Joachim Neander has written an excellent article on Jewish post-war soap burials, from which I quote selectively, but, please, read the whole piece http://www.ingentaconnect.com/contentone/manup/hrv/2016/00000002/00000001/art00003?crawler=true&mimetype=application/pdf
‘Symbolically burying the six million’: post-war soap burial in Romania, Bulgaria and Brazil
RIF soap was buried by Jews all over the world, in Europe, Israel, Canada, Cuba, Brazil, the United States and Australia. In the Americas, particularly grandiose monuments were erected above soap graves at the Jewish cemeteries of Guanabacoa near La Habana, Cuba, of Elmont, New York and of Vila Rosali near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Guanabacoa monument is explicitly dedicated to the six million victims of the Holocaust. It is a quadratic column on a three-tiered plinth, topped by a Star of David. The inscription on the lower plinth is in Spanish and reads: ‘In this place various soap bars are buried, made from Jewish human fat, part of the six million victims of the Nazi barbarism of the twentieth century’. The monument, erected above the grave, was ceremoniously unveiled on 16 March 1947 and was most probably the first of its kind in the Americas. The Elmont monument, a huge obelisk, was dedicated half a year later on 7 September 1947 and is probably the oldest Holocaust memorial in the United States.
This is the Elmont monument
According to http://www.museumoffamilyhistory.com/hm-zbarazh-bd.htm
) the inscription reads
This monument is in memory of the terrible destruction which was wrought by the German and Ukraine mass-murderers, in our town of Zbaraz.
Our brothers and sisters fell in the thousands—killed, cremated and asphyxiated, in the gas and torture chambers of Belzec, Treblinka, Auschwitz etc.
Our synagogues and holy places were wrecked and even the Jewish cemeteries were profaned by their using the memorial stones for street pavements.
Let the Lord avenge their blood.
Here lies soap, made by the German mass-murderers, from the bodies of our brethren. May their souls rest in eternal peace.
The dates of the pogroms were as follows:
9, Thamus—July 4, 1941
The day of the German occupation when 22 Jews were killed and buried near the synagogue.
14, Elul—September 6, 1941
70 Jews were killed in the Lubianki woods.
18, Elul—August 31, 1942
About 500 Jews killed in Belzec gas chambers.
18, Tishri—September 29, 1942
About 250 Jews in Belzec.
11, Cheshvon—October 22, 1942
About 1100 Jews, including some from Podwoloczysk, were taken to Belzec.
28, Cheshvon—November 8, 1942
About 1000 in Belzec.
2, Nissan—April 7, 1943
About 1200 in Neftostroy Zbaraz.
6, Sivan—June 9, 1943
The remainder about 300 were killed in Neftostroy Zbaraz .
About 700 odd groups in hiding in the fields and woods
Continuing with Mr. Neander’s article:
Soap burials in Bulgaria and Brazil
Probably the first documented soap burial took place at Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, in the late autumn of 1944, more than half a year before the war ended in Europe. Immediately after liberation, the Jewish community had bought some cakes of RIF soap from a Russian soldier. They were tested and found to be ‘made from animal fat’. Although it could not be proven that the ‘animal’ fat was human, the soap was given the benefit of the doubt and buried ‘in a solemn ceremony, which turned into a homage to all Nazi victims’. One of the most spectacular, and also one of the best documented, burials of RIF soap – sixteen bars, brought to Brazil by Holocaust survivors – took place at Vila Rosali, a suburb of Rio de Janeiro, on 12 October 1947. It was attended by five thousand mourners and carried a clear political message: ‘Through this symbolic act, the leaders of the [Jewish] community tried to convey to government officials the fact that Brazil should immediately open its doors to other survivors.’ The religious ceremonies were performed jointly by three Chief Rabbis: Tzikinowsky, Zingerevitch and Lemle, representing Orthodox, Reform and Progressive Judaism. At the overcrowded Jewish cemetery, men and women were crying and holding one another in grief and sorrow. ‘On [this] Sunday morning, each Jew was bearing a piece of his parents, of relatives and friends, a piece of their selves to their graves’, recalled Brazilian writer Zevi Ghivelder when describing the event and its meaning in his novel As Seis Pontas da Estrela.
The funeral was a big media event, announced at the end of September and covered by regional and nationwide newspapers until the beginning of November.
A documentary film – Di Levaye Funem Zeyf Fun Mentshlekhn Fets (The Burial of Soap from Human Fat) – was also shot and screened as a support accompanying Yiddish-language feature films in São Paulo and at the São Carlos cinema in Cinelândia, Rio de Janeiro, in the second half of March 1949. The film itself seems to have been lost. However, a 2:35 minutes colour clip taken by an amateur film-maker at the funeral was discovered in Rio de Janeiro in mid-2012 and uploaded onto YouTube.
This is the movie clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9uHbGWNBw6o
. The video uploader has written extensively about this burial https://roitblog.blogspot.com/2013/12/o-enterro-do-sabao-memorial-do.html
). This is his flickr page https://www.flickr.com/photos/roitberg/12240728596/in/photostream/
with photos of the cemetery, but I don’t think the photographed inscription says anything about soap. The article goes on:
[…]Every year since then, the Jews from the Federal State of Rio de Janeiro have gathered on Yom Hashoah before the soap grave at the cemetery of Vila Rosali and solemnly commemorated the victims of the Holocaust. Since 2006 the ceremonies have taken place on 27 January, declared International Holocaust Victims’ Remembrance Day by the United Nations in 2005.Romania: collecting RIF soap for burial
Romania most probably has more ‘Jewish soap’ graves than the rest of the world altogether, Israel included. Though a considerable part of Romanian Jewry perished in the Holocaust, the majority survived. Their leaders convinced the new Communist rulers to issue a nationwide ban on RIF soap, of which a considerable quantity existed in the country at the end of the war. Most of it had been left by the Germans, Romania’s allies during the Second World War, during their retreat, and some had been brought by soldiers who had fought together with (or against) the Germans, and more soap came home with the returnees from the camps.
An article in The American Jewish Outlook
from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in April 1947 gives a clue as to why there is hardly a Jewish cemetery in Romania without a soap grave, and why at most places the tombstone is at the same time a monument to the victims of Auschwitz or of the Holocaust in general:
Every cake of this soap represented to the Rumanian Jew a brother or a sister lost in the horrible gas-chambers of the Auschwitz inferno. As soon as the soap began to appear in the shops the Jewish communities launched a campaign to have it bought up. Special funds were allocated for this purpose. The government banned the use of this soap and ordered every locality that had a supply to sell it only to the Jewish community. Thus all known supplies of the R.I.F. soap were collected and buried in Jewish cemeteries.
In Constanţa, for example, the Jewish community did not wait for state legislation and took the matter into its own hands. Immediately after the end of the war, ‘teams of two people… visited house by house and asked the inhabitants whether they possessed German soap. The soap thus found was collected and turned over to the Jewish community’, remembered Andor Andrasi, who organised the search action on behalf of Constanţa’s Jews in 1945.
As could be expected, many owners of RIF soap did not care much about the ban. Soap was a scarce commodity and, especially for those who were not Jewish, using it for one’s own purposes or selling it on the black market seemed to make more sense and was far more profitable than turning it in to the authorities for burial. The citizens, therefore, had to be reminded of their civic duties from time to time. In mid-March 1946, for instance, the Police Department of Braşov made the following announcement in the press:
Soap burials in the capital and in the province
It is brought to the public’s attention that soap is being offered for sale having the letters R.J.F. [sic] stamped on it. The soap comes from the corpses of people killed in Poland by the Hitlerites. The sale, use, and possession of this kind of soap is strictly prohibited. It is, therefore, brought to your attention that those who possess such soap must turn it in at the Police Department, Room #10, within three days. Violators will be severely punished.
In Bucharest, the capital, the first documented soap burial took place on 15 November 1945. A quantity of 1,500 RIF soap bars – ‘representing the remains of our families and friends’ – was solemnly buried, together with spoilt Torah scrolls and other damaged ritual objects, at the New Jewish Cemetery at Giurgiu Road no. 162. Although the ceremony was headed by Chief Rabbi Alexander Şafran and many Jewish personalities participated – rabbis, intellectuals and community leaders – the event did not seem to have raised much interest outside the Romanian Jewish community. Apart from a very detailed article in a Jewish periodical, nothing could be found in the newspaper archives. Among the mourners was ‘a young man who escaped from Auschwitz’ who said that he had been forced to make soap there ‘with his own hands’. He was, most likely, a former member of the prisoner work detail that recycled soap from the deported Jews’ baggage in the Theatergebäude, just outside of the main camp’s perimeter.
Soon soap burials became, however, public events of general interest in Romania. Not only did the entire local Jewish community participate in them, individually or in groups from the whole gamut of Jewish associations, but also included representatives of the Churches, the Communist and other (licensed) political parties, volunteer organisations, the Romanian – and sometimes even the Soviet – military and the civilian authorities. The County Archives of Vrancea, for example, hold a letter of invitation from the Jewish community of Focşani to the prefect of Putna County:
We have the honor of asking you to kindly participate in the funeral ceremony of the burial of the mortal remains, contained in soap bars, of Jews killed in the torture camps of Nazi Germany, which will take place on January 31, 1946 at 2:30 p.m.
The inscription on the tombstone that was erected some time later above the grave explicitly speaks of ‘the mortal remains of Jews, killed in Nazi camps and transformed into soap bars’.
A funeral ceremony held at Bucharest on 4 August 1947 attracted international attention far beyond Jewish circles, and a photograph taken at the event showing weeping women behind a table with soap bars on top made the rounds of the world press. The caption read:
One of the strangest ceremonies ever performed took place in the Jewish cemetery in Bucharest recently when a large quantity of soap was solemnly buried with the full Jewish burial ritual. The soap was symbolic of the thousands of Jews who were murdered by Nazis in ‘horror camps’ and their bodies rendered down to produce the fats for soap. Here, relatives of murdered Jews mourn over some of the soap used in the ceremony.
. This is the burial at the “unknown place in Romania” in the first post in this thread.
The picture even made it into the Australian Outback, appearing on the front page of a provincial newspaper.
For a long period of time, the soap graves at the Jewish cemeteries of Romania remained places of official Holocaust commemorations. In the beginning of June 1969, for instance, ceremonies were held to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the deportation of the Jews from Transylvania to Auschwitz. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that the ceremony at Oradea was ‘attended by representatives of the Rumanian Government and of all Rumanian religious groups’, and that ‘[s]ervices were followed by a pilgrimage to a symbolic grave of the martyrs in the Jewish cemetery which contains a piece of soap made from the bodies of Jews burned at Auschwitz’.
In 2000, filmmaker Velvel ‘Lupu’ Gutman, a Romanian Holocaust survivor living in California, traveled to his home country and shot a thirty-four-minute documentary entitled Monuments of Soap, released in 2001.
(the link to this movie given above doesn’t work anymore).
The dust jacket of the VHS cassette shows on its front the picture of a bar of soap with the inscription ‘Rif / 0178’. On the reverse, the reader is informed that the movie ‘details one of the Nazi’s most horrific atrocities: The manufacture of soap from the bodies of innocents – murdered Jews’. The film not only shows six soap burial sites, but also contains a (black-and-white) insert from a film shot in the mid-1940s at the soap burial at Piatra Neamţ.
The scene beginning at 7:52 minutes presents the soap monument, a quadratic column, at the cemetery of Buhuşi. It is remarkable because of the fact that Christian symbolism has been used here to illustrate Jewish suffering. In the upper part of the column, a bas-relief of yellow flames is blazing up from a bottom layer of coal. Above the flames a black rectangular metal grill is mounted, and on it the figure of a slim, naked pale human body, stretched out on their back. Under the left lower edge of the coals is the bas-relief of a soap cake with the inscription ‘R.I.F’. The whole scene is reminiscent of traditional representations of the martyrdom of St. Lawrence in Christian religious art.[…]
This is the strange monument he talks about
Now comes the funniest part
Western Jewry and the Romanian soap burials, 1945–46
Western Jews who had read about Romanian soap burials about the turn of 1946 began to think about the role RIF soap might play in the Nuremberg trial of the major war criminals that started on 20 November 1945. In the 27 December 1945 issue of The Sentinel,
for example, staff writer Milton Brown saw the soap’s place on the bench:
I think those cakes were prematurely buried… They should have been sent to Nuremberg and placed in the jury box. The dead should sit in the jury box at that trial… I believe even the fat mouth of Goering would be stopped.
Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal, the future ‘Nazi hunter’, however, imagined RIF soap rather at the prosecutors’ stand:
In Nuremberg, at the world’s tribunal, millions of Nazis are also sitting in the dock. They knew it or did not know it, but they created the conditions under which everything that a sick brain devised became reality. And before the world’s tribunal a little piece of soap is appearing – and accuses these millions!
In both cases the authors obviously imagined something like a Jewish homunculus
inside every cake of RIF soap, magically put inside by the Nazi soap-makers. It inspired them, in addition, to make far-reaching reflections on the German mindset. In the previously mentioned article in The Sentinel, for instance, Brown wrote:
If the Nazis were at a beer fest, gathered around the table, we can imagine how delighted they might be to take the soap of some bearded Jew… I can see one German lifting his beer in one hand and the Jewish soap in the other, saying: ‘Well, here is one Jew we kept from becoming another Einstein.’ And another, in the same spirit, adding with uproarious laughter: ‘Yes, and not another Jesus, either.’
Likewise, Wiesenthal mused in the spring of 1946 in the Viennese Jewish weekly Der Neue Weg
about a soap burial in Fălticeni: ‘For the civilized world it is incomprehensible how joyfully the Nazis and their women in occupied Poland looked at this soap. In every bar they saw a Jew, magically put into it to prevent him from becoming a second Freud, Ehrlich, or Einstein.’ Tongue in cheek, he showed‘surprise that German thoroughness forgot to mention [on the wrapper] whether the fat was produced from children, from girls, or from young or old men’. At the end of his reflections, he even struck a lyrical chord:
Soap graves in Romania: no more in keeping with the times?
The burial of soap in a small Romanian town gives an impression of something unearthly. The enchanted woe encapsulated in this little object of daily use tears asunder the already petrified human heart of the twentieth century. In the atomic age, the return to the dark, medieval witch’s kitchen makes an eerie impression!
The ‘Jewish cemetery with the Soap Monument’ in the home town of Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel is a must see for visitors of Sighetu Marmaţiei. ‘It contains two boxes filled with soap made by the Jews gassed at Auschwitz death camp’, informs Trip Advisor,
one of the most frequently visited Web portals for tourists and globetrotters. Originally, the soap tomb was marked by a stele with a Star of David and an inscription stating that ‘this is the burial place of a quantity of soap cakes made from gassed bodies of Jewish victims in Auschwitz’.
Some time ago, however, the stele was replaced by a gray, low rectangular solid with a black memorial plaque on its upper surface. The new inscription is in Yiddish and was obviously copied from the far bigger, post-1989 Holocaust monument on Georghe Doja Street in the town centre, a few steps away from the Elie Wiesel Museum. It reads: ‘To the eternal memory of the victims of the cruel Fascism in Auschwitz.’ The word ‘soap’ no longer appears on the monument. The Web site of the state-run Romanian Tourist Office still suggests a visit to the cemetery, but does not mention the ‘Soap Monument’. Times have changed. As the main attraction of the town, the Museum of Arrested Thought, dedicated to the victims of Communism, is recommended to the visitors.[…]
) and the NYT article http://www.nytimes.com/1986/12/09/world/elie-wiesel-s-hometown-few-traces-of-past.html
) which states
In the Jewish cemetery, a cinderblock tomb holds cakes of soap that survivors brought back. They were made of the remains of the victims of the gas chambers and furnaces of Auschwitz.
I couldn’t find any photographs of the original monument before it was replaced. This is the monument in question in its current state
One can well understand that a memorial mentioning soap made from Auschwitz victims was no more acceptable in a public place visited year in, year out by thousands of foreign tourists after prominent Jewish Holocaust historians, backed by the authority of Yad Vashem, had publicly declared that no soap was made from Jewish flesh by the Germans. For the same reason, ‘soap’ vanished from the Holocaust monument erected in 1946 at Oradea in the courtyard of the Great Orthodox Synagogue, described as ‘a large slab of stone next to the synagogue’, and ‘[U]nderneath it were buried some soap bars made from fat of Jews killed at Auschwitz’. In the course of its modernisation, the monument obtained new ‘soap-free’ explanatory memorial plaques in four languages. Only after direct inquiry does the visitor hear that the soap bars are still lying underneath.
The prevailing ‘modernist’ attitude in Romania towards the wealth of Holocaust monuments that remember ‘soap’ is ideally reflected in the report Historic Jewish Sites in Romania, issued in 2010 by the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad. They are simply ignored: ‘There have been a small number of Holocaust monuments erected in Romania, mostly since the fall of the Ceausescu government in 1989’. From the older ones, only the Rădăuţi monument was considered worth mentioning by the authors of the report. It is presented as ‘a monument… dedicated to those “who did not return”’. As everybody can convince themselves by consulting the Web, it is, however, dedicated to ‘Soap R.I.F. / Reines Juden Fet[t] / Manufactured in German camps / Out of the martyrs’ fat’.
Here are some more photos of the Rădăuţi monument already mentioned above