This story follows one man’s quest to uncover the origins and reveal the mysteries of a possible Holocaust artifact some historians now say never existed: lampshades made of human skin. When the flood waters of Hurricane Katrina receded, they left behind a wrecked New Orleans and a strange looking lamp that an illicit dealer claimed was ‘made from the skin of Jews.’ This whirlwind journey takes us from Chicago to Buchenwald… from CSI-type labs to the remains of the pathology department where the SS conducted medical experiments on inmates. Before journey’s end, we go back in time to meet the most notorious Nazi villainess of all: Ilse Koch, the so-called ‘Bitch of Buchenwald.’
By: Director/Writer Steven Hoggard
It’s winter in Brooklyn. Gray and cold. Appropriate weather when you’ve come to direct one of the final shoots in a documentary about an alleged Nazi lampshade made from human skin that emerged in New Orleans post-Katrina…
That this particular lampshade is human seems incontrovertible. Back in 2006 it was tested by the same DNA lab the FBI chose to identify the 11,000 body parts left after 9-11. And that lab determined that the lampshade was indeed “of human origin.”
Since then, New York Magazine writer Mark Jacobson has traveled with the lamp to forensics labs and historians across the planet, to determine if it’s one of the missing human lampshades from Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Mark’s even written a book about his investigation.
Since our arrival, we’ve all been pushing to find out as much about the lampshade as possible… Beyond the fact that it’s human, is the stitching from WWII? Is the metal frame made from Nazi steel manufacturing from the time? And, perhaps most important, can new DNA science tell us more about the victim? Was it a man or a woman? Was his or her ethnic make-up compatible with the European or Jewish profile of a typical Buchenwald prisoner?
So far, our forensics tests done at some of the world’s best crime labs have pointed back to origins in Nazi Germany and WWII. The truth behind the lampshade’s important. For years it dwelled between myth and reality. Because although there’s absolutely no doubt that human skin artifacts were made at Buchenwald, a human-skin lampshade has never been found.
Ilse is a horrible icon of the Holocaust. A Nazi sadist renowned for tormenting prisoners, she was, without question, fascinated with tattooed human skin. Witnesses tell of her selecting inmates for their elaborate tattoos. Once selected, the victims were never seen again but their tattoo designs appeared on all manner of artifacts. Perhaps the most horrid artifacts of all were Ilse’s notorious human lampshades; household appliances to help us see in the dark and to help German officers read Goethe or the poetry of Schiller…
Upon liberation, General Patton forced the German citizens of nearby Weimar to march through Buchenwald and confront the stacks of corpses, the body organ samples, the crematoria – and a single human skin lampshade. When Ilse was brought to trial it was this last piece of evidence to secure the death penalty. But on the eve of Ilse’s trial – the Buchenwald lampshade disappeared.
Since then, Holocaust deniers have used the absence of a human skin lampshade as ‘evidence’ for their stupidity. No lampshade no Holocaust. And in the decades since the war, no real human lampshade has ever surfaced. Until now.
Or so we thought. Because today, on this overcast Brooklyn morning, I’m headed to Mark Jacobson’s house to learn the results of the latest DNA tests. Will they reveal deeper secrets about who this person was? Or could they even overturn the DNA results of 2006 and challenge the finding that it was human at all?
Tune in to Human Lampshade: A Holocaust Mystery this Saturday at 9P to find out.