The Northern California Jewish Bulletin
April 27, 1990

Holocaust expert rejects charge that Nazis made soap from Jews

by Hugh Orgel

Tel Aviv (JTA) -- Professor Yehuda Bauer, head of the Hebrew University's Holocaust history department and regarded as one of the foremost researchers of the Holocaust, has denied the frequently quoted charge that the Nazis used the bodies of Jewish death camp victims to make soap.

The technical possibilities for transforming human fat into soap were not known as that time, Bauer said Sunday at a Holocaust memorial meeting for Yom Hashoah.

"The Nazis did enough horrible things during the Holocaust. We do not have to go on believing untrue stories," Bauer said.

Unsubstantiated rumors about the use of bodies of British soldiers to make soap had circulated during both World War I and World War II, he said.

Raoul Hilberg, professor of political science at the University of Vermont and a pre-eminent historian of the Holocaust, agrees that the soap rumor, although widespread, was probably unfounded.

"There were all kinds of rumors," he said, noting that a New York Times article during the war suggested that Jews were given lethal injections before deportation and arrived at the extermination camps already dead.

Other rumors speculated that Jews were killed in the Belzec camp by electrocution in water; some thought the Jews were gassed in the trains.

"All of these rumors are untrue, based on nothing at all," Hilberg said. "No evidence has turned up" to suggested that the Nazis used human fat to make soap.

In Danzig, Germany (now Gdansk, Poland), pictures of dead, heavyset people cut into pieces and a recipe for soap were discovered in 1945 at the Stutthof camp. "But we don't know that the bodies were of Jews, or that the pictures and recipe went together," said Hilberg.

Moreover, the rumor was being circulated as early as 1942, according to documentary evidence.

"It's fairly reliable that the story was circulated, but I can't say whether or not it is true," said Hilberg. square

JTA staff writer Elena Neuman in New York contributed to this report