In 1952, there was a comedy skit that had the line “It’s in the book!” and a song called “Grandma’s Lye Soap.”
The lyrics went something like this:
Sing right out for Grandma’s lye soap,
The finest soap in the land
Good for everything in the home,
And for your face.
The secret was in the scrubbing,
It wouldn’t suds and it wouldn’t foam.
I was reminded of this song the other day, when I read that Eva Kor, a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau, said that she finally figured out why the soap at Auschwitz “wouldn’t suds.” It was because it was made from the fat of the Jews who had been murdered.
My grandma actually made “Grandma’s lye soap” which she used for everything in the home, and for her face. I have used “Grandma’s lye soap” a time or two myself, so I know for a fact that it “wouldn’t suds.”
Back in the old days, a lot of Americans made their own soap. First you save the ashes from your wood burning stove. Then you butcher a hog and save the fat.
To make soap, you pour water over the ashes and allow it to seep through some holes and collect at the bottom of a barrel. The lye, which is needed to make the soap, is leached into the water.
Then you boil a lot of hog fat in a large black kettle, under a tree in the front yard. That way, any neighbors passing by will stop to chat and the time will pass more quickly.
After the lye water is added, the boiling can take up to 24 hours. Eventually the lye and hog fat mixture will turn into soap, which is light brown in color. The soap is broken into large chunks, not poured into a mold to make bars of soap.
Did the Nazis actually make soap out of Jewish fat? Well, Eva Kor believes it and so do a lot of other people. But was it ever proved in court? Yes, at the Nuremberg IMT, the Soviet Union submitted evidence and testimony about human soap making.
At Nuremberg, the Constitution of the International Military Tribunal included the following:
V. POWERS OF THE TRIBUNAL AND CONDUCT OF THE TRIAL
Article 21. The Tribunal shall not require proof of facts of common knowledge but shall take judicial notice thereof.
The making of human soap by the Germans was common knowledge that did not require any proof, so the Soviet Union was not required to furnish a forensic report along with the soap. The Nuremberg tribunal “took judicial notice” that the Germans had made soap out of the Jews.
When I visited the Memorial Site at Buchenwald, I was told that the Germans made soap in the basement of this building. However, it was not claimed to be human soap.