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Human Fat Was Used to Produce Soap in Gdansk during the War


Oct. 6, Gdańsk (PAP-Polish Press Agency) – An inquiry by the Gdańsk Branch of the Commission for the Investigation of Crimes against the Polish Nation has concluded that soap was made from human fat and used for general cleaning purposes at the Anatomy Institute of the Gdańsk Medical Academy, under the direction of Professor Rudolf Spanner, during the Second World War.

Witold Kulesza, the director of the Main Commission for the Investigation of Crimes against the Polish Nation, said during a Friday press conference that the finding represented confirmation of facts presented in Zofia Nałkowska's book The Medallions.

In Kulesza's opinion, Spanner's activities constitute "one of the darkest pages in the Second World War." He emphasized, however, that—were Spanner alive—it would not be possible to bring charges against him for Nazi crimes, but only, at most, for removing evidence of such crimes by destroying corpses.

The investigation did not show that any crime was committed on the premises of the Anatomy Institute of the Gdańsk Medical Academy. The corpses used in the experiments were obtained from sources including the mental hospital in Kocborów, the prison in Królewiec [then Konigsburg, now Kaliningrad, Russia], and—despite Spanner's categorical denials—the Stutthof death camp.

Spanner was detained and interrogated in Germany in 1947 and 1948. In his testimony, to which the Polish National Remembrance Institute had access during the inquest, he stated that he used the soap made from human fat exclusively for injection into joint ligaments. The investigation was dropped at the time. The only punishment that Spanner suffered was to be dismissed from the university in Cologne after intervention by the British. Spanner worked afterwards as an ordinary physician in Schleswig-Holstein, and died in Cologne in 1960.

Kulesza indicated that Spanner's experiments were hardly exceptional within the context of their time. As an example, he cited the case of a German scholar at the university in Poznań [Posen], who sold the skulls of Poles and Jews to customers including the Natural History Museum in Vienna, which exhibited them in its so-called "race cabinet."

The Gdańsk branch of the National Remembrance Institute has been working on the Spanner inquiry since 2002. The results show that the soap that Spanner produced was used to wash autopsy rooms and dissection tables. Witnesses testified that it had an unpleasant smell. This led to almond oil being added to it. The investigation found that Spanner's personnel produced somewhere between 10 and 100 kilograms of soap from corpses.

Investigators tracked down some of the soap produced by Spanner. Samples had been used as evidence of Nazi war crimes between November 1945 and October 1946, during the Nuremberg trials. A jar containing the soap is stored, along with the rest of the Nuremberg trial documentation, in the archive of the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Tests on the extant soap sample were carried out by Professor Andrzej Stołyhwo of the Main School of Agrarian Economy (SGGW) in Warsaw, a specialist in the chemistry of fats.

Stołyhwo explained at the press conference that soap from human fat arises as a natural byproduct during the process of reducing corpses for such purposes as obtaining bones to be used for educational purposes by medical students.

However, Stołyhwo's expert analysis of the soap sample from the archive of the International Court of Justice in The Hague showed that kaolin had been added. This abrasive ingredient made the soap suitable for utility purposes. "For me, this is a violation of ethical principles," Stołyhwo added.

Prosecutor Piotr Niesyn of the Gdańsk Branch of the Commission for the Investigation of Crimes against the Polish Nation said that more than 20 new witnesses came forward during the investigation of Spanner's activities. They included former Polish soldiers, members of the militia, and prisoners of Stutthof concentration camp. The investigators also had access to the records of crime-scene reports from the Anatomy Institute of the Medical Academy in Gdańsk, carried out by a Polish-Soviet commission immediately after the liberation of Gdańsk in the spring of 1945.

During the course of the investigation, a journalist from the Gdańsk-Sopot-Gdynia area obtained a cube of brown-colored soap that originated in the Anatomy Institute of the Medical Academy in Gdańsk. The soap was given to the journalist by a now-deceased former employee of the institute. Professor Stołyhwo analyzed this soap, and found that its chemical properties were similar to those of the sample from The Hague (PAP).

Soap produced by the German professor Rudolf Spanner
Soap produced by...