Kate Winslet's character in The Reader inspired by 'notorious female Nazi guard'

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The life of Ilse Koch, a concentration camp guard nicknamed "The Bitch of Buchenwald", was strikingly similar to that of Hanna Schmitz, the role played by Winslet in the Oscar-tipped film, according to Professor Bill Niven, an expert on modern German history and culture.

Bernhard Schlink, the author of the 1995 novel adapted for the film, has refused to disclose whether there was any real-life basis to Schmitz. Yet Prof Niven, of Nottingham Trent University, said that "no other known female camp guard comes close to matching up with Schmitz".

Like Schmitz, Koch came from a poor background. She married Karl Koch, a close friend of Adolf Hitler, in 1936, and accompanied him when he was made commandant of Buchenwald camp the following year.

As a supervisor of the camp's female guards, she whipped and beat prisoners. Witnesses said she forced prisoners to rape one another and was eventually disciplined by Nazi chiefs for her brutality.

At her trial it was said by a prisoner who had worked in the camp laboratories that she had selected prisoners with distinctive tattoos to be killed in order to produce lampshades for her husband.

As Schmitz does in the film, Koch killed herself after being sentenced to life in prison for her crimes perpetrated in a concentration camp...

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