Did the Nazis Really Make Soap out of Jewish Holocaust Victims?

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In March, a member of Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party was caught on tape threatening to turn immigrants into soap and “make lamps from their skin,” a clear reference to the suggestion that the Nazis of Germany used the bodies of their victims to manufacture soap.

Now, an Israeli filmmaker is examining the question: Did the Nazis really make soap out of the corpses of Jews killed in concentration camps?

His conclusion: the soap allegation was an urban legend perpetuated by the Nazis themselves to frighten Jewish concentration camp prisoners. But another scientific study says some soap was made of human remains.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports:

“Soaps,” a new film by director Eyal Ballas, 43, finds that the soap myth originated in World War I, when Germans were rumored to be turning bodies into the cleaning product. During World War II, SS guards would harass concentration camp members by threatening to kill them and turn them into soap.

Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt told The Jewish Week that “there is no proof that the Nazis made Jews into soap in a mass fashion … There were attempts, but it was never practical.”

According to the film, chemical analyses on some of the soaps found them to be made of vegetable oils.

In a review of the film, Haaretz reports that it shows Jews in Israel and elsewhere lighting memorial candles next to soaps they believe were manufactured from the remains of Jewish bodies.

Additionally, at least 10 Israeli cemeteries or memorials have graves containing World War II era soaps believed to contain remains of Jewish bodies, Haaretz reports. According to the Jewish faith, all body parts of a deceased Jew must be buried with full religious ritual.

The Holocaust museum in Bat Yam, Israel also has a bar of soap donated by a Holocaust survivor on display.

The film explains that some German soaps were imprinted with the initials “RIF” which many believed stood for “Reichs Juden Fett,” or in English “State Jewish Fat.” But those initials really stood for “Reichsstelle fur industrielle Fettversorgung” or “National Center for Industrial Fat Provisioning” which was the German agency that distributed soap products during the war.

Haaretz reports that filmmaker Ballas is concerned that Holocaust deniers could exploit his findings to further their claims.

“I am very careful in the movie,” Ballas told Haaretz. “I believe the viewers are intelligent and will understand the complexity of the myth. I think it is worthwhile for people to hear the truth. It may ease the fears of those who believe the story. The Nazis did so many horrible things; there is no need for another one.”

But there is other evidence that contradicts the Israeli filmmaker’s conclusion. A scientific study conducted in Poland in 2006 found that when the Nazis occupied Poland, they did use “substances” from the bodies of those killed in concentration camps to make soap.

“We have determined that, without the shadow of a doubt, soap was produced using substances obtained from human bodies at the anatomical institute of the Medical Academy of Danzig [Gdansk], led by Professor Rudolf Spanner,” Paulina Szumera of Poland’s National Remembrance Institute (IPN) told AFP in 2006.

Polish scientists examined a bar of soap used as evidence during the Nuremberg trials of the Nazis that was being held in the archives of the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

As AFP reported in 2006, “Polish television station TVN24 cited IPN investigators as saying the bodies of prisoners at the Nazi concentration camp of Stutthof, in northern Poland, and at Gdansk municipal jail were used to make the soap.”

The study also concluded that the bodies of Polish psychiatric patients were used in the manufacturing.