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Old 28-11-2008, 10:06 PM   #1
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Default Mummified Tattoos from 19th C. French Sailors

More from the thesis - based on some archive research I did at the Wellcome Museum in London. Well worth a visit if you're into old medical stuff:

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In the summer of 1929, Captain Peter Johnston-Saint, travelling artefact collector for Henry Wellcome’s famous collection, embarked upon an acquisition trip to Paris. Tasked by Wellcome with purchasing items of interest and importance, Captain Saint records in his diary entry for Thursday 6th June that

In the morning, I went to see the old osterologist regarding the preserved head, tattooed skins and other items which he has. He had not troubled to look them all out, so I am no further in this affair. He has promised however to do so by next week, when I said I would come in and see him again and, if he has everything ready so that the material can be seen, I would try and arrange terms with him for purchase. (Johnston-Saint 1929b, 4)

Naturally, Captain Johnston-Saint did return to the osterologist’s address the following week as arranged, finding the curious, morbid bounty bundled up for sale. His diary entry for Saturday June 15th 1929 records the days’ events:

I then went to La Valette in the Rue École de Medicine. This is the man who had the collection of over 300 tattooed human skins. These skins date from the first quarter of the last century down to the present time. Many of them are very curious and extremely interesting and consist of skins of sailors, soldiers, murders and criminals of all nationalities. He has also the very unique mummified head of an Arab, mummified in such a manner as to preserve the features in a most lifelike condition. He says that this was a special process of his own and unique in mummification. There was also a galvanised human brain, the only examples of its kind in the world, prepared in the laboratories of the Musée Dupuytren in Paris. And lastly, a very interesting picture of a dissecting room by Dr. Paul Renonard, 1906. In accordance with instructions I bought all of these for the best possible terms viz. £80 for the lot. La Valette told me that the skins are unique, that no more could be got under any circumstances, and that each skin had taken him a long time and cost him a certain amount to cure and prepare for his permanent collection. (Johnston-Saint 1929a; 1929b, 19-20)

These 300 skins were neatly and painstakingly entered into the acquisitions log (Wellcome Collection 1929-1935) , which records a brief description of each specimen (and/or occasionally a rough sketch when the subject-matter defied concise written summary), their size and the price paid for each. The section of the log is headed, simply and manner-of-factly, “Human Skin, Tattooed”, with the note “Pur Capt St. June 1929 of La Valette, Rue Ecole de Medicine Paris” squeezed into the left-hand margin. Some are astonishingly large – Specimen 525, for example, is recorded as spanning 18½“ x 13½ - and others much smaller; they range in price seemingly according to size and intricacy from a handsome £10/- to just £1/- . The skins bear a range of iconographic content that would be familiar to any tattooist even today – daggers, card suits, moons, naked women, flowers, lions. Many feature the text of names (‘Flora’, ‘A.T’) or slogans (‘L’amour fait souffrir’); others record dates of sentimental importance.

The Musée Dupuytren is a museum of medical and anatomical curiosities, established in 1832 as the Museum of Medical Pathology of the University of Paris. It seems likely that Monsieur La Valette worked either in or near the museum itself, given Captain Johnston-Saint’s notes on the preparation of the head and the address recorded as the location of the meeting. Rue de L’École de Medicine was the heart of Parisian medical life at the end of the 19th century, and was the address for the Musée Dupuytren and, of course, the University of Paris’ medical school. Whilst Captain Johnston-Saint mentions that these tattoos were removed from the dead (one hopes!) bodies of sailors, soldiers and criminals, there is no information in his records as to exactly how M La Valette came to acquire the skins in the first instance . Nevertheless, it was somewhat common practice at the end of the 19th Century for the bodies of criminals to be used in anatomical dissections, and as Michael Sappol explains, “an executed person’s body might be mined for anatomical ‘curiosities’ […]; an anatomist then assumed the role of collector and exhibitor – a stance that combined proprietary ownership and cultural authority” (Sappol 2002, 91) .

A small number of these skins are still physically held by the Wellcome Collection , and two of them are on display in the permanent collection of the Wellcome Museum. Though they were collected because of the pathological curiosity they engendered, these exempla of mummified plunder have now been legitimised as objects of display (or, as Sappol would have it, of curiosity). Due to their disconnection from their previously problematic status as art in living skin, their fundamentally artistic nature is put into sharper relief than may have been the case when they were still borne by their original owners, and by taking on the formal qualities of painting, the distinctions between tattoos in general and tattoo art that some have sought to emphasise (through appeals to virtuosity, craftsmanship or formalised art training (see Tucker 1981, 44)) vanish for the most part. Although the pieces in the La Valette collection are somewhat crude in purely visual or spectacular terms, they do ‘work’ as discrete visual objects. In fact, in rendering them as discrete art objects in their own right, and by inserting both distance and time between them and the subjectivities they would once have been understood to express, the questions of symbolic, psychological truth these tattoos would have prompted are elided into more recognisably art historical questions of artistic intentionality .
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Old 28-11-2008, 10:21 PM   #2
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This has partially answered a question for me: did the Nazis use skin (with tattoos) to make lampshades? It's highly possible that they did, but can anyone verify this? It's something I've always wondered.

Very interesting though, I am going to Google the Wellcome Museum!
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Old 28-11-2008, 10:27 PM   #3
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This has partially answered a question for me: did the Nazis use skin (with tattoos) to make lampshades? It's highly possible that they did, but can anyone verify this? It's something I've always wondered.
There have been reports that Ilse Koch, the "Beast of Buchenwald", used skins from Holocaust victims as lampshades. I haven't read anything scholarly on the matter, but it's possible. They were described by witnesses at Nurenberg, but I don't know of any hard evidence of their existence. This site is interesting, but obviously this is a tricky issue to look at objectively. I'll have to look at archive research by reputable historians and get back to you.

It certainly wasn't widespread, though. She was a pretty uniquely hideous piece of work, even by Nazi standards.

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Very interesting though, I am going to Google the Wellcome Museum!
It's AWESOME. They have Napolean's toothbrush.

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Old 28-11-2008, 10:29 PM   #4
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This has partially answered a question for me: did the Nazis use skin (with tattoos) to make lampshades? It's highly possible that they did, but can anyone verify this? It's something I've always wondered.
no they fucking didnt. it was ALL bollocks.

the "human skin" was proved to be goatskin in the case of isla koch, the only "human skin lampshade" ever located.

the soap thing was probably wank as well.

die hard nazis distributing "dirty jew" soap to wash with?

nah, i cant see it meself, and none was ever found

the yad vashem holocaust centre lists "jew soap" under the bullshit file.

you cant get anymore damning proof than them not entertaining the idea.
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Old 28-11-2008, 10:35 PM   #5
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Found this just now:

"During WWII the Nazi’s were said to have collected human skin and remains and used them for a variety of purposes. Ken Kipperman, a leading authority on the use of human remains of Holocaust victims by the Nazis was interviewed by Dan Alban and stated that he has indeed found eight items of human skin in the archives of Washington D.C. that were used as evidence during war crime trials, however, he has found no evidence of anthropodermic bindings. He has examined many of the books rumored to have been bound in human skin and found all of them to be false, including the supposed copy of Mein Kampf as well as the photo albums of Ilse Koch, known as the “Beast of Buchenwald""

http://www.ischool.utexas.edu/~klech...gs%20paper.pdf

This claim seems to have been taken from Alban, Dan. (2005). Books Bound in Human Skin; Lampshade Myth? The Record. Harvard Law School. Cambridge, MA, which is a reputable source. I'd like to read the original, though.
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Old 28-11-2008, 10:38 PM   #6
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http://www.hlrecord.org/home/index.c...e-30d8f886dbfb

"However, it turns out that the stories of human skin lampshades are probably poorly grounded. There's no denying that the Nazis committed horrible atrocities and murdered millions during the Holocaust, but this horrific genocide was so bad that there's no need for exaggeration. Like the myth of human soap that was debunked 10-15 years ago, the story of human skin lampshades is based largely on rumors and can't be substantiated."

Looks like the evidence isn't in the Nazi skin lampshade favour - though human skins have been used to bind books in the past (as I mentioned in the other thread I just created about Maori heads), and the Nazi's did definitely collect some tattoos:

"On the other hand, the Nazis did collect numerous pieces of human skin from concentration camp victims, and were particularly fixated on skin with tattoos, especially colorful tattoos with obscene images. Kipperman has found eight items of human skin in government archives in the Washington, D.C. area where they were filed away and forgotten about after being used as evidence in war crimes trials. Kipperman's conclusions comport with those of a June 2004 issue of the online de-bunking column The Straight Dope, which determined, "While the Nazis kept many grisly mementos of their victims, including tattooed skin, the lampshade claim may be a myth.""

Last edited by volatile; 28-11-2008 at 10:44 PM.
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Old 28-11-2008, 10:47 PM   #7
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There have been reports that Ilse Koch, the "Beast of Buchenwald", used skins from Holocaust victims as lampshades. I haven't read anything scholarly on the matter, but it's possible. They were described by witnesses at Nurenberg, but I don't know of any hard evidence of their existence. This site is interesting, but obviously this is a tricky issue to look at objectively. I'll have to look at archive research by reputable historians and get back to you.

It certainly wasn't widespread, though. She was a pretty uniquely hideous piece of work, even by Nazi standards.

It's AWESOME. They have Napolean's toothbrush.
That Nizkor link is very interesting. I shall have to have a good look through that when I am more awake!

It sounds as thought it's likely that skin was harvested, but the lampshade thing may have been a myth? To be honest, given the way a lot of concentration camps ended it's probably quite difficult to ascertain what was fact, and what was fiction. I mean, look at the experiments that Mengele conducted - who knows what he did that wasn't documented?

Ha, they have his toothbrush?! Crazy. I love junk like that - the bits of history that seem so unimportant to Joe Public. It's nice to see that important figures in history were alive- they ate and slept, brushed their teeth and used the toilet.
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Old 28-11-2008, 10:55 PM   #8
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theres no 100% proof of human skin being harvested

just hearsay and rumour,

even the so called "pieces of flesh from buchenwald" havnt been independently tested.

i say again, why would die hard nazis want "jewvenirs".. doesnt make sense.

the only half possiblity is that the person collecting these "samples" was a wild fetishist.

considering how dominant and fetish orientated the pr0n of those times was, thats theonly explaination,

certainly not a direct order or wholesale plan to harvest skin.
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Old 28-11-2008, 10:59 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Give_Me_Fire_Shorts View Post
theres no 100% proof of human skin being harvested

just hearsay and rumour,

even the so called "pieces of flesh from buchenwald" havnt been independently tested.

i say again, why would die hard nazis want "jewvenirs".. doesnt make sense.

the only half possiblity is that the person collecting these "samples" was a wild fetishist.

considering how dominant and fetish orientated the pr0n of those times was, thats theonly explaination,

certainly not a direct order or wholesale plan to harvest skin.
Oh no, no-one is suggesting that it was an order to harvest skin. But like Mengele and Koch there were renegades even in Nazi times that did things their own way!
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Old 28-11-2008, 11:03 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Give_Me_Fire_Shorts View Post
theres no 100% proof of human skin being harvested

just hearsay and rumour,

even the so called "pieces of flesh from buchenwald" havnt been independently tested.

i say again, why would die hard nazis want "jewvenirs".. doesnt make sense.

the only half possiblity is that the person collecting these "samples" was a wild fetishist.

considering how dominant and fetish orientated the pr0n of those times was, thats theonly explaination,

certainly not a direct order or wholesale plan to harvest skin.
Hey, I agree with you that this is sketchy, and that soap and lampshades are out, and that the evidence for skin "harvesting" is nonexistant. There was also, as you say, definitely no direct order to harvest skin, nothing even close.

But anatomists did collect tattoos (and other pathological things like Siamese twin foetuses, goitres, growths etc), and had done since they appeared in the West - I've seen the manuscript evidence and stored skins that prove it. It's morbid as hell, but it happened - read M. Sappol's A Traffic in Dead Bodies. If Nazi doctors did collect skin samples, it wouldn't have been unusual amongst anatomists for them to have done so. Anatomists like the guy who saved the tattooed skins in the Wellcome were curious about the body - there wasn't anything more nefarious or sinister than that. No need for them to fetishise them in a sexual way; it just came naturally from their profession, being interested in bodies. Their morbid curiosity is why science museums across Europe and America have collections of weird shit in jars, including tattooed shrunken heads (see my other thread).

So I dunno - I'd like to see if there's any independent verification of this Kipperman's finds. I wouldn't be surprised if there was, but that's only because of what I know about the history of anatomy.

Last edited by volatile; 28-11-2008 at 11:06 PM.
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