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THE SILLY ADVENTURES OF A HALF-DEAD MYTH

 

September 2000

The Soap Story of Benjamin Hirsch

1/ Extract of his book
2/ His adventures and rebuke by the Hol Memorial Meduseum in Wash-DC
3/ The Nizkorite nit-picking about the Soap myth


 

"Hearing a Different Drummer: A Holocaust Survivor's Search for Identity" (Mercer University Press) is the memoir of Holocaust survivor Benjamin Hirsch, an Atlanta architecht. Most of the book is devoted to Hirsch's experience as a U.S. soldier in post-World War II Germany. But in the 10 pages of Chapter 23, the architect expresses his disappointment in the verdict of historians on Nazi soap-making -- and urges them to reconsider. As a result, officials at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington have refused to allow him to hold a book-signing on the premises. Following are excerpts from the chapter, reprinted with the permission of Mercer University Press.



1/ Extract of his book

One of my greatest disappointments has been what I consider to be an assault on the memory of survivors from Jewish academia. These are people whom I would expect to be more sensitive to survivors' need to bear witness and to the pain that discounting their memories would subject them. I can understand a scholar not accepting as fact a particular aspect of the memory of survivors of the camps for the lack of what they call sufficient proof in the face of technological improbability. I can only assume that this is what Raul Hillberg, one of the most respected Holocaust historians, had in mind in his definitive study Destruction of European Jews when he concluded that "the use of human fat for soap cannot be established as a fact from available documentary evidence and eye witness reports." Hillberg's conclusion does not state that soap being made from the fat of Jewish or other victims is unequivocally untrue, as some of the next generation of "Holocaust scholars" do, ostensibly because they fear that allowing such unproven claims from survivors to circulate unchallenged could play into the hands of Holocaust deniers or "revisionists."

I was first confronted with the insane notion that soap was made from Jewish bodies in 1970. It was Friday, February 27, I received an unusual telephone call from my rabbi. Rabbi Emanuel Feldman always seemed to have a handle on resolving the problems of his congregants, without losing his composure. This time however, his voice betrayed that he was truly shaken by the situation that he was about to share with me. A member of our synagogue -- Congregation Beth Jacob -- had been a soldier in the United States army, serving in Europe at the end of World War II. He had gone into one of the Concentration Camps a few days after liberation where he found four bars of soap, marked RJF. He was told that the marking stood for "Rein Juden Fett," (pure Jewish fat). He had heard that Nazis made soap from the remains of Jews and decided it would be better to take the bars of soap with him than to leave them for someone else to wash with.

He never could figure out what to do with these mementos of the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis, so he wrapped them up in a bundle and kept them with him as he moved from place to place. He never told anyone about them. As fate would have it, the woman he married was a survivor of the concentration camps. When their three children were teenagers they moved into a house near the synagogue, where he stashed his Mysterious package on a shelf in the basement and forgot about it. In the wee hours of the morning, the day before Rabbi Feldman called me, he had received a frantic call from this WWII veteran. Earlier that evening his wife had gone down to the basement to do some laundry and she ran out of detergent. She started searching around the basement for any kind of soap to complete the washing, and fortuitously, she thought, found a package with the four bars of soap. As she was scrubbing away with one of the bars, he came walking down the stairs and let out a scream of horror as he realized what she was doing. She in turn got startled and started crying. To calm her down, he felt that he had to explain his reaction and tell her the origin of the soap. This made matters even worse for her. It took hours for her to get her emotions under some semblance of control, and that was when he called the Rabbi, about three in the morning.

Before he called me, Rabbi Feldman had been on the phone all day consulting Rabbinical authorities in Israel and in New York, to establish, within Halacha (Jewish Law), a procedure for what to do with these bars of soap that apparently contained remains of Jewish victims of the Nazis. It was finally decided that they should be treated as if they were dead bodies and be buried in a cemetery, and that a funeral should be held as soon as possible. The Rabbi was familiar with the Memorial to the Six Million that I had designed, and that was built in the Jewish section of Greenwood Cemetery [in Atlanta], in 1965. We both agreed that it would be proper that the burial be on the grounds of the Memorial.

The funeral went as planned, and was well attended. I took my seven-and-one-half-year old daughter, Shoshanah, to give me strength. I then designed and ordered a stone that now sits on the grave. The inscription is in Hebrew and English, "Here rest four bars of soap, the last earthly remains of Jewish Victims of the Nazi Holocaust."

I may have heard talk about the Nazis making soap out of Jewish bodies before, but this was the first time that I was personally involved in dealing with the issue, and I was totally blown away. This event had such a dramatic effect on me, that like a swift kick to the head, it pushed me back into my quest for answers about my past.

I was greatly disturbed, years later, when I read a quote from a Holocaust scholar regarding the four bars of soap buried next to the Holocaust Memorial in Greenwood Cemetery. This academician stated that it was an established fact among "Holocaust scholars" that no soap was made from human fat by the Nazis, notwithstanding the testimony of survivors of the death camps.

Some time later, I poured out my frustration to my brother Asher in one of our conversations, and he told me that our Uncle, Philipp Auerbach, had been a chemist in Auschwitz, among other camps, and that he had admitted to him that he had made soap from human fat, under orders from the Nazis. I received a letter from Asher, dated March 3, 1997, going into more detail about his conversations with Uncle Philipp. In his letter, Asher tells of first meeting with Uncle Philipp in 1946, while Asher was serving with the U.S. Army in Germany. It was then that he told Asher that he had seen our mother, from some distance, with Werner and Roselene, standing in line to the gas showers in Auschwitz. Asher's letter elaborates,

In view of the fact that Uncle Philip was doing such a good job in the British Zone, the Americans offered him the job of Reichskommisar for the Religious, Racist, and Political persecuted in Munich. I made it my business to get papers to go to Munich to further obtain information in person from Uncle Philip, substantiating what he had told me on the telephone. During this conversation he explained to me that having been a chemist, he saved his life by producing soap from the bodies of those killed by the Nazies.

In his [unpublished] memoirs, Uncle Philipp recounts that after he was moved to Auschwitz in March 1943 and had been beaten unmercifully by a Capo.

A physician and friend of mine helped me to cure my wounds and some days later on, after having used all imaginable pretext to avoid labour, I was presented to Sturmbannfuhrer Pflaum in order to work as a chemist.
By this office also the soap for the personal use of Herr Hitler and SS Reichsfuhrer Himmler had to be produced. This production has given to me as chief chemist and to my collaborators a good source of income...
As chief of the soap-production I had to take care of the production of fat and to make controls in the Slaughter-house. Nearly every week I have been three or four times there in order to get the waste of fat and of the bowels for the soap-manufacture ...

While reading Uncle Philipp's memoirs, I also became aware of something that I had never heard of or read about before, the making of coal from human bones in the camp. It was a startling revelation, but the fact that it was used as a remedy for an epidemic among the imprisoned masses makes it much easier to comprehend.

Uncle Philipp was among those who evacuated Auschwitz in January 1945 and was forced to march towards Germany. He arrived in Buchenwald after a short stay in Gross-Rosen about two and a half months before the camp was liberated by the Americans. It was in Buchenwald that Uncle Philipp was ordered to devise this macabre method of saving the lives of his many ailing "comrades," as he explains in his memoirs,

It was exceedingly difficult to give real and efficient help in view of the lack of medicine, of the insufficient food and of the overcrowding of the camp. On you, comrades of the sick-rooms of Buchenwald having worked self-sacrificing by day and by night for the patients, our gratitude and appreciation be bestowed.
After a few days I was appointed to manufacture bone-coal as a remedy against the diarrhea-epidemic, and I am proud that I could manage to produce the medicament with which hundreds and thousands of comrades could be healed in spite of the more that primitive means at my disposal. The 'bone-burner of Buchenwald' was my nickname of which I pleasantly remind myself, because I not only had to work hard and was dirty all the time but I could help very many comrades. Thus I was transferred to the sick room as a member of the cooperative group.

There is no way to rate the unspeakable atrocities committed by the Nazis. If there were, I am sure that forcing prisoners to participate in repugnant acts in order to survive would be among the most cruel. I do know that my only eye witness to the fate of my dear mother, brother, and sister was one of those unfortunate souls.

After all the years Uncle Philipp had survived the death camps, and after the years of working to secure reparations for survivors while trying to keep ex-SS members out of civil service and political office, he could not overcome the lies and false accusations of embezzling reparations funds of survivors, that were leveled against him by the Bavarian government. After receiving the guilty verdict, in despair, he committed suicide, and was laid to rest in the Jewish cemetery of Munich on August 18, 1952, only to be totally exonerated four years later by the Bavarian parliament.

I feel it would be appropriate for Holocaust scholars to re-evaluate their conclusions on the use of human fat, primarily of Jews, for soap during the Holocaust years in light of Dr. Philipp Auerbach's testimony and in his memory.

Courtesy of Mercer University

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 25 September 2000

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2/ His adventures and rebuke by the Hol Memorial Meduseum in Wash-DC

Book revisits horrifying question
about the Holocaust

Atlanta man says Nazis made soap of Jews

By Jim Galloway
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer

Before sunrise on a cold March morning in 1970, a rabbi and an architect slipped over the fence to Greenwood Cemetery in Atlanta to scout out a burial site for four bars of soap.

A hasty funeral service was conducted later that afternoon -- Jewish law required quick interment for the green-gray cakes, which had surfaced days before. About 35 people, most of them survivors of European concentration camps, gathered around a small hole dug at the base of the local Holocaust memorial.

None had any doubt that the soap bars were made from human beings.

The architect, Ben Hirsch, devoted a chapter to the incident in a memoir published this spring and urged scholars to take a closer look at the topic.

As a result, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has barred Hirsch from conducting a book-signing on its premises in Washington. Emory University professor Deborah Lipstadt, who triumphed over a Holocaust denier in a British libel trial this year, endorses the decision.

During World War II, the Nazis killed millions through gassing and starvation, torture and firing squads. They conducted bizarre human experiments, harvested hair and gold fillings, and used human skin for lampshades. But there's no proof that Nazis made soap of their victims, museum officials said, and the institution won't endorse any book that argues otherwise.

"[Hirsch] was advocating that we explore what is essentially a dead end," said Peter Black, chief historian at the Holocaust museum.

The issue has become a bone of contention between scholars and the dwindling number of Holocaust survivors, who now watch a post-World War II generation take control of their story. "I think I've piqued the fraternity," said Hirsch, 68, who still designs churches and synagogues in metro Atlanta.

But more than a generational rift is at work. The making of soap from murdered humans has long served as a particularly horrific example of the Final Solution's depravity.

"It is something that symbolizes the ultimate horror of using every molecule of the murdered," conceded Black, the museum historian. Survivors are loathe to see that symbol reduced to a 60-year-old rumor.

Survivors wonder whether, in an effort to secure the historical record against those who argue that the Holocaust never happened, scholars have set a standard for proof that is too high -- and have unilaterally cut off the debate.

"There's a religious issue here," Hirsch said. "These are not just bars of soap. They were buried as if they were human beings."

And that indeed raises the uncomfortable question of what lies in the cemetery off Cascade Road.

'Different Drummer'

Officials at the Holocaust museum in Washington emphasize that they are not censoring Hirsch or any other survivor. "Hearing a Different Drummer" (Mercer University Press) remains on the shelves of the museum's bookstore.

But a book signing would be interpreted as a sanctioning of Hirsch's views, officials said.

Hirsch had timed the signing to coincide with a November reunion of Jewish children who were sheltered from the Nazis by a French network. Hirsch was one of them. His parents and two siblings died in the camps.

Most of "Different Drummer" is devoted to Hirsch's experience as a U.S. soldier in post-war Germany. But in the 10 pages of Chapter 23, he expresses his disappointment in the verdict of historians on Nazi soap-making. He cites the example of his uncle, a chemist who was forced to work in Auschwitz making soap. (See above)

Hirsch says his uncle, who died in the 1950s, confessed to Hirsch's brother that he had saved his own life by using human corpses -- something that historians say never happened.

Hirsch also tells the story of the four bars of soap in Atlanta. They were found by a Jewish soldier who was part of a U.S. force that liberated a concentration camp near Stettin, Germany, near Frankfurt. The soldier saw the soap cakes, which had been stamped "RIF."

Historians say the initials stand for Reich Industrie Fett, or Reich Industrial Fat. But at the time, the "I" was widely interpreted as a "J", and the initials for Reines Juden Fett -- or Pure Jewish Fat.

The soldier stuffed the soap bars in a bag and took them home. He eventually married a concentration camp survivor. Twenty-five years later, the couple was living on LaVista Road in DeKalb County. The soap bars were stashed in the basement.

One night, the husband came home from work and found that his wife, having run out of detergent, was using the soap on the laundry. As he explained what they were, they both became highly disturbed.

At 3 a.m., the distressed couple called Rabbi Emanuel Feldman of nearby Congregation Beth Jacob, who consulted rabbinical scholars in New York and Israel, then set the burial service in motion. Feldman accompanied Hirsch to the cemetery on that early morning in 1970.

Museum says evidence lacking

"I don't think [the soap bars] would be buried if they were found today," said Lipstadt, the Emory historian. She is a member of the Washington museum's executive council.

One problem with scholarly research of the Holocaust has been the seamless manner in which World War II flowed into the Cold War. The dropping of the Iron Curtain sealed away many of the facts from the first generation of Holocaust scholars.

But a great rush of information has come in the last few decades with the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, site of some of the worst Nazi atrocities, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Nothing in the newly opened archives has shed any light on the topic of making soap from Jews, historians say. "We haven't found anything yet that would give us something to grasp onto, that we didn't have in 1945," said Peter Black, the Holocaust museum historian.

The Washington museum now has a standardized summary of the evidence that is faxed to those who inquire about Nazi soap-making. Included on the fact sheet:

-- "The soap rumor seems to have been first mentioned in the United States media in 1942."

-- A recipe for soap in German, dated February 1944, was found tacked to a piece of plywood at the Danzig Anatomical Institute in Poland. The recipe calls for fat, but does not refer to human fat, the museum says.

-- Raul Hilberg, the dean of Holocaust historians, has cited the testimony of the postwar mayor of Danzig, who said 350 bodies were found at the plant, along with a cauldron containing the remains of boiled human flesh. But Hilberg has failed to verify the authenticity of the testimony, the museum statement says.

-- The testimony of two British POWs who labored at the same plant "is contradictory and inconclusive," the museum says.

What historians say they lack are bills of laden, evidence of a manufacturing plant or receipts of purchase or exchange -- documentation the Nazis carefully maintained for other noxious enterprises.

"If you look at all the evidence available about Nazis experimenting with human beings ... the composite of all that evidence cannot permit you to conclude that this happened," said Black. He compares the soap-making stories with the myth of Hitler's Jewish ancestry.

But survivors think historians may be too strict in their criteria, citing the museum's statement that "There is absolutely no evidence to indicate this was ever done on an industrial basis or in a centrally directed fashion."

"Yes, there was no mass production," agreed Morris Spitzer, 77. "But yes, there was production in smaller quantities at many of the [extermination] camps." Spitzer, a camp survivor and resident of the Bronx, N.Y., is trying to obtain recognition for a photograph of a 1946 funeral procession in Sighet, Romania, involving bars of soap collected by the village.

'We don't need the soap'

Holocaust history is constantly being adjusted as new evidence and research surface. Hilberg, the eminent historian, has recommended that the number of European Jews killed by the Nazi machine be revised downward, from 6 million to 5.1 million. And even that number now may be nudged slightly up -- based on even fresher information coming out of the former Soviet Union.

Such revisions, while common enough in other historical fields, are handled with extreme care, with the expectation that Holocaust deniers will twist any change in the record into a retreat from the truth.

But Lipstadt, the Emory professor and author, said deniers aren't driving the standards of historians. "If deniers are a concern, they are down at the bottom," she said.

At the top is a desire for rock-solid historical accuracy. "It's important because you don't want people to say it's demi-fiction," Lipstadt said.

Soap-making has been a handy metaphor for Nazi cruelty, she said, but its disappearance from the resume of Nazis atrocities shouldn't make much difference. "The truth that we know is bad enough. We don't need the soap," she said.

If Lipstadt has a regret, it might be that the matter might have been handled more diplomatically. Early in her career, she stated categorically that soap-making by the Nazis never happened. If she had it to do again, Lipstadt said, "I wouldn't say [the Nazis] never did it. I would say we have no evidence." She would leave the door slightly cracked.

"If they dug up those bars of soap and DNA tests showed they were made from human beings, I would say, Oh, my God, we need to take another look at this," Lipstadt said.

The mystery continues

But science is an unlikely arbiter when it comes to what is buried in Atlanta's Greenwood Cemetery.

The Holocaust museum says it has tested some bars of soap for human DNA and found nothing.

But even if human DNA were found in the suspect soap, it probably wouldn't prove anything, according to Connie Kolman of the C.A. Pound Human Identification Laboratory in Gainesville, Fla.

A specialist in tracing ancient DNA, Kolman said the bars of soap in Greenwood Cemetery probably do contain some human genetic material. The problem is one of contamination. Regardless of whether they were made from humans, human beings were involved in the production.

Anyone who has touched the cakes has left minute DNA material on them, including the housewife on LaVista Road, the scientist said.

A DNA test could not distinguish between the genetic material left by the casual handler, Kolman said, and material left by a human ingredient. "It'd be nice if science could provide an answer for this, but right now there's no way," she said.

That limitation doesn't upset everyone. Rabbi Feldman, who conducted the Atlanta burial service for the bars of soap in 1970, was recently contacted in Israel via e-mail.

Asked if he favored exhuming the small soap casket, the rabbi replied, "Maybe it would be best for it to remain a mystery."

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3/ The Nizkorite nit-picking about the Soap myth

 

Deceit & Misrepresentation
The Techniques of Holocaust Denial

The Soap Allegations / Part 6 of 6

 

Conclusion

Why should it matter whether or not human soap was made from the corpses of Nazi Germany's victims? Whether Nazi Germany, or even one Nazi, made human soap or attempted to make human soap does not change the fact that Hitler attempted to exterminate European Jewry and murdered between 5 and 6 million of them.

Compared with this monumental crime, the soap allegations can be seen as trivial.

Yet, the revisionists attach special importance to this question, hoping thereby to cast doubt on the Nuremberg proceedings and on the Holocaust itself.

For example, Mark Weber writes:

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. (1)

Bradley R. Smith:

If Bauer and Lipstadt are right, who supplied this false evidence about human soap to the Court? Why? Was the Court bamboozled about other anti-German atrocity stories? Which ones? The gas chambers maybe? (2)

Carlos Porter:

The human soap accusation is particularly important because it was upheld in the judgement at Nuremberg on the same page (IMT I-252) as gassing millions of Jews and cutting their hair off to make human hair mattresses. (3) (Emphasis in original.)

(Actually, the statement about the killing of millions is on the first two lines of I-253, and has nothing to do with the statement about mattresses on I-252 -- but in any case, why would the page number be the least bit important?)

As has already been pointed out several times above, the IMT did not "uphold" or "confirm" the soap allegations that these revisionists are talking about. Nor does it really matter whether or not the Nazis actually made human soap -- it does not affect, in any way whatsoever, the facts of the Holocaust. [We emphasize: does it really matter wether or not the Nazis used gas chambers????? --aaargh]

Nor was the quantity or quality of the evidence for soap production in any way comparable to that of mass gassings: three testimonies and a few corroborating pieces of evidence is in no way comparable to the overwhelming stream of physical evidence and testimonies from the perpetrators and other witnesses of gassings and other facets of the Holocaust. To even try to draw the comparison is ludicrous. [This stream is a trickle. -- aaargh]

But what the revisionists' writings on the soap allegations demonstrate is their usual techniques of anti-scholarship: deceit, denial, and misrepresentation. They misquote; they omit what contradicts their preconceived notions; and they offer nothing substantial to refute or disprove the statements of Mazur, Witton, and Neely. Then, they take their distorted case and say that it is only the beginning of "revisionist" historical successes: if the soap, why not the gas chambers?

Nowhere is this clearer than in the words of Greg Raven:

The main front on which the revisionist battle is being fought is to correct the Holocaust story. Here, the years since the publication of the first Journal have seen remarkable retreats from the standard Holocaust story, which used to include soap made from Jewish corpses, gas chambers at Dachau, and all manner of fiendish methods of murder (including nuclear devices). Revisionists have convincingly demonstrated virtually every facet of the traditional Holocaust tale to be untrue, or at least wildly exaggerated, resulting in a inexorable whittling down of the "accepted" Holocaust story to a tiny fraction of what it once was. Even so, the "six million" figure remains, indicating that there is yet more work to be done. (4) (Emphasis Nizkor's.)

We still cannot say with certainty whether or not human soap was made at the Danzig Anatomical Institute. There are three affidavits from three people who worked there to that effect, and corroborating physical evidence. That is not sufficient to establish human soapmaking for certain, but neither can it be dismissed out of hand.

Unlike the "revisionist scholars" cited in this rebuttal, we will continue to investigate, examining all the evidence before reaching a conclusion, rather than adopting their practice, which is to develop their prejudices and then look for evidence to support them.

[Waiting already 55 years for any hard evidence, how many more centuries are we supposed to wait until the wise guys of Nizkor evaluate all evidence and reach a conclusion? -- aaargh]

 

(1) Weber, Mark, "Jewish Soap," p. 219.
(2) Smith, Bradley, Rub-a-Dub-Dub.
(3) Porter, Carlos, Made in Russia, p. 368.
(4) Raven, Greg, "A Look Back."

Extracted from <http://www.nizkor.org/features/techniques-of-denial/soap-01.html>

 


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