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 Posted Wednesday, September 27, 2000

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September 25, 2000

Museum, author at odds over whether Nazis made soap from corpses

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ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) -- The U.S. Holocaust Museum has barred a book signing by the nephew of an Auschwitz inmate who suggests Nazis made soap out of the bodies of Jews who died in concentration camps.

In a memoir published this spring, Ben Hirsch wrote that while at Auschwitz, his uncle was forced to make soap and that human corpses were used as a raw material.

RIF soapHirsch, whose parents and two siblings died in the camps, also was among a group of people who buried four bars of soap at an Atlanta cemetery's Holocaust memorial in 1970, believing the soap was made from human fat.

But many historians say the Nazis never used their victims to make soap, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum refuses to endorse any book that argues otherwise.

Hirsch, an Atlanta architect, had planned a signing of his book "Hearing a Different Drummer" at the Washington museum in November, but museum officials said allowing him to do so would be interpreted as sanctioning his views, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Monday.

"(Hirsch) was advocating that we explore what is essentially a dead end," Peter Black, the museum's chief historian, told the newspaper.

Museums representatives did not immediately respond to calls by The Associated Press for additional comment Monday.

The four bars of soap, stamped "RIF," were found by a Jewish soldier who was part of a U.S. force that liberated a concentration camp at the end of World War II.

Historians say the initials stand for the German translation of "Reich industrial fat." But at the time the bars were found, the "I" was widely interpreted as a "J" and the initials were interpreted as standing for the German translation of "pure Jewish fat."

The soldier's wife found the soap bars in their basement in 1970 and the couple called a rabbi, who arranged the burial at Atlanta's Greenwood Cemetery. The bars remain buried there.

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

Hirsch says his brother was told by their uncle, who died in the 1950s, that the Nazis used human corpses to make soap.

Hirsch's memoir, most of which is devoted to his experience as a U.S. soldier in post-World War II Germany, remains on the shelves of the museum's bookstore.

The museum distributes a fact sheet saying the contention that Nazis used human corpses for soap is a rumor that has never been substantiated.

"This one soap story keeps rolling around," said Deborah Lipstadt, an Emory University history professor who recently prevailed against a libel suit by a British scholar whom she accused of denying the Nazis slaughtered millions of Jews. "Soap became sort of a metaphor -- they killed them and made soap out of them -- to show how horrible the Nazis were."

"I wouldn't say (the Nazis) never did it," she said. "I would leave the door slightly cracked."


© Copyright 2000 The Associated Press

Related story on this website:

Holocaust expert rejects charge that Nazis made soap from Jews
Bizarre burial prods Holocaust angst
Nizkor on the soap allegations
Holocaust museum, author at odds
Documents on the allegation about lampshades made from human skin


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