May 1, 2009

Professor: Nazis used humans fat to make soap

Professor Bożena Shallcross discussed Nazi doctor Rudolph Spanner’s production of soap from human fat in Classics Thursday at the annual Jean and Harold Gossett Lecture, given in memory of Holocaust victims. Acknowledging the production of such soap has sometimes been considered merely one of many Holocaust rumors, Shallcross combined recent scientific evidence and analysis to prove that it did occur, then spoke on the implications of the Nazi’s commodification of the human body. Drawing from a chapter of her forthcoming book, Shallcross framed soap as an object used to cleanse and humanize the body, a function that conflicts with Spanner’s use of human fat. “It dehumanizes one body, to humanize another,” Shallcross said. Shallcross also drew from the writings of Polish writer Zofia Nalkowska, a member of the Committee for Research of Hitlerite Crimes. Nalkowska and her fellow committee members were permitted to examine Spanner’s lab with permission from the Soviets in 1945.Nalkowska’s descriptions shed light on the gradual process of dehumanization that could be observed in the lab, as full corpses were followed by severed heads and unrecognizable fragments that were boiled in vats as part of the process.“As the body became more and more fragmented, the evidence of Spanner’s guilt became more and more insurmountable,” Shallcross said.