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Senate Committee to Investigate Ilse Koch Commutation; Calls Sec. Royall and Prosecutor

September 29, 1948
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The Senate Investigating Committee, headed by Sen. Homer Ferguson of Michigan, today ordered an investigation into the commutation of the life sentence of Ilse Koch, convicted war criminal and widow of a former commandant of the Buchenwald death camp. Sen. Ferguson has called as the first two witnesses Secretary of the Army Kenneth C. Royall and William D. Denson, Chief prosecutor at the original war crimes trial of Fr Koch, who was charged with torture and responsibility of the death of prisoners and of having used the skin of human beings for book covers, lampshades and other articles.

“The Committee feels that Congress and the people are entitled to an explanation, if there is a satisfactory explanation to be made, “Ferguson said. The Senator added that he thought it “shocking” that there was a commutation in a case involving “atrocities and a vicious sadist who has killed many prisoners and used human skin to make gloves and lampshades and other things,” Sen. Herbert R. O’Connor of Maryland, a member of the Committee, concurred with Ferguson that the situation “requires a searching investigation.”

Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Cleo E. Straight, former Deputy Judge Advocate for war crimes in the European Theatre, who is now in Washington on another assignment, today took personal responsibility for the steps which resulted in the reduction of the life sentence to four years. “I am completely responsible and I stand on my conscience and before my God,” Col. Straight declared. Beyond that he refused to be quoted.

Secretary Royall, in a letter to Rep. Arthur G, Klein of New York, today promised to have the Koch case reviewed again if new evidence could be found to justify further charges against her. Klein yesterday wired Royall asking him either to overrule General Lucius Clay’s order of June 8, commuting the sentence, or to find a new capital crime for which she could be brought to trial again.

In his letter today, Sec. Royall repeated what he had told Sen. Paymond E. Baldwin and other Congressional critics of the action, that the decision was final. “Nor could the accused be tried again for the same offense or for any offense included therein,” he said. “From the information which has come to me, I am rather included to think that the available evidence would justify no other charges.” Roy all told Klein, however, that he would be glad to make inquire “as to whether there is evidence upon which other charges could properly be preferred against Ilse Koch.”

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