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'Jewish soap'
(Shouldn't that be "Jewish Soft Soap?")
by Mark Weber
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One of the most lurid and slanderous Holocaust claims is the story that the
Germans manufactured soap from the bodies of their victims. Although a similar
charge during the First World War was exposed as a hoax almost immediately
afterwards, it was nevertheless revived and widely believed during the Second.
More important, this accusation was "proved" at the main Nuremberg trial of
1945-1946, and has been authoritatively endorsed by numerous historians in the
decades since. In recent years, though, as part of a broad retreat from the most
obviously untenable aspects of the "orthodox" extermination story, Holocaust
historians have grudgingly conceded that the human soap tale is a wartime
propaganda lie. In their retreat, though, these historians have tried to dismiss
the soap story as a mere wartime "rumor," neglecting to mention that
international Jewish organizations and then Allied governments endorsed and sanctioned
this libelous canard.

Wartime rumors that the Germans were manufacturing soap from the corpses of
slaughtered Jews were based in part on the fact that soap bars distributed by
German authorities in Jewish ghettos and camps bore the impressed initials
"RIF," which many took to stand for "Rein juedisches Fett" or "Pure Jewish Fat."
(It did not seem to matter that the letters were "RIF" and not "RJF.") These
rumors spread so widely in 1941 and 1942 that by late 1942 German authorities in
Poland and Slovakia were expressing official concern about their impact.

According to a Polish source quoted in a secret wartime U.S. Army military
intelligence report, for example, the Germans were operating a "human soap
factory" in 1941 at Turek, Poland. "The Germans had brought thousands of Polish
teachers, priests and Jews there and after extracting the blood serum from their
bodies, had thrown them on large pots and melted off grease to make soap," the
intelligence report added.

Macabre "Jewish soap" jokes became popular in the ghettos and camps, and many
non-Jews on the outside came to believe the story. When trains loaded with
Jewish deportees stopped temporarily at rail stations, Poles reportedly would
gleefully shout at them: "Jews to soap!" Even British prisoners of war interned
at Auschwitz in 1944 testified later about the wartime rumors that corpses of
gassing victims were being turned into soap there.

In spite of its inherently incredible character, the soap story became an
important feature of Jewish and Allied war propaganda. Rabbi Stephen S. Wise,
wartime head of both the World Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Congress,
publicly charged in November 1942 that Jewish corpses were being "processed
into such war-vital commodities as soap, fats and fertilizer" by the Germans. He
further announced that the Germans were "even exhuming the dead for the value
of the corpses," and were paying fifty marks for each body.

In late 1942, the Congress Weekly, published by the American Jewish Congress,
editorialized that the Germans were turning Jews "by scientific methods of
dissolution into fertilizer, soap and glue." An article in the same issue
reported that Jewish deportees from France and Holland were being processed into
"soap, glue and train oil" in at least two special factories in Germany. Typical
of many other American periodicals, the influential New Republic reported in
early 1943 that the Germans were "using the bodies of their Jewish victims to
make soap and fertilizer in a factory at Siedlce."

During June and July 1943, two prominent representatives of the Moscow-based
"Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee" toured the United States and raised more than
two million dollars for the Soviet war effort at a series of mass meetings. At
each of these rallies, Soviet Jewish leader Solomon Mikhoels showed the crowd
a bar of soap that he said was made from Jewish corpses.

After the war the soap story was given important legitimacy at the main
Nuremberg trial. L. N. Smirnov, Chief Counsellor of Justice for the USSR, declared
to the Tribunal:

... The same base, rationalized SS technical minds which created gas chambers
and murder vans, began devising such methods of complete annihilation of
human bodies, which would not only conceal the traces of their crimes, but also to
serve in the manufacturing of certain products. In the Danzig Anatomical
Institute, semi-industrial experiments in the production of soap from human bodies
and the tanning of human skin for industrial purposes were carried out.

Smirnov quoted at length from an affidavit by Sigmund Mazur, an Institute
employee, which was accepted as Nuremberg exhibit USSR-197. It alleged that Dr.
Rudolf Spanner, the head of the Danzig Institute, had ordered the production of
soap from corpses in 1943. According to Mazur's affidavit, Dr. Spanner's
operation was of interest to high-ranking German officials. Education Minister
Bernhard Rust and Health Leader Dr. Leonardo Conti, as well as professors from
other medical institutes, came to witness Spanner's efforts. Mazur also claimed
to have used the "human soap" to wash himself and his laundry.

A human soap "recipe," allegedly prepared by Dr. Spanner (Nuremberg document
USSR-196), was also presented. Finally, a sample of what was supposed to be a
piece of "human soap" was submitted to the Nuremberg Tribunal as exhibit

In his closing address to the Tribunal, chief British prosecutor Sir Hartley
Shawcross echoed his Soviet colleague: "On occasion, even the bodies of their
victims were used to make good the wartime shortage of soap." And in their
final judgment, the Nuremberg Tribunal judges found that "attempts were made to
utilize the fat from the bodies of the victims in the commercial manufacture of

It is worth emphasizing here that the "evidence" presented at the Nuremberg
Tribunal for the bogus soap story was no less substantial than the "evidence"
presented for the claims of mass extermination in "gas chambers." At least in
the former case, an actual sample of soap supposedly made from corpses was
submitted in evidence.

After the war, supposed Holocaust victims were solemnly buried, in the form of
 soap bars, in Jewish cemeteries. In 1948, for example, four such bars
wrapped in a funeral shroud were ceremoniously buried according to Jewish religious
ritual at the Haifa cemetery in Israel. Other bars of "Jewish soap" have been
displayed as grim Holocaust relics at the Jewish Historical Institute in
Warsaw, the Stutthof Museum near Gdansk (Danzig), the Yivo Institute in New York,
the Holocaust Museum in Philadelphia, the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Melbourne
(Australia), and at various locations in Israel.

Numerous Jews who lived in German ghettos and camps during the war helped
keep the soap story alive many years later. Ben Edelbaum, for example, wrote in
his 1980 memoir Growing Up in the Holocaust:

"Often with our rations in the ghettos, the Germans had included a bar of
soap branded with initials R.J.F. which came to be known as "RIF" soap. It wasn't
until the war had ended that we learned the horrible truth about the bar of
soap. Had we known in the ghetto, every bar of "RIF" soap would have been
accorded a sacred Jewish funeral in the cemetery at Marysin. As it was, we were
completely oblivious to its origin and used the bones and flesh of our murdered
loved ones to wash our bodies."

Nesse Godin was transferred from a ghetto in Lithuania to the Stutthof
concentration camp in the spring of 1944. In a 1983 interview, she recalled her
arrival there:

"That day they gave us a shower and a piece of soap. After the war we found
out the soap was made out of pure Jew fat, Rein Juden Fett, marked in the
initials on the soap that I washed with. For all I know sometimes maybe there was a
little bit of my father's fat in that soap that I washed with. How do you
think I feel when I think about that?"

Mel Mermelstein, the former Auschwitz inmate who was featured in the
sensationalized April 1991 cable television movie "Never Forget" (and who sued the
Institute for Historical Review and three other defendants for $11 million),
declared in a 1981 sworn deposition that he and other camp inmates used soap bars
made from human fat. It was an "established fact," he insisted, that the soap
he washed with was made from Jewish bodies.

Renowned "Nazi hunter" Simon Wiesenthal repeated the soap tale in a series of
articles published in 1946 in the Austrian Jewish community paper Der Neue
Weg.  In the first of these he wrote:

"During the last weeks of March the Romanian press reported an unusual piece
of news: In the small Romanian city of Folticeni twenty boxes of soap were
buried in the Jewish cemetery with full ceremony and complete funeral rites. This
soap had been found recently in a former German army depot. On the boxes were
the initials RIF, "Pure Jewish Fat." These boxes were destined for the
Waffen-SS. The wrapping paper revealed with completely cynical objectivity that this
soap was manufactured from Jewish bodies. Surprisingly, the thorough Germans
forgot to describe whether the soap was produced from children, girls, men or
elderly persons."

Wiesenthal went on:

"After 1942 people in the General Government [Poland] knew quite well what
the RIF soap meant. The civilized world may not believe the joy with which the
Nazis and their women in the General Government thought of this soap. In each
piece of soap they saw a Jew who had been magically put there, and had thus
been prevented from growing into a second Freud, Ehrlich or Einstein."

In another article he observed: "The production of soap from human fat is so
unbelievable that even some who were in concentration camps find it difficult
to comprehend."

Over the years, numerous supposedly reputable historians have promoted the
durable soap story. Journalist-historian William L. Shirer, for example,
repeated it in his best-selling work, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

Leading Soviet war propagandist Ilya Ehrenburg wrote in his postwar memoir:
"I have held in my hand a cake of soap stamped with the legend 'pure Jewish
soap', prepared from the corpses of people who had been destroyed. But there is
no need to speak of these things: thousands of books have been written about

A standard history studies textbook used in Canadian secondary schools,
Canada: The Twentieth Century, told students that the Germans "boiled" the corpses
of their Jewish victims "to make soap." The Anatomy of Nazism, a booklet
published and distributed by the Zionist "Anti-Defamation League" of B'nai B'rith,

"The process of brutalization did not end with the mass murders themselves.
Large quantities of soap were manufactured from the corpses of those murdered."

A detailed 1981 work, Hitler's Death Camps, repeated the soap story in lurid
detail. While noting that "some historians claim that the Nazi manufacture of
soap from human fat is just a grim rumor," author Konnilyn Feig nevertheless
accepted the story because "most East European camp scholars ... validate the
soap stories, and other kinds of bars made from humans are displayed in Eastern
Europe -- I have seen many over the years."

New York Rabbi Arthur Schneier repeated the tale at the opening ceremony of
the largest Holocaust meeting in history. In his invocation to the "American
Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors," held in Washington in April 1983, the
Rabbi solemnly declared: "We remember the bars of soap with the initials RJF
-- Rein jdisches Fett, Pure Jewish Fat -- made from the bodies of our loved

In spite of all the apparently impressive evidence, the charge that the
Germans manufactured soap from human beings is a falsehood, as Holocaust historians
are now belatedly acknowledging. The "RIF" soap bar initials that supposedly
stood for "Pure Jewish Fat" actually indicated nothing more sinister than
"Reich Center for Industrial Fat Provisioning" ("Reichsstelle fr Industrielle
Fettversorgung"), a German agency responsible for wartime production and
distribution of soap and washing products. RIF soap was a poor quality substitute that
contained no fat at all, human or otherwise.

Shortly after the war the public prosecutor's office of Flensburg, Germany,
began legal proceedings against Dr. Rudolf Spanner for his alleged role in
producing human soap at the Danzig Institute. But after an investigation the
charge was quietly dropped. In a January 1968 letter, the office stated that its
inquiry had determined that no soap from human corpses was made at the Danzig
Institute during the war.

More recently, Jewish historian Walter Laqueur "denied established history"
by acknowledging in his 1980 book, The Terrible Secret, that the human soap
story has no basis in reality. Gitta Sereny, another Jewish historian, noted in
her book Into That Darkness: "The universally accepted story that the corpses
were used to make soap and fertilizer is finally refuted by the generally very
reliable Ludwigsburg Central Authority for Investigation into Nazi Crimes."

Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of modern Jewish history, similarly "rewrote
history" when she confirmed 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."

In April 1990, professor Yehuda Bauer of Israel's Hebrew University, regarded
as a leading Holocaust historian, as well as Shmuel Krakowski, archives
director of Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust center, confirmed that the human soap
story is not true. Camp inmates "were prepared to believe any horror stories
about their persecutors," Bauer said. At the same time, though, he had the
chutzpah to blame the legend on "the Nazis."

In fact, blame for the soap story lies rather with individuals such as Simon
Wiesenthal and Stephen Wise, organizations like the World Jewish Congress, and
the victorious Allied powers, none of whom has ever apologized for promoting
this vile falsehood.

Why did Bauer and Krakowski decide that this was the appropriate time to
officially abandon the soap story? Krakowski himself hints that a large part of
the motivation for this "tactical retreat" has been to save what's left of the
sinking Holocaust ship by throwing overboard the most obvious falsehoods. In
the face of the growing Revisionist challenge, easily demonstrable falsehoods
like the soap story have become dangerous embarrassments because they raise
doubts about the entire Holocaust legend. As Krakowski put it: "Historians have
concluded that soap was not made from human fat. When so many people deny the
Holocaust ever happened, why give them something to use against the truth?"

The bad faith of those making this calculated and belated concession to truth
is shown by their failure to note that the soap myth was authoritatively
"confirmed" at Nuremberg, and by their unwillingness to deal with the implications
of that confirmation for the credibility of the Tribunal and other supposedly
trustworthy authorities in establishing other, more fundamental aspects of
the Holocaust story.

The striking contrast between the prompt postwar disavowal by the British
government of the infamous "human soap" lie of the First World War, and the way
in which a similarly baseless propaganda story from the Second World War was
officially endorsed by the victorious Allied powers and then authoritatively
maintained for so many years not only points up the dispiriting lack of integrity
on the part of so many Western historians, but underscores the general
decline in Western ethical standards during this century.

The "human soap" story demonstrates anew the tremendous impact that a wartime
rumor, no matter how fantastic, can have once it has taken hold, particularly
when it is disseminated as a propaganda lie by influential individuals and
powerful organizations. That so many intelligent and otherwise thoughtful people
could ever have seriously believed that the Germans distributed bars of soap
brazenly labeled with letters indicating that they were manufactured from
Jewish corpses shows how readily even the most absurd Holocaust fables can be --
and are -- accepted as fact.

Mark Weber is editor of The Journal of Historical Review, published six times
yearly by the Institute for Historical Review. He studied history at the
University of Illinois (Chicago), the University of Munich, Portland State
University, and Indiana University (M.A., 1977). For five days in March 1988, he
testified as a recognized expert witness on the "final solution" and the Holocaust
issue in a Toronto District Court case. He is the author of many published
articles, reviews and essays on various aspects of modern European history.
Weber has appeared as a guest on numerous radio talk shows, and on the
nationally-syndicated "Montel Williams" television show.


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