse worked alongside a doctor in the camp to have the stolen human skins made into lampshades and other artifacts, reportedly, other limbs and remains were removed. 

Ilse would take her gruesome items that were made from human skin and body parts, and decorate her house with them. She would give some away to fellow Nazis as gifts. 

When word soon spread to those higher up about Ilse and Karl's behaviour towards prisoners, the torture, the mutilation of human skins and the constant thefts, they both suddenly found themselves in hot bother. 

The Nazis didn't care about stealing from the Jews or the other innocent people they tortured and murdered during WW2 for their phoney cause but a fellow individual Nazi taking money and goods for their own benefit was frowned upon in a big way. 

(The Wire fences of Buchenwald. Picture credit: Monash University)

The horrific experiments that Ilse Koch had arranged and the skinning of prisoners to make sickening artifacts was almost too insane to believe but when you consider all of the other horrendous atrocities that were being done in the camps for sadistic pleasure or 'in the name of science' (see my Dr Mengele posts), you realise (along with the witness accounts and evidence produced) that these horrific and extremely cruel events occurred. So, along with the pair ripping their fellow Nazis off, their conduct and what was deemed 'Needless experiments' (to benefit themselves and not the Nazi regime) was also listed for them to be brought before their superiors and to answer for their conduct. Karl also didn't do himself any favours when he was sent to another camp and carelessly allowed some of the prisoners to run amok. All of this was noted and a decision had been made. 

They'd both been married for quite a while and had one son and two daughters whilst all of this was going on. In 1944 the pair were brought to trial in front of their fellow Nazis and Ilse pretended to be 100% innocent of all wrongdoing claiming that the lampshades and other artifacts were actually animal skin. There was no escaping that they'd both been found out for stealing as evidence in their lifestyle, the bank accounts and the expensive sports facility that Ilse had built. Karl took the blame for it all and was sentenced to death, Ilse managed to get away with it. 

In a shocking twist to events, Karl was sent to the very camp that he was once commandant of, Buchenwald. He was treated like every other prisoner and declared a POW, he was taken out of one of the blocks and shot to death by firing squad. If Karl had been given a life sentence, no doubt he would have been walking out of the gates to freedom along with the other prisoners when the camp was liberated just a short time later in 1945. 

When the camp was liberated in 1945, members of the German public along with soldiers had been granted the rights to view the camp and what they saw was something so indescribable and horrific. They witnessed the skeletal remains of people who had starved or been worked to death, all piled up together like trash, human body parts kept in jars, dead and decomposing corpses all over the place and a table full of what was said to be lampshades, book covers etc made from human skin and body parts. The camp was originally meant to house 8,000 prisoners but the shocking number of people forced to squeeze into this vile place was actually 80,000. 

This wasn't the end of the story for Ilse though, she almost got away with her crimes but she was arrested again and it was soon time for her to face the music. Whilst waiting for her trial for her crimes, she managed to get herself pregnant by a fellow German prisoner. Being the master manipulator that she was, one wonders if she thought that being pregnant would gain her some sympathy, but it didn't work. As soon as the child was born (he was named 'Uwe') he was taken away and she ended up being served a life sentence. 

When Uwe got older he found out who his natural birth mother was and instead of running for the hills like a lot of normal people would, he decided to visit this monster on a monthly basis in an attempt to build a relationship with her. Ilse saw Uwe like she saw other people, someone that she could use for her own gain and a possible opportunity for her to try and get out of prison. 

Her other children wanted nothing to do with her. her two daughters moved away, changed their names and started a family. Her other son, however, met a more tragic fate. Being just children when their parents were carrying out their sickening crimes, the Koch children were completely innocent of what their parents had done but that didn't stop the feelings of shame and humiliation. The girls were able to move on and cut Ilse out of their lives but their brother couldn't live with what his parents had done and ended up taking his own life. 

(Ilse Koch in prison. Picture credit: WW2 Gravestone)

So, Uwe was all that Ilse had left because nobody wanted to know, she'd burned so many bridges and caused so much pain and suffering that she deserved the punishments that were now on her shoulders. She finally gave up September of 1967 and hung herself in her prison cell. She'd apparently been having a series of nightmares and delusions that previous prisoners (who she had tortured and sent to death) were haunting her. 

After her death, her estranged son Uwe went to the newspapers and tried to tell his mother's side of the story based on what he knew. Nobody was interested. One does wonder if Uwe really cared about his mother or saw this as a way to make some money, who knows? I guess it's pretty hard for me to understand why someone would want to track down their mother who they found out was a Nazi war criminal and had been responsible for all of these horrendous things, you'd think that you'd want to distance yourself as much as possible from that person and get on with your life. 

Despite her efforts to change the public perception of herself by using her estranged son, Ilse Koch has gone down in history as one of the most evil and sadistic women to have ever lived. Her sadistic ways put her husband in her shadow and they were both cold hearted people who enjoyed inflicting pain on others. 

RIP to those people who lost their lives (and thoughts for all of those who suffered) at the hands of these evil people. Thoughts also to the survivors and those brave enough to share their stories to help educate us all about what really happened in those horrifying days, weeks, months and years that the Nazis were in power. 

Further Reading & Sources:

The Beasts of Buchenwald | Book by Flint Whitlock

Karl-Otto Koch | Biography

Buchenwald | Holocaust Encyclopedia

Karl-Otto Koch | WW2 Database

Ilse Koch | Britannica

Ilse Koch | Biographics

Ilse Koch | Wikipedia

Ilse Koch | WW2 Database

The Nazis: A Warning From History | Book by Laurence Rees

Nazi Concentration Camp Commandants | Book by Ian Baxter

I hope you will join me next time for my final subject in this 'Horrific History & True Crime' series (please check out my previous posts in this series: Irma Grese: The So-Called Beautiful Beast of Auschwitz and The Life & Sadistic Crimes of Dr Josef Mengele

If you would like to see me do another series similar to this one, please let me know in the comments below. See you in the next post or on my Socials x


  1. Another masterpiece Jo !
    Your horrific history True Crime series is absolutely INCREDIBLE.
    I’m blown away by your work Jo.

    These two are crazy. Ilse and Koch are two monsters and they are beyond pure evilness. Another sadistic cruel evil couple. Not gonna lie, I was indeed thinking of Ed Gein when I was reading the title.
    I thought I knew about the Nazi regime but I’m learning so much with your series.

    I ‘m not sure if I will ever visit Auschwitz, certainly not alone. I would be in shock for sure but I’m also curious about the idea of visiting. Until I would be there, it’s impossible for me to know how I would react.

    It’s horrendous what they have done. Using the camp for their own sadistic pleasure.

    My GOD, so many gruesome crimes for these two maniacs. Collecting skin and gold teeth, I’m in disbelief. Decorating their house with human skin and body parts…I had to take a deep breath whilst I was reading that part.

    I’m glad that Karl was executed. I was afraid that Ilse would get away with her crimes but at least she went to prison. So many has suffered because of her including her children. I feel so bad for them especially for the one who commits suicide. I agree with you about Uwe, not sure about his motivation except getting some money from his mother story. Has for Ilse, she obviously take the easy way and hung herself.

    RIP to all the victims of this horrendous couple.

    Thank you for your amazing and incredible work Jo Xx

  2. Another incredibly brilliant True Crime Story! I have to admit I am loving this Nazi series of True Crime Stories and knowing that there is only one more story coming is a bummer but understandable.

    You had asked in the beginning of the post about how it would feel to go to Auschwitz and the emotions and feelings it would create. I would love to go to the concentration camps at some point just to be able to pay my respects for everyone that suffered and died at the hands of the Nazi regime and the atrocities they committed. However as you had mentioned doing these visits having done the research you've done and even reading the things that you've written as well as learning the history of the Nazi regime would end up causing extreme amounts of anxiety and be quite an emotional and psychological rollercoaster. However I would love to go and at least pay my respects to the untold numbers that died at the hands of such cruelty.

    Now in terms of these two monsters that you have written about this week... Wow! Unbelievable! These two are two of the most depraved and sick people I've heard about. I found a comforting irony though in the fact that Karl found his demise at the hands of the Nazi regime, one thing the Nazi's didn't tolerate amongst their own was theft especially if it involved the theft of money.

    Ilse I still believe got off easy, to be able to live all those years in prison having committed such disgusting and horrifying actions against the prisoners of Buchenwald. Just the mere thought of half the things her and her husband did is enough to turn even the strongest of stomachs.

    In regards to Uwe it's hard to pin-point what his motives were for going to the papers like he tried to do. One thing I've come to learn especially after reading this series is that the children of the Nazi's that you've written about have done some very odd things. Whether it's alienating themselves until the last minute or trying to forge a relationship with their parents or covering their parents tracks, it's nearly inexplicable why they do what they do.

    But in closing I must say I truly appreciate the incredible work that you have done and the brilliance of which you write these stories. I can't wait for the next one! 🙏