Did the Nazis make lampshades out of human skin?

While the Nazis kept many grisly mementos of their victims, including tattooed skin, the lampshade claim may be a myth.

By far the best-known account of human souvenirs comes from the camp at Buchenwald. Here is the story:

(1) Even by Nazi standards, Buchenwald was out of control. Its original commandant, Karl Koch, was by all accounts corrupt and cruel. Inmates loathed him and his apparently sadistic wife, Ilse, whom they dubbed "the Bitch of Buchenwald." Meanwhile, medical personnel were keeping human souvenirs--in 1942 SS higher-ups ordered them to quit making "gifts" such as shrunken heads. A story arose that Ilse had had tattooed prisoners killed so lampshades and other articles could be made from their skin.

(2) In 1943 the SS conducted an internal investigation and tried the Kochs on charges including embezzlement and incitement to murder. (Karl had arranged for the shooting of two inmates who knew he'd contracted syphilis--the SS brass, if not necessarily the rank and file, paid at least lip service to the notion that prisoners weren't to be killed frivolously.) The SS judge, Konrad Morgen, found Karl guilty and ordered his execution, but acquitted Ilse. Later at her war crimes trial Morgen testified that a thorough search of her home found no human-skin lampshades or the like. Ilse didn't live at Buchenwald after 1943.

(3) Shortly after U.S. troops liberated Buchenwald in 1945, director Billy Wilder made a documentary about the camp to publicize Nazi atrocities. A widely circulated still photo from the film showed a table covered with preserved human remains, including two shrunken heads; several pieces of what appears to be tattooed skin; and an ordinary-looking table lamp. The film's narration says that among the items found was "a lampshade, made of human skin, made at the request of an SS officer's wife." The press went nuts, and soon the lampshade became emblematic of Nazi barbarism.

(4) Ilse Koch and others from Buchenwald were tried in 1947 for war crimes. Prosecutors submitted as evidence a shrunken head and three pieces of tattooed human skin but apparently no lampshade. Much of the testimony against Koch was hearsay, although at least one former inmate said he'd seen a tattooed-skin lampshade. Koch was convicted, but her life sentence was commuted on review, in part because of doubts about the witnesses' credibility. She was later tried by a German court, again sentenced to life, and committed suicide in prison in 1967.

(5) Five pieces of tattooed skin are kept at the National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM) and one at the National Archives (NA), both federal facilities in the D.C. area. All six items are from Buchenwald; three have been positively identified as human, and another is now being tested. The NA item was once labeled "human skin lampshade," but an archivist there says it has no perforations or other indications of such use. Two of the NMHM items have holes on the left side as though from a hole punch. A third, which is large and irregularly shaped, has pinholes around the perimeter at one- to three-centimeter intervals. How the holes got there is unknown, but a photo shows the skins stuck up on an exhibit board at Ilse Koch's 1947 trial. The NMHM curator reserves judgment, but nothing suggests these items were part of a lampshade. The lamp from the movie still has vanished; however, as photographed it doesn't match the lamp described by witnesses at the trial--it has no visible markings at all.

Occasionally you hear about human-skin lampshades in private collections Norm Sauer, a professor of forensic anthropology at Michigan State University, was part of a team of experts that a few years ago examined a number of alleged human souvenirs that had been donated to the Holocaust Memorial Center, now located in Farmington Hills, MI. Among the items were a lampshade (and it really was a lampshade, consisting of panels on a wire frame), two chess sets, and a bar of soap, along with some collections of ashes, bone fragments, and so on. Although some of the bone fragments did appear to be human, most and possibly all of the household objects were not. The chess sets were made of animal but not human bone; the lampshade possibly was deer or goat but not human skin. Tests of the soap were inconclusive. (The alleged practice of rendering human fat into soap is a story unto itself; the common opinion now seems to be that while it may have been made experimentally once, human soap was never produced in quantity).




Gen. Lucius D. Clay , United States Military Commander in post-war Germany, in 1976 was supposed to be a speaker at a conference at the George C. Marshall Research Foundation in Virginia. In poor health, he sent last-minute regrets. A month later, he and General Mark W. Clark gave videotaped interviews to a member of the Foundation:

We tried Ilse Koch....She was sentenced to life imprisonment, and I commuted it to three years. And our press really didn't like that. She had been destroyed by the fact that an enterprising reporter who first went into her house had given her the beautiful name, the "Bitch of
Buchenwald," and he had found some white lampshades in there which he wrote up as being made out of human flesh.

Well, it turned out actually that it was goat flesh. But at the trial it was still human flesh. It was almost impossible for her to have gotten a fair trial.

Similar words were said to Jean Edward Smith in the interview he took:

That was one of the reasons I revoked the death sentence of Ilse Koch. There was absolutely no evidence in the trial transcript, other than she was a rather loathsome creature, that would support the death sentence. I suppose I received more abuse for that than for anything else I did in
Germany. Some reporter had callled her the "Bitch of Buchenwald," had written that she had lampshades made out of human skin in her house. And that was introduced in court, where it was absolutely proven that the lampshades were made out of goatskin.

~Lucius D. Clay, An American Life
, p. 301. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1990.  


Soap and Lampshades: The Lies Persist

by Richard A. Widmann

In his recently published book, Why People Believe Weird Things, Skeptic editor Michael Shermer recounts an exchange from the Phil Donahue show. On that particular episode, CODOH director Bradley Smith stated, "It [is] a lie that Germans cooked Jews to make soap from them." Shermer, who is skeptical of many things, but generally a believer in the Holocaust story, replied, "No, not a lie. It's a mistake."

For some the tales of vicious Germans manufacturing Jews into bars of soap and lampshades are indeed a lie, for others, like Shermer, they are the products of innocent mistakes; for still others, the stories remain an unassailable truth. In fact, these propaganda lies have been dispelled many times, but continue to be repeated frequently in establishment sources. It is no wonder that many people still believe these horror stories.

General Lucius Clay, the military governor of the US zone of occupied Germany, explained the lampshade story:

Well, it turned out actually that it was goat flesh [sic --clearly the general meant skin]. But at the trial [of Ilse Koch] it was still human flesh.

Interview with Lucius Clay, 1976, Official Proceeding of the George C. Marshall Research Foundation

In regard to the human soap story, darling of the establishment media and virulent anti-revisionist Deborah Lipstadt noted in 1981:

The fact is that the Nazis never used the bodies of Jews, or for that matter anyone else, for the production of soap.

~"Nazi Soap Rumor During World War II," Los Angeles Times, May 16, 1981, p II/2.

Michael Berenbaum, former director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, now supervising Steven Spielberg's taxpayer-funded Holocaust remembrance project, admitted in 1994, "there is no evidence, despite widespread reports, that human fat was used for soap. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum tested several bars of soap reported to be composed of human fat but no such fat was found." (Y. Gutman, M. Berenbaum, Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1994) One would clearly think that the case is closed, and that further repetition of these propaganda stories would constitute nothing more (and nothing less!) than arrant anti-German bigotry.

Still, the lies persist. On May 10, 1997 the New York Times ran an article entitled, "Holocaust Collection Is Educator for Young." The story concerns Milton Kohn, the owner of the world's "largest private collection of Holocaust memorabilia." Kohn wanders the world repeating anti-German hate stories to children. Part of his traveling collection includes an alleged "bar of soap rendered from human fat [which]was bought from a third party in Eastern Europe in 1968." Surely the New York Times, which prides itself on reporting "all the news that's fit to print," is aware that the soap story has been discredited.

The month of May also saw a revival of the hateful story of human lampshades. In a mailing from Time-Life Video designed to hawk their "World at War" series of videos, the advertisement reads:

More than 60 million people were shot, hanged, bombed, starved, gassed, frozen or drowned. Nazis turned humans into lampshades... Now you can see what hell is really like in the most definitive war footage you can find today!

Obviously, anti-German hatred still sells. Those who profit from spreading these hateful lies should be called to account. It's up to those with a sense of justice and respect for the truth to let the offenders know that countenancing, let alone spreading, such lies can't and won't be tolerated.

New York Times

229 West 43rd Street
New York, New York 10036

Time Life Video
1450 E. Parham Road
Richmond, VA 23286-4257


The American Hebrew,
New York, December 4, 1942

Report on Extermination


Site Meter

Existence of an official order by Adolf Hitler [1] calling for the extermination of all Jews in Germany and the territories occupied by the Nazis which, if carried out, would mean the death of five million Jews, has been confirmed in documents made available by the State Department to Dr. Stephen S. Wise.

The documents submitted by the State Department were received, following the effort undertaken at the request of Dr. Stephen S. Wise, President of the American Jewish Congress, to authenticate reports from abroad that mass massacres were occurring or were about to occur. In making this request Dr Wise acted in behalf of a special conference which was attended by representatives of the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, American Jewish Labor Committee, Agudath Harabonim, Agudah Israel, B'nai B'rith, Synagogue Council of America, and the World Jewish Congress.

Mass Massacre

The confirmatory reports were made public recently in behalf of all the organizations. The reports received indicate that the Hitler policy of decimation of the Jews has already advanced so far as to have resulted in the mass massacre of more than 1,500,000. According to these documents, made available through the State Department, confirmation of the Hitler order was obtained from high German officials. This information, supplementing advices first received from the European offices of the World Jewish Congress, and transmitted to its American offices through the State Department, indicates that mass deportations have been taking place to Eastern Europe from all countries under Nazi domination.

Since the beginning of August, according to these reports, trains en route to the East have arrived at the German frontier filled with corpses.

The corpses are used in special factories for the manufacture of soap [2], glue, and train oil. Jews have been killed according to a new procedure. Gas chambers have been replaced by the injection of air into the veins. The injection of the air leads to general poisoning. One hundred injections per hour is the record of German physicians.

Since the end of 1932, it is further revealed, Nazi Party physicians have been experimenting in scientific methods for the "extermination and utilization of corpses. The value of corpses is now estimated at 50 Reichsmarks."

These advices simplified the information with respect to Hitler's order of extermination. This order has been discussed, according to these advices, since August 1942. The plan was originally submitted to Hitler's general headquarters by Herman Backe, Secretary of State for Economics [3]. Under the plan, "all Jews living in Germany and German-occupied and controlled countries, numbering some five million, should, after deportation and concentration in certain regions of Eastern Europe, be exterminated at one stroke, in order to solve once and for all the Jewish question in Europe."


The time of execution was set for the fall of 1943. In anticipation of the execution of this plan, large-scale deportations from all European countries began. The plan of Herman Backe, submitted directly to Adolf Hitler, was based on economic reasons, in order to ease in part the difficult food situation buy the annihilation of at least four million persons who would otherwise have had to be fed.

The adoption of this plan was delayed through the opposition of a number of leaders of the Nazi Party. These include Dr Frank, Governor-General of the occupied Polish territories, who opposed the plan, not on humanitarian grounds, but on the grounds that the Jews were artisans or specialists in industries and could ease the shortage of labor in Poland. The plan was also opposed on the same grounds by Heinrich Himmler, Chief of the Gestapo. Despite this opposition, however, the plan was finally accepted, and Hitler signed the order calling for the mass deportation ofd Jews, with a view to their ultimate extermination.

In making these facts public in behalf of the conference Dr. Wise, as its chairman, stated:

It is our purpose in making these facts known to accomplish two purposes: One, to acquaint the world at large with the exact nature of Nazi bestiality; and two, to insure, as already pledged by our Government and the United Nations, that the perpetrators of the anti-Jewish crimes shall be held to strict accountability by the tribunals which the United Nations, are already setting up.

In East European countries, says the reports, particularly in Poland, "pogroms and mass-executions on a large scale are constantly taking place." Thus the policy of extermination of European Jews is systematically carried out in accordance with the pronouncements made in the last speeches of the head of the German Government. Those unfit for work are killed. Those engaged in slave labor are worked to death. Persistent reports have it that young Jewish girls and women having been sterilized are brought to the military brothels."

Actual Conditions

The information received through the State Department cites the actual condition of the Jews in various countries under Hitler since the outbreak of the war in 1939.

Taken country by country, the reports indicate:

GERMANY. Of the 200,000 Jews who lived in Germany at the outbreak of the war in 1939, mass deportation, suicides and starvation have reduced their number to 40,000.
AUSTRIA. Of 75,000 Jews in Austria at the outbreak of the war, no more than 12,000 to 15,000 remain.
BOHEMIA AND MORAVIA. Of the 80,000 in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, 15,000 Jews remain; the remainder have been deported either to Poland or Terezin.
POLAND. Of the 3,300,000 Jews living in Poland at the beginning of war, there were left following the German invasion 1,300,000 in the General Government and 700,000 in the Polish towns annexed by Germany, the remainder having fled to Soviet Russia or remained in the territories occupied by Russia, which have been reoccupied by Germany. The total number of Jews under German domination in Poland, after a deduction of 500,000 refugees in Russia, therefore, should have approximated 2,000,000. At the beginning of the Summer of 1942, there were still in Poland only 2,200,000, 600,000 having perished, but in the meantime large scale evacuations and massacres took place so that, for instance, the Ghetto of Warsaw, with a normal population of at least 550,000 harbors today not more than 100,000.
BELGIUM. It is reported that only 5,000 Jews remain in Brussels, and 3,000 in Antwerp, of the 85,000 who resided in Belgium at the beginning of the war in 1940.
HOLLAND. Sixty thousand of the 180,000 Jews of the Netherlands have already been deported

1. The origin of the spurious "official order by Adolf Hitler" was a story from Switzerland telegraphed by Dr Gerhart Riegner, the World Jewish Congress representative in Switzerland, to London and New York in August 1942... (See British Foreign Office papers in the Public Record Office, file FO.371/30917)

2. The "Jewish soap" legend was finally refuted by Israeli historians in 1990.

3. "Herman Backe" is a reference to Dr Herbert Backe, Under-Secretary for Agriculture; his widow Ursula confirmed that the allegations against him are ludicrous -- as ludicrous as the suggestion that Frank (hanged at Nuremberg in 1946) and Himmler were opposed to the Final Solution.

Herbert Friedrich Wilhelm Backe

(1 May 1896 – 6 April 1947) was a German Nazi politician and Obergruppenführer in the SS.

Backe was born in Batumi, Georgia, the son of a retired Prussian lieutenant turned trader. His mother was a Caucasus German, whose family had emigrated from Württemberg to Russia in the early 19th century. He studied at the Tbilisi Gymnasium (grammar school) from 1905 and was interned on the outbreak of World War I as an enemy alien because he was a citizen of Prussia. This experience of being imprisoned for being German and witnessing the beginning of the Soviet revolution made Backe an anti-communist. He moved to Germany during the Russian Civil War with the help of the Swedish Red Cross. In Germany, he initially worked as a labourer, and enrolled to study agronomy at the University of Göttingen in 1920. After completing his degree he briefly worked in agriculture and then became an assistant lecturer on agricultural geography at Hanover Technical University. In 1926, he submitted his doctoral dissertation, titled The Russian Cereals Economy as the Basis of Russian Agriculture and the Russian Economy (German: Die russische Getreidewirtschaft als Grundlage der Land- und Volkswirtschaft Russlands), to the University of Göttingen, but it was not accepted. Later, after Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Backe self-published his dissertation with a print of 10 000 copies.

Backe was an SA member from 1922. He joined the Nazi Party in February 1925. Finally, he joined the SS in October 1933.

He undertook various duties in the administration of Nazi Germany, succeeding Richard Walther Darré as Minister of Food in May 1942 and becoming Minister of Agriculture in April 1944.

Hunger plan

Backe was personally nominated by the Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories, Alfred Rosenberg, as the Secretary of State (Staatssekretär) of the Reichskommissariat Ukraine where he could implement his strategic policy, the Hunger Plan (Der Hungerplan also Der Backe-Plan). The objective of the Hunger Plan was to inflict deliberate mass starvation on the Slavic civilian populations under German occupation by directing all food supplies to the German home population and the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front. According to the historian Timothy Snyder, as a result of Backe's plan, “4.2 million Soviet citizens (largely Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians) were starved by the German occupiers in 1941–1944.”

Backe was a prominent member of the younger generation of Nazi technocrats who occupied second-tier administrative positions in the Nazi system such as Reinhard Heydrich, Werner Best, and Wilhelm Stuckart. Like Stuckart, who held the real power in the Interior Ministry (officially led by Wilhelm Frick) and Wilhelm Ohnesorge in the Reichspostministry (officially led by the conservative Paul Freiherr von Eltz-Rübenach), Backe was the de facto Minister of Agriculture under Richard Walther Darré, even before his promotion to that post.

From April to May 1945, Backe continued as Minister of Food in the short-lived post-Hitler Flensburg Government led by Grossadmiral Karl Dönitz. On 23 May 1945 he was arrested by British forces along with other members of the Flensburg government, including Dönitz and Albert Speer.

Backe was held in American custody and was due to be tried for war crimes at Nuremberg in the Ministries Trial. However, he committed suicide by hanging himself in his prison cell on 6 April 1947.

Herbert Backe in the Reichsministerium für Emährung und Landeswirtschaft (Ministry of Food and Agriculture--REEUL) is generally seen as the author of the Nazi Hunger Plan which as a result was sometimes referred to as the Backe Plan. He was powerul force in the Ministry even before he was finally appointed Minister (May 1942). Hitler appears to have more confidence in Backe than the original minister, Darré. Many of the NaziI war criminals are very well known. The Hunger Plan which may have killed 4-5 million people, mostly Soviets, was one of the great crimes of the War. It was one element of Generalplan Ost that was actually implemented. Despite conceptulizing and implementing on of the great crises of history, ouside historians spcializing in Nazl history, Backe is virtually unknown. Backe was born in Georgia, at the time a Tsarist province. With the outbreak of World War I, Tsarist officias interned him as an enemny alien. He managed to escape and get to Grmany duruing the Russian Civil War. He was at the time of World War II one of aising tier of young second level professionals in the NAZI Party. He was an advocate of invading and deindustrialing the Soviet Union. He wanted to demolish Soviet industry and eliminate the Soviet industrial work force. He thouht that the Soviet Union should be turned back to an agricultural economy focused on produing what for western Europe. This coincided with Hitler's idea in Mein Kampf. There was no idea of taking comntrol of Soviet industry which ws substantial, bur rather retuning the East to an area of peasant agriculture. Backe was critical of Stalin's agricultural policy, wich was to seize control of it through collectivization and use the agricultural harvest to finance industriliztion. As a result, Soviet grain exports were only a fraction of Tsarist levels. This made Germany dependent of trans-Atlantic grain (American, Argentine, and Canadian). Backe wanted to end this dependence by sezing control of Soviet grain production. In Backe's view this would create a continent Grossraumwirtschaft and an efficient division of labor, an industrialized Western Europe and a peasant-based agricultural eastern Europe. This mean eliminating the uneeded urban population of the Soviet Union. Staatssekretär Backe took the lead role in this matter. Darré was apparently not informed of the Barbarossa planning. Darré was both the REFUL Minister and the Reich Farming Leader (Reichsbauernführer). After the launch of Barbarossa, Backe informed Darré that he received instructions that the Führer did not want planning conducted in the Ministry, but rather transferred as a Four-Year Plan task. This meant it was turned over to Reichsmarshall Göring who was Plenipotentiary for the Four Year Plan. Of course secrecy was a factor, but Hitler seems to have been concerned about Darré when it came to such a radical matter as the Starvation Policy. [Kay, p. 53]


Kay, Alex J. Exploitation, Resettlement, Mass Murder: Political and Economic Planning for German Occupation Policy in the Soviet Union, 1940-1941.

The Northern California Jewish Bulletin
April 27, 1990

Holocaust expert rejects charge that Nazis made soap from Jews
by Hugh Orgel

Tel Aviv (JTA) -- Professor Yehuda Bauer, head of the Hebrew University's Holocaust history department and regarded as one of the foremost researchers of the Holocaust, has denied the frequently quoted charge that the Nazis used the bodies of Jewish death camp victims to make soap.

The technical possibilities for transforming human fat into soap were not known as that time, Bauer said Sunday at a Holocaust memorial meeting for Yom Hashoah.

"The Nazis did enough horrible things during the Holocaust. We do not have to go on believing untrue stories," Bauer said.

Unsubstantiated rumors about the use of bodies of British soldiers to make soap had circulated during both World War I and World War II, he said.

Historian Yehuda Bauer said many Jews believed their murdered families and friends had been turned into soap because the Nazis themselves propagated the idea. Nazis told the Jews they made soap out of them.

It was a sadistic tool for mental torture.

 ~- Reuters.  April 25, 1990

Raoul Hilberg
, professor of political science at the University of Vermont and a pre-eminent historian of the Holocaust, agrees that the soap rumor, although widespread, was probably unfounded.

"There were all kinds of rumors," he said, noting that a New York Times article during the war suggested that Jews were given lethal injections before deportation and arrived at the extermination camps already dead.

Other rumors speculated that Jews were killed in the Belzec camp by electrocution in water; some thought the Jews were gassed in the trains.

"All of these rumors are untrue, based on nothing at all," Hilberg said. "No evidence has turned up" to suggested that the Nazis used human fat to make soap.

In Danzig, Germany (now Gdansk, Poland), pictures of dead, heavyset people cut into pieces and a recipe for soap were discovered in 1945 at the Stutthof camp. "But we don't know that the bodies were of Jews, or that the pictures and recipe went together," said Hilberg.

Moreover, the rumor was being circulated as early as 1942, according to documentary evidence.

"It's fairly reliable that the story was circulated, but I can't say whether or not it is true," said Hilberg.


JTA staff writer Elena Neuman in New York contributed to this report

Wartime Codebreakers Missed Clues to Holocaust

Coded Nazi messages intercepted by Britain could have exposed the scope of the Holocaust years before the liberation of the death camps, but Allied codebreakers failed to fully understand the information they had, according to United States government analysis of intelligence from the era.

In what is being likened to the intelligence failures before the September 11 attacks, German military and police communications from as early as 1941 provided lurid but fragmentary accounts of the massacres and deportations, and later even statistics on the numbers killed in concentration camps.

According to the report titled "Eavesdropping on Hell", by Robert Hanyok, a historian with the National Security Agency's centre for cryptologic history, British and US efforts to sort evidence were hampered by case backlogs and a shortage of translators, as well as the two allies' reluctance to share information about German communications.

According to a summary of the report in the New York Times, one of the most harrowing messages codebreakers overlooked was intercepted on January 11, 1943 and detailed the 1,274,166 Jews killed under Operation Reinhard at four death camps - Lublin, Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka - during 1942.

The report notes:

The message itself contained only the identifying letters for the death camps followed by the numerical totals.

The only clue that they were death camps was the reference to Operation Reinhard, a tribute to the SS general Reinhard Heydrich, who had been charged with organising the Nazis' plan to eliminate Europe's Jews. But that was probably "unknown at the time" to the British codebreakers, the report says.

However, British analysts must have considered the message important, because it was classified "Most Secret" and marked: "To be kept under lock and key. Never to be removed from the office."

The report also suggests that anti-Semitism may have created an atmosphere that affected how the intelligence was handled.

"Both President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill were often hampered in their limited efforts to alleviate some of the suffering by the general anti-Semitic sentiment in both nations," the report says.

Just how much British signals intelligence analysts, either individually or as a group, held this attitude is unknown. And how much it affected their reactions to the intelligence is likewise unknown. But it must be considered in any discussion about how Comint [communications intelligence] was received.

One particularly chilling memorandum, written by a British official on September 11 1941, refers to German massacres in the Soviet Union and concludes:

The fact that the police are killing all Jews that fall into their hands should now be sufficiently well appreciated. It is not therefore proposed to continue reporting these butcheries unless so requested.

Mr Hanyok attributed the British official's response to "either his inability to appreciate the implications of the massacres, or his willingness to ignore what the Nazis were doing".

The one area where the report does absolve the Allied codebreakers from blame is for not having obtained evidence of the Nazis' genocidal plans before the war. The author observes: "Allied communications intelligence discovered nothing of the prewar and early wartime high-level Nazi planning for the general campaign against Europe's Jews and other groups ...

Orders to carry out these operations were not communicated in a means such as radio that could be intercepted by Allied monitoring stations.

Historians quoted by the New York Times were divided on whether the missed intelligence could have made a difference. Peter Black, a senior historian at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, told the newspaper:

Even in the unlikely event that the decipherers and translators had figured out what this all meant, there was nothing the Allies could have done militarily.

"If they announced it, would it have saved lives?" asked Aaron Breitbart, a senior researcher at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles. "I think so, because there would have been greater pressure to bomb Auschwitz in 1944, at least the rail lines on bridges.

But saving Jews was not a priority. Jewish leaders were told that the best way to stop the Holocaust was to defeat Germany.

'Jewish Soap'

By Mark Weber

One of the most lurid and slanderous Holocaust claims is the story that the Germans manufactured soap from the bodies of their victims. Although a similar charge during the First World War was exposed as a hoax almost immediately afterwards, it was nevertheless revived and widely believed during the Second. [1] More important, this accusation was "proved" at the main Nuremberg trial of 1945-1946, and has been authoritatively endorsed by numerous historians in the decades since. In recent years, though, as part of a broad retreat from the most obviously untenable aspects of the "orthodox" extermination story, Holocaust historians have grudgingly conceded that the human soap tale is a wartime propaganda lie. In their retreat, though, these historians have tried to dismiss the soap story as a mere wartime "rumor," neglecting to mention that international Jewish organizations and then Allied governments endorsed and sanctioned this libelous canard.

Wartime rumors that the Germans were manufacturing soap from the corpses of slaughtered Jews were based in part on the fact that soap bars distributed by German authorities in Jewish ghettos and camps bore the impressed initials "RIF," which many took to stand for "Rein jüdisches Fett" or "Pure Jewish Fat." (It did not seem to matter that the letters were "RIF" and not "RJF.") These rumors spread so widely in 1941 and 1942 that by late 1942 German authorities in Poland and Slovakia were expressing official concern about their impact. [2]

According to a Polish source quoted in a secret wartime U.S. Army military intelligence report, for example, the Germans were operating a "human soap factory" in 1941 at Turek, Poland. "The Germans had brought thousands of Polish teachers, priests and Jews there and after extracting the blood serum from their bodies, had thrown them on large pots and melted off grease to make soap," the intelligence report added. [3]

Macabre "Jewish soap" jokes became popular in the ghettos and camps, and many non-Jews on the outside came to believe the story. When trains loaded with Jewish deportees stopped temporarily at rail stations, Poles reportedly would gleefully shout at them: "Jews to soap!" [4] Even British prisoners of war interned at Auschwitz in 1944 testified later about the wartime rumors that corpses of gassing victims were being turned into soap there. [5]

In spite of its inherently incredible character, the soap story became an important feature of Jewish and Allied war propaganda. Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, wartime head of both the World Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Congress, publicly charged in November 1942 that Jewish corpses were being "processed into such war-vital commodities as soap, fats and fertilizer" by the Germans. He further announced that the Germans were "even exhuming the dead for the value of the corpses," and were paying fifty marks for each body. [6]

In late 1942, the Congress Weekly, published by the American Jewish Congress, editorialized that the Germans were turning Jews "by scientific methods of dissolution into fertilizer, soap and glue." An article in the same issue reported that Jewish deportees from France and Holland were being processed into "soap, glue and train oil" in at least two special factories in Germany. [7] Typical of many other American periodicals, the influential New Republic reported in early 1943 that the Germans were "using the bodies of their Jewish victims to make soap and fertilizer in a factory at Siedlce." [8]

During June and July 1943, two prominent representatives of the Moscow-based "Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee" toured the United States and raised more than two million dollars for the Soviet war effort at a series of mass meetings. At each of these rallies, Soviet Jewish leader Solomon Mikhoels showed the crowd a bar of soap that he said was made from Jewish corpses. [9]

After the war the soap story was given important legitimacy at the main Nuremberg trial. L. N. Smirnov, Chief Counsellor of Justice for the USSR, declared to the Tribunal:

The same base, rationalized SS technical minds which created gas chambers and murder vans, began devising such methods of complete annihilation of human bodies, which would not only conceal the traces of their crimes, but also to serve in the manufacturing of certain products. In the Danzig Anatomical Institute, semi-industrial experiments in the production of soap from human bodies and the tanning of human skin for industrial purposes were carried out.

Smirnov quoted at length from an affidavit by Sigmund Mazur, an Institute employee, which was accepted as Nuremberg exhibit USSR-197. It alleged that Dr. Rudolf Spanner, the head of the Danzig Institute, had ordered the production of soap from corpses in 1943. According to Mazur's affidavit, Dr. Spanner's operation was of interest to high-ranking German officials. Education Minister Bernhard Rust and Health Leader Dr. Leonardo Conti, as well as professors from other medical institutes, came to witness Spanner's efforts. Mazur also claimed to have used the "human soap" to wash himself and his laundry. [10]

A human soap "recipe," allegedly prepared by Dr. Spanner (Nuremberg document USSR-196), was also presented. Finally, a sample of what was supposed to be a piece of "human soap" was submitted to the Nuremberg Tribunal as exhibit USSR-393.

In his closing address to the Tribunal, chief British prosecutor Sir Hartley Shawcross echoed his Soviet colleague: "On occasion, even the bodies of their victims were used to make good the wartime shortage of soap." [11] And in their final judgment, the Nuremberg Tribunal judges found that "attempts were made to utilize the fat from the bodies of the victims in the commercial manufacture of soap." [12]

It is worth emphasizing here that the "evidence" presented at the Nuremberg Tribunal for the bogus soap story was no less substantial than the "evidence" presented for the claims of mass extermination in "gas chambers." At least in the former case, an actual sample of soap supposedly made from corpses was submitted in evidence.

After the war, supposed Holocaust victims were solemnly buried, in the form of soap bars, in Jewish cemeteries. In 1948, for example, four such bars wrapped in a funeral shroud were ceremoniously buried according to Jewish religious ritual at the Haifa cemetery in Israel. [13] Other bars of "Jewish soap" have been displayed as grim Holocaust relics at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, the Stutthof Museum near Gdansk (Danzig), the Yivo Institute in New York, the Holocaust Museum in Philadelphia, the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Melbourne (Australia), and at various locations in Israel. [14]

Numerous Jews who lived in German ghettos and camps during the war helped keep the soap story alive many years later. Ben Edelbaum, for example, wrote in his 1980 memoir Growing Up in the Holocaust: [15]

Often with our rations in the ghettos, the Germans had included a bar of soap branded with initials R.J.F. which came to be known as "RIF" soap. It wasn't until the war had ended that we learned the horrible truth about the bar of soap. Had we known in the ghetto, every bar of "RIF" soap would have been accorded a sacred Jewish funeral in the cemetery at Marysin. As it was, we were completely oblivious to its origin and used the bones and flesh of our murdered loved ones to wash our bodies.

Nesse Godin was transferred from a ghetto in Lithuania to the Stutthof concentration camp in the spring of 1944. In a 1983 interview, she recalled her arrival there: [16]

That day they gave us a shower and a piece of soap. After the war we found out the soap was made out of pure Jew fat, Rein Juden Fett, marked in the initials on the soap that I washed with. For all I know sometimes maybe there was a little bit of my father's fat in that soap that I washed with. How do you think I feel when I think about that?

Mel Mermelstein, the former Auschwitz inmate who was featured in the sensationalized April 1991 cable television movie Never Forget (and who sued the Institute for Historical Review and three other defendants for $11 million), declared in a 1981 sworn deposition that he and other camp inmates used soap bars made from human fat. It was an "established fact," he insisted, that the soap he washed with was made from Jewish bodies. [17]

Renowned "Nazi hunter" Simon Wiesenthal repeated the soap tale in a series of articles published in 1946 in the Austrian Jewish community paper Der Neue Weg. In the first of these he wrote: [18]

During the last weeks of March the Romanian press reported an unusual piece of news: In the small Romanian city of Folticeni twenty boxes of soap were buried in the Jewish cemetery with full ceremony and complete funeral rites. This soap had been found recently in a former German army depot. On the boxes were the initials RIF, `Pure Jewish Fat.' These boxes were destined for the Waffen-SS. The wrapping paper revealed with completely cynical objectivity that this soap was manufactured from Jewish bodies. Surprisingly, the thorough Germans forgot to describe whether the soap was produced from children, girls, men or elderly persons.

Wiesenthal went on:

After 1942 people in the General Government [Poland] knew quite well what the RIF soap meant. The civilized world may not believe the joy with which the Nazis and their women in the General Government thought of this soap. In each piece of soap they saw a Jew who had been magically put there, and had thus been prevented from growing into a second Freud, Ehrlich or Einstein.

In another article he observed:

The production of soap from human fat is so unbelievable that even some who were in concentration camps find it difficult to comprehend. [19]

Over the years, numerous supposedly reputable historians have promoted the durable soap story. [20] Journalist-historian William L. Shirer, for example, repeated it in his best-selling work, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. [21]

Leading Soviet war propagandist Ilya Ehrenburg wrote in his postwar memoir:

I have held in my hand a cake of soap stamped with the legend 'pure Jewish soap', prepared from the corpses of people who had been destroyed. But there is no need to speak of these things: thousands of books have been written about them. [22]

A standard history studies textbook used in Canadian secondary schools, Canada: The Twentieth Century, told students that the Germans "boiled" the corpses of their Jewish victims "to make soap." [23] The Anatomy of Nazism, a booklet published and distributed by the Zionist "Anti-Defamation League" of B'nai B'rith, stated: "The process of brutalization did not end with the mass murders themselves. Large quantities of soap were manufactured from the corpses of those murdered." [24]

A detailed 1981 work, Hitler's Death Camps, repeated the soap story in lurid detail. While noting that "some historians claim that the Nazi manufacture of soap from human fat is just a grim rumor," author Konnilyn Feig nevertheless accepted the story because "most East European camp scholars ... validate the soap stories, and other kinds of bars made from humans are displayed in Eastern Europe -- I have seen many over the years." [25]

New York Rabbi Arthur Schneier repeated the tale at the opening ceremony of the largest Holocaust meeting in history. In his invocation to the "American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors," held in Washington in April 1983, the Rabbi solemnly declared:

We remember the bars of soap with the initials RJF -- Rein jüdisches Fett, Pure Jewish Fat -- made from the bodies of our loved ones. [26]

In spite of all the apparently impressive evidence, the charge that the Germans manufactured soap from human beings is a falsehood, as Holocaust historians are now belatedly acknowledging. The "RIF" soap bar initials that supposedly stood for "Pure Jewish Fat" actually indicated nothing more sinister than "Reich Center for Industrial Fat Provisioning" ("Reichsstelle für Industrielle Fettversorgung"), a German agency responsible for wartime production and distribution of soap and washing products. RIF soap was a poor quality substitute that contained no fat at all, human or otherwise. [27]

Shortly after the war the public prosecutor's office of Flensburg, Germany, began legal proceedings against Dr. Rudolf Spanner for his alleged role in producing human soap at the Danzig Institute. But after an investigation the charge was quietly dropped. In a January 1968 letter, the office stated that its inquiry had determined that no soap from human corpses was made at the Danzig Institute during the war. [28]

More recently, Jewish historian Walter Laqueur "denied established history" by acknowledging in his 1980 book, The Terrible Secret, that the human soap story has no basis in reality. [29] Gitta Sereny, another Jewish historian, noted in her book Into That Darkness:

The universally accepted story that the corpses were used to make soap and fertilizer is finally refuted by the generally very reliable Ludwigsburg Central Authority for Investigation into Nazi Crimes. [30]

Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of modern Jewish history, similarly "rewrote history" when she confirmed in 1981:

The fact is that the Nazis never used the bodies of Jews, or for that matter anyone else, for the production of soap. [31]

In April 1990, professor Yehuda Bauer of Israel's Hebrew University, regarded as a leading Holocaust historian, as well as Shmuel Krakowski, archives director of Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust center, confirmed that the human soap story is not true. Camp inmates "were prepared to believe any horror stories about their persecutors," Bauer said. At the same time, though, he had the chutzpah to blame the legend on "the Nazis." [32]

In fact, blame for the soap story lies rather with individuals such as Simon Wiesenthal and Stephen Wise, organizations like the World Jewish Congress, and the victorious Allied powers, none of whom has ever apologized for promoting this vile falsehood.

Why did Bauer and Krakowski decide that this was the appropriate time to officially abandon the soap story? Krakowski himself hints that a large part of the motivation for this "tactical retreat" has been to save what's left of the sinking Holocaust ship by throwing overboard the most obvious falsehoods. In the face of the growing Revisionist challenge, easily demonstrable falsehoods like the soap story have become dangerous embarrassments because they raise doubts about the entire Holocaust legend. As Krakowski put it:

Historians have concluded that soap was not made from human fat. When so many people deny the Holocaust ever happened, why give them something to use against the truth? [33]

The bad faith of those making this calculated and belated concession to truth is shown by their failure to note that the soap myth was authoritatively "confirmed" at Nuremberg, and by their unwillingness to deal with the implications of that confirmation for the credibility of the Tribunal and other supposedly trustworthy authorities in establishing other, more fundamental aspects of the Holocaust story.

The striking contrast between the prompt postwar disavowal by the British government of the infamous "human soap" lie of the First World War, and the way in which a similarly baseless propaganda story from the Second World War was officially endorsed by the victorious Allied powers and then authoritatively maintained for so many years not only points up the dispiriting lack of integrity on the part of so many Western historians, but underscores the general decline in Western ethical standards during this century.

The "human soap" story demonstrates anew the tremendous impact that a wartime rumor, no matter how fantastic, can have once it has taken hold, particularly when it is disseminated as a propaganda lie by influential individuals and powerful organizations. That so many intelligent and otherwise thoughtful people could ever have seriously believed that the Germans distributed bars of soap brazenly labeled with letters indicating that they were manufactured from Jewish corpses shows how readily even the most absurd Holocaust fables can be -- and are -- accepted as fact.


1.During the First World War, the London Times was apparently the first Allied paper to report (in April 1917) that the Germans were boiling down the bodies of their dead soldiers to make soap and other products. See: Phillip Knightley, The First Casualty (New York: 1975), pp. 105-106. This story was quickly picked up by other papers and widely circulated in the British and American press. In 1925, British Foreign Secretary Sir Austen Chamberlain admitted that the "corpse factory" story had been a lie. See: Arthur Ponsonby, Falsehood in Wartime (New York: 1929), pp. 102, 111-112; Walter Laqueur, The Terrible Secret (Boston: 1988), pp. 8-9.
2.Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews (New York: 1985), pp. 966-967; Walter Laqueur, The Terrible Secret (Boston: 1980), pp. 54, 82, 145, 219; U.S. State Department document 740.001 16 (from 1943), facsimile in Encyclopaedia Judaica (New York and Jerusalem: 1971), vol. 13, pp. 759-760; Bernard Wasserstein, Britain and the Jews of Europe (London: 1979), p. 169; A September 1941 German Einsatzgruppen Security Police report from the Ukraine mentioned equally baseless rumors, reportedly spread by Jews, of a supposed Soviet biological warfare plague bacteria bomb. Even some German soldiers believed the stories. (Ereignismeldung UdSSR, No. 80, Sept. 11, 1941, p. 9)
3.Secret U.S. Army military intelligence report No. 50, April 27, 1945. National Archives, National Records Center (Suitland, Maryland), RG 153 (JAG Army), Box 497, Files 19-22, Books I and II, Entry 143.
4.Nachman Blumental, "RIF," Yiddish Culture, Vol. 21, June-July 1959. (Monthly of the Yiddish Culture Association). Apparently published in Israel in Hebrew. A German translation of the original essay was obtained by Ditlieb Felderer through the Encyclopaedia Judaica, Jerusalem. I am grateful to him for a copy.
5.Douglas T. Frost affidavit, July 16, 1947. Nuremberg document NI-11692. Trials of the War Criminals Before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals (NMT "green series"; Washington, DC: 1949-1953), Vol. 8, p. 624; As noted below in footnote 10, this rumor was authoritatively "confirmed" at the Nuremberg Tribunal.
6."Wise Says Hitler Had Ordered 4,000,000 Jews Slain in 1942," New York Herald-Tribune (Associated Press), Nov. 25, 1942. pp. 1, 5; "2 Million Jews Slain by Nazis, Dr. Wise Avers," Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov. 25, 1942; The New York Times, Nov. 26, 1942, p. 16; See also: Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews (1985), p. 1118.
7."The Spirit Will Triumph" (editorial), and "Corpses for Hitler," p. 11, Congress Weekly (New York: American Jewish Congress), Dec. 4, 1942.
8.The New Republic, Jan. 18, 1943, p. 65. See also the Communist New Masses editorial of Dec. 8, 1942. p. 21. Both quoted in: James J. Martin, The Man Who Invented 'Genocide' (IHR, 1984), pp. 64, 45; One of the few sober voices among all the hysteria was The Christian Century, which cautioned in a Dec. 9, 1942, editorial: "Dr. Wise's allegation that Hitler is paying $20 each for Jewish corpses to be 'processed into soap, fats and fertilizer' is unpleasantly reminiscent of the 'cadaver factory' lie which was one of the propaganda triumphs of the First World War." Quoted in: Robert W. Ross, So It Was True (Minneapolis: 1980), p. 157.
9.Gerard Israel, The Jews in Russia (New York: St. Martin's, 1975), p. 180.
10.Smirnov statement, Feb. 19, 1946. International Military Tribunal, Trial of the Major War Criminals Before the International Military Tribunal (IMT "blue series"; Nuremberg: 1947-1949), vol. 7, pp. 597-600. Note also Soviet allegation that soap was manufactured from the bodies of people gassed at Auschwitz: IMT ("blue series"), vol. 7, p. 175; Translation of USSR-197 and other Nuremberg Tribunal (IMT) references to the human soap story in: Carlos Porter, Made in Russia: The Holocaust (1988), pp. 73, 85-86, 121-124, 126, 128, 159, 368-377; Note also Nuremberg Tribunal "human soap" documents USSR-196, USSR-264, and USSR-272; We are grateful to Mr. Carlos Porter for his diligent research of the Nuremberg Tribunal's treatment of the "human soap" story.
11.IMT ("blue series"), vol. 19, p. 506; Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression (NC&A "red series"; Washington, DC: 1946-1948), Suppl. vol. A, p. 134. See also: "Nazis' Soap Factory Used Humans, American Reports" (AP), The Sunday Star (Washington, DC), Dec. 9, 1945, p. B-11.
12.IMT ("blue series"), vol. 1, p. 252. Facsimile reprint in: Carlos Porter, Made in Russia (1988), p. 159.
13.Pierre Joffroy, "Anne Frank Martyre," Paris Match, No. 394, Oct. 27, 1956, p. 93.
14.R. Hilberg, Destruction of the European Jews (1985), p. 967 (n.27); N. Blumental, "RIF," Yiddish Culture, June-July 1959 (cited above); Rabbi Yaakov (Jacob) Riz runs the Holocaust Museum at 1453 Levick St., Philadelphia. See his letter in the Jewish Press (Brooklyn), July 10, 1981, p. 42; Udo Walendy, Adolf Eichmann, Historische Tatsachen No. 18 (Vlotho: 1983), p. 24; Gary Tippet, "Real-life chamber of horrors," The Sun (Melbourne), Feb. 7, 1984.
15.B. Edelbaum, Growing up in the Holocaust (Kansas City, Mo.: 1980), pp. 217-218.
16.Jane S. Podesta, "Nesse Godin's memories...", The Washington Times, April 11, 1983, pp. 12B, 13B.
17.M. Mermelstein deposition, Los Angeles, May 27, 1981, official transcript, p. 40. (Case No. C 356 542)
18.S. Wiesenthal, "RIF," Der Neue Weg (Vienna), Nr. 17/18, 1946, pp. 4-5.; See also: S. Wiesenthal, "Seifenfabrik Belsetz," Der Neue Weg, Nr. 19/20, 1946, pp. 14-15, and: S. Wiesenthal, "Nochmals RIF," Der Neue Weg, Nr. 21/22, 1946. p. 2; These articles are also cited in: M. Weber, "Simon Wiesenthal: Bogus 'Nazi Hunter'," The Journal of Historical Review, Winter 1989-90, pp. 444-445 [and in: M. Weber, "Simon Wiesenthal: Fraudulent 'Nazi Hunter'," The Journal of Historical Review, July-August 1995 (Vol. 15, No. 4), pp. 10-11, 15.]
19.S. Wiesenthal, "Nochmals RIF," Der Neue Weg (Vienna), Nr. 21/22, 1946, p. 2.
20.Some published works claiming that the Germans manufactured soap from human corpses: "Poland," Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971), Vol. 13, pp. 761-762 (Photo caption: "A German soap factory near Danzig"); Alexander Werth, Russia at War 1941-1945 (New York: Avon, 1965, pb.), p. 918; Office of the Secretary of Defense, Days of Remembrance: A Department of Defense Guide for Commemerative Observance (Washington, DC: USGPO, 1988), p. 18; Norman Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland (New York: Columbia Univ., 1982), vol. 2, p. 457; Max Weinreich, Hitler's Professors (New York: Yivo, 1946), p. 200; Leon Poliakov and J. Wulf, Das Dritte Reich und seine Diener (East Berlin: Volk und Welt, 1975), p. 165 (photo caption); Gershon Taffet, ed, Extermination of Polish Jews (Lodz: Central Jewish Historical Committee in Poland, 1945), p. 96 (photo caption); Joseph Borkin, The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben (New York: Free Press, 1978) p. 126; Max I. Dimont, Jews, God and History (New York: Signet, 1962?, pb.), p. 382; Gizelle Hersh and P. Mann "Gizelle, Save the Children!" (New York: Everest, 1980), p. 210; Robert W. Ross, So It Was True (Minneapolis: 1980), p. 158; Kitty Hart, I Am Alive (London: Abelard-Schuman, 1962), p. 105; See also: Elie Wiesel, Legends of Our Time (New York: Holt, Rinehard and Winston, 1968), pp. 174-175; H. Kamm, "Elie Wiesel's Hometown," The New York Times, Dec. 9, 1986, p. A9; The soap legend is repeated on a Holocaust memorial erected in 1990 at Miami Beach, Fla., See: M. Bell, "Holocaust Memorial," Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel, Jan. 28, 1990, p. G2.
21.William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (New York: 1960), p. 971 (note) [or page 1264 of the 1962 softcover edition].
22.Ilya Ehrenburg, The War: 1941-1945 (Cleveland: World, 1965), p. 30.
23.Fred McFadden, et al., Canada: The Twentieth Century (Toronto: 1982), section entitled "The Holocaust."
24.Earl Raab, The Anatomy of Nazism (New York: ADL, 1979), p. 20.
25.Konnilyn G. Feig, Hitler's Death Camps (New York: 1981), pp. 200-202, 479 (n. 19)
26.This writer was present at the opening ceremony held at the Landover, Md., Capital Center, on Monday evening, April 11, 1983. Schneier was Rabbi at Park East Synagogue, New York City. The crowd of some 15,000 was later addressed by President Reagan.
27.N. Blumental "RIF" Yiddish Culture, June-July 1959 (cited above). See also: R. Faurisson, "Le savon juif," Annales d'Histoire Revisionniste (Paris), No. 1, Printemps 1987, pp. 153-159, and, D. Felderer, "Human Soap," The Journal of Historical Review, Summer 1980, pp. 131-139; Dachauer Hefte: "Die Befreiung" (Dachau), Heft 1, Dec. 1985, p. 111 (n. 7).
28.Erich Kern (Kernmayer), Meineid Gegen Deutschland (1971), pp. 152-163. See also: Deutsche Wochen-Zeitung (Munich), March 29, 1991, pp. 3, 9.
29.Walter Laqueur, The Terrible Secret (Boston: 1980), pp. 82, 219.
30.Gitta Sereny, Into That Darkness (London: A. Deutsch, 1974), p. 141 (note).
31."Nazi Soap Rumor During World War II," Los Angeles Times, May 16, 1981, p. II/2.
32.Bill Hutman, "Nazis never made human-fat soap," The Jerusalem Post - International Edition, week ending May 5, 1990; "Holocaust Expert Rejects Charge That Nazis Made Soap From Jews," Northern California Jewish Bulletin, April 27, 1990. (JTA dispatch from Tel Aviv.) Facsimile in: Christian News, May 21, 1990, p. 19; "A Holocaust Belief Cleared Up," Chicago Tribune, April 25, 1990. Facsimile in: Ganpac Brief, June 1990, p. 8.
33."A Holocaust Belief Cleared Up," Chicago Tribune, April 25, 1990.

Soap made from human corpses

In the 20th century, there have been various alleged instances of soap being made from human body fat. During World War II it was believed that soap was being mass-produced from the bodies of the victims of Nazi concentration camps located in Poland.

The Yad Vashem Memorial has stated that the Nazis did not produce soap from Jewish corpses on an industrial scale, saying that rumors that soap from human corpses was being mass-produced and distributed were used by the Nazis to frighten camp inmates.

Evidence does exist that German researchers had developed a process for the semi-industrial production of soap from human bodies. The production of soap from human bodies by Nazis on small scale was confirmed in 2006.

World War I

The claim that Germans used the fat from human corpses to make products had already been made by the British during World War I, with The Times reporting in April 1917 that the Germans were rendering down the bodies of their dead soldiers for fat to make soap and other products. It was not until 1925 that the British Foreign Secretary Sir Austen Chamberlain officially admitted that the "corpse factory" story had been a falsehood.

World War II rumours

Rumours that the Nazis produced soap from the bodies of concentration camp inmates circulated widely during the war. Germany suffered a shortage of fats during World War II, and the production of soap was put under government control. The "human soap" rumours may have originated from the bars of soap being marked with the initials RIF, which was interpreted by some as Reichs-Juden-Fett ("State Jewish Fat"); [in German Blackletter font the difference between I and J is only in length]. RIF in fact stood for Reichsstelle für industrielle Fettversorgung ("National Center for Industrial Fat Provisioning", the German government agency responsible for wartime production and distribution of soap and washing products). RIF soap was a poor quality substitute product that contained no fat at all, human or otherwise. Raul Hilberg reports such stories as circulating in Lublin as early as October 1942. The Germans themselves were aware of the stories, as SS-chief Heinrich Himmler had received a letter describing the Polish people's belief that Jewish people were being "boiled into soap" and which indicated that the Poles feared they would suffer a similar fate. Indeed, the rumours circulated so widely that some segments of the Polish population actually boycotted the purchase of soap. Himmler was disturbed enough by the rumors, and the implication of poor security at the camps, that he emphasized that all corpses should be cremated or buried as quickly as possible.

Joachim Neander, in a German paper presented at the 28th conference of the German Studies Association, cites the following quote by Himmler from a November 20, 1942 letter to the head of the Gestapo, Heinrich Müller. Himmler had written to Müller due to an exposé by Rabbi Dr. Stephen Wise, which mentioned the soap rumor and had been printed in The New York Times:

You have guaranteed me that at every site the corpses of these deceased Jews are either burned or buried, and that at no site anything else can happen with the corpses. 

Müller was to make inquires if "abuse" had happened somewhere and report this to Himmler "on SS oath"; Himmler hence did not from the outset exclude the possibility that such had taken place. Neander goes on to state that the letter represents circumstantial evidence that it was Nazi policy to abstain from processing corpses due to their known desire to keep their mass murder as secret as possible.

A version of the story is included in The Complete Black Book of Russian Jewry, one of the earliest collections of firsthand accounts of the Holocaust, assembled by Soviet writers Ilya Ehrenburg and Vasily Grossman. The specific story is part of a report titled "The Extermination of the Jews of Lvov" attributed to I. Herts and Naftali Nakht:

In another section of the Belzec camp was an enormous soap factory. The Germans picked out the fattest people, murdered them, and boiled them down for soap.

Artur [Izrailevich] Rozenshtraukh - a bank clerk from Lvov, in whose words we relate this testimony - held this "Jewish soap" in his own hands.

The Gestapo thugs never denied the existence of a "production process" of this kind. Whenever they wanted to intimidate a Jew, they would say to him, "We'll make soap out of you.

Naphtali Karchmer, in his book Solitary in the Overwhelming Turbulenz: Five years as prisoner-of-war in East Prussia, describes his years in captivity as a Jewish-polish POW. The author writes about gray, rectangular, low-quality pieces of soap he and other POWs received with the letters "RJF" inscribed on a center depression . When one of the POWs complained about the low-foam, smooth soap, the lady of the household answered it was made of "Rein Juden Fett" (pure Jewish fat), when asked "out of people fat?", she answered "No, just Jews".

During the Nuremberg Trials, Sigmund Mazur, a laboratory assistant at the Danzig Anatomical Institute, testified that soap had been made from corpse fat at the camp, and claimed that 70 to 80 kg of fat collected from 40 bodies could produce more than 25 kg of soap, and that the finished soap was retained by Professor Rudolf Spanner. Eyewitnesses included British POWs who were part of the forced labor that constructed the camp, and Dr. Stanisław Byczkowski, head of the Department of Toxicology at the Gdańsk School of Medicine. Holocaust survivor Thomas Blatt, who investigated the subject, found little concrete documentation and no evidence of mass production of soap from human fat, but concluded that there was evidence of experimental soap making. Danzig was the German name of the now-Polish city of Gdańsk.

Testimony was given both by Nazis and by British prisoners of war about the development of an industrial process for producing soap from human bodies, the production of such soap on a small-scale basis, and the actual use of this soap by Nazi personnel at the Danzig Anatomic Institute.

In his book Russia at War 1941 to 1945, Alexander Werth reported that while visiting Gdansk/Danzig in 1945 shortly after its liberation by the Red Army, he saw an experimental factory outside the city for making soap from human corpses. According to Werth it had been run by "a German professor called Spanner" and "was a nightmarish sight, with its vats full of human heads and torsoes pickled in some liquid, and its pails full of a flakey substance - human soap".

The idea that "human soap" was manufactured on an industrial scale by the Nazis was published after the war by Alain Resnais, who treated the testimony of Holocaust survivors as fact in his noted 1955 holocaust documentary movie Nuit et brouillard. Some postwar Israelis also referred disdainfully to Jewish victims of Nazism with the Hebrew word סבון (sabon, "soap").

Though evidence does exist of small-scale soap production, possibly experimental, in the camp at Stutthof concentration camp near Danzig/Gdansk, mainstream scholars of the Holocaust consider the idea that the Nazis manufactured soap on an industrial scale to be part of World War II folklore. Historian Israel Gutman has stated that "it was never done on a mass scale". In Hitler's Death Camps: The Sanity of Madness Konnilyn Feig concludes that the Nazis "did indeed use human fat for the making of soap at Stutthof," albeit in limited quantity. Holocaust historian Robert Melvin Spector writes that "her analysis seems sound, given the known fact that the S.S. used everything it could obtain from its prisoners", including hair, skin and bones.

In 2006 a sample of the soap archived at the International Court of Justice in The Hague was given for analysis to Andrzej Stołyhwo, an expert in the chemistry of fats from the Gdansk University of Technology in Poland. He concluded that some of the fat in the sample tested was of human origin. The sample of soap had previously been used as evidence in the post-World War II Nuremberg trials, but at the time the technology was unavailable to determine whether the soap had been produced from human fat. The human remains used to make the soap were believed to have been brought from Kaliningrad, Bydgoszcz and Stutthof concentration camp.

Human Fat Was Used to Produce Soap in Gdansk during the War

Friday, 13 October 2006 

(PAP-Polish Press Agency) – An inquiry by the Gdańsk Branch of the Commission for the Investigation of Crimes against the Polish Nation has concluded that soap was made from human fat and used for general cleaning purposes at the Anatomy Institute of the Gdańsk Medical Academy, under the direction of Professor Rudolf Spanner, during the Second World War.

Witold Kulesza, the director of the Main Commission for the Investigation of Crimes against the Polish Nation, said during a Friday press conference that the finding represented confirmation of facts presented in Zofia Nałkowska's book The Medallions.

In Kulesza's opinion, Spanner's activities constitute "one of the darkest pages in the Second World War." He emphasized, however, that—were Spanner alive—it would not be possible to bring charges against him for Nazi crimes, but only, at most, for removing evidence of such crimes by destroying corpses.

The investigation did not show that any crime was committed on the premises of the Anatomy Institute of the Gdańsk Medical Academy. The corpses used in the experiments were obtained from sources including the mental hospital in Kocborów, the prison in Królewiec [then Konigsburg, now Kaliningrad, Russia], and—despite Spanner's categorical denials—the Stutthof death camp.

Spanner was detained and interrogated in Germany in 1947 and 1948. In his testimony, to which the Polish National Remembrance Institute had access during the inquest, he stated that he used the soap made from human fat exclusively for injection into joint ligaments. The investigation was dropped at the time. The only punishment that Spanner suffered was to be dismissed from the University in Cologne after intervention by the British. Spanner worked afterwards as an ordinary physician in Schleswig-Holstein, and died in Cologne in 1960.

Kulesza indicated that Spanner's experiments were hardly exceptional within the context of their time. As an example, he cited the case of a German scholar at the university in Poznań [Posen], who sold the skulls of Poles and Jews to customers including the Natural History Museum in Vienna, which exhibited them in its so-called "race cabinet."

The Gdańsk branch of the National Remembrance Institute has been working on the Spanner inquiry since 2002. The results show that the soap that Spanner produced was used to wash autopsy rooms and dissection tables. Witnesses testified that it had an unpleasant smell. This led to almond oil being added to it. The investigation found that Spanner's personnel produced somewhere between 10 and 100 kilograms of soap from corpses.

Investigators tracked down some of the soap produced by Spanner. Samples had been used as evidence of Nazi war crimes between November 1945 and October 1946, during the Nuremberg trials. A jar containing the soap is stored, along with the rest of the Nuremberg trial documentation, in the archive of the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Tests on the extant soap sample were carried out by Professor Andrzej Stołyhwo of the Main School of Agrarian Economy (SGGW) in Warsaw, a specialist in the chemistry of fats.

Stołyhwo explained at the press conference that soap from human fat arises as a natural byproduct during the process of reducing corpses for such purposes as obtaining bones to be used for educational purposes by medical students.

However, Stołyhwo's expert analysis of the soap sample from the archive of the International Court of Justice in The Hague showed that kaolin had been added. This abrasive ingredient made the soap suitable for utility purposes. "For me, this is a violation of ethical principles," Stołyhwo added.

Prosecutor Piotr Niesyn of the Gdańsk Branch of the Commission for the Investigation of Crimes against the Polish Nation said that more than 20 new witnesses came forward during the investigation of Spanner's activities. They included former Polish soldiers, members of the militia, and prisoners of Stutthof concentration camp. The investigators also had access to the records of crime-scene reports from the Anatomy Institute of the Medical Academy in Gdańsk, carried out by a Polish-Soviet commission immediately after the liberation of Gdańsk in the spring of 1945.

During the course of the investigation, a journalist from the Gdańsk-Sopot-Gdynia area obtained a cube of brown-colored soap that originated in the Anatomy Institute of the Medical Academy in Gdańsk. The soap was given to the journalist by a now-deceased former employee of the institute. Professor Stołyhwo analyzed this soap, and found that its chemical properties were similar to those of the sample from The Hague (PAP).



Article from September 1941, about the World War One propaganda lie,
that Germans made people into soap.
Also explanation of word "Vernichtung" - annihilation.....

Holocaust - Genocide

Black Sun Redux

Site Meter