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The Lampshade: A Holocaust Detective Story from Buchenwald to New Orleans by [Jacobson, Mark]
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3.5 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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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: 4206 KB
  • Print Length: 370 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (September 14, 2010)
  • Publication Date: September 14, 2010
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003L786QE
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #762,894 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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Format: Kindle Edition
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 during the atrocities of the holocaust. This is more a story of assumption and sensationalism than evidence and investigative journalism. I think it's disrespectful to try and cash-in on a losely tied holocaust story, knowing that holocaust books sell well. At the very least the author should publish an updated edition explaining that the lamp isn't made from human flesh so as not to lead his readers along.
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Format: Paperback
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. So, if you want to waste your time and money with this book, then please do so. Or you could just skip straight to the outcome here:

[...]

As for the claimed human skin lampshade at Buchenwald - unproven. In 1945, the US Army put a display of "Nazi horrors" on a table which included a lampshade. However, the consensus seems to be that it was, in fact, made from goatskin. The commandant of Buchenwald, Karl-Otto Koch, was tried by the NAZI's and executed in 1944. His wife, Isle Koch, was tried by the Allies in 1946 and again by a German court in 1949. Neither of them were convicted of any charges connected with lampshades made from human skin.

It seems that the story started as a rumor and the US Army decided to use it for propaganda purposes. As if the real horrors perpetrated by the NAZI's were not bad enough.
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