Slippery Soap

Book revisits horrifying question about the Holocaust

  • Atlanta man says Nazis made soap of Jews

Before sunrise on a cold March morning in 1970, a rabbi and an architect slipped over the fence to Greenwood Cemetery in Atlanta to scout out a burial site for four bars of soap.

A hasty funeral service was conducted later that afternoon — Jewish law required quick interment for the green-gray cakes, which had surfaced days before. About 35 people, most of them survivors of European concentration camps, gathered around a small hole dug at the base of the local Holocaust memorial.

None had any doubt that the soap bars were made from human beings.

The architect, Ben Hirsch, devoted a chapter to the incident in a memoir published this spring and urged scholars to take a closer look at the topic.


Most of “Different Drummer” is devoted to Hirsch’s experience as a U.S. soldier in post-war Germany. But in the 10 pages of Chapter 23, he expresses his disappointment in the verdict of historians on Nazi soap-making. He cites the example of his uncle, a chemist who was forced to work in Auschwitz making soap. […]

Hirsch says his uncle, who died in the 1950s, confessed to Hirsch’s brother that he had saved his own life by using human corpses — something that historians say never happened.

Hirsch also tells the story of the four bars of soap in Atlanta. They were found by a Jewish soldier who was part of a U.S. force that liberated a concentration camp near Stettin, Germany, near Frankfurt. The soldier saw the soap cakes, which had been stamped “RIF.”

Historians say the initials stand for Reich Industrie Fett, or Reich Industrial Fat. But at the time, the “I” was widely interpreted as a “J”, and the initials for Reines Juden Fett — or Pure Jewish Fat.



Jim Galloway
Staff Writer
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
September 25, 2000
Alternate headline: “Bizarre burial prods Holocaust angst.”