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International Criminal Law Review

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Ilse Koch’s trials for her role in atrocities at the Nazi Buchenwald concentration camp served as visual spectacles and primed her portrayal in media and public spaces. Koch’s conduct was credibly rumored to be one of frequent affairs, simultaneous lovers, and the sexual humiliation of prisoners. The gendered construction of her sexual identity played a distortive role in her intersections with law and with post-conflict Germany. Koch’s trials revealed two different dynamics. Koch’s actions were refracted through a patriarchal lens which spectacularized female violence and served as an optical space to (re)establish appropriate feminine mores. Feminist critiques of Koch’s trials furthermore also spun problematic narratives of womanly innocence and victimized powerlessness, or at times ignored her as a perpetrator. In the end Koch’s actual story—‘her’ story—becomes lost amid prurience, politics, and burlesque.



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