Lampshades made from human skin

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Some human remains at Buchenwald,[1] including a lampshade allegedly made of 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[edit]

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.[2]

There have been several claims that the binding of some ancient and medieval books may be made of 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.[2]

The skin of the Red Barn murderer William Corder was used to bind the notes of the trial in 1828. This book is currently on display at a museum in Suffolk.[3]

Nazi era, the Holocaust and post World War II[edit]

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.[4] 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".[5]

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.[6]

The charges were made once more when she was rearrested, but again were found to be groundless.[5] Journalist Mark Jacobson claims to be in possession of this lampshade, but those claims are disputed.[7][8] The Buchenwald Memorial Foundation states that:

For the existence of a lampshade from human skin there are two credible witnesses who made statements under oath: Dr. Gustav Wegerer, Austrian, political prisoner, kapo of the infirmary, and Josef Ackermann, a political prisoner and secretary of the camp doctor Waldemar Hoven.
  • Wegerer explained: "One day at about the same time [1941] the camp commandant Koch and the SS doctor Müller appeared at my work command in the infirmary. At that time a lampshade made of tanned, tattooed human skin was being prepared for Koch. Koch and Müller chose among the available tanned, parchment-thin human skins the ones with suitable tattoos, for the lampshade. From the conversation between the two it became clear that the previously chosen motifs had not pleased Ilse Koch. The lampshade was then completed and handed over to Koch." Dr. Hans Mueller, later SS physician in Obersalzberg, was a pathologist in Buchenwald from March 1941 to April 1942. The time period can be defined more precisely through Ackermann's statement.
  • Ackermann delivered the lamp, as he testified in 1950 in court. The lamp-foot was made from a human foot and shinbone; on the shade one saw tattoos and even nipples. On the occasion of the birthday party of Koch [August 1941] he was tasked by the camp doctor Hoven to bring the lamp to the Kochs' villa. This he did. One of the party guests told him later that the presentation of the lamp had been a huge success. The lamp immediately disappeared after the SS leadership learned about it. Ilse Koch could not be accused of making the lampshade.[9]

In footage taken by American military photographers tasked by then-General Dwight Eisenhower to record what they saw as the army advanced into Germany in 1945, a large lampshade and many other ornaments made of human skin can be seen alongside shrunken heads of camp prisoners in Buchenwald, all of which being displayed for German townspeople who were made to tour the camp. [10]

Ed Gein[edit]

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.[11] 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.[12]

In popular culture[edit]

In a 1970 episode of the first series of Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch "Mr. Hilter and the Minehead by-election", Adolf Hitler (played by John Cleese) says, "If he opens his big mouth again ... it's lampshade time!"[13]

In 1965, Sylvia Plath referred to a "Nazi Lampshade" in her poem, "Lady Lazarus". Plath invoked allusions and images from Nazi Germany to emphasize the speaker's sense of oppression.[14]

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 1979, the band Dead Kennedys made reference to the idea of Nazi human lampshades in their song California Über Alles, with the lyrics "you'd look nice as a drawstring lamp".

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".[15]

The song "Skinned" from the 1995 Blind Melon album Soup is about Ed Gein and contains the lyrics "I'll make a lampshade of durable skin."[16]

A human lampshade appears in Ken Russell's 2007 short satire A Kitten for Hitler.[17] 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,[18] but later more sophisticated testing proved it was cow skin.[19]

In 2012, a human-skin lamp appeared in the I Am Anne Frank episode of American Horror Story: Asylum.[citation needed]

On the TV show Dark Tourist, a Nazi-era lampshade made of human skin that is located at the Littledean Jail Museum is featured on the episode "Europe".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Buchenwald Memorials Foundation. Is it true that the SS had lampshades made of human skin in the Buchenwald concentration camp?".
  2. ^ a b "Books Bound in Human Skin; Lampshade Myth? | The Record". Harvard Law Record. 11 November 2005. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  3. ^ Strange remains
  4. ^ "Ilse Koch is given life term". Gettysburg Times. 15 January 1951. p. 2. Retrieved 16 December 2012.
  5. ^ a b "GERMANY: Very Special Present". Time. 25 December 1950. (subscription required)
  6. ^ Smith, Jean Edward (1990). Lucius D. Clay: An American Life. Macmillan. p. 301. ISBN 9780805009996.
  7. ^ Santoro, Gene. "A Human Skin Lampshade Sparks a Journey into the Heart of the Holocaust | HistoryNet". Retrieved 8 December 2017.
  8. ^ Jacobson, Mark (2010). The Lampshade: A Holocaust Detective Story from Buchenwald to New Orleans. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9781416566304. Retrieved 8 December 2017.
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ Chloe Castleden (18 August 2011). Ed Gein: The Psycho Cannibal. Constable & Robinson Limited. pp. 11–12. ISBN 978-1-78033-341-0.
  12. ^ Gelbin, Cathy, "Metaphors of Genocide", in Duttinger et al (ed), Performance and Performativity in German Cultural Studies, Peter Lang, 2003, p.233.
  13. ^
  14. ^ Fermaglich, Kirsten (2007). American Dreams and Nazi Nightmares: Early Holocaust Consciousness and Liberal America, 1957–1965. University Press of New England. ISBN 1-58465-549-6.
  15. ^ Lenz, Ryan (15 December 2011). "Neo-Nazi Leader August Kreis Sentenced for Fraud". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved 11 May 2015.
  16. ^ "Skinned". Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ Santoro, Gene. "A Human Skin Lampshade Sparks a Journey into the Heart of the Holocaust". Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  19. ^ Human Lampshade: A Holocaust Mystery, retrieved 12 July 2018