Soap made from human corpses

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Stutthof concentration camp where small amounts of soap is thought to have been made from the bodies of human victims.

During World War II it was believed by many people that soap was being made from the bodies of Jewish concentration camp victims. The Yad Vashem Memorial has said that the Nazis did not make soap from Jewish bodies on an large scale, saying that rumors that soap from human bodies was being made and given out were used by the Nazis to frighten camp inmates.[1][2][3] Evidence does exist, however, which shows that research facilities had come up with a way for the large-scale making of soap from human bodies.[4][5][6]

History[change | change source]

World War I[change | change source]

The claim that Germans used the fat from human bodies 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 own dead soldiers for fat to make soap and other products.[7] It was not until 1925 that the British Foreign Secretary Sir Austen Chamberlain officially said that the "corpse factory" story had been an error.[8]

World War II[change | change source]

Stories that the Nazis produced soap from the bodies of concentration camp victims were widely known during the war. Germany had a shortage of fats during World War II, and the production of soap was put under government control. The "human soap" stories may have started with the bars of soap being marked with the initials RIF, which was interpreted by some as Reichs-Juden-Fett ("State Jewish Fat"); in German acronyms, "i" and "j" were often used for either letter. 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 product that contained no fat at all, human or any other kind.[9]

Raul Hilberg reports such stories as being told 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 Poles' belief that Jewish people were being "boiled into soap" and which said that the Poles feared they would also be used to make soap. The stories were so widely known that some parts of the Polish population actually refused to buy soap.[10] Himmler was so worried by the rumors, and the thought of poor security at the camps, that he said that all bodies should be burnt or buried as quickly as possible.[11]

Soviet propagandist Ilya Ehrenburg reported a common version of the story as fact in his The Complete Black Book of Russian Jewry:

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.


Nuremberg and other evidence of small-scale and experimental soap production[change | change source]

During the Nuremberg Trials, Sigmund Mazur, a laboratory worker at the Danzig Anatomical Institute, testified that soap had been made from the bodies of dead people 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 built the camp, and Dr. Stanisław Byczkowski, head of the Department of Toxicology at the Gdańsk School of Medicine. Holocaust survivor Thomas Blatt, who did research of the subject, found little evidence of mass production of soap from human fat, but said that there was evidence of experimental soap making.[13] Danzig was the German name of the now-Polish city of Gdańsk.

The recipe given by Mazur read, "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" [4]

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 workers at the Danzig Anatomic Institute. [5][6][14]

Evidence does exists of small-scale soap production, possibly experimental, in the camp at Stutthof concentration camp near Danzig/Gdansk.[15]

Holocaust historian Robert Melvin Spector says that the Nazis "did indeed use human fat for the making of soap at Stutthof," but in limited quantity.[16]

In his book "Russia at War 1941 to 1945", Alexander Werth said 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 bodies. Werth said that it had been run by "a German professor called Spanner" and "was a nightmarish sight, with its vats full of human heads and torsoes pickled in some liquid, and its pails full of a flakey substance - human soap".[17]

Postwar[change | change source]

The idea that "human soap" was made on an large scale by the Nazis was published after the war by Alain Resnais, who treated the testimony of Holocaust survivors as fact in his 1955 holocaust documentary movie Nuit et brouillard. Some postwar Israelis also spoke about Jewish victims of Nazism with the Hebrew word סבון (sabon, "soap").[18]

Mainstream scholars of the Holocaust think that the idea that the Nazis made soap on an large scale to be part of WWII folklore.[19] Among others this view was held by the reputable Jewish historians Walter Laqueur,[20] Gitta Sereny,[21] and Deborah Lipstadt.[22] The same view was held by Professor Yehuda Bauer of Israel's Hebrew University and by Shmuel Krakowski, archives director of Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust center.[1][2][3] However, historian Yisrael Gutman is very specific, stating that "it was never done on a mass scale."[15] And Holocaust historian Robert Melvin Spector says that the Nazis "did indeed use human fat for the making of soap at Stutthof," but in small amounts.[16]

Today Holocaust deniers use this story to make people doubt the Nazi genocide.[23]

Play[change | change source]

The Soap Myth is a 2009 play about the Nazi production of soap from the bodies of the people they murdered.[24]

Related pages[change | change source]

Notes[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Bill Hutman, "Nazis never made human-fat soap," The Jerusalem Post - International Edition, week ending May 5, 1990.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "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.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "A Holocaust Belief Cleared Up," Chicago Tribune, April 25, 1990. Facsimile in: Ganpac Brief, June 1990, p. 8.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Some still deny the Holocaust, some simply refuse to listen, Stand-up comedy, targeted seriousness contemplate ‘how one survives surviving,’ The Villager, Jerry Tallmer, Volume 79, Number 5 | July 8 - 14, 2009,
  5. 5.0 5.1 Justice at Nuremberg, Robert E. Conot, Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1984, pp. 298-9
  6. 6.0 6.1 Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Vol. 7, SIXTY-SECOND DAY, 19 February 1946, Morning Session
  7. Knightley, Phillip (2000). The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero and Myth-Maker from the Crimea to Kosovo. Prion. pp. 105–106. ISBN 1853753769.
  8. Ponsonby, Arthur (1928). Falsehood in Wartime. New York: Dutton. pp. 102, 111–112.
  9. Waxman, Zoë (2006). Writing the Holocaust: Identity, Testimony, Representation. Oxford University Press. p. 168. ISBN 0199206384.
  10. Hilberg, Raul (1985). The Destruction of the European Jews: The Revised and Definitive Edition. Holmes & Meier. p. 967. ISBN 084190832X.
  11. UCSB History Page: Did Nazis use human body fat to make soap? Accessed December 29, 2006.
  12. Ehrenburg, Ilya; Il'ja Grigor'jevic Erenburg, Vasilij Semenovic Grossman, et al. (2003). The Complete Black Book of Russian Jewry. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 076580543X.
  13. 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 0520234693.
  14. Hitler's death camps: the sanity of madness, Konnilyn G. Feig, Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1981, pp. 200. ff.
  15. 15.0 15.1 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
  16. 16.0 16.1 World without civilization: mass murder and the Holocaust, history and analysis, Robert Melvin Spector, University Press of America, 2004, p. 392.
  17. Werth, Alexander (1964). Russia at War, 1941-1945. Dutton. p. 1019.
  18. Goldberg, Michael (1996). Why Should Jews Survive?: Looking Past the Holocaust Toward a Jewish Future. Oxford University Press US. p. 122. ISBN 0195111265.
  19. The soap myth (Jewish Virtual Library) Accessed December 29, 2006.
  20. Walter Laqueur, The Terrible Secret (Boston: 1980), pp. 82, 219.
  21. Gitta Sereny, Into That Darkness (London: A. Deutsch, 1974), p. 141 (note).
  22. "Nazi Soap Rumor During World War II," Los Angeles Times, May 16, 1981, p. II/2.
  23. Deceit & Misrepresentation. The Techniques of Holocaust Denial: The Soap Allegations. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6 (Nizkor Project)
  24. False Witness; A play examines the notion that Nazis made soap from Jewish flesh, MARISSA BROSTOFF, July 21, 2009, Tablet Magazine

Other websites[change | change source]