ABOUT THIS BOOK
An authoritative reassessment of one of the Third Reich’s most notorious war criminals, whose alleged sexual barbarism made her a convenient scapegoat and obscured the true nature of Nazi terror.
On September 1, 1967, one of the Third Reich’s most infamous figures hanged herself in her cell after nearly twenty-four years in prison. Known as the “Bitch of Buchenwald,” Ilse Koch was singularly notorious, having been accused of owning lampshades fabricated from skins of murdered camp inmates and engaging in “bestial” sexual behavior. These allegations fueled a public fascination that turned Koch into a household name and the foremost symbol of Nazi savagery. Her subsequent prosecution resulted in a scandal that prompted US Senate hearings and even the intervention of President Truman.
Yet the most sensational atrocities attributed to Koch were apocryphal or unproven. In this authoritative reappraisal, Tomaz Jardim shows that, while Koch was guilty of heinous crimes, she also became a scapegoat for postwar Germans eager to distance themselves from the Nazi past. The popular condemnation of Koch—and the particularly perverse crimes attributed to her by prosecutors, the media, and the public at large—diverted attention from the far more consequential but less sensational complicity of millions of ordinary Germans in the Third Reich’s crimes.
Ilse Koch on Trial reveals how gendered perceptions of violence and culpability drove Koch’s zealous prosecution at a time when male Nazi perpetrators responsible for greater crimes often escaped punishment or received lighter sentences. Both in the international press and during her three criminal trials, Koch was condemned for her violation of accepted gender norms and “good womanly behavior.” Koch’s “sexual barbarism,” though treated as an emblem of the Third Reich’s depravity, ultimately obscured the bureaucratized terror of the Nazi state and hampered understanding of the Holocaust.
Scrupulous and unsettling, this is a vital reconsideration of a notorious figure from history.
-- Publishers Weekly
The definitive portrait of Ilse Koch, whose caricature as a sadistic nymphomaniac has for too long dominated representations of Nazi female perpetrators. In Jardim’s judicious hands, Koch’s story reveals much about the Nazi system, postwar justice, and the sexism that permeated both, while firmly establishing Koch’s guilt and paranoid antisemitism.
-- Wendy Lower, author of Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields
An indispensable, superbly researched contribution to the literature on postwar trials of Nazi crimes. Caught between her own obvious prevarications and lack of remorse, the US public’s thirst for sensationalism, and Germany’s need for a spectacular symbol of gender-violating deviance to serve as a convenient scapegoat, Ilse Koch was the rare case of a Nazi perpetrator who was over-prosecuted and over-punished.
-- Christopher R. Browning, author of Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland
Fascinating and highly original. Deploying a number of previously neglected sources, Jardim not only explores Koch’s life and trials, but also raises intriguing questions about how guilt can ever be established when all but the most circumstantial evidence is absent. A high-caliber contribution.
-- Elizabeth Borgwardt, author of A New Deal for the World: America’s Vision for Human Rights
A gripping account of a Nazi placed on trial after the war, both in court and in the press, for her gruesome acts at Buchenwald concentration camp. Looking closely at Koch’s life and motivations, Jardim offers a brilliant study of postwar Germany and America trying to come to grips with the barbarity of the Nazis, human wickedness, and the role of women perpetrators.
-- Susannah Heschel, author of The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany
In a stroke of genius, Jardim shows how the figure of Ilse Koch—popularly depicted as a bad wife, a worse mother, and a sexually threatening woman—helped frame the Holocaust as being, fundamentally, about psychological perversion and deviation from the gendered norms of civilization. In so doing, he makes the role of gender in postwar Nazi trials not only legible, but inescapable.
-- Devin O. Pendas, author of Democracy, Nazi Trials, and Transitional Justice in Germany, 1945–1950
A fascinating, revelatory book. Jardim’s deft account of the trials of one of the most infamous Nazi defendants serves as a prism through which he examines such big themes as the postwar reckoning with the camps, the popular (mis)understanding of Nazi crimes, and the politics of memory.
-- Nikolaus Wachsmann, author of KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Ilse Koch and the World of the Concentration Camps
2. Corruption, Murder, and the SS Trial of Ilse and Karl Koch
3. American Military Justice and the “Bitch of Buchenwald”
4. Clemency, Controversy, and the Koch Case in the US Senate
5. New Charges, New Challenges in a Divided Germany
6. The Augsburg Trial of Ilse Koch
7. The Long Years After