Scrapbookpages Blog

September 23, 2010

Did the Nazis really use human skin to make handbags and purses?


The charge of making handbags from human skin was made at the American Military Tribunal held at Dachau in November 1945, when Martin Gottfried Weiss, the former Commandant, and 39 others were prosecuted as war criminals.   The star witness at these proceedings was Dr. Franz Blaha, a Communist who had been a prisoner in the Dachau concentration camp.

Dr. Blaha testified that he had worked as a surgeon in the Dachau concentration camp, but after he said that he didn’t want to do any more operations, he was punished by being “sent to the death chamber where autopsies were performed.” Dr. Blaha claimed that he had performed “six to seven thousand autopsies” at Dachau.

During the AMT proceedings at Dachau, Dr. Blaha gave testimony regarding the bodies upon which he had performed autopsies. The following is from the trial transcript of Dr. Blaha’s testimony, as quoted in Justice at Dachau by Joshua M. Greene:

We took the skin from the chest and back, then used chemicals to treat the skin. Then the skins were placed outside in the sun and parts were cut for saddles, breeches, gloves, house slippers, ladies’ handbags.

In answer to a question about what had happened to these items, Dr. Blaha said:

They were prepared and sent either to SS schools or given to some of the SS men.

According to Dr. Blaha’s testimony, these items were made from human skin while a man named Bruno, and then Willy Mirkle, were in charge of the autopsies. Neither of these men were on trial and no items allegedly made from human skin were ever presented as evidence, nor was any forensic report introduced by the prosecution. Blaha’s testimony was corroborated by a confession obtained by Lt. Paul Guth from Dr. Wilhelm Witteler, one of the doctors at Dachau who was among the accused.

Dr. Witteler testified that he had been forced to sign this confession, but Lt. Guth testified, under direct examination by the prosecutor, that no coercion had been used on any of the men that he had interrogated.

Here is the testimony of Dr. Witteler from the trial transcripts, as published in Justice at Dachau:

A: During my interrogation I had to sit in front of the desk of Lt. Guth. A spotlight was turned on me which stood on the desk. Lt. Guth stood behind the spotlight and the interrogation started. “We know you, we have the necessary records about you…” I started to make an explanation. I was immediately stopped. I was yelled at. He called me a swine, criminal, liar, murderer, and that is the way the interrogation continued. I couldn’t give any explanations. I was only told to answer “yes” or “no”… I was interrupted immediately and told that all I had to do was answer “yes” and “no”. I couldn’t even explain it. I was told to shut up and to answer “yes” or “no”… since it was not like he thought it was, I had to get up and stand. So I stood up until 1:30 in the morning – seven hours.

Q: … at the conclusion of the drafting of this statement you signed it?

A: No, I answered that it is not correct… this statement was not written in my presence. It was written in another room. The reporter was with me in the room all the time, but the statement was written in another room. After I couldn’t stand up any more this statement was put in front of me at 1:30. And then when I said that this testimony… is not by me, that is the testimony of Dr. Blaha — who was present for several hours that night… so that I didn’t want to sign it. Lt. Guth said he would interrogate me until tomorrow morning, that he had other methods…

Q: How many people were present at the time you were interrogated?

A: Altogether, three: Lt. Guth, Dr. Leiss, and I, and, for a short time, Dr. Blaha.

Q: This writing in your own handwriting. Was that dictated or did you make it up?

A: When I found that the interrogation would end that way, I wrote down this last part and signed my name to it.

Q: Was it your own words or was it dictated to you?

A: Lt. Guth dictated those words…

So now you know.  It was proved at the American Military Tribunal at Dachau, by a signed confession, dictated by Lt. Guth, that handbags were made from human skin at Dachau.

The gassing of prisoners at Dachau was not included in the charges against Martin Gottfried Weiss and the 39 others, but in spite of this, Dr. Franz Blaha was allowed to testify that the gas chamber at Dachau was used. Under the rules of the American Military Tribunal, any and all testimony was allowed, even if it had nothing to do with the charges or the men in the dock at Dachau.

The reason that Weiss and the 39 others were not charged with gassing prisoners at Dachau was that the names of the gassed prisoners were unknown.  Only crimes against Allied nationals were prosecuted at the American Military Tribunal, and since the names of the victims were unknown, there were no charges of gassing at Dachau.  The American Military Tribunal did not make use of the ex-post-facto law known as Crimes Against Humanity, which included the crime of gassing prisoners.

11 Comments

  1. Why was tattooed skin found at Buchenwald?

    Professor David A. Hackett, the translator of “The Buchenwald Report”, said that among all the papers that Alfred G. Rosenberg (Psychological Warfare Division of the Allied Forces, American German-born Jew in charge of ‘documenting’ Buchenwald) gave him around 40 to 50 years after the war, was a dissertation, written by a German doctor who was studying a perceived connection between criminality and tattoos. (Common criminals were a significant part of the inmate population at Buchenwald.)

    During various trials, Rosenberg had this evidence and withheld it. But consider that the dissertation is a piece of withheld evidence. Ilse Koch’s lawyers would have liked to have known about it. Afterall, it could have helped exonerate Koch from the incredibly cruel charges that she made lampshades out of human skin. Her lawyers could have offered an alternate explanation, using the dissertation to bolster the notion that tattooed skin was at the camp because a student had been studying the skin. Similarly, the Nuremberg defendants’ lawyers would have also wanted to see it, since they could have used it to offer an explanation as to why tattooed skin was found at Buchenwald. The Germans’ lawyers probably never knew the dissertation existed.

    Comment by hermie — April 22, 2013 @ 1:47 pm

  2. Where are the freaking pictures you idiot

    Comment by Jalaya — April 16, 2012 @ 5:27 pm

    • There are no photos, that I know of, that show the handbags and purses made from human skin at Dachau.

      You can see a photo of several pieces of tattooed human skin on this page of my website: http://www.scrapbookpages.com/DachauScrapbook/DachauTrials/BuchenwaldTrial.html

      Scroll down to see the photo of a display table at Buchenwald which shows pieces of tattooed skin and also a lamp with a leather shade. The lamp shade was allegedly made of skin with no tattoos.

      Comment by furtherglory — April 17, 2012 @ 9:27 am

  3. Great post and research as usual.

    I would have wanted an excerpt of Witteler’s confession where he attested to the skin items.

    Comment by Budham — September 24, 2010 @ 10:02 am

  4. Those who accused Germans in such atrocities need to look at this picture from Life Magazine, May 22, 1944 issue:
    http://images.search.yahoo.com/images/view?back=http%3A%2F%2Fimages.search.yahoo.com%2Fsearch%2Fimages%3F_adv_prop%3Dimage%26va%3Dlife%2Bmagazine%2Bmay%2B22%2B1944%26fr%3Dmy-myy-s&w=468&h=572&imgurl=studyofenglish.files.wordpress.com%2F2007%2F07%2Fwomanandskull.jpg&rurl=http%3A%2F%2Fstudyofenglish.wordpress.com%2F2007%2F09%2F06%2Farizona-war-worker-writes-her-navy-boyfriend-a-thank-you-note-for-the-jap-skull-he-sent-her&size=54KB&name=Arizona+war+work…&p=life+magazine+may+22+1944&oid=15ec46807cfcee0f00894dab2bd60baf&fr2=&no=3&tt=92&sigr=14ame5htb&sigi=11sufl0tp&sigb=1357v4bbe
    The people who were able to commit such crimes were eager to tell the story about “lampshades”
    How sick is this?

    Comment by Gasan — September 23, 2010 @ 8:40 pm

  5. Documented perhaps, but my understanding is that they never found physical evidence for lampshade, soaps, handbags or any other goods.

    Comment by Kageki — September 23, 2010 @ 6:12 pm

    • The American soldiers who liberated the camps found leather lampshades and leather handbags, which the prisoners told them, were made from human skin. Forensic tests showed that these items were not made of human skin, but that didn’t keep the Allies from charging the Germans, in the American Military Tribunal proceedings, with making leather items from human skin. At the Nuremberg IMT, the Soviet Union accused the Germans of making human soap and soap, allegedly made from human fat, was displayed in the courtroom.

      This quote is from the Constitution of the International Military Tribunal:

      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 as evidence at the Nuremberg IMT.

      Comment by furtherglory — September 23, 2010 @ 7:17 pm

      • I believe they did do forensic tests later on soaps and lampshades and found that they were not made of humans.

        I suppose it is still technically correct to call them “documented facts” although even the vaunted skeptic like Michael Shermer has stated this is not true.

        That article 21 just blows my mind. I can’t imagine any courts today would follow such a law. These documents are good as wood for the fireplace.

        Comment by Kageki — September 24, 2010 @ 7:28 am

        • They did do forensic tests on the pieces of tattooed skin found at Buchenwald and found that this was human skin. But this skin had not been made into lampshades or handbags. The prisoners who were used in the experiments at Buchenwald in an effort to find a typhus vaccine were criminals who had been sentenced to death. In the 1940s, people did not have tattoos like they do now. Only criminals and sailors had tattoos back then. The large areas of tattooed skin on the criminals had been removed by the Buchenwald doctors and preserved because this was so unusual back then. There were forensic tests done on the lampshades found at Buchenwald and they showed that the lampshades had been made from goat skin. There was a leather goods factory at Buchenwald, where items were made from goat skin, but the factory was gone by the time the American liberators arrived. The factory had been destroyed by a bomb that hit the camp. It was American planes that bombed Buchenwald because of the factories there. The forensic tests done on the pieces of skin were entered into the American Military Tribunal proceedings when the staff of the Buchenwald camp was prosecuted, but the forensic tests that showed the lampshades were made of goat skin were withheld. For this reason, people who don’t read the documents carefully think that it was proven that the lampshades were made of human skin.

          Comment by furtherglory — September 24, 2010 @ 8:53 am

          • I haven’t heard that explanation for those preserved skin. Where did you read that from?

            Comment by Kageki — September 24, 2010 @ 8:07 pm

            • This came from the trial of the staff members of the Buchenwald camp. The preserved pieces of skin were put into evidence at the trial. I read all about the trial in “Justice at Dachau” by Joshua M. Greene. I also got a lot of information from “The Buchenwald Report,” a book that was written by some of the former prisoners at Buchenwald.

              Comment by furtherglory — September 24, 2010 @ 9:47 pm


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