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The Lampshade: A Holocaust Detective Story from Buchenwald to New Orleans [Kindle Edition]

Mark Jacobson
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $22.99
Kindle Price: $9.73
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Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc

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Book Description

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.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A lampshade possibly made from the skin of a concentration camp prisoner fitfully depicts the limits of human brutality in this beguiling but unfocused odyssey. When DNA tests proved a lampshade, found in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, to be made of human skin, New York magazine contributing editor Jacobson (12,000 Miles in the Nick of Time) set out to establish its provenance and meaning. Both prove elusive: evidence linking it to famous allegations that Nazis made lampshades from concentration camp victims is scanty, and Holocaust museum curators dismiss such claims. But as Jacobson's investigation takes him to places with legacies of racial hatred and mass killing--Buchenwald, Dresden, Israel, and the West Bank--he ponders the lampshade's mythic resonance as both a "particularist" emblem of Jewish victimization and a "universalist" token of human suffering. The author excels at sketching haunted locales and oddball characters, especially in atmospheric New Orleans, but his project is gimmicky--he calls in psychics and dubs the lampshade "Ziggy"--and his habit of seeing shades of the Holocaust everywhere feels forced. Jacobson's reportage is intriguing, but it doesn't pierce the darkness.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The origins of this story go back to Buchenwald, the Nazi concentration camp, where Isle Koch, the sadistic wife of the commandant, developed a liking for things (gloves, lampshades) made out of human skin. Flash forward to the present: the author receives a strange artifact in the mail from a friend: a lampshade that appears to be made from human skin. This fascinating and frequently unsettling book chronicles Jacobson’s quest to find a proper home for the lampshade and, if possible, to find out exactly where it came from. The book also explores the history of torture by flaying (the gods of Greek mythology did it; so did Ed Gein, the American serial killer of the 1950s), and the impact of the Nuremburg trials. Journalist Jacobson avoids sensationalizing this inherently sensational story, taking a reportorial approach to the material. A chilling reminder that the aftereffects of World War II and the Holocaust continue to be felt, even in the most unlikely of ways. --David Pitt

Product Details

  • File Size: 3188 KB
  • Print Length: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (September 14, 2010)
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003L786QE
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #562,409 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing "whodunit" drifts on runaway tangents January 12, 2011
Format:Hardcover
Mark Jacobson's "The Lampshade: A Holocaust Detective Story" starts out with powerful hook: a lampshade that appears to be made with human skin. It's an attractive lure for a quest, a sleuthing "fetish" that draws you in.

Jacobson begins his quest in post-Katrina New Orleans where the lampshade first comes to light. Purchased by a friend of the author's from a chronic down-and-outer, its provenance is unknown. What can be stated, however, is that following mitochondrial DNA analysis (done by a reputable laboratory and paid for by the author), the material is in fact, human skin.

But to whom did this skin belong? Who was the "skinner" who took it? And who made it into a lampshade?

The balance of "The Lampshade" strives to answer these questions. The proposition favored by the author is that the skin "came from a Jew and from Buchenwald," the notorious camp of Nazi Germany in the 1940's. For Jacobson, it's like having secured the Holy Grail but knowing nothing about it. After much sleuthing, there is scant evidence to support this thesis.

Although "the Buchenwald theory" continues as Jacobson's dominant driver, the skin of "The Lampshade" might just as easily have belonged to a victim of 1950's-era serial killer Ed Gein, known to have skinned several of his victims.

Most likely, however, the skin for this lampshade could have come from anyone.

Jacobson's heart-felt thesis continues to fall further from grace as the quest continues. His efforts to convince a reputable museum such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC or Yad Vashem in Israel to "accept" his donation fall flat.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting topic...could be much shorter November 8, 2010
By Dan
Format:Hardcover
I found the topic of this book to be quite interesting and the book certainly piqued my interest at the beginning, however, I eventually became bored with the numerous journeys the author took into side stories that played a part in the overall history of those involved with the lampshade. I think the whole story could easily have been written for a magazine and would have rather enjoyed reading another book in lieu of trying to finish this one.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format:Audible Audio Edition|Verified Purchase
The Lampshade: A Holocaust Detective Story from Buchenwald to New Orleans, Mark Jacobson, Simon and Schuster Publishing, 368 pages, 2010. ardcover, [...], paperback [...].

A lampshade is found in the wreckage of a Katrina ravaged New Orleans house. The finder believes it is made of human skin; but, as revealed later, the finder is a grave robber and drug addict. New York magazine contributing editor Mark Jacobson receives the lampshade by US mail from a friend. Jacobson is not a detective, he is an interviewer. Very little detection occurs in this book but a lot of interviewing does. A DNA test reveals that the lampshade is made of human skin. Jacobson sets out to establish its provenance.

There is no way to confirm that the lampshade may be made of skin from of a concentration camp prisoner. There is no way to confirm that the human skin is of gypsy, Jewish, Christian, Dutch, Russian, homosexual, male or female origin. There is no evidence but plenty of conjecture.

Yet, feigning poverty, Jacobson for some reason begins to travel back and forth from NYC to NOLA and Mississippi, several times, then to Germany and Israel. Legacies of hatred are pondered. As the investigation wanes, Jacobson endows the lampshade with the name 'Ziggy'. Jewish victimization issues are mixed with human suffering issues. FEMA trailer camps become an issue; Ray Nagan, NOLA mayor during the catastrophe becomes an issue; George Bush becomes an issue. David Duke, grand wizard of the KKK who now lives in Germany becomes an issue. Some of these characters are interesting. Some of these characters are obviously padding so as to meet a publishing contract that requires 350 pages.
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26 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mime Ventriloquism September 21, 2010
Format:Hardcover
A meandering rumination on evil and an antique from Hell's own gift shop. Nazism is a human parable on treatment of one's fellow man that we failed to fully learn about when it was happening, and failed to act against again and again, whether in Buchenwald or exactly 50 years later at Srebrenica where the replay was almost identical except for a newer nomenclature, this time "Ethnic Cleansing" replacing "Final Solution". In the 21st Century America was shaken awake by our government's incompetence during Katrina. Who among us will ever feel sure that the cavalry is on the way when something happens on that scale again? Jacobson's writing is often maddeningly circuitous but the book is so compelling that you will bear with it no matter where it leads. From a grave-robbing junkie in New Orleans to Louisiana's neo-Nazi David Duke (now at home in Austria), from the haunted social worker who originally buys the lampshade to musician Dr. John, and finally to Jacobson himself who childishly "befriends" the object then lets it invade his life, the cast of characters alone is remarkable in and of itself. The Lampshade will not be reading for everyone, but as a tale of humanity and the curious journey we all share it will not be soon forgotten.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars The lamp turned out to be made of cow skin ...
The lamp turned out to be made of cow skin, but there was scant evidence that the lamp was ever constructed of human flesh to begin with, and even less evidence that it was made... Read more
Published 2 months ago by A fan of books
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating!
I will probably read this one over and pver again. It's the story iof a new reporter's attempts to authenticate a lampshade his friend found in New Orleans -- supposedly made by... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Eileen McHenry
1.0 out of 5 stars Its all fake
Why even bother to write this garbage. There is nothing thats true with this myth. Its even been stated in the Jerusalem Post.
Published 6 months ago by Michael Petersson
3.0 out of 5 stars 2.75 stars
I wish I could have liked this book more. Or I should say, I wish I could have liked the way this book was written, more. Read more
Published 8 months ago by SusieQ
5.0 out of 5 stars Creepy and frustrating
Where did it come from? Is it what it seems to be? Now that you've got it, how do you get rid of it? This is a bizarre story I'll never forget, a mix of true crime and history. Read more
Published 9 months ago by K. A. Krisko
5.0 out of 5 stars The Lampshade
This was one of the best nonfictiin books I've ever read. The author managed to connect two horrific events with a beat up lampshade. Very entertaining but also very educational. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Candace V. Kissee
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and Funny?
I know. How can the holocaust be funny? It's not, but the way the lampshade transforms the lives that come in contact with it is. You'll just have to read it to find out why.
Published 11 months ago by Burroughs Anderson
1.0 out of 5 stars The lampshade was made of COWSKIN
The author of this book, Mark Jacobson, had a sample of the lampshade tested in 2012 using updated methods. The result came back that it was cowskin - 100% certainty. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Jimmy Junkster
3.0 out of 5 stars Generally Interesting
I generally enjoyed this book. Some seem to have been put off by the author's having gone off on tangents occasionally but I find this type of writing interesting, especially when... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Catfish
1.0 out of 5 stars What a Shame
I have read a lot about the Holocaust and the Nazi atrocities. This book started so well, and after the first chapter it just became one unfocused chapter after another. Read more
Published 22 months ago by DT
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