Lampshades made from human skin
There are two notable allegations of lampshades made from human skin. After World War II it was alleged that Nazis had made lampshades from murdered concentration camp inmates. In the 1950s, murderer Ed Gein, possibly influenced by the stories about the Nazis, made a lampshade from the skin of one of his victims.
History of anthropodermia
The display of the flayed skin of defeated enemies has a long history. In ancient Assyria, the flaying of defeated enemies and dissidents was common practice. The Assyrians would leave the skin to tan on their city walls.
There have been several claims that the binding of some ancient and medieval books may be made of human skin. Allegedly, a 13th-century bible and a text of the Decretals were bound in human skin. Along with this hearsay, there are reports of copies of the 1793 French Constitution being written on human skin and 19th-century anatomy textbooks being symbolically bound in skin.
After the defeat of Nazi Germany, claims circulated that Ilse Koch, wife of the commandant of Buchenwald concentration camp, had possessed lampshades made of human skin, and had specifically tattooed prisoners killed in order to use their skin for this purpose. After her conviction for war crimes, General Lucius D. Clay, the interim military governor of the American Zone in Germany, reduced her sentence to four years' prison on the grounds "there was no convincing evidence that she had selected Nazi concentration camp inmates for extermination in order to secure tattooed skins, or that she possessed any articles made of human skin".
Jean Edward Smith in his biography, Lucius D. Clay, an American Life, reported that the general had maintained that the leather lamp shades were really made out of goat skin. The book quotes a statement made by General Clay years later:
- 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 called her the "Bitch of Buchenwald", had written that she had lamp shades made of human skin in her house. And that was introduced in court, where it was absolutely proven that the lamp shades were made out of goat skin.
The charges were made once more when she was rearrested, but again were found to be groundless. Journalist Mark Jacobson claims to be in possession of this lampshade, but those claims are disputed.
Ed Gein was a killer and body snatcher, active in the 1950s, who made trophies from corpses he stole from a local graveyard. When he was finally arrested, a search of the premises revealed, among other disturbing artifacts, a lampshade made out of human skin. Gein appears to have been influenced by the then-current stories about the Nazis collecting body parts in order to make lampshades and other items.
In popular culture
In a 1970 episode of the first series of Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch "Mr. Hitler and the Minehead by-election", Adolf Hitler (played by John Cleese) says, "If he opens his big mouth again ... it's lampshade time!"
In the 1973 London Weekend Television drama The Death of Adolf Hitler, Doctor Karl Gebhardt (played by Ray McAnally) claims to Hitler (Frank Finlay) that the lampshade in his office in the Führerbunker is made of human skin. Hitler is disgusted and flies into a rage, violently throwing the lamp away, showing Hitler's cognitive dissonance between his personal morality and the twisted inhumanity of his orders.
In 1995, August Kreis III was ejected from the set of The Jerry Springer Show after telling the host "Your relatives – weren't they all turned into soap or lampshades?... I've got your mom in the trunk of my car".
A human lampshade appears in Ken Russell's 2007 short satire A Kitten for Hitler. In the film, Lenny, an American Jewish boy, who has a swastika-shaped birthmark, tries to soften Hitler's heart by giving him a kitten, but when Hitler sees the birthmark, he has Eva Braun kill Lenny to make him into a lampshade for their bedside table lamp. Near the end of the film, in what appears to be an act of God, the swastika transforms into the Star of David.
In 2010 author Mark Jacobson published The Lampshade: A Holocaust Detective Story from Buchenwald to New Orleans. In it he described how after Hurricane Katrina he uncovered a lamp which he believed to be made of human skin, and which may have come from a Nazi concentration camp. Initial flawed DNA testing appeared to show this was the case, but later more sophisticated testing proved it was cow skin.
- "Books Bound in Human Skin; Lampshade Myth? | The Record". Harvard Law Record. 11 November 2005. Retrieved 2014-03-14.
- "Ilse Koch is given life term". Gettysburg Times. 15 January 1951. p. 2. Retrieved 16 December 2012.
- "GERMANY: Very Special Present". Time. 25 December 1950. (subscription required)
- Smith, Jean Edward (1990). Lucius D. Clay: An American Life. Macmillan. p. 301. ISBN 9780805009996.
- Santoro, Gene. "A Human Skin Lampshade Sparks a Journey into the Heart of the Holocaust | HistoryNet". www.historynet.com. Retrieved 8 December 2017.
- Jacobson, Mark (2010). The Lampshade: A Holocaust Detective Story from Buchenwald to New Orleans. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9781416566304. Retrieved 8 December 2017.
- Chloe Castleden (18 August 2011). Ed Gein: The Psycho Cannibal. Constable & Robinson Limited. pp. 11–12. ISBN 978-1-78033-341-0.
- Gelbin, Cathy, "Metaphors of Genocide", in Duttinger et al (ed), Performance and Performativity in German Cultural Studies, Peter Lang, 2003, p.233.
- Lenz, Ryan (15 December 2011). "Neo-Nazi Leader August Kreis Sentenced for Fraud". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved 11 May 2015.
- "Skinned". genius.com. Retrieved 2018-08-09.
- Miller, Ian; Nayeri, Farah (11 December 2011). "U.K. Provocateur Ken Russell, Director of 'Tommy,' Dies at 84". Bloomberg Businessweek. Archived from the original on 16 October 2014. Retrieved 22 December 2012.
- Santoro, Gene. "A Human Skin Lampshade Sparks a Journey into the Heart of the Holocaust". Historynet.com. Retrieved 2014-03-14.
- Human Lampshade: A Holocaust Mystery, retrieved 2018-07-12