Koch, Erich, b 19 June 1896 in Elberfeld, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, d 12 November 1986 in Barczewo, Poland. German Nazi leader and war criminal. Koch joined the Nazi movement in the early 1920s and from 1933 served as party leader and Gauleiter (governor) of East Prussia. During the Second World War, in 1941 he was appointed Reich commissioner of the Reichskommissariat Ukraine. Until the end of 1944 he ruled most of German-occupied Ukraine with an iron fist, and then served again as Gauleiter in East Prussia (1944–5). Koch was responsible for the death of 4 million people in Ukraine by starvation or execution, including almost the entire Ukrainian Jewish population. (See Holocaust and Nazi war crimes in Ukraine.) Several villages in Ukraine were destroyed in reprisals against Ukrainian nationalist and Soviet partisan activities (see Ukrainian Insurgent Army and Soviet partisans in Ukraine, 1941–5). Under his rule, another 2.5 million Ukrainians were deported to Germany to work as slave laborers (Ostarbeiter). Koch viewed Ukrainians as an inferior race to be used solely as a source of manpower in agriculture and industry for the German war effort.
After Germany’s capitulation, Koch lived incognito in the British occupation zone of Germany until 1949, when he was discovered and extradited to Poland for trial. In 1959 he was convicted for war crimes he committed as Gauleiter of East Prussia and sentenced to death, but the sentence was never carried out, allegedly because of his poor health. Koch was allowed to spend the rest of his life in prison in relatively comfortable surroundings. Inexplicably, the Soviet authorities never requested his extradition to stand trial for the heinous crimes he committed as Reich commissioner of Ukraine, and they never openly pressured the Polish government to carry out his death sentence.
[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 2 (1988).]