Unraveling the Mystery of Soap

Written by Shlomit Ovadia of JCC Denver.

Far from your typical Holocaust film, The Soap Myth is the recording of a play that dramatizes the confrontation between survivors, scholars, and Holocaust deniers about who has the right to rewrite history, while grappling with the question, did Nazis make soap from murdered Jews?  

After being handed a copy of the progressive Jewish magazine, Moment, by a stranger in 2002, playwright and theater director Jeff Cohen first learned about Mauris Spritzer and his passionate crusade to have soap displayed in Holocaust museums.  

Jeff says the article, which was titled, Slippery History, “was such a revelation for me that there could be this sort of dispute between eyewitness survivors and historian scholars whose job it was to get the history of the Holocaust [right].”  

It took Jeff about 6 years to turn the subject matter into a script, plus a complete rewrite after a live audience workshop. Finally, after several additional months of spirited yet respectful conversations, Jeff was able to receive the support of prolific Holocaust scholars to move forward with the production of his script.  

Unlike most Holocaust films, which are set in history, this one serves as a contemporary dialogue about history. 

“It doesn’t take place in the past—it’s a play that takes place today. It’s about someone who is being denied his voice, and therefore feels he, himself, is being denied. The question becomes, what happened that makes the history of the Holocaust somewhat malleable?”   

The play’s theme is also intentional and differentiates it from other Holocaust films. “Soap is such a household and prosaic item that’s been completely and utterly perverted,” urging viewers to reflect on the survivor experience when revisiting history.  

Through Jeff’s research in writing The Soap Myth, he found that “Holocaust deniers took the atrocity of soap and used it to debunk the entire history” and that “people will take a kernel of truth and surround that with a lot of lies to taint what the truth of the history really is.” Jeff is referring not only to debates surrounding the legitimacy of the claim that Nazis successfully made soap from victims’ human fat and/or mass manufactured it, but also current events affecting our Jewish community.  

He hopes that those who watch this recorded performance not only get a strong sense of “how pervasive and insidious antisemitism can be… but get a very visceral, personal emotional sense of the degradation perpetrated not just on Jewish people but so many other marginalized groups. The Soap Myth provides a contemporary reminder of where all that horror can lead.”  

Join us on Sunday, March 10 at 10:30 am in the Elaine Wolf Theater for the Denver Jewish Film Festival’s screening of The Soap Myth featuring award-winning actors Tovah Feldshuh and the late Ed Asner.