The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Last-Modified: 1995/03/10

The following information comes from _Gdansk:  National Identity in
the Polish-German Borderlands_, by Carl Tighe (Concord, MA:  Pluto
Press, 1990), pp. 173-177:

"From the filth and degradation of Stutthof, the brutality of the
Germanisation process and the squabbles and empire-building of the
Nazi officials, one man stands out as uniquely disgusting.  The work
of Professor Spanner at the Danzig Medical Academy's Anatomical
Institute was very much a part and product of the Nazi world.  His
work had been the cause of unpleasant rumours throughout the war,
but it was only in 1945, as the protective screen of German military
power crumbled and the security forces evaporated, that the truth about
his work was revealed.

	The Institute of Anatomy stands as an annex in the courtyard of
the Baroque main building of the Medical Academy.  It is a modest,
unplastered brick building of no architectural merit.  Behind this
unassuming facade, Professor Spanner ran a special research unit to
turn human bodies into soap.

	Spanner, accompanied by a half-witted Danzig Pole, travelled to
Ko"nigsberg, Elbing, all the Pomeranian jails, Stutthof and its subcamps,
and to the Danzig mental asylum to purchase corpses and transport them back
to his workshop.  When Danzig prison installed a guillotine, Spanner had
bought and paid for the first body before the blade had fallen.  The half-
witted Pole was later to reveal that on one occasion over 100 bodies had
been delivered from the prison and that it was only as a result of this
technical innovation that Spanner was able to procure a steady supply of
bodies for his work.

	Spanner was very fussy and took special care that every corpse,
headless or otherwise, was delivered before it began to 'spoil.'  He
refused to accept the bodies of those who had been shot by the Gestapo
or SS, or those executed by firing squad because, he said, these bodies
spoiled too quickly.  Spanner's vats, located in the basement of the
Institute, could only take a very small amount of human material at a
time.  Each body had to be shaved, dismembered, skinned, cut in half.
Spanner had installed a special machine to separate flesh and sinew from
bone.  The treated remains were boiled down according to a special recipe
his assistant had given him 'from the countryside.'  The recipe, framed
in wood and dated 15 February 1944, was found hanging on the basement wall
when the Russians and Poles took the city in 1945:  5 kilos of human flesh,
226 grams of caustic soda per pound, 11 litres of water; the mixture to boil
for 2-3 hours before cooling.  Spanner had great difficulty in getting his
soap to set properly or to lather sufficiently and a great deal of his
budget went on perfumes and scents to make the soap smell acceptable.

	Spanner's work was of interest to a wide range of high-ranking Nazi
officials, and his staff allocation refelcted this.  As well as his Polish
assistant, Spanner had a senior female assistant, two German manual workers,
a deputy -- SS-Professor Wohlman -- a senior male assistant called von
Bergen, and the compulsory helf of a number of anatomy students whenever it
was necessary to separate large amounts of fat and tissue from bone, or to
fire up the incinerators.

	One 5 May 1945, with Berlin about to fall, the International Committee
for the Investigation of Nazi War Crimes found the remains of over 350 bodies
in various stages of preparation in the Institute basement.  The Polish
novelist Zofia Nalkowska (1884-1954) was one of the members of the Committee
and she has left a memorable description of the sight that greeted them:

	In the oblique light which fell from the distant, high-placed
	windows the dead lay the same as yesterday.  Their creamy-white,
	naked young bodies, resembling hard sculptures, were in perfect
	condition, although they had been waiting many months for the time
	they would no longer be needed.

		Like in stone sarcophagi they lay lengthwise, one body on
	top of another, in long concrete tubs with open lids.  Their hands
	were not folded across their chests according to funeral ritual but
	lay alongside their bodies.  And the heads were cut off from the
	torsos as neatly as though they were stone.

		In one of the sarcophagi, on top of the dead lay the headless
	'sailor' already familiar to us -- a splendid youth, huge as a
	gladiator.  The contours of a ship were tattooed on his broad chest.
	Across the outlines of two smokestacks appeared the inscription to a
	vain faith:  God with us.

		We passed one corpse-filled tub after another ...  Fourteen
	corpses would have sufficed for the needs of the Anatomical
	Institute.  Here there were 350 of them.

		Two vats contained only the hairless heads severed from those
	bodies.  They lay one on top of another -- human faces like potatoes
	heaped up haphazardly in a pit:  some sideways as if pressed into a
	pillow, others turned face down or up.  They were smooth and
	yellowish, also excellently preserved and also chopped off at the
	nape as though they were stone....

		With the two professors we later passed to the little red
	house and saw there on the now cold fireplace a huge vat full of dark
	liquid.  Someone familiar with the premises lifted the cover with a
	poker and drew to the surface a dripping human torso, cooked to the

The Committee interviewed the two senior professors of the Medical Academy who
claimed they knew nothing at all about Spanner's work, that neither of them had
even been inside the Institute and that the only people who knew what Spanner
was doing were his own staff.  As far as they were concerned, Spanner was known
as a hard worker, a good German and a loyal Party member.  The Committee were
not convinced.  Out in the courtyard stood the charred remains of no less than
three of Spanner's incinerators -- all of which had caught fire as a result of
of overloading.  On each occasion the fire brigade had been called out.  It
was difficult to believe that the Academy's two senior professors had not
investigated the cause of the blaze in each case.  Likewise it was difficult
to believe that the professors, who had authorised the expenditure of scarce
funds for the purchase of the incinerators, had done so without asking 
questions.  Also it was impossible to believe that they had not been aware of
the stench of burning flesh whenever Spanner used the incinerators.  Certainly
it was known that the Dean of the Academy had received complaints about the
stench from nearby residents and had asked Spanner to burn flesh only very
late at night.  From Spanner's half-witted-Pole the Committee learned that the
Reich Minister for Health, the Reich Minister for Education, _Gauleiter_
Forster, the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and a string of visiting pro-
fessors from every corner of the Reich had all visited Spanner's section of the
Institute.  The Committee found it difficult to believe that the professors who
ran the Institute had not been informed of the purpose of these visits and that
they had not taken part in the formal reception of distinguished guests.

	When asked whether he might not have guessed what Spanner was doing in
the basement, one of the professors said:  'Well, yes, I might have supposed
that -- because Germany was suffering from a great shortage of fats.  And
consideration for the economic situation of the country, for the good of the
country, might have induced him to do so...'  The other professor replied:
'Yes, I could have supposed that, had I known that he had received such
orders, for it was well knwon that he was a disciplined member of the
party.' [note 25]

	In their answers the professors did not show any indignation at
what had been done in their name at their institute of learning; there was
no hint of moral condemnation.  The curious blend of economic and loyal
Party-member reasoning, the underlying belief that if this was for Germany,
then it was allowable are testimony to the effect that the Nazi system had
worked on ordinary German lives, on the extent to which it had sanctioned and
legitimised these ambitions and behaviour.  They years of isolation from the
values of the outside world had produced a fundamental change in the moral
standards of the German people -- even in those of the highly educated and
privileged professors of the Danzig Medical Academy.  The damage affected the
very language these people used to explain what they had been doing, and
thereafter it affected the way they thought about themselves.  The Nazis
covered over their brutal reducation of human variety with banal cliches
of administrative jargon; they removed the burden of responsibility from
each individual concerned.  In doing so they made the unthinkable a daily
event, and made normal moral revulsion and protest a question of disloyalty
and race betrayal.

	If what happened in Danzig was anything like a microcosm of what
happened in Germany, then what happened in Spanner's workshops was a
microcosm of the indignity -- even in death -- of Germanisation and the
camps.  Spanner's Institute was an image of the Nazi vision of the world --
run on state subsidy, using SS staff, compliant academics and the co-operation
of ordinary students.  By the most economic means possible, it turned
_Untermenschen_ and enemies of the Reich into a commodity that was useful
to the German people.

	Professor Spanner left Danzig to give a lecture in Halle an der
Saale in January 1945.  His last message to his team was that they should
adhere strictly to his recipe and not allow the incinerator to overheat.  He
was never seen again.

Note 25:  Ibid., p. 136."

The source for Carl Tighe's information is unclear.  Note 24 lists three
sources; however, John Drobnicki checked all three, and they do not have
any information on Professor Spanner on page 136, or on any other pages:
H. S. Levine, _Hitler's Free City_, Chicago, 1973; H. S. Levine, 'Local
Authority and the SS State:  The Conflict Over Population Policy in Danzig-
West Prussia 1939-45,' _Central European History, vol. II, 1969; D. Orlow,
_The History of the Nazi Party, 1919-1933_, Pittsburgh, 1969.

After contacting Carl Tighe, John Drobnicki was informed that Tighe's
source for the information about Spanner and the Danzig Institute
was the book _Medaliony_, by Zofia Nalkowska, as well as personal
interviews with people living in Gdansk who remembered Spanner.

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