Sunday, November 12, 2017

Nazi shrunken heads, human skin lampshades, human soap, textiles from human hair? Sorting out the truth from the legends.

Author: Sergey Romanov
In this article several claims about the use of the bodies of the Nazi victims will be examined. An attempt will be made to separate the facts from the rumors and legends that inevitably arose during and after the war and still live in the public consciousness.

1. Shrunken heads.
2. Human skin lampshades.
3. Human soap.
4. Human hair.
5. Summary.



1. Shrunken heads.

Here is the famous photograph from Buchenwald with a table full of alleged human artifacts.


On the table we see two shrunken human heads. They are said to have been prepared in the Buchenwald pathology department. One of the heads famously featured during the Nuremberg trial.

Thomas J. Dodd posing with a shrunken head (source).
Gustav Wegerer, the kapo in the Buchenwald pathology, wrote in his statement published in the so-called Buchenwald Report (Hackett D. (Hrsg.), 2010 (2.Aufl.), Der Buchenwald-Report. Bericht über das Konzentrationslager Buchenwald bei Weimar, S. 261):
Lolling was the chief doctor of all the concentration camps in Germany until the end. Mueller also gave Stöckel and Werner Bach the assignment of producing sheaths for pocket knives and other objects out of tanned human skin. Moreover, Lolling requested written instructions for the preparation of shrunken human heads, that is, human heads that were shrunk to the size of a fist, like those produced by the cannibals of the South Sea islands. There were reports from the information section of the American army about the methods of the South Sea islanders, which I sent to Lolling. In addition, the SS doctors themselves "prepared" a sizable number of heads here according to these methods.
He claimed that he gave "specimens" of the heads to the information section of the American army after 13.04.1945 (W. Bartel (Hrsg.), Buchenwald. Mahnung und Verpflichtung. Dokumente und Berichte, 1983, S. 179).

Physicist Kurt Sitte, Wegerer's deputy as the pathology kapo, testified during the Buchenwald trial (18.04.1947; United States v. Josias Prince zu Waldeck et al., trial transcript, pp. 380, 381) that he gave the shrunken head introduced as an evidence exhibit at the trial, to the Americans upon liberation. He further said:
It is one of the two shrunken heads prepared among us at the pathology department before the time of my activity. It is a head of a Polish prisoner who escaped from the camp, was recaptured, executed and then on the orders of the SS Doctor Mueller decapitated. The prisoner Bach got the order to prepare these shrunken heads by first splitting the skin, peeling out the whole interior of the head, filling the cavities with sand and putting the whole thing in sand of a certain heat and pressure from 24 to 48 hours. After this procedure the head was shrunken to a size one sees here and these two heads were among the main attraction then again when visitors, SS or other officers came to the pathology department. Prisoner Bach was in my time still a member of the pathology commando and told us the story of these heads.
Sitte pointed out that the head was in substantially the same condition as when he handed it over, except for a new base.

USHMM photo #09814: An American soldier stands next to a shrunken head
perched on a windowsill in a building in Buchenwald, 11.04.1945.
On 13.12.1949 the former inmate Werner Bach, mentioned by Wegerer and Sitte, was interrogated as a part of the preparation of Ilse Koch's 3rd trial and confirmed that he took part in preparing the shrunken heads (see A. Przyrembel, "Transfixed by an Image: Ilse Koch, the ‘Kommandeuse of Buchenwald’", German History, 2001, vol. 19, no. 3, p. 383). 

The claims that sometimes appear that the heads used as exhibits in the trials were souvenirs from South America are not supported by a single shred of evidence. Neither can one conclude anything from the skin color or patterns, which surely could change due to the way the heads were prepared. 

Neither does the hair length signify anything. Sitte claimed that at least one head came from a Polish escapee. When asked about the length of the hair on the head he explained that the Pole escaped and was recaptured only after a few weeks, after which he was immediately executed, so they naturally didn't cut his hair (18.04.1947; United States v. Josias Prince zu Waldeck et al., trial transcript, p. 421). On the other hand Andreas Pfaffenberger claimed to have been told by Werner Bach that the heads of Poles executed for "illicit" sexual relations with German girls were shrunken; Pfaffenberger was admittedly not the best witness, but this scenario is also plausible, and if it is correct, then the Poles were not regular inmates but were brought to the camp basically only for an execution (as prescribed), and this would also explain the longish hair. Since there were apparently more than 2 such heads (according to Sitte 2 or 3 others were made; see his 08.12.1948 statement in Hearings Before the Investigations Subcommittee of the Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments, United States Senate, Eightieth Congress..., 1949, pt. 5, p. 1052), both versions could actually be true.

Are the above-cited statements reliable? Most probably, since we have documentary evidence that such shrunken heads were indeed produced, namely the 07.05.1942 directive by the garrison physician at Buchenwald, Waldemar Hoven (see a note below) to the pathology to stop their production (R. Schnabel, Macht ohne Moral: eine Dokumentation über die SS, 1957, S. 361; W. Benz (Hrsg.) and B. Distel (Hrsg.), Der Ort des Terrors. Geschichte der nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslager. Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, mit Nebenlagern, 2006, S. 349; the archival reference is given as "Thür. HStA Weimar, KZ Buchenwald, Nr. 9, Bl. 88", S. 356n76):

It is brought to your attention that the production of so-called gift articles (shrunken heads, etc.) has to cease immediately.
And what had to cease had to have taken place. Hoven held various medical posts in the camp since October 1939 and was well informed about such things.

It is thus documentarily proven that several shrunken heads were indeed produced in Buchenwald.

A note on the authorship of the document: Hoven claimed to have been a garrison physician in Buchenwald only since July of 1943, but this claim is mistaken (whether intentionally or not): in Erwin Ding's work journal (NO-265) he is named the garrison doctor in the entry for 17.03.1943; the signatures on Hoven's 27.07.1941 and 02.02.1942 letters correspond to the signature on the 07.05.1943 letter. 

2. Human skin lampshades.

In Buchenwald there used to be rumors about lampshades made of human skin (usually with tattoos). It was sometimes claimed that the commandant Karl-Otto Koch's wife, Ilse Koch, would choose prisoners to be made into lampshades.

Unlike in the case of the shrunken heads, the situation with the human lampshades is much more murky since not a single document about them currently exists. No lampshades alleged to be made of human skin are available for testing. The only candidate, a lampshade once exhibited in Buchenwald, given to the museum by a former inmate, was shown by tests not to have been made of human skin.

Another lampshade that, for a short time, was thought to be of human origin is pictured on the photo above, standing on the table with human skin artifacts. According to the Buchenwald Museum this may be a lampshade from the commandant Pister's office (Dr. Joachim Neander, who has researched the lampshade claims, also confirmed this in an as yet unpublished study). It disappeared shortly after the photo was made and did not figure as an exhibit in the subsequent trials. Hence it is impossible to test it. It is however very unlikely that it was made from human skin since in that case the lampshade would have figured as a piece of evidence at the trial. According to Dr. Neander it also featured in a 1939 photo, i.e. before human skin began to be harvested from corpses in Buchenwald. Moreover, Pister, from whose office this lampshade originates, was not accused of possessing or producing such articles. It was thus most likely misinterpreted by former inmates as a human skin lampshade.

The question of the human lampshades was touched upon during the 2nd (1947) and (briefly) during the 3rd (1950-1951) trials of Ilse Koch. (It did not figure in her first trial by the Nazis in 1944.)

In one interview Gen. Lucius D. Clay, who had reviewed Ilse Koch's sentence after the 2nd trial and reduced her life sentence to 4 years, claimed (J. E. Smith, Lucius D. Clay: An American Life):
That was one of the reasons I revoked the death sentence of Ilse Koch. 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 lampshades made out of human skin in her house. And that was introduced in court, where it was absolutely proven that the lampshades were made out of goatskin.
It is hard to say what lampshades this referred to since no actual lampshade figured at the trial. Soon we will see what this garbled recollection may have referred to.

During the trial some witnesses claimed to have seen lampshades and other human skin articles in Koch's house and implied that prisoners were killed on Koch's behalf to collect their tattoos. The most important of those witnesses (like Kurt Titz (Dietz) and Herbert Froböß) were shown to be unreliable (see for example Maj. G. G. Ackroyd's sum and analysis of evidence, 29.10.1948, Hearings..., op. cit., pp. 1278ff.).

In what this issue was concerned, most witnesses relied on hearsay, on what everybody in the camp "knew" - and this common "knowledge" cannot serve as evidence. There is good evidence that the Kochs at the very least did not engage in such antics on a grand scale that was alleged.

Commandant Koch was accused of corruption and illegal killings of prisoners (and, as a result, later executed) by the Nazis themselves. The investigation against him (and his wife) was led by the famous investigative SS-judge Konrad Morgen. In the summary report on the investigation Morgen described cases of inmate mistreatment and murders in Buchenwald but the lampshades made no appearance.

Morgen testified about a sudden search in the Kochs' house (11.06.1947; United States v. Josias Prince zu Waldeck et al., trial transcript, p. 2805):
Q Was your investigation of her house at that time unexpected?
A Yes.
Q At the time that you inspected her house and arrested Frau Koch, had you already arrested her husband?
A No, I don't think so; that was first.
Q Now, did you make an inspection of the entire furnishings. in the house of Mrs. Koch?
A I, together with Criminal Secretary Nett and Colonel Pister and Major Barnewald, who had been called in as witnesses, searched the house very thoroughly from the cellar to the attic. There wasn't a desk drawer that was left unopened. The house was then sealed and several days later I had it searched again by two experienced, old Criminal Police officials; and after that every single piece of furniture in that house was moved down to Saatz and an inventory of everything that had been in the house was again taken.
Q Where is Saatz?
A In Czechoslovakia, Sudeten area.
Q Now, in this investigation and search that you made in August 1943, did you find any lamp shades of human skin on the premises of Mrs. Koch?
A No, not a one.
Q Did you find any gloves of human skin?
A No.
Q Did you have occasion to find any photo albums or family chronicles of the family Koch when you examined it?
A Yes.
Q Where any of these made of human skin?
A No.
He summed it up as follows during the Pohl trial (22.08.1947; trial transcript, p. 6732):
Q. You also knew that the feeling for art in Buchenwald was so great that the wife of the former camp commander Koch whom we know very will, collected the tattooings of the prisoners in order to give them to people later on, and sometimes she even helped them turn it in much sooner and faster.
A. Excuse me, I think about this question: I am very well informed and both there and in the Buchenwald trial I would like to explain explicitly that was propaganda lie. I have visited the house of the commander from top to bottom and for two days after, that I saw three criminal agents there and we searched the entire house, piece by piece, and not one single occasion did we find one single item which had anything to do with lamp shades of human skin or picture albums which were covered with that skin.
(At this point it should be noted that in his 28.12.1945 and 22.01.1946 affidavits Konrad Morgen claimed that Pister told him from Karl-Otto Koch's words that a lampshade in commandant Koch's office (as opposed to his house) was made of human skin. However, as pointed out by Joachim Neander, this double hearsay many years after the fact should be taken with a grain of salt, especially as Morgen seems to have confused Koch's office with his study, which had a lampshade with a stand of wrought iron and a skull, as described by Morgen.)

Morgen's colleague Heinrich Nett was also examined at the Buchenwald trial (12.06.1947; United States v. Josias Prince zu Waldeck et al., trial transcript, pp. 2928, 2929):
Q When you examined Mrs. Koch's house, did you have occasion to find there any articles made of human skin?
A That was one of the points with which Koch was charged and we paid particular attention to these articles made of human skin, but neither we found anything nor did the officials of the Gestapo who searched everything very thoroughly, nor did anyone else find anything there.
Q When you said this is one of the charges against Koch, did you mean Commander Koch or Mrs. Koch?
A Commander Koch, and all those charges preferred against Koch that he had gotten himself rich, that he had corporal punishment dealt out, and these things were brought to us by Weimar only. I didn't determine any such thing. One was able to determine that Mrs. Koch did not have too good a reputation and we tried to find out something about it, but were not successful. My personal opinion has always been that something like that didn't exist. We found prepared human skin in the concentration camp of Buchenwald and took it with us for the Criminal Museum in Berlin.
Q Did you examine the lamp shades in Mrs. Koch's house?
A Yes, we saw those, too.
Q Could you determine of what material these lamp shades were made?
A Those were regular lamp shades. They were an imitation pig skin or some material made of cardboard. Whatever it was, at least no human skin, not at all.
It is likely that it was this last testimony that Gen. Clay was referring to when he claimed that the lampshades were proven to be made of "goatskin".

In preparation for the 3rd trial of Ilse Koch in Augsburg (which took place in late 1950-early 1951) the prosecution also investigated the human skin issue and it was a part of the indictment. However this charge was dropped by the prosecution during the trial apparently due to the lack of any credible evidence of the participation on the part of the accused. Production of various articles from human skin, however, was not denied. The verdict of the Landesgericht Augsburg from 15.01.1951 (which sentenced Koch to life in prison) explains (Justiz und NS-Verbrechen, Bd. VIII, 1972, S. 33, 71):
In December 1939, one of the front inmate blocks, with an unobstructed view of the roll call square, was transformed into a section room and pathology. [...] If the section yielded an interesting result, it was the task of the pathology to prepare preserved specimens for the own collection, for the universities and for the medical academy of the SS in Graz. If a tattoo of a dead prisoner was found to be deviating from the norm, the respective skin part was separated and, since about 1941 onward, tanned in a special procedure finally developed after a series of unsuccessful attempts. The pieces of skin made durable in this way were partly added to the collection, partly used for the production of utility articles of various kinds. Even before the development of the tanning procedure individual SS doctors showed lively interest in tattoos. For this reason, as early as 1938, both in the prisoner scribes' office and in the prisoner sick bay annotations were placed in the relevant prisoner cards and prisoners with interesting tattoos were sent to the photo section. The SS physician Wagner intended earn a doctoral degree on the question of the connection between the tattoos and the characteristics of their wearers. In the spring and summer of 1940 he made a doctor-scribe G. write him a doctoral thesis accompanied by photos of tattooed prisoners. The book was presented by Wagner to the University of Jena as his own work.
[...]
The jury court did not have to deal with the question of killing crimes in connection with the tattoo complex due the discontinuation of the process according to §154(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure. What is certain, however, is that tattooed skin pieces were stripped from the dead prisoners, tanned, and processed into objects of various kinds. 
A description of the shrunken heads followed, as well as the conclusion that the inmates got as much "respect" in death as they had during life in the camp.

Lampshades as such were not even mentioned in the verdict.

Given all of the above, the mass production of lampshades made of human skin on Ilse Koch's orders can be classified as a legend.

Does that mean that no human lampshades existed in Buchenwald? Not necessarily. It is likely that there is a certain core of truth to the lampshade story which also explains its origin.

The Buchenwald Museum explains:
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 pathology, and Josef Ackermann, political prisoner in the pathology and secretary of the camp doctor Waldemar Hoven. Wegerer explained under oath: "One day at about the same time [1941] the camp commandant Koch and the SS doctor Müller appeared in my work command, the pathology. 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.
The fact that the lampshade is claimed to have disappeared soon thereafter means that such testimonies do not contradict Morgen's and Nett's claims to have found no human skin articles in the Kochs' house.

The former inmate Kurt Leeser also testified about having seen a lampshade standing on a human leg-bone in the pathology (09.05.1947; United States v. Josias Prince zu Waldeck et al., trial transcript, pp. 1716, 1721).

More importantly, the above-mentioned Werner Bach testified about producing a lampshade from human skin (Przyrembel, op. cit., p. 384):
One of the SS doctors had set him the task of ‘covering a round, not very large wire frame with tattooed skin . . . This lamp did not, however, have a base of human bone, but rather a wooden one ... As to the later fate of this lamp, I recall that Dr Müller [one of the SS doctors] took it with him out of the camp when it was finished.’ Shortly thereafter the lamp reappeared in the pathology lab and the individual pieces of skin were placed in a portfolio, but the base was left ‘in some corner or other’.
Interestingly, Kurt Sitte also testified about having seen a lampshade frame made of wire in the pathology; he was told that it was for drying the skin pieces but was not convinced (18.04.1947; United States v. Josias Prince zu Waldeck et al., trial transcript, pp. 375, 398, 399).

Given the differing descriptions (bone v. wooden base) it is possible that two lampshades were produced - one for Karl-Otto Koch's birthday, another for Dr. Müller. The sum of the evidence may not be far beyond the reasonable doubt, but it at least shows the core claim to be very probable, especially considering the testimony of an inmate who testified about making one such lampshade himself and also considering that we know from the document cited above that "gift articles" did indeed use to be produced in the pathology from corpses, so a lampshade made out of the tanned pieces of skin wouldn't have been anything out of the ordinary in this context.

On the other hand there doesn't seem to be any credible non-hearsay, non-speculative evidence about any of those "gift articles" having been produced from inmates killed specifically for that purpose.

There remains one last thing to clarify, namely: the lampshade claims should not be confused with the claims about the collection of tanned skin fragments with tattoos. That happened beyond the reasonable doubt and the fragments survived the war. Three of them were in fact forensically tested and found to be of human origin (3423-PS). And indeed, it is hard to conclude otherwise when you see male nipples on a tanned piece of skin.

On 07.04.1944 it was ordered by Enno Lolling to deliver 142 tattoos from Buchenwald to Oranienburg as soon as possible. As we've seen, the tanned, tattooed skin fragments were ostensibly produced for research on criminality (the collection thus had nothing to do with Ilse Koch) and, formally not being "gift articles", did not fall under Hoven's order cited above. And some of these tanned skin fragments were misused to produce various gruesome "presents". Whether any inmates were murdered to harvest their tattoos is an open question.

3. Human soap.

Right from the start let's be clear about an important distinction: there are two different "human soap stories" which are very distinct from each other yet get confused with each other all the time.

Claim #1: Jews were turned by the Nazis into soap, often claimed to be in form of the bars with the abbreviation "RIF" or "RJF" sometimes claimed to represent something like "Reines Judenfett" or "reines jüdisches Fett" (pure Jewish fat).

This claim is fully, 100% false. It has been discredited by mainstream historians decades ago. There is zero credible evidence for it. "RIF" stood for "Reichsstelle für industrielle Fettversorgung",  ("Reich authority for industrial fat supply"; later Reichsstelle für industrielle Fette und Waschmittel).  There is no reason to discuss it at length, though three minor points have to be made:

1. "Jewish soap" was indeed an extremely widespread rumor during and after the war, with some survivors repeating it as the truth and with many "soap burials" having taking place. However a sincere belief in a rumor does not by itself means any given witness is not credible - unless they themselves claimed to have seen how such soap was produced. The absolute majority of historians have never accepted this rumor as a fact.

2. Sometimes a statement by Dr. Konrad Morgen is quoted in which it is claimed that Dirlewanger ordered to inject young Jewish women with strychnine, then had their corpses cut into small pieces, mixed with horsemeat and boiled into soap. However Morgen was clear in the same statement that it was merely a suspicion (Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, 3rd. ed., 2003, vol. 3, p. 1032). Later Morgen clarified that they could not find any eyewitness to this event and added (Morgen to Artzt, 13.09.1972, BArch B162/25703, Bl. 173):
It is certain that that the then very small Kommando Dirlewanger had no technical equipment at all. The origin of the rumors could also lie in boastful figures of speech.
So there's no "there" there.

3. The reaction to the myth led some researchers to make statements akin to the one made by Deborah Lipstadt in 1981:
The fact is that the Nazis never used the bodies of Jews, or for that matter anyone else, for the production of soap.
Depending on how you read and interpret this statement, it could be true or it could be partly true. We'll come to that in a moment.

Lipstadt's statement leads us to claim #2 (as it is usually formulated): the Nazis produced some human soap experimentally at the Danzig Anatomic Institute.

This is that small-scale, "experimental soap production" that historians usually refer to when discussing the Nazi human soap claims. Albeit it's not clear that the term "experimental" fits in this context. Industrial manufacturing of soap from animal fat was nothing new by that time so there was nothing to experiment with.

The claim, it should be stressed, was not about the corpses of Jews. Unfortunately the Nuremberg judges muddied the issue by conflating the two different claims in their judgment. During the International Military Tribunal only the evidence for the Danzig human soap was presented, which was not claimed to have been made from Jews, yet in the chapter called "Persecution of Jews" we read this:
After cremation the ashes were used for fertilizer, and in some instances attempts were made to utilise the fat from the bodies of the victims in the commercial manufacture of soap.
No evidence was actually presented during the trial about such attempts specifically in regard to Jewish victims, hence the claim is out of place in this section.

Dr. Joachim Neander has been researching the Danzig soap story for many years, his article "The Danzig Soap Case: Facts and Legends around "Professor Spanner" and the Danzig Anatomic Institute 1944-1945" (German Studies Review, 2006, vol. 29, no. 1) is a good scholarly introduction to the issue from a critical perspective, even if sometimes flawed and incomplete when it comes to witness testimonies (however Neander is currently preparing a much more complete book-length treatment the draft of which I had a chance to read; I'm indebted to Neander for several important points I make here).

The scene of the events in question was a small building on the grounds of the Danzig Anatomic Institute used for macerating bones and incinerating biological waste:

Maceration and waste incineration facility on the grounds of the Danzig Anatomic Institute.
Source: GARF f. 7021, op. 109, d. 6, l.d. 2.
Neander gives the following description of maceration:
treating specially prepared body parts with a watery solution of sodium hydroxide in an autoclave at about 110 degrees (45 centigrade) for a certain period of time, on the average three to five days. [...]
The sodium hydroxide dissolves all organic tissue, except bones, cartilage, and those parts of an inner organ that were previously fixed with a corrosion-proof synthetic resin. In this process, the fat contents of the body parts yield soap, which at the end of the maceration process and after cooling down floats to the surface, together with the non-saponificated corpse fat.
Let's quickly review the evidence.

1. The laboratory assistant, Zygmunt Mazur (Siegmund Mazur) testified several times about the soap-making at the Institute on Spanner's orders (see GARF f. 7021, op. 109, d. 1, l.d. 139-141 for his 12.05.1945 interrogation; USSR-197 for his 28.05.1945 interrogation; and GARF f. 7021, op. 109, d. 1, l.d. 57-61 for his 07.06.1945 interrogation). His testimony boils down to the following: the maceration building in the Institute was used twice (February 1944, February 1945), on Prof. Spanner's orders, to produce many kilograms of soap from the human fat accumulated from the corpses of people executed elsewhere. He claimed that mostly bodies of Poles, Russians and Uzbeks were delivered to the Institute; according to Neander's research (p. 78 of his article) most corpses were actually of Germans and Poles. Also note that in February 1945 Spanner was no longer at the Institute. Mazur claimed that before leaving he gave an order for a second soap-making attempt but there was no longer any obligation to follow this order, if it ever was given.

Mazur's claims about the amount of the produced soap and the raw materials were contradictory and not realistic. It was 20 "pounds" (~8kg) of soap from 75 kg of human fat during the first boiling according to the 12.05.1945 testimony; more than 25 kg from both boilings involving 70-80 kg of fat from about 40 corpses in the 28.05.1945 testimony and about 40 kg from both boilings involving about 40 corpses in the 07.06.1945 testimony. Mazur also pointed out that the soap was not weighed and he gives only an estimate.

He also used the word "experimental" in relation to the soap-making. In the 28.05.1945 testimony he claims that the "Hitlerite" government was interested in these attempts, that the Institute was visited by many luminaries, including the Gauleiter Albert Forster. In the 07.06.1945 he makes it clear, however, that his claim about Forster being interested specifically in the soap was merely his assumption.

Mazur shows a piece of human skin.
Source: GARF f. 7021, op. 109, d. 6, l.d. 9.
It has been pointed out (see Neander's article) that Mazur's claims about the exact process are doubtful. It doesn't mean that he didn't take part in the soap-making, but it would seem that Mazur deliberately conflated various processes: making of soap "directly" and intentionally from the fatty tissue; gathering the soapy grease that naturally appears during the maceration process and using it for laboratory purposes; possible processing of that grease into a more soap-like product fit for human consumption.

Mazur died in July of 1945.

2. The soap-making recipe, the Nuremberg document USSR-196 that allegedly openly hung in the maceration building. According to Mazur, this recipe was given to him by Spanner in February of 1944. Doubt has been cast on the plausibility of the process described in the recipe (see Neander's article). When asked about the existence of the recipe none of the people with an access to the maceration building could confirm it. Its origin is therefore unclear and its authenticity questionable.

3. The lab assistant Aleksy Opinski and the building commandant Leon Pieper were interrogated on the soap (Opinski: see GARF f. 7021, op. 109, d. 1, l.d. 141-142 for his 12.05.1945 interrogation; op. cit., l.d. 63-65  for his 28.05.1945 interrogation; op. cit., l.d. 114-115 for his 07.06.1945 joint interrogation with Leon Pieper; BArch B162/25705, Bl. 468ff for his statement made on 19.02.1973; Pieper: see GARF f. 7021, op. 109, d. 1, l.d. 70-71 for his 28.05.1945 interrogation).

Opinski claimed that in February of 1945 he needed soap and asked the commandant of the building Leon Pieper for it. Pieper directed him to Mazur and Opinski went to the maceration lab for the first time. He saw Mazur and another assistant in the process of mixing something in the buckets heated by gas burners, and also saw a table full of pieces of white soap, each about 1 kg. Upon asking whether they were making soap from human bodies Mazur allegedly said they had an order to do it from Prof. Spanner. Opinski acquired a small piece of soap (in the first statement he said Mazur gave it to him, but during the joint interrogation with Pieper he corrected himself, saying it was Pieper who later did; in 1973 he would again claim that Mazur gave him a piece of soap; quite possibly he got one piece of soap from each).

Pieper confirmed that he sent Opinski to Mazur. He also confirmed knowing that soap was produced from human fat at the Institute (though without many details, claiming he had no access to the lab even as the "Hausmeister") and giving a piece of such soap to Opinski.

In 1973 Opinski made a statement about his talks with Mazur that is important to understanding the nature of the process:
I learned that Mazur produced 2 kinds of soap. One - the so-called Schwimm-Seife [floating soap] from the foam floating on the surface of the liquid in the autoclave, and another from the rest of the liquid, using alum.
This indicates that the soapy grease that naturally occurs as a by-product of bone maceration in autoclaves was used for soap production, rather than fatty tissue of corpses, as indicated by Mazur in his statements.

4. Two British POWs who had to assist with auxiliary tasks at the Institute (like transporting the corpses) left their statements: John Henry Witton (03.01.1946; USSR-264) and William Anderson Neely (07.01.1946; USSR-272). The structure of their statements is almost identical, indicating that they were interrogated according to one questionnaire.

Witton:
Corpses which had not been dissected to any great extent had the tissue removed from the forearms, stomach and legs. Owing to the preservative mixture in which they were stored this tissue came away from the bones very easily. The tissue was then put into a boiler about the size of a small kitchen table. ... After boiling the liquid was put into white trays about twice the size of a sheet of foolscap and about 3" deep. These trays were then put out into the sun to allow the contents to dry. Approximately 3 to 4 trayfulls per day were obtained from the machine. Only a few students were allowed to use the machine. After that the contents of the trays were taken away and I do not know what happened to it. The students told me that it was being used for soap an that a chemical had to be added to it to get rid of its bad smell.
Neely:
A machine for the manufacture of soap was completed some time in March or April 1944. ... It consisted, as far as I remember, of an electrically heated tank in which bones of the corpses were mixed with some acid and melted down. The process of melting down took about 24 hours. The fatty portion of the corpses in particular those of females were put into a crude enamel tank heated by a couple of bunsen burners. Some acid was also used for this purpose. I think it was caustic soda. When boiling had been completed the mixture was allowed to cool and then cut into blocks for microscopic examination. 
I cannot estimate the quantity produced but I saw it used by Danzigers in cleaning tables in the dissection room. They all told me it was excellent soap for this purpose. As far as I know none of the soap was used outside the Institute. I saw it being used inside the Institute for the last forthnight of my stay there. It consisted of blocks about 2 inches thick, 6 inches long and 2 inches wide. It had a yellowish tint and a normal smell.
Since both POWs did not have an expert knowledge the proceedings of an anatomy lab, their descriptions are to be taken with a grain of salt and probably mix together various stages of the preparations of various "exhibits" (skin, joints, skeletons) but they do confirm that some kind of soap was made in connection with the maceration of corpses.

5. The soap that was found by the Soviets in the maceration lab and introduced as evidence at Nuremberg as USSR-393 (cf. the inspection protocol of 27.05.1945, GARF f. 7021, op. 109, d. 1, l.d. 76):

Some of the soap as originally found in the maceration building.
Source: GARF f. 7021, op. 109, d. 6, l.d. 8.

The soap as the Nuremberg exhibit USSR-393.
Source.
It was tested in 2006 and was found compatible with being a human soap (I thank Dr. Neander for providing me Prof. A. Stolyhwo's letter with the test results; purely theoretically soap with a similar "DNA fingerprint" could also be produced from pig fat). The question is whether it was from the second batch made in February of 1945, after Spanner had left the Institute and Mazur quite probably made some soap on his own (later claiming it was done on Spanner's orders - which he, however, was obviously no longer obliged to follow).

7. Several statements by Rudolf Maria Spanner on the whole situation are available. He consistently claimed that a) human soap (menschliche Fettseife) was indeed created in the laboratory (as a natural by-product of the bone maceration); b) it was used by him exclusively for impregnating  the joint preparations (among other sources see Spanner's 02.09.1945 letter to the rector of Kiel university, BArch B162/25702, Bl. 95; his statement on 09.11.1945, op. cit., Bl. 96; his interrogation on 13.05.1947 after being arrested for the first time in Hamburg, op. cit., Bl. 79v; the statement on 14.05.1947 as quoted in Neander, op. cit., p. 77; his interrogation in Kiel on 12.02.1948, BArch B162/25702, Bl. 5v).

E.g. during the 14.05.1947 interrogation he stated:
I repeat my statement given at the police and add: At the Danzig Anatomic Institute soap was manufactured to a limited extent from human fat. This soap was only used for the manufacturing of joint preparations.
During the 12.02.1948 interrogation he claimed:
The author of the article sees the mass containing fat, that remains during maceration of bones, as soap. Soap was not produced with a commercial or an industrial goal. ... I never concerned myself with production of a "toilet soap".
Instead it was for the joint preparations [Gelenkpräparat]:
... for a better impregnation with the human fat-soap [mit menschlicher Fettseife] that it would remain flexible
8.  The senior preparateur Eduard von Bargen (who is mentioned in the testimonies of all important Danzig witnesses) denied industrial production of soap and yet said that hinges of joint preparations were impregnated with "human fat-soap" [mit menschlicher Fettseife]. He also claimed that a sergeant Labusch and a NCO May were tasked with these experiments and wanted to write a doctor thesis about it. Mazur had nothing to do with soap production. Corpses were neither from Jews, nor from Russians. (See Barch B162/25704, Bl. 174-182; 20.09.1972).

Herbert Labusch denied Mazur's and von Bargen's claims but provided an important detail (Labusch to Artzt, 22.08.1973, op. cit., Bl. 293-297):
I can rather say only as much as that from the remains resulting from the preparation of the corpses by the students a fat-containing mass was obtained, with which containers were filled. However I was neither informed nor enlightened by Prof. Dr. Spanner from which parts and, more generally, for what purpose this mass was obtained.
Labusch therefore confirms the gathering of the maceration grease (not the implausible gathering of the raw fatty tissue, as per Mazur, which would have gone bad pretty quickly).

Günter May denied any soap claims and called von Bargen's doctor thesis claim a bad joke (May to Artzt, 13.11.1973,  op. cit., Bl. 319).

(Side note: in this respect it is interesting how aggressively some of the German investigators tried to destroy the Danzig human soap meme; e.g. the state prosecutor Rolf Sichting wrote on 05.01.1967 to Adalbert Rückerl (Barch B162/25703, Bl. 1):
This matter lies close to my heart since it concerns a point with which much of the smear campaign against Germany could be refuted.
Senior state prosecutor Heinz Artzt, one of the investigators of the Central Office of the State Justice Administrations for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes (and himself a former Nazi) wrote long letters (07.08.1973) to Labusch and May (op. cit., Bl. 262-277) in which he quoted some critiques of the old soap claims and also added:
You will understand that your statements ... are of a special significance to me in order to refute the statements of Mazur and other "witnesses".
[...]
To date no attempt has been made, on the basis of the statements of the still living German witnesses ... to confront this legend of the soap production.
Confronted with all the enormous crimes of the Nazi regime they still tried to strain out the "soap gnat".)

What can be concluded from all this?

The minimal probable facts that can be established are as follows:
  • human soap was indeed made at the Danzig Anatomic Institute;
  • it was a natural by-product of the bone maceration which was gathered in a special container and occasionally underwent some further processing;
  • it was used for cleaning tasks inside the Institute, e.g. cleaning of the dissection tables, and attempts were made to use it for impregnation of the ligaments of the joint preparations in order to keep them flexible;
  • it is plausible that at least some of the soap was further processed for normal consumption in 1945;
  • the soap was not claimed to have been made from Jews;
  • the soap presented at the Nuremberg trial by the Soviets was not fake.
The points that are extremely doubtful, probably false or for which there is no credible evidence:
  • the soap-making attempts at the Institute were experimental and were to serve as a test run for a larger, industrial production of human soap;
  • Nazi higher-ups knew about such attempts;
  • Mazur's second big soap-making attempt in February of 1945 was on Spanner's orders;
  • the soap presented at Nuremberg was a direct result of Spanner's activities rather than Mazur's initiative;
  • any people were killed specifically in order to produce soap from them.
Coming back to Lipstadt's statement, it is therefore true that the soap was not "produced" in the sense of mass production, although it could be said to have been "produced" simply in the sense of "made". And it is also true that it was not "the Nazis" who made this soap, but rather a Nazi, Rudolf Spanner. It was an isolated case not directly connected to (even if influenced by) the Nazi policies.

4. Human hair.

The collection and industrial use of the hair of the Nazi victims (whether alive or dead) is extremely well documented.

28.06.1942: British decode of Karl Künstler's message about the use of human hair.
OMA de OME    0800 2 Tle 250 73
Zum Schreiben SV WVH AMT Amtsgruppe D vom 15.6.42 (D II/1 SO/9) meldet die Kommandantur KL FLO, dass die Brust und Schamhaare bisher verbrannt wurden. Die Kopfhaare werden gesammelt und für Bürsten in der Robotermaschine (Schusterwerkstätte) verwendet.
KUENSTLER
... the commandant's office Flossenbürg informs that the breast and pubic hair has been burned until now. The head hair is collected and used for brushes in the robotic machine (shoemaker's workshop). 
Source: PRO HW 16/19, ZIP/GPD 138, traffic 28.6.42, item 3/4; I thank Hans Metzner for providing me with the text.

24.06.1942: British decode of (Paul?) Sporrenberg's message regarding processing of human hair.
OMA de OMG 1030 226
Betr. Verwendung von Haaren. Die hier anfallenden Haaren...groups missed... werden wie bisher gesammelt und mit anderem Altmaterial an die Altverwertungsstelle in STRAUBING/BAYERN zum Versand gebracht.
I B Sporrenberg, SS Obersturmführer.
The hair accruing here ... are as before collected and with the other old materials sent to the processing site for salvaged materials in Straubing/Bavaria.
Source: PRO HW 16/19, ZIP/GPD 131, traffic 24.6.42, item 9; I thank Hans Metzner for providing me with the text.

06.08.1942: USSR-511. Richard Glücks' instructions to the concentration camp commandants on the collection of the hair.

Source. Source.
The Chief of the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt SS-Obergruppenführer Pohl has ordered that the cut-off human hair accruing in all concentration camps is to be put to use.
Human hair is to be made into industrial felt or spun into yarn. The combed-out or cut-off women's hair is to be used in the manufacture of hair-yarn footlets for 'U'-boat crews and hair-felt knee-socks for the Imperial Railway.
It is therefore ordered that the hair of female prisoners is to be stored after desinfection. Men's hair can only be put to use if it is 20 mm or longer.
SS-Obergruppenführer Pohl therefore agrees for an initial trial period to the growing of the male prisoners' hair to a length of 20 mm before it is cut. In order to avoid facilitation of escapes due to long hair the camp commandants may, if they deem it necessary, mark prisoners in such a way that with a small hair-cutting machine a parting is shaved off in the middle of the head.
It is planned to set up a processing workshop in one of the concentration camps for the hair accruing in all camps. Further details as to the delivery of the collected hair will follow.
The total monthly amounts hair, separated into male and female hair, are to be reported to this office on the 5th of every month beginning from September 5, 1942.
30.09.1942: Richard Glücks' travel permit to SS-Obersturmführer Schwarz (Auschwitz) for the inspection of the Held hair-processing plant.


Source: Danuta Czech, Auschwitz Chronicle, p. 247.
I hereby authorize the travel by car. of the SS-Obersturmführer Schwarz from Auschwitz to Friedland to visit the hair-processing plant Held in Friedland, district Wroclaw.
04.01.1943: PS-3680. Gerhard Maurer's instructions to the commandants of Buchenwald, Dachau, Flossenbürg, Mauthausen, Neuengamme, Ravensbrück, Sachsenhausen, Natzweiler concerning the sale of hair cut from male inmates.
The establishment of a workshop for the processing of hair cut from male prisoners in one of the concentration camps can not for technical reasons be realized at this time. The available hair therefore must be surrendered to an existing industry.
The cut hair collected up to now should therefore be sent as soon as possible to the firm:
Alex Zink, Felt factory AG, Roth near Nuremberg.
There should be a charge of RM -.50 for each kg of hair. The collected sums must be deposited with the Reich Treasury. The shipment of the hair is to be made free of mail and freight charges. The reports submitted to me on the 5th of every month on the amount of the cut hair collected are to be continued. The amount of cut hair shipped to the Zink firm is to be included therein. The amounts collected should be sent to the Zink firm without interruption.
11.01.1943: Gerhard Maurer's instructions to the commandants of Gross-Rosen, Stutthof, Lublin (Majdanek) concerning the sale of hair cut from male inmates.
The establishment of a workshop for the processing of hair cut from male prisoners in one of the concentration camps can not for technical reasons be realized at this time. The available hair therefore must be surrendered to an existing industry.
The cut hair collected up to now should therefore be sent as soon as possible to the firm Färberei Forst AG ... for the firm Paul Reimann in Friedland, district Breslau.
There should be a charge of RM -.50 for each kg of hair. 
Source: E. Dziadosz, "Stosunki handlowe obozu koncentracyjnego na Majdanku z firmą Paula Rejmana", Zeszyty Majdanka, 1999, vol. 20.

06.02.1943: NO-1257. Report from Oswald Pohl to Himmler on the realization of textile-salvage from the Jewish resettlement up to the present date from the camps Auschwitz and Lublin (Majdanek).

[...]
women's hair 1 railcar 3,000 kg
[...]
17.06.1943: NO-2319. Gerhard Maurer's instructions to concentration camp commandants regarding the hair of the SS men.
I bring to your attention that, obviously, also the hair accruing in the barber rooms of the SS guard details is to be collected and to be sent together with the inmate hair to the hair-processing firms. The known firms have, as before, the urgent demand. With the message on 5.10.43 the amount of the hair collected in the barber rooms of the SS is to be specified separately.
Quoted in P. Zinke, "'Es besteht nach wie vor dringender Bedarf'. Die Haar-Verwertung der KZ-Opfer am Beispiel der Firma Alex Zink in Roth bei Nürnberg", in nurinst 2002. Beiträge zur deutschen und jüdischen Geschichte, 2002, B. 1, S. 75.

22.06.1943: Invoice for 200 kg of hair sent from Majdanek to Paul Reimann company in Friedland.

Source: J. Marszalek, Majdanek. The Concentration Camp in Lublin, 1986.
After 10.1943: Invoice for 220 kg of hair sent from Majdanek to Paul Reimann company in Friedland.


Source.
1944: A summary "hair report" from Lublin (Majdanek) for the period from September 1942 to the 1st quarter of 1944, specifying that 730 kg of hair were delivered to Forst (i.e. to the firm Färberei Forst AG for the firm Paul Reimann in Friedland).
Source: J. Marszalek, Majdanek. The Concentration Camp in Lublin, 1986.
31.01.1945: A Buchenwald note about the hair ready for shipping to the firm Alex Zink.
For the firm Alex Zink, Felt factory AG, Roth near Nuremberg, three bales of human hair with the total net weight of 208 kg, gross weight 217 kg are ready for shipping.
Handwritten data on the document:
1943 (half a year) 494
1944 (1 year) 1013
1945 (quarter year) 407
Quoted in P. Zinke, "'Es besteht nach wie vor dringender Bedarf'. Die Haar-Verwertung der KZ-Opfer am Beispiel der Firma Alex Zink in Roth bei Nürnberg", in nurinst 2002. Beiträge zur deutschen und jüdischen Geschichte, 2002, B. 1, S. 75.

These are just some of the available documents, there are more. In addition, numerous bales of human hair were found in Auschwitz (about 7000 kg).
Source.
Source.
Source.
Source.

5. Summary.

Let's sum up our findings and their relation to the Holocaust.

The creation of human shrunken heads in the Buchenwald pathological department is documented. It doesn't seem to have been done on an order from above and it was stopped by an order of a Nazi doctor. The shrunken heads were not claimed to have been made from the bodies of Jews (all witness claims are about executed Poles).

The creation of 1 or 2 lampshades (but likely no more than that) from tanned human skin in Buchenwald is not documented (although the extensive collection of the tanned tattooed skin is) but is very probable since it was testified about by the witnesses-in-the-know from the pathology department, one of whom testified about creating one such lampshade. They were apparently created on orders from certain camps officials. There is no evidence any people were murdered to create them. The lampshades were not claimed to have been made from the skin of Jews.

It is tempting to use both cases as an example of a unique Nazi brutality, but in light of the contemporary American mutilation of the corpses of the Japanese soldiers we seem to be dealing with a much more general human problem here.

The Jewish soap is a myth, but the Danzig human soap was real. Albeit not documented, it was freely testified about by the professor running the lab. However the facts around it were exaggerated by the propaganda. It was most likely a natural by-product of the bone maceration process that was then unethically used in the lab. There is no credible evidence that people were killed specifically in order to make soap of them, that these were experimental attempts before a large-scale industrial production or that the Nazi higher-ups knew about it. The soap was not claimed to have been made from the bodies of Jews.

The use of hair of the Nazi victims is well documented.

6 comments:

havoc said...

Hey i wanted to ask a question about some of the more nonsensical claims of some ''eye witnesses'' that deniers love to use as red herrings like where come from? and if the where ever used in any of the post trails eg. (Nuremburg west german ect)?.. For example the claim of a ''peddle driven brain bashing machine'' or a ''giant electric chair at triblinka'' or perhaps my favourite red herring the ''Auschwitz knive chambers''.

Sergey Romanov said...

The brain-bashing machine bit comes from a Soviet affidavit (introduced at Nuremberg - which does not mean that it was accepted by the judges) of the Sachsenhausen SS man Paul Waldmann. By itself the machine is obviously *not* nonsensical - it's just a spring-loaded bolt hidden in a purported height measuring apparatus, used to kill a person quickly. The only question is whether it existed. The balance of probabilities says no (the Sachsenhausen researchers don't seem to know anything about it), albeit I would not exclude a possibility that something like this was tried out in the early stages. One should take into account that the killing was indeed disguised as a height-measuring procedure - but from most of the available evidence we know that it was accomplished by shooting normal bullets into the back of the neck, not a spring-loaded bolt. Interestingly enough, one report mentions such a device in Buchenwald.

The rumors of mass electrocutions at the Aktion Reinhardt camps were widespread at some point. The phrase "giant electric chair" refers to mass electrocutions, obviously not to a literal giant "chair". For context: http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2011/12/belzec-sobibor-treblinka-holocaust_740.html
I'm not aware of this rumor being introduced at any trial.

I've never heard of "Auschwitz knife chambers".

havoc said...

sorry for the late resoponse either way thanks for the info oh and about the "knive chamber" thing it's a is a meme if seen spouted by some twitter meme lords using a book called "eyewitness" accounts of coarse i doubt this book and most of these "eyewitnesses" in there little twitter canard have any proof to stand on since the also included the ""mastrubation machines" debunked nonsense and moshe peers fake story.

LANDMAUS said...

Hello from France,

I tried to contact you by e-mail (address in 'about'), but the mail came back. So here is what I wrote :

may I suggest that you add this website : http://www.memorialdelashoah.org/ to your Links to Holocaust Resources ?

Here : http://www.memorialdelashoah.org/archives-et-documentation/ressources-en-ligne/rechercher-une-archive.html you can research a person and, eg, find the lists of the Jews deported from France.

Kind regards, martine

Sergey Romanov said...

Havoc, you're welcome. The masturbation machines are from a fake memoir by a non-Jewish guy who lied about being a Jewish survivor.

Moshe Peer could be a liar of course, but it could also be false memory, don't forget he was a child back then.

havoc said...

Oh uh if your going to ask why i I deleted my other comment it's because i got some of my wording wrong (english is not my first language) what i meant was that moshe claimed 6 gassings/showerings even tho as far as i know jews who where not sent instantly to the gas chambers apon arrival in Auschwitz where only showered once why did moshe claim 6 gassings/showerings?