German Corpse Factories

Even the most popular atrocity story of all — the German corpse factory — turned out to be another war correspondents’ invention. This particular story had a long and highly successful run. It had several variations, but basically it was that close behind their front line the Germans had established factories for boiling down the corpses of their soldiers, from which to distill glycerine for munitions. The Times initiated the story, on April 16, 1917, with a suspiciously vague paragraph that said baldly: “One of the United States consuls, on leaving Germany in February, stated in Switzerland that the Germans were distilling glycerine from the bodies of their dead.” The account quickly blossomed. The Times expanded the original report by reproducing a dispatch by a German correspondent, Karl Rosner, in which he referred to the German army’s Kadaververwertungsanstalt, which The Times translated as “Corpse Exploitation Establishment.” Foreign newspapers picked up the story. It appeared in LInde’pendance and La Belge, two Belgian newspapers published in France and Holland. French correspondents were instructed by their army authorities to send dispatches to their newspapers over their own signatures detailing what was known about the corpse factories. The matter came up in the House of Commons on April 30, when the Prime Minister was asked if he would make the story known as widely as possible in Egypt, India, and the East generally. A corpse-factory cartoon appeared iii Punch, and in general the affair had world-wide circulation and considerable propaganda value.

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Making soap from human cadavers

In the early period the Germans ground the bones of the victims, and threw them into the river; but later they put the bones to use. From 1943 the Germans broke up the bones and sold them to the German firm ‘Strem’ for conversion into super-phosphates. Documents have been found showing that the ‘Strem’ firm received 112,600 kilo of human bones. They were probably used for soap manufacture. That was the story that went about among the people in Poland, where many people refused, for that reason, to use the German soap which was distributed there. We have no evidence, however, that human bones and fat were taken out of Oswiecim, and used for making soap. But we have evidence that there was such a soap factory in Poland. Terrible evidence about this was given by the Danzig City President, Kotus-Jankowski, at the Session of the National Council held on May 5, 1945. Continue reading