After Holocaust survivor Joseph Weinberger entered a nursing home last month, his nephew began cleaning out his Borough Park apartment and discovered an old suitcase containing his naturalization papers, German currency and a book about the Nazi doctor, Josef Mengele — all relatively standard-issue belongings.
Then Yitzchok Mermelstein reached into a bag and pulled out a mundane artifact, but one with the power to drive home the reality of the Holocaust with the force of a sledgehammer. It was a bar of soap bearing the initials “RIF.”
“When I opened the bag and saw ‘RIF,’ I remembered hearing that the Nazis made Jews into soap, and I thought that maybe this was one of the bars,” recalled Mermelstein, 52, of Flatbush.
“I believe I heard about it at the Holocaust Museum in Washington and that Yad Vashem [the Holocaust museum and memorial in Israel] has a couple of bars,” he added.“I wrapped it in a towel. Seeing the Mengele pictures and realizing that my uncle used the suitcase when he came to America, I put two and two together.”
Mermelstein said he went home and looked on the Internet for information about such soap and saw a picture of a bar purported to have been produced by the Nazis from the bodies of concentration camp inmates. A picture of one of those bars of soap “looked the same as I had, only it had a different number” below the initials RIF.(The initials are believed to be those of a German soap manufacturer.)
Mermelstein said he then visited his uncle in the nursing home but that his uncle, who has dementia, was unable to remember where he got the soap or anything about it.
Mermelstein said that “since I know that human remains have to be buried,” he contacted people he knew at Misaskim, an Orthodox Brooklyn-based group that provides support to families in mourning and other services.
“They asked if it was real,” Mermelstein said.“I said I wish it wasn’t, but it is.… My mother was in a concentration camp, perhaps he got the soap from her.… It’s a one in a billion chance you find something like this.”
At first there was talk of burying the soap in a dignified ceremony. But as more and more people heard of it, questions were raised about whether the Nazis ever really did use human fat to make soap. The soap, which is brownish in color and measures about two inches by one inch, was then locked up in Misaskim’s offices for safekeeping. http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/new_york/ho...