"It's a general conception that the Nazis manufactured
soap," says Michael Berenbaum, who was project manager for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum [USHMM]
before it opened in 1993 and headed the museums research institute until
1997. "But those of us working in this area have not used it as an
example [of Nazi atrocity] in the last 10 to 15 years. We don't have any
evidence that the Nazis actually manufactured soap with human bodies."
When Berenbaum began putting the museum exhibits together,
even he believed "it was obviously the case" that the Nazis produced
soap from fat. "There was a question as to whether we would use soap in
the exhibition," he says. But after a thorough search, he adds, "I
didn't find any evidence of it. I found evidence for everything else that ...
the Nazis did and worse."
He says the evidence that would prove it conclusively would
include shipping bills, physical evidence from a manufacturing plant, or
receipts for economic transactions - none of which has been found.
Aaron Breitbart, a senior researcher at the Simon
Wiesenthal Center, agreed that the evidence is thin. "The leading
scholars of the Holocaust are of the opinion that the Nazis did not make
soap," he says. "It was a cruel rumor at the camps."
Andrew Hollinger, a spokesman at the USHMM
department of media relations, provided a document written
by the museums historian that concludes: "Available documentary
evidence and eyewitness accounts have been unable to corroborate in a
conclusive manner reports that the National Socialists and their collaborators
used human fat from their victims in the manufacture of soap." It goes on
to say: "rumors that Germans made soap from human remains originated in
French propaganda from the First World War."
Breitbart explains why it is that the scholars have to be
so careful. "The importance is not to give the Holocaust deniers any
opportunity," he says. "The view of the Holocaust revisionists is,
if you can prove something is wrong, then everything is wrong. It gives them
an opportunity to cast doubt on the general historical veracity of the
The scholars view is based in -part on analysis of the
small blue-green cakes of soap that Holocaust survivors have presented over
the years, claiming that they were made from human fat. Breitbart says the
bars are stamped "R.I.F.," for Reich Industry Fat, but in the camps
some Jews believed that the I was a J and that the acronym stood for
"Jewish Fat." When analyzed, however, the bars turned up no evidence
of human DNA.