by Joachim Neander
[Today our guest blogger is Dr. Joachim Neander from Cracow, Poland. Dr. Neander has degrees in mathematics (Saarbrücken University, 1962) and history (Göttingen and Bremen Universities, 1997). He is the author of Mathematik und Ideologie, München 1974, Das Konzentrationslager Mittelbau in der Endphase der NS-Diktatur, Clausthal-Zellerfeld 1997, 4th ed. 2001, Gardelegen 1945, Magdeburg 1998, “Hat in Europa kein annäherndes Beispiel” ... Mittelbau-Dora, ein KZ für Hitlers Krieg, Berlin 2000. His articles about the human soap issue:
"Seife aus Judenfett – Zur Wirkungsgeschichte einer zeitgenössischen Sage" in: FABULA – Journal of Folktale Studies – 46 (2005), Heft 3/4
"The Danzig Soap Case – Facts and Legends around “Professor Spanner” and the Danzig Anatomic Institute 1944-1945" in German Studies Review, Vol. 29, No. 1 (February 2006).
He is a regular contributor to PRO MEMORIA (Oświęcim, Poland), Informationen des Studienkreises Deutscher Widerstand (Frankfurt am Main, Germany), German Studies Review (Carleton College, USA), Yad Vashem Studies (Jerusalem, Israel), Newsletter des Fritz-Bauer-Instituts (Frankfurt am Main, Germany).
Guest bloggers' opinions are not necessarily shared by the HC team.
This item is placed here solely to facilitate further discussion.]
Having done research in the soap legend and its role in Holocaust denial, anti-Revisonism, and history politics, I am not surprised neither with the view presented by the IPN at the October 6, 2006, press conference at Gdansk, nor with its spokeswoman’s statement given to western press agencies. The IPN is neither an independent entity, nor is it a scholarly institution. It is a government agency and bound to directives given from above. Its President is chosen and sworn in by the Sejm, Poland’s parliament. One of IPN’s three departments is the Committee for the Investigation of Crimes Against the Polish People. Its members are state prosecutors, not historians. It is the immediate successor of the Main Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes Against the Polish People (founded already in 1944) that made the investigations in the Danzig soap case in the beginning of May, 1945, and it conducted the investigations also this time.
After last year’s political landslide which brought a firmly nationalistic coalition to power and made the Prime Minister’s twin brother President, Leon Kieres, head of the IPN from 1999 and a man known for impartiality - he was responsible for the Jedwabne investigations that deeply hurt Poland's nationalist feelings – was fired and replaced by a personality who was better acceptable to the majority in the Sejm. In addition, the IPN obtained from the parliament, as principal task, "To document and to evaluate Poland's human and economic losses due to the German attack and occupation in World War II." IPN had not only been attacked because of the Jedwabne case. (It proved that the perpetrators had been local Poles and not “unidentified Germans”). When it, in September 2005, publicly declared that the Danzig Anatomic Institute was not involved in the Nazi genocidal enterprise, a wave of furious and slanderous attacks swept through the Polish media. IPN was accused of national treachery and “toadying the Germans.” In the anti-German political climate of today’s Poland, IPN had no way out: it must sound the retreat.
As all information was only given orally by the IPN spokespersons and media reports differ widely, I will only comment on the intersection of the statements published in the media. First and foremost, IPN confirmed its stance that the activities of the Danzig Anatomic Institute, in no way, did qualify as genocide. IPN further stated that soap was made there from human remains – a fact already admitted at the end of 1945 by Spanner himself – and that there was no “soap factory,” but only a small-scale production for strictly internal use. All this tallies with my own research results. IPN also remarked that the famous “RIF” soap had nothing to do with Danzig and was not made from human fat, an also well-known fact, but it is good to remember the public from time to time of it.
There are, however, several points to which I cannot agree. IPN could not present new sources from eyewitnesses. Presenting to a TV audience the soap samples and the professor from the Warsaw Agricultural Academy who had analyzed them, was a good PR gag but did not bring new information. All alleged “new” witnesses were either witnesses from hearsay or had visited the institute months after it had been abandoned by the German scientists at the end of January 1945 and after its devastation, two months later, in the chaotic days of the Battle of Danzig and its immediate aftermath. IPN sweepingly discredited all evidence from the German side as “not trustworthy,” but accepted all incriminating evidence presented already in 1945, as “trustworthy,” without the slightest source criticism. As an historian, I am used to gauge sources critically: to treat every source seriously, but never to take it, from the outset, at face value. And sometimes it is also helpful to use common sense.
A second point of my criticism is the heavily biased way the “victims” of the soap-making were presented, particularly in the statement given to the western press: “Human remains have been brought ... from Kaliningrad, Bydgoszcz, and the Stutthof Nazi concentration camp.” As 99.99 per cent of the readers/listeners of this information are not specialized in Holocaust history, they will conclude: Bydgoszcz – Poles, Stutthof – Jews (in Poland: also Poles), Kaliningrad – Russians were boiled to soap. And so it arrived at the public, which can easily be seen by crawling the Web. And that is against the facts which IPN certainly knows. In the period to be considered for the soap-making, i.e. February 1944 to January 1945, for legal and practical reasons, neither corpses from Jews, nor from executed Poles or Russians could have been delivered to the institute. There may have been a few exceptions – even Nazi Germans were not always law-abiding. But all eyewitnesses who testified in 1945/46 confirmed that toward the end of the war, the “material” came from the Conradstein/Kocborowo insane asylum and from the prisons of Danzig/Gdansk, Elbing/Elblag, and Königsberg/Kaliningrad. That means, however, that the dead resp. executed must have been, in their great majority, non-Jewish German citizens. But “Germans” are never mentioned. By the way, I would like to know how the emaciated Stutthof prisoners would have been a suitable “raw material” for soap production. But such contradictions are characteristic for folktales and legends. They never bother neither the narrator, nor the listener.
My last remark will be about the statement of the chairman of the IPN committee, reported in all Polish media, that “the activities of Prof. Spanner [wartime head of the Anatomic Institute] belong to the most sinister chapters of World War II.” Well, it is in line with the commonly held opinion in Poland: that Spanner was “a monster,” an “arch-criminal,” “the prime example of the degeneration of scientists in Nazi Germany” (all quotes from teaching aids). It fits into the principal task traditionally assigned to Polish historiography by the national elites: to warm the people’s hearts and to foster national beliefs. But it is bad history. Spanner was neither a super-Mengele, nor an über-Clauberg. Just “a looter of corpses.”