The Lamp­shade: A Holo­caust Detec­tive Sto­ry from Buchen­wald to New Orleans

Mark Jacob­son
  • Review
By – August 31, 2011
What does a voodoo princess, a New York City med­ical exam­in­er who also hap­pens to be a can­tor, a grave rob­ber, Holo­caust his­to­ri­an Yehu­da Bauer, for­mer U.S. Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al Muse­um direc­tor Michael Beren­baum, and David Duke, among many oth­er mem­o­rable char­ac­ters have in com­mon? They are all inter­viewed in jour­nal­ist Mark Jacobson’s riv­et­ing account of his search to uncov­er the prove­nance and authen­tic­i­ty of a tat­tooed lamp­shade made of human skin. Rem­i­nis­cent of Daniel Mendelsohn’s unfor­get­table quest to uncov­er the fate of six mem­bers of his fam­i­ly dur­ing the Holo­caust in The Lost, Jacob­son also takes us on a jour­ney to val­i­date a lamp­shade, giv­en to him in the after­math of Hur­ri­cane Kat­ri­na, which was osten­si­bly made in Buchen­wald by con­cen­tra­tion camp doc­tors from the skin of a pris­on­er in Buchen­wald.
DNA test­ing hav­ing con­firmed that the lamp­shade is indeed made of human skin, Jacob­son is sur­prised to learn that nei­ther Yad Vashem nor the Unit­ed States Holo­caust Muse­um is inter­est­ed in receiv­ing this arti­fact of hor­ror. He is told that even if it could be proved that the lamp­shade is indeed the skin of a Buchen­wald pris­on­er, it would con­sti­tute an aber­ra­tion, the work of a small num­ber of sadis­tic Nazi per­son­nel, thus incon­se­quen­tial to our knowl­edge of the Holo­caust.
Yet when one thinks of the Holo­caust, what comes to mind are the two most repel­lant sym­bols of Nazi ter­ror, the lamp­shade made of human skin and soap made of Jew­ish fat.” In his inter­view with Yehu­da Bauer, the Holo­caust his­to­ri­an dis­miss­es the Jews made into soap” sto­ry as with­out a fac­tu­al basis, although Nazi busi­ness­men did con­tem­plate its man­u­fac­ture, but there was lit­tle time or mon­ey at the end of the war to con­tem­plate its pro­duc­tion. The lamp­shade made from skin, how­ev­er, is a dif­fer­ent sto­ry. Jacob­son has tracked much of its his­to­ry start­ing with Ilse Koch, the so-called Bitch of Buchen­wald,” to its use as evi­dence at the Nurem­berg Tri­bunal fol­low­ing the war. A fas­ci­nat­ing jour­ney which, at its end, leaves Jacob­son with the dilem­ma of what to do with one of the pri­ma­ry sym­bols of Nazi hor­ror, which at the same time is dis­count­ed as irrel­e­vant by the cus­to­di­ans of Holo­caust history.
Abra­ham J. Edel­heit is an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of his­to­ry at Kings­bor­ough Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege (CUNY) and the author, co-author, or edi­tor of eleven books on the Holo­caust, Zion­ism, Jew­ish and Euro­pean his­to­ry, and Mil­i­tary affairs. His most recent pub­li­ca­tion appeared in Armor mag­a­zine, the offi­cial jour­nal of the US Army Armor and Cav­al­ry Command.

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