The Soap Myth
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The play had a workshop run in July 2009 at the Dog Run Repertory Company, and a rewritten version had an Off-Broadway run in the Spring of 2012 Off Broadway at The Roundabout Theater's Harold and Mimi Steinberg Theatre Center. That production was filmed and the film was broadcast nationally on PBS and can be viewed at digitaltheatre.com. The cast was Greg Mullavey, Andi Potamkin, Dee Pelletier and Donald Corren under the direction of Arnold Mittlelman.
On May 2, 2016, The Soap Myth was presented as a reading at the Bruno Walter Auditorium at the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts. The reading, directed by Pam Berlin, starred legendary 7-time Emmy Award winning actor Ed Asner and 2-time Tony Award nominee Jayne Atkinson. The cast also included Blair Baker and Donald Corren. The reading, produced by Burke-Cohen Entertainment, was the flagship event of Remembrance Readings, a national program in honor of Holocaust Memorial Day presented by the National Jewish Theater Foundation.
During the week of February 21, 2017, "The Soap Myth" had 5 West Coast readings: @ Marin Academy and Marin Theater Company (San Francisco), @ Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills (LA), University Synagogue in Irvine and at Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City (LA). The cast was Ed Asner, 4-time Tony Award nominee, 2-time Drama Desk Award winner and 2-time Emmy Award nominee Tovah Feldshuh, Blair Baker and Donald Corren under the direction of Pam Berlin.
From January 22 to February 1, 2018, The Soap Myth enjoyed a brief tour starring Ed Asner as Holocaust survivor Milton Saltzman and two time Tony Award nominee Johanna Day in the dual roles of Holocaust scholar Esther Feinman and Holocaust denier Brenda Goodsen. Blair Baker again played Annie Blumberg and Ned Eisenberg played the roles that had previously been played by Donald Corren. The play was again directed by Pam Berlin. The largely sold-out performances were at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami Beach, FL, the Adolph and Rose Levis Jewish Community Center in Boca Raton, FL, the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale, FL, the Zeiterion Theater Performing Arts Center in New Bedford, MA, Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia, PA, The Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park City, New York City, and Hofstra University in Hempstead, Long Island, NY.
The Soap Myth dramatizes the powerful confrontation between survivor memory and historical memory and depicts the insidiousness of Holocaust denial. More than a half century after World War II, at the desperate urging of a passionate survivor, a young investigative reporter finds herself caught between numerous versions of the same story and trying to separate fact from fiction. Did the Nazis make soap from the corpses of their murdered Jewish victims? Played out against the backdrop of deadline reporting and journalistic integrity, Jeff Cohen's critically acclaimed play The Soap Myth uses this horrific possibility as its catalyst. It questions who deserves the right to write history — those who have lived it and remember, those studying and protecting it, or those seeking to distort its very existence? And finally, what responsibility should others take once they know the truth?
Although The Soap Myth is a work of fiction, it is, in the words of the program, "inspired by real people and real events as well as an article written by Josh Rolnick in Moment magazine profiling Holocaust survivor Morris Spitzer."
Foremost among the play's historical inspirations is the evidence that the Nazi regime had a program at the Danzig Anatomic Institute in 1944 to develop a process for the mass-production of soap from the fat of Jews being slaughtered in Nazi extermination camps, and produced soap in small quantities at a nearby concentration camp. In a dramatic moment, the players re-enact testimony from the Nuremberg Trials, including this recipe:
5 kilos of human fat are mixed with 10 liters of water and 500 or 1,000 grams of caustic soda. All this is boiled 2 or 3 hours and then cooled. The soap floats to the surface while the water and other sediment remain at the bottom. A bit of salt and soda is added to this mixture. Then fresh water is added and the mixture again boiled 2 or 3 hours. After having cooled, the soap is poured into molds."
The play's central character, is an elderly Holocaust survivor called Milton Saltzman, worked doggedly to establish as fact the idea that the Nazis produced and used soap made from human corpses, even handing bars of such soap to Jews on their way into the sealed chambers that functioned alternately as gas chambers and as shower rooms in the Nazi concentration camps.
The second character is a young journalist called Annie Blumberg assigned to write a story about Saltzman. She is soon caught between her sympathies for Saltzman and the adamant stand of a number of distinguished scholars of the Holocaust who refuse to publish the Nazi manufacture of soap as fact despite a large amount of eyewitness testimony, including the eyewitness testimony of both Nazis and British prisoners of war at the Nuremberg trial who worked in the experimental soap manufacturing facility at Danzig in 1944, because contemporary documentation is lacking. The scholars in the play fear that without proof beyond the eyewitness testimony, the story of the manufacture of soap from human bodies will become ammunition in the hands of Holocaust deniers.
Two characters representing historians of the Holocaust argue strongly that although a large number of eyewitnesses including former British POWs, Nazis, and Holocaust survivors have testified about the soap production, because no actual laboratory or production records survive as physical documents, any publication about the production of soap will be used by Holocaust deniers to discredit the reality of the Holocaust itself and, therefore, that no assertions that any soap production took place should be published.
A character called Brenda Goodsen, an amalgam of a number of Holocaust deniers including David Irving, appears in the play to demonstrate the evil of anti-Semitism in the form of Holocaust Denial. This character delivers a speech for minimizing the Holocaust and concluding that the Jews brought it on themselves.
The material in the Nuremberg Trial scenes in the play use as dialogue actual testimony given by British prisoners of war and by Nazis at the historical trials about the development of an industrial process for producing soap from human bodies at the Danzig Anatomic Institute, the production of such soap on a small-scale basis at Stutthof concentration camp, and the actual use of this soap by Nazi personnel.
The play has gone through two substantially different versions.
Time Out New York wrote that the play "touches on a host of compelling issues: irrefutable versus empirical evidence, the subjective shaping of history, institutional agendas and, in its most effective scene, the potential seduction of anti-Semitism." But criticized the play's faulty dramaturgy.
Following the workshop production, the play was substantially rewritten and subsequently produced in March, 2012 by the National Jewish Theater Foundation Off Broadway at the Roundabout Theater's Harold & Mimi Steinberg Center Black Box Theater. This production, directed by Arnold Mittelman, featured Greg Mullavey, Andi Potamkin, Donald Corren and Dee Pelletier. Reviews of this production were uniformly positive.
The New York Times called the revised play "A revelation... frightening... thought-provoking... genuinely moving."
History News Network called it "An eye-opening history lesson... gut-wrenching... unforgettable."
The Philadelphia Jewish Voice said "Continues to haunt me... this is the theatre of witness at its best - provocative and morally ambiguous."
Perhaps most importantly, the play has been championed by Michael Berenbaum, one of the world's foremost Holocaust historians and co-Founder and Project Director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Mr. Berenbaum has written "As the scholar specifically named in Jeff Cohen's play "The Soap Myth," I recognize in each of the characters people that I have encountered in my professional career from passionate survivors to stodgy Museum officials, from naïve and innocent reporters to pernicious Holocaust deniers. The play portrays them all powerfully."
A film, directed by Ron Kopp and Mr. Mittelman, was made of the National Jewish Theater production. That film will be broadcast nationally through American Public Television on PBS stations across the country. The sponsoring station, WPBT2 in Miami, will air the premiere broadcast on January 27, 2014. In addition, the film will be the first American offering on Britain's prestigious Digital Theatre website.
Ron Kopp also directed "I Will Refuse to Bubble: History and Theater as Defiance," a documentary about the making of "The Soap Myth" that examines the question of who has the right to write history, highlighting the importance of theater in understanding the world's most incomprehensible events. Featuring Holocaust survivor Irving Roth and scholars Michael Berenbaum, David Marwell and Bonnie Gurewitsch, it also is distributed online by Digital Theatre.
- Program, Dog Run Rep, South Street Seaport
- Jerry Tallmer (July 8–14, 2009). "Some still deny the Holocaust, some simply refuse to listen". The Villager. New York City. Retrieved March 28, 2011.
- False Witness; A play examines the notion that Nazis made soap from Jewish flesh, MARISSA BROSTOFF, July 21, 2009, Tablet Magazine
- World without civilization: mass murder and the Holocaust, history and analysis, Robert Melvin Spector, University Press of America, 2004, p. 392.
- Justice at Nuremberg, Robert E. Conot, Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1984, pp. 298–299
- Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Vol. 7, SIXTY-SECOND DAY, 19 February 1946, Morning Session
- 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
- Hitler's death camps: the sanity of madness, Konnilyn G. Feig, Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1981, pp. 200. ff.
- Where Political Agendas and History Intersect, New York Times, Jason Zinoman, July 21, 2009
- The Soap Myth, Time Out New York
- The Soap Myth, Martin Denton · July 11, 2009