Soap made from human corpses
During the 20th century, there were various alleged instances of soap being made from human body fat. During World War I it was claimed in the British press that the Germans had a corpse factory in which they used the bodies of their own soldiers to make glycerine and soap. After the war the British government accepted that the stories were untrue. 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 mass-produced and distributed were deliberately used by the Nazis to frighten camp inmates.
In 1780, the former Holy Innocents' Cemetery in Paris was closed because of overuse. In 1786, the bodies were exhumed and the bones were moved to the Catacombs. Many bodies had incompletely decomposed and had reduced into deposits of fat. During the exhumation, this fat was collected and subsequently turned into candles and soap.
World War I
The claim that Germans used the fat from human corpses to make products, including soap, was made during World War I. This appears to have originated as rumor among British soldiers and Belgians. The first recorded reference is in 1915 when Cynthia Asquith noted in her diary (16 June 1915): "We discussed the rumour that the Germans utilise even their corpses by converting them into glycerine with the by-product of soap." It became a major international story when The Times of London reported in April 1917 that the Germans had admitted rendering the bodies of their dead soldiers for fat to make soap and other products.
After the war John Charteris, the former head of army intelligence, was reported to have claimed in a 1925 speech that he had invented the story. He subsequently insisted that his remarks had been misreported. The controversy led the British Foreign Secretary Sir Austen Chamberlain to officially state that the government accepted that the "corpse factory" story was untrue. The belief that the British had deliberately invented the story was later used by the Nazis.
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. Rumors about the origins and meaning of "RIF" soap extended into the concentration camps themselves. 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 "RIF" 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 human fat?", she answered "No, just Jews". 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 Jews, 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."
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 belief that Jews 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.
Joachim Neander, in a German paper presented at the 28th conference of the German Studies Association, cites the following comment by Himmler from a letter of November 20, 1942 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 inquiries 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.
Danzig Anatomical Institute
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During the Nuremberg Trials, Sigmund Mazur, a laboratory assistant at the Danzig Anatomical Institute (modern Gdańsk), testified that soap had been made from corpse fat at the camp, and claimed that 70 to 80 kg (155–175 lb) of fat collected from 40 bodies could produce more than 25 kg (55 lb) 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.
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.
The prosecutor: The experiments of the Anatomical Institute in the production the soap from the corpses and tanning of human skin for industrial purposes were conducted on a wide scale. I submit a document ... to the tribunal, which consists of the testimony of Sigmund Mazur, one of the direct participants of the production of soap from the human fat, he was helper-laboratory assistant at the Danzig Anatomical institute. ...
The question: Please tell us how soap was produced from the human fat at the Danzig Anatomical institute?
The answer: In summer of 1943 in the yard of the Anatomical institute a two-storey stone building containing three chambers was built. This building was designed for the purpose of utilizing corpses and cooking the bones, as the professor Spanner officially declared. The laboratory was defined as the institution of taking down skeletons, burning meat and superfluous bones, but in the winter 1943-1944 he the year of the prof Spanner instructed us to collect the human fat which was not to be thrown away any more. This order was given to Reichert and Borkmann.
Prof Spanner gave me the recipe for the production of soap from the human fat in February 1944. According to this recipe 5 kg (11 lb) of the human fat appertained to be mixed with 10 litres (2.2 imp gal; 2.6 US gal) of water and 500 to 1000 grams of the caustic soda. This mixture was cooked for two up to three hours, then it was allowed to cool. Then the soap rose to the surface, while water and settlings were under it. To this mixture a pinch of salt and soda was added and it was cooked again for two up to three hours. After cooling the soap was poured into a mould.
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".
Jasenovac concentration camp
In the Independent State of Croatia, a World War II puppet state of Nazi Germany and Italy established in part of Axis-occupied Yugoslavia, in the Jasenovac concentration camp a small factory for converting human remains into soap was also established by members of the Ustasha movement. Parts of the "soap factory" still exist and can be seen in memorial zone "Donja Gradina".
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 film Nuit et brouillard. Some postwar Israelis — in the army, schools, etc. — also referred disdainfully to Jewish victims of Nazism arrived to Israel with the Hebrew word סבון (sabon, "soap"). In fact, this offensive word was not linked to the rumors about the Nazi crimes and the human soap, but had the sense of "soft", "weaklings".
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 Bydgoszcz and Stutthof concentration camp.
In the wake of the second world war, Rabbi David Polish wrote a poem, speaking of the Jewish soap:
And on that day it will be,
and one to one they shall gather in the valley of the bones:
Human ashes from the furnaces, human vapor from Auschwitz,
human parchments from the library of Satan himself,
human soap, human unborn fetuses still without the human image...
The master of all winds will command and bring forth a peddler to the world,
who will gather us one to one,
who will wonder around the world, and sell us for money,
like precious ornaments, and not a high price shall he request.
He shall announce his wares and call:
"Who wishes to buy a souvenir - a memory from my memories?
Little boys made of soap,
or a rare parchment from the skin of the head of one of the biggest sages of Ashkenaz?"— Rabbi David Polish
The BBC documentary about the death camps found during the end of the war shows similar atrocities including shrunken prisoner heads and preserved tattoos, recorded at a display in Buchenwald before the German people from Wiemar after the camp's liberation.
Several burial sites in Israel include graves for "soap made of Jewish victims by the Nazis". These are probably bars of RIF soap. Following a heated discussion on the media about these graves in 2003, Yad Vashem publicized Professor Yehuda Bauer's research saying that RIF soap was not made of human fat, and that the RIF myth was probably propagated by the Nazi guards to taunt the Jews. Yad Vashem includes an image of an emotional funeral and burial of "Jewish" soap in Romania.
A small bar of soap was on display at the Nazareth holocaust memorial museum in Israel, and a similar bar of soap was buried in the "holocaust cellar" live-museum in mount Zion in Jerusalem, Israel, during the museum's inception in 1958. A replica was on display there. Following Professor Yehuda Bauer of Yad Vashem publicizing his conclusion that soap was not made in industrial quantities from the bodies of Jews or other Nazi camp inmates, Tom Segev, a "new historian" and anti-establishment Israeli author, wrote in his book "The Seventh Million" about the Holocaust-Cellar soap that it was "idol worshiping in Jerusalem".
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."
In the novel Europa Europa by Solomon Perel the author speaks about using RIF soap in the showers of his Hitler Youth Camp. Mr. Solomon complains that the soap would not make adequate suds to cover up his circumcision from the rest of the boys.
The Soap Myth is a 2009 play about the Nazi production of soap from the bodies of the those 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.
In March 2015 it was revealed that "soap from Jews", along with other artifacts allegedly removed from Nazi concentration camp surroundings, was being sold for a high price, as memorabilia for neo-Nazi supporters.
- 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)
- Lampshades made from human skin
- 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
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- Neander, Joachim, The German Corpse Factory. The Master Hoax of British Propaganda in the First World War, Saarland University Press, 2013, pp.79-85.
- 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.
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- 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
- 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.
- "Donja Gradina MS - Soap Factory". Jusp-donjagradina.org. 1945-05-01. Retrieved 2016-01-14.
- 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.
- Dan Ben Amotz, Netiva Ben Yehuda The World Dictionary of Hebrew Slang - Milon Olami leivrit meduberet, vol.1,Zmora Bitan, Tel Aviv 1982 page 158
- Denying history: who says the Holocaust never happened and why do they say it? by Michael Shermer and 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.
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- Polska Press Sp. z o.o. (2006-10-07). "Zakończono śledztwo w głośnej "sprawie profesora Spannera”". Wiadomosci24.pl. Retrieved 2016-01-14.
- "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.
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- For a different translation, see Yom Kippur Readings pages 212-213
- An Alfred Hitchcock documentary on the Nazi Holocaust [00:40:30] (youtube) Presumably the display is from Ilse Koch's collection of artifacts from humans. The display includes a bar of RIF soap allegedly made from human fat. Image of artifacts on display from BBC documentary
- Shocking: Soap from Jews murdered in holocaust, buried in Safed (Hebrew, Ladaat.net)
- Yad Vashem: No soap made from Jews (Hebrew) following discussion of soap grave in Magdiel, 2005
- Jewish soap funeral (Yad Vashem)
- Holocaust era soap find raises new questions Deborah Lipstadt told the newspaper that soap was not made in mass production, although "There were attempts, but it was never practical.” Stewart Ain, February 22, 2011, Jhe Jewish Week
- The holocaust cellar: Between public memory and the republic memorial (Hebrew) Alex Lavon, Ben Gurion University
- The Seventh Million: Israelis and the Holocaust (2000, ISBN 0-8050-6660-8) part 2 page 412 and on.
- False Witness; A play examines the notion that Nazis made soap from Jewish flesh, MARISSA BROSTOFF, July 21, 2009, Tab tlet Magazine http://www.tabletmag.com/arts-and-culture/theater-and-dance/10929/false-witness/
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- 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.
- El hombre lobo de Allariz cobra vida en la película 'Romasanta', Susanna Valencia, El País, 19 September 2003.
- Dutch police probe sale of 'Holocaust soap' said made from Jewish bodies Hillel Posek, March 3, 2015, YNet news