The Lampshade: A Holocaust Detective Story from Buchenwald to New Orleans

by Mark Jacobson

Simon & Schuster | October 30, 2012 | Hardcover |

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Few growing up in the aftermath of World War II will ever forget the horrifying reports that Nazi concentration camp doctors had removed the skin of prisoners to makes common, everyday lampshades. In The Lampshade, bestselling journalist Mark Jacobson tells the story of how he came into possession of one of these awful objects, and of his search to establish the origin, and larger meaning, of what can only be described as an icon of terror.

Jacobson's mind-bending historical, moral, and philosophical journey into the recent past and his own soul begins in Hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans. It is only months after the storm, with America's most romantic city still in tatters, when Skip Henderson, an old friend of Jacobson's, purchases an item at a rummage sale: a very strange looking and oddly textured lampshade. When he asks what it's made of, the seller, a man covered with jailhouse tattoos, replies, "That's made from the skin of Jews." The price: $35. A few days later, Henderson sends the lampshade to Jacobson, saying, "You're the journalist, you find out what it is." The lampshade couldn't possibly be real, could it? But it is. DNA analysis proves it.

This revelation sends Jacobson halfway around the world, to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and to the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany, where the lampshades were supposedly made on the order of the infamous "Bitch of Buchenwald," Ilse Koch. From the time he grew up in Queens, New York, in the 1950s, Jacobson has heard stories about the human skin lampshade and knew it to be the ultimate symbol of Nazi cruelty. Now he has one of these things in his house with a DNA report to prove it, and almost everything he finds out about it is contradictory, mysterious, shot through with legend and specious information.

Through interviews with forensic experts, famous Holocaust scholars (and deniers), Buchenwald survivors and liberators, and New Orleans thieves and cops, Jacobson gradually comes to see the lampshade as a ghostly illuminator of his own existential status as a Jew, and to understand exactly what that means in the context of human responsibility.

One question looms as his search goes on: what to do with the lampshade-this unsettling thing that used to be someone? It is a difficult dilemma to be sure, but far from the last one, since once a lampshade of human skin enters your life, it is very, very hard to forget.

Format: Hardcover

Dimensions: 368 Pages, 5.91 × 9.06 × 0.79 in

Published: October 30, 2012

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 1416566279

ISBN - 13: 9781416566274

Found in: History

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The Lampshade: A Holocaust Detective Story from Buchenwald to New Orleans

The Lampshade: A Holocaust Detective Story from Buchenwald to New Orleans

by Mark Jacobson

Format: Hardcover

Dimensions: 368 Pages, 5.91 × 9.06 × 0.79 in

Published: October 30, 2012

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 1416566279

ISBN - 13: 9781416566274

About the Book

Renowned writer Jacobson's chronicles his historical and philosophical journey that begins when he finds a lampshade made of human skin in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Read from the Book

PROLOGUE   I must say I didn’t put much stock in the possibility that a Dominican spiritualist working out of a basement in Union City, New Jersey, would have much to say about a human skin lampshade reputedly made in a Nazi concentration camp. But there I was sitting across from Doña Argentina, a large woman wearing a ceremonial headdress and smoking a pair of cigars, one on either side of her mouth. A friend of mine, a devotee, had recommended the medium, saying that if the lampshade had truly once been part of a person, “the spirit” would still be present. If so, then Doña Argentina would make contact with it, bring its secrets to light. There was a bit of desperation in my visit, an anxiety that had been mounting since I had first come into possession of the lampshade, which a friend had purchased at a rummage sale in New Orleans, Louisiana, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Later, after DNA testing proved that the lampshade had been fashioned from the skin of a human being, I’d spent many, many months attempting to track down its true nature, its origin and meaning, a search that had taken me halfway around the world. So I was willing, if not too excited, to drive the ten miles from my Brooklyn home, through the Lincoln Tunnel, to Union City, where everyone speaks Spanish, to hear what the mystic had to say. Doña Argentina, who said she had learned the ways of contacting the dead from her mother, whose portrait could be se
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From the Publisher

Few growing up in the aftermath of World War II will ever forget the horrifying reports that Nazi concentration camp doctors had removed the skin of prisoners to makes common, everyday lampshades. In The Lampshade, bestselling journalist Mark Jacobson tells the story of how he came into possession of one of these awful objects, and of his search to establish the origin, and larger meaning, of what can only be described as an icon of terror.

Jacobson's mind-bending historical, moral, and philosophical journey into the recent past and his own soul begins in Hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans. It is only months after the storm, with America's most romantic city still in tatters, when Skip Henderson, an old friend of Jacobson's, purchases an item at a rummage sale: a very strange looking and oddly textured lampshade. When he asks what it's made of, the seller, a man covered with jailhouse tattoos, replies, "That's made from the skin of Jews." The price: $35. A few days later, Henderson sends the lampshade to Jacobson, saying, "You're the journalist, you find out what it is." The lampshade couldn't possibly be real, could it? But it is. DNA analysis proves it.

This revelation sends Jacobson halfway around the world, to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and to the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany, where the lampshades were supposedly made on the order of the infamous "Bitch of Buchenwald," Ilse Koch. From the time he grew up in Queens, New York, in the 1950s, Jacobson has heard stories about the human skin lampshade and knew it to be the ultimate symbol of Nazi cruelty. Now he has one of these things in his house with a DNA report to prove it, and almost everything he finds out about it is contradictory, mysterious, shot through with legend and specious information.

Through interviews with forensic experts, famous Holocaust scholars (and deniers), Buchenwald survivors and liberators, and New Orleans thieves and cops, Jacobson gradually comes to see the lampshade as a ghostly illuminator of his own existential status as a Jew, and to understand exactly what that means in the context of human responsibility.

One question looms as his search goes on: what to do with the lampshade-this unsettling thing that used to be someone? It is a difficult dilemma to be sure, but far from the last one, since once a lampshade of human skin enters your life, it is very, very hard to forget.

Editorial Reviews

"God only makes a few genius reporters, and even in that small company, Mark Jacobson is one of a kind. He can follow his nose so deep into a story that every page is a surprise. At the end of The Lampshade, there is a big surprise: all that weirdness has begun to make sense. Of course, by that time, your vision is broader; you've been seeing the world through his eyes." --Richard Ben Cramer, author of What It Takes, and Joe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life
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