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The Human Skin Lampshade

The Human Skin Lampshade

Will your children be able to transmit the story of our people?


The cover of the magazine screamed out at me; its black and white image caught my eye instantly. I read and reread not believing what I saw. But there it was and I was astounded by the words I read.

“What’s this lampshade made of?”

The guy was selling stuff found in the wreckage of Katrina.

“That’s made from the skin of Jews,” he replied.


“Hitler made skin from the Jews," he returned. “You want it? $35.”

I was haunted by the image of the translucent lamp that was pictured inside the pages of New York Magazine. Is this for real? Can this be the story of my people? My grandparents, little cousins, aunts and uncles perished in the flames and now for $35 you can buy a lampshade from the skin of Jews?

Who will tell our story?

We stand today at a crossroads. Soon there will not be many survivors who will be able to transmit their painful memories. The Holocaust has become a thing of the past, mostly irrelevant to too many Jews. I am not speaking about those who hate us and try to deny the attempt to annihilate our people.

Tragically, the Holocaust has become mostly irrelevant to many Jews.

I am speaking about us and our responsibility as parents to transmit the unspeakable.

I am speaking about our children, ‘generation next.’

We live in a world where we try so hard to protect our children from difficulties. We read up on how to safeguard our children from the latest dangers and search the web for the newest tips on raising great kids. But in our quest to shield our children I am afraid that we have not only 'purelled' their bodies, we have also 'purelled' their hearts.

A couple I met decided to take their teenaged kids on a family vacation to Israel. Upon their return, they told me about their incredible trip to the holy land. I heard about jeeping in the desert, rappelling down mountains, floating in the Dead Sea, and hiking up the waterfalls of Ein Gedi. Yes, there was the visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem and various museums.

But there was one thing that this couple was adamant about. No way would they expose their wonderful children to the pain of the Holocaust. There would be no reason in the world for their bright and inquisitive teens to hear about concentration camps or Hitler’s desire to destroy our people. No stories of fortitude, of prayers cried out as both young and old returned their pure souls to our Creator.

“Why not?” I asked.

“It’s a turn-off,” they replied. “It’s just too much. We want our kids to only know happy times. Why should they cry for no reason? Let them learn about Moses and the Jews in Egypt, or something like that. It’s even fine for them to hear about the destruction of our Temple in Jerusalem. But there’s no reason for them to have to endure stories of our people suffering in the Holocaust. It really has nothing to do with us, you know. It’s not our story.”

I thought about their words. And I worry for our people.

If it’s not our story than whose story is it?

If we forget who will remember?

Can we simply say it’s too sad, we’re ‘holocausted out’ and it’s time to move on?

As Ahmadinijad threatens our people with destruction once again, do we dare say this is not about us?

Only when you know where you've come from, can you know where you are going.

I understand that we all want to give our children happy lives and laughter. None of us want to see our children crying or feeling pain. But life is not Disneyland and we are here as a nation that has endured much suffering. We have traveled the four corners of this earth, survived despite fire, persecution and oppression. Through the grace of God we stand here today and our children must be told.

We are a nation of miracles.

My child, it is only when you know where you have come from that you know where you are going.

Does your child feel for his people?

There is an incident ingrained in my memory that occurred when I was just a little girl. We were in my parents' home and there was company visiting. Being that my father was a Rabbi and my mother a Rebbetzin, our home was always full.

My father received a phone call. A child from the congregation had been in an accident. She was seriously hurt.

My mother gathered us children round. “This child has been hurt. We need to pray for her now.”

We children sat together on the couch and joined my parents in reciting Psalms and the guest took in the scene that was taking place before her eyes.

“Now really, Rebbetzin,” this woman said. “This is really too much! Pretty soon and these children are going to cry!”

I will never forget my mother’s response.

Eyes flashing and filled with conviction I recall her face and hear her words. They remain with me till today.

Some children cry for chocolate. My children will cry for the pain of their people.”

“Some children cry for chocolate. Others cry for toys or licorice. My children will cry for the pain of their people.”

We must ask ourselves if we have done justice to the pain of our people.

Have we transmitted the legacy, the faith despite all odds, the ability to cling to our God and discover light in the darkest of times?

If we are disinterested or unaffected then what can we expect from our children?

No, we do not have to feed them tragedies or graphic scenes that will give them nightmares. But we do have the responsibility of Yizkor – to remember.

“Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they shall relate to you.”

The Torah beseeches us to ask. Discover your roots, explore the generations that have come before you.

What will happen if our children have no one to ask because we simply do not know?

Who will remain to tell the story of our people?

October 10, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 41

(41) Anonymous, April 3, 2014 5:06 PM

proven cow leathet

The famous lampshade was DNA tested after the book was published, it is cow leather!

(40) Anonymous, February 23, 2012 6:47 PM

We will remember

My father was about twelve years old when WWII ended. He attended boarding school in Germany during the war. He remembers seeing Russian soldiers who were imprisoned close to his school, and how thin and hungry they looked. My grandmother, his mother, told him to stay away from them, "they will eat you if you get near them" she would say. My father doesn't talk much about what he went through, I talk to him by phone, and we often discuss other things....We talk about business, and investing, and money etc...Maybe part of that is because his Grandfather was a German industrialist who was a member of the Reichstadt during the Weimar republic...and the subject of making money is hereditary. I started looking at this subject recently, about the human lampshade, and what I've read has been on the 'net. I even visited the Holocaust museum website in Washington, and read some of the nonsense from the Holocaust deniers websites. It's important to remember our past, so that it isn't repeated. I find it difficult to even tell my story, about what I know. When I was a boy growing up in the midwest, I went to school in a neighborhood that had some Jewish people living there...My neighborhood was primarily redneck and Jewiish, until the blacks moved in, and all the rednecks that could afford it moved away. My mother told me that she had seen a woman who worked at one of the local dept. stores who had a tattoo number on her arm. One Jewish family I knew who lived close to us seemed really odd to me. Their one son must've had severe autism, and they were trying to mainstream him into our classes, but this boy just wasn't right, and he was bullied, and made fun of because he was so different....The whole family was kind of secretive, made me wonder if they were Holocaust survivors.

(39) ThomNJ, December 16, 2011 12:52 PM

I will also help tell the story

My father fought in WWII, but my wife's father was a medical technician. He treated the Jews who were found in the death camps at war's end. He gave a box of photos to my wife and told her to never let anyone say the holocaust was a lie. We showed those horrible photos to our children, and we will show them to our grandchildren, too. Our families are Christian, but there is no reason why anyone of us should not remember what happened and try to prevent it from ever happening again to anyone.

(38) Gillian Miller, October 17, 2010 7:14 PM

It is right to cry

My parents live with the guilt of not saving one life from the camps as they did not know that it was happening. A German Jew coming into the UK had to be sponsored and they would have done so had they known. Our government knew and kept quiet. A few from that time, who survived, came to live in the UK and I knew 2 of them as their daughters were friends of mine. They used to tell me again and again what they suffered whilst showing me their number. I doubt that they ever forgot for one minute and I grew up with this. It didn't hurt me but made me more compassionate. When I was 17, I was lucky enough to go to Israel and I took the opportunity of visitng Yad Vashem. I walked through the halls and cried, I can still see the cases and their contents clearly in my mind 30 odd years later. It is important that children learn about it so that this genocide can never be forgotten. My sons learnt about it at cheder and my elder son, at the age of 13, was lucky enough to go on a trip to Israel, sponsored by Israel, and visited Yad Vashem. It had a profound effect on him and I'm hoping that my younger son will be able to go on another sponsored trip next year, he'll be 21. All Jews must tell the story of the Holocaust as they tell the story of the coming out of Egypt. Both are equally important and both must be told so that all of the 4 sons remember that peace for us is an illusion until the coming of the Messiah.

(37) Debbie, October 17, 2010 4:35 AM

Thank you for saying what needed to be said.

We just sent our son on a heritage trip to Poland with his Yeshiva in Israel. Expensive, but a good investment in the future of our people. We have to teach our children about the destruction of European Jewry just as we teach them Chumash & Gemara. This generation needs to know what we're fighting for.

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