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 German-occupied 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 (see Kadaververwertungsanstalt), 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 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 TURBULENCE- 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".
Danzig Anatomical Institute
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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 torsos 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.
This process figures in the 1962 novel Dog Years, the third book of Günter Grass's "Danzig Trilogy". The passage is several pages long but runs in part (in Ralph Manheim's translation) "And piles of bones, heaped up for the sake of purity, will melt cook boil in order that soap, pure and cheap: but even soap cannot wash pure."
The famous anti-war novel Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut mentions not only a human soap being produced in World War II but also candles. "Only the candles and the soap were of German origin. They had a ghostly, opalescent similarity. The British had no way of knowing it, but the candles and the soap were made from the fat of rendered Jews and Gypsies and fairies and communists, and other enemies of the State."
The Soap Myth is a 2009 play about the Nazi production of soap from the bodies of the people they murdered. A 2012 production was filmed and is now paired with a short documentary "I Will Not Bubble."
Zofia Nałkowska: Medaliony. Nałkowska was a Polish writer and a member of the Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes. One of her novels in Medaliony [Medalions] talks about a pool full of human corpses used for production of soap.
Greenhorn, based on a true story, is a 2012 novel for young readers by Anna Olswanger. Daniel, a young Holocaust survivor, comes to Brooklyn yeshiva in the 1940s, where his obsessive attachment to a mysterious box excites the curiosity of the other boys. They subsequently discover that Daniel's treasure, his only connection with his lost past, is a chunk of soap made from human fat. Anna Olswanger is the author of the award-winning Shlemiel Crooks.
Ambrose Bierce's 1911 tall tale Oil of Dog treats the similar subject of a medicinal oil being made from human corpses. In this characteristic macabre satire, human oil is regarded as highly superior over common dog oil, its making being viewed from a strictly financial point of view.
- Anthropodermic bibliopegy (In some cases, skin with tattoos was preserved in Nazi concentration camps.)
- Jewish skeleton collection (Jews killed for their skeletons)
- Kadaververwertungsanstalt ("corpse utilization factories") (misreported WW1 story that became legendary)
- 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.
- Justice at Nuremberg, Robert E. Conot, Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1984, pp. 298-9
- Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Vol. 7, SIXTY-SECOND DAY, 19 February 1946, Morning Session http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/02-19-46.asp
- "Human Fat Was Used to Produce Soap in Gdansk during the War", Auschwitz–Birkenau Memorial and Museum website
- Knightley, Phillip (2000). The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero and Myth-Maker from the Crimea to Kosovo. Prion. pp. 105–106. ISBN 1-85375-376-9.
- Ponsonby, Arthur (1928). Falsehood in Wartime. New York: Dutton. pp. 102, 111–112.
- Waxman, Zoë (2006). Writing the Holocaust: Identity, Testimony, Representation. Oxford University Press. p. 168. ISBN 0-19-920638-4.
- Hilberg, Raul (1985). The Destruction of the European Jews: The Revised and Definitive Edition. Holmes & Meier. p. 967. ISBN 0-8419-0832-X.
- UCSB History Page: Did Nazis use human body fat to make soap? Accessed December 29, 2006.
- Joachim Neander: „Seife aus Judenfett“, paper presented at the Oct. 2004 German Studies Association conference. http://www.history.ucsb.edu/faculty/marcuse/dachau/legends/NeanderSoap049.htm
- Ehrenburg, Ilya; Il'ja Grigor'jevic Erenburg, Vasilij Semenovic Grossman, et al. (2003). The Complete Black Book of Russian Jewry. Transaction Publishers. p. 82. ISBN 0-7658-0543-X.
- Shermer, Michael; Alex Grobman, Arthur Hertzberg (2002). Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and why Do They Say It?. University of California Press. pp. 115–116. ISBN 0-520-23469-3.
- Hitler's death camps: the sanity of madness, Konnilyn G. Feig, Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1981, pp. 200. ff.
- Werth, Alexander (1964). Russia at War, 1941-1945. Dutton. p. 1019.
- Goldberg, Michael (1996). Why Should Jews Survive?: Looking Past the Holocaust Toward a Jewish Future. Oxford University Press US. p. 122. ISBN 0-19-511126-5.
- Denying history: who says the Holocaust never happened and why do they say it? Michael Shermer, Alex Grobman, University of California Press, 2002, The Human Soap Controversy, pp. 114- 117
- The soap myth (Jewish Virtual Library) Accessed December 29, 2006.
- Walter Laqueur, The Terrible Secret (Boston: 1980), pp. 82, 219.
- Gitta Sereny, Into That Darkness (London: A. Deutsch, 1974), p. 141 (note).
- "Nazi Soap Rumor During World War II," Los Angeles Times, May 16, 1981, p. II/2.
- World without civilization: mass murder and the Holocaust, history and analysis, Robert Melvin Spector, University Press of America, 2004, p. 392.
- "Human Fat Was Used to Produce Soap in Gdansk during the War", Auschwitz–Birkenau Memorial and Museum website, 13 October 2006. Accessed July 12, 2011.
- Deceit & Misrepresentation. The Techniques of Holocaust Denial: The Soap Allegations. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6 (Nizkor Project)
- False Witness; A play examines the notion that Nazis made soap from Jewish flesh, MARISSA BROSTOFF, July 21, 2009, Tablet Magazine http://www.tabletmag.com/arts-and-culture/theater-and-dance/10929/false-witness/
- Dr Jonathan Hare. "The Creative Science Centre". Retrieved 5 December 2011.
- Greenhorn, published by NewSouth Books, Trade Cloth, 48 pages, ISBN 978-1-58838-235-1. See also discussion guides at http://www.newsouthbooks.com/greenhorn.