Every Holocaust museum visitor has likely encountered examples of the Nazis’ ghastly “recycling” of human bodies: gold teeth melted down, cremains used for fertilizer. So why is the Nazis’ alleged use of human fat to make soap so rarely presented alongside these other grotesqueries? That’s the central question of a new play by Jeff Cohen, The Soap Myth, which will open in New York on July 10—and which, according to the play’s promotional materials, suggests that fear of inciting the skepticism of Holocaust deniers may be the reason. “What are the evidentiary standards that apply to Holocaust research?” it asks. “Do Holocaust deniers, with their credo ‘false in one, false in all,’ play a role in determining those evidentiary standards? And if they do, should they?” The odd conceit is made only odder by a just-posted YouTube trailer that suggests random people interviewed in a park are somehow questioning the experience of an elderly, yarmulked man who relays a horrifying memory.
There’s one problem with this premise. The reason historians don’t publicize the “soap myth,” according to Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum, who’s quoted in the trailer, is because it is, in fact, a myth. “There is no evidence that soap was actually manufactured out of human flesh, not because the Nazis were nice guys but because it was not economically feasible,” Berenbaum told Tablet. “We have at times tested soap that has been represented of being made of human fat and found that it was not made of human fat.”