“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 museum’s 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 museum’s 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 must 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 Holocaust.”
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.
By 1990, Yad Vashem, had unequivocally determined that the manufacture of soap was no more than a “mere rumor.” Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency at that time, “The Nazis did enough horrible things during the Holocaust. We do not have to go on believing untrue stories.”
The myth was revisited in 2020. In response to a query from Haaretz, a spokesperson from Yad Vashem wrote that “Despite the persistence of these rumors … which began even during the Holocaust, there is no evidence that soap was mass produced from the bodies of Jews.”