Deborah Lipstadt acknowledges ‘No Soap’

Nazi Soap Rumor During World War II

Rachel Patron’s moving piece (Editorial Pages, April 30) about a childhood in Siberia during World War II highlighted the way in which war can make the most mundane of niceties, in this case soap, a luxury.

She survived four years of hunger, horror and brutalities meted out by a regime that treated the foreigners in its midst and even its own people with less than humane consideration. Patron and her family were among the thousands of Jews who were forcibly moved by the Russians from sectors of Russian-occupied Poland into the Siberian interior and held in a semi-state of captivity for the war’s duration. As hard as their lot might have been, they were saved from the systematic annihilation the Germans visited on those Jews who had the miserable fate of living in German-occupied Poland.

At the war’s end as the Patrons returned to Poland they stopped in the Ukrainian town of Dobra Matka. While waiting for the train Rachel discovered a shed full of soap and after joyously lathering herself and washing off the Siberia stench brought an armful back to her mother. The easy availability of this common household item seemed to indicate to Rachel and her mother that the war was over.

The child’s joy quickly evaporated when her mother discovered the letters “RJF” on the bars of soap. The mother explained through her tears of horror that the letters stood for Rein Judisch Fett: Pure Jewish Fat. A childhood joy had become a nightmare.

Rachel Patron probably has many nightmares from that period. Had her family lived in a different part of Poland she probably would not have survived to have those nightmares. She would have become one of the millions of Jewish children who perished at the hands of the Nazi murderers. She would have become a statistic and not a storyteller. But she would not have been rendered into soap.

The fact is that the Nazis never used the bodies of Jews, or for that matter anyone else, for the production of soap. The soap rumor was prevalent both during and after the war. It may have had its origin in the cadaver factory atrocity story that came out of World War I. The letters “RJF” probably stood for the name of the factory that produced the soap. The soap rumor was thoroughly investigated after the war and proved to be untrue.

The Nazis performed innumerable acts of horror. Acts which, were there not definite and undeniable proof of them, could be dismissed as too unbelievable to be true. The hair of Jewish women was sent back to the Reich for use by the German people. The gold was extracted from the teeth of Jews and sent to German banks to be melted down.

In certain camps, e.g. Buchenwald, there were acts even more macabre. There, the young wife of the commandant used the skin of Jews to make lampshades and other bric-a-brac for her home. The greatest act of horror, of course, was the well-nigh successful plan of the Nazis to eliminate the Jewish people from the face of the European continent.

During the war the Nazis went to great effort to hide their actions from the public. They used all sorts of euphemisms to camouflage their actions in official reports: “eliminated,” “finished off,” “subject to special treatment,” and “solution of the Jewish question.” It would have been entirely at odds with their policy of subterfuge for them to have printed the abbreviation of “Pure Jewish Fat” on bars of soap that were distributed to the population of the Reich and Reich-occupied countries.

The necessity for exactitude when dealing with the horrors of the war becomes even more pressing today when there are those groups that would haveus believe that the Holocaust is a “hoax.” The Torrance-based Institute of Historical Review (IHR) emerged as the American front for this argument. Similar groups exist in Europe. These groups contend that while many Jews may have died as a result of “normal” wartime privations, no one ever died in a gas chamber or as a result of systematic murder. The basis for their argument is that the only ones to benefit from the myth of the Holocaust are the Zionists.

The IHR would have you believe that Zionists propagated the story of the Holocaust and use the sympathy of the world to foster their own ends. In reaching this conclusion they ignore reams of detailed eyewitness accounts by both the victims and perpetrators of this crime.

Faculty and students at the University of California have become particularly sensitive to the dangerous antics of the IHR. In November 1981 the IHR will hold a conference on the “hoax of the Holocaust” at the University of California retreat center in Lake Arrowhead. They have leased the retreat center under the guise of being an educational entity. It should be noted that since the Arrowhead center is subsidized, the residents of the state of California whose tax dollars support the University of California are for all intents and purposes supporting the IHR and its attempt to make a mockery of all that is truth.

In the face of such frightening endeavors it is imperative that all those who write and speak of the annihilation of European Jewry do so with the greatest of care and precision. It is equally imperative that all those who value truth and honesty fight the attempts of the IHR to propagate their mendacious views.

Deborah Lipstadt
Los Angeles

Lipstadt is on the faculty of UCLA, where she teaches modern Jewish history.


Deborah Lipstadt’s letter to the editor as it appeared in the Los Angeles Times, May 16, 1981, part II, page 2.