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THE LAMPSHADE: A HOLOCAUST DETECTIVE STORY FROM BUCHENWALD TO NEW ORLEANS By; Mark Jacobson November 17, 2010

Posted by lycan librarian in book reviews, Books and reading.
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     The title of this incredible story indicates the reader stands to learn a great deal about the Nazis and the Holocaust. But Jacobson, being a journalist, educates about every step he takes along the way to determine the origins of a lampshade bought at a New Orleans yard sale for $35, and that it is truly made out of human skin. It landed in the author’s hands when an old friend sent it to him with a note saying, “You’re the journalist, you find out what it is.”
     Jacobson starts with a tour of Buchenwald and a brief history of Ilse Koch, a woman who truly earned her nickname as the Bitch of Buchenwald. He goes on to reveal fascinating New Orleans history and folklore, insight into the Jewish faith, blues history and legends, and obstacles faced by DNA pioneers. I was very impressed by Jacobson’s exploration of every aspect of his search.

           Jacobson (pictured) offers character sketches of people in New Orleans, and of others who were interviewed for investigation purposes. They are all fascinating, and will stick in the reader’s minds, though, as one might imagine, for quite diverse reasons: some are Holocaust survivors, some collectors, some rebels, and others experts in their fields. This is the type of book you think about when you put it down, and can’t wait to get back to. The Lycan Librarian tends to carry such books around with her when she isn’t able to devote herself to reading them, and this book has been in the crook of her arm whenever it wasn’t open in her lap ever since she read the first sentence of the prologue.

     The big question that remained open in this tale was what to do with the lampshade. It is incredible that the author had approached so many Holocaust museums and centers who wanted nothing to do with the lampshade, thinking it “pornographic” and suggesting it be kept hidden away. But there was one psychic who told Jacobson the soul of the person from whom the shade had come was still in the skin, and liked him because he allowed him to be out in the light rather than in the back of a closet. (If you don’t believe in psychics, spirits, and such things, please don’t allow this to dissuade you from reading the book. It is a highly intelligent piece, but the author is allowing his readers each and every perspective he encountered in his research.) The author did consider giving the lampshade a proper burial, but not knowing who the skin had come from presented a problem; if the skin had come from a Jew, there were particular rites that had to be observed to show proper respect for the deceased.  Not being certain the skin had come from that source, no Jewish cemetery would allow burial in their sacred grounds. I won’t tell exactly what happened, but this reader was very satisfied with the ending. No matter how vile and horrid this artifact is, it is a piece of history that should not be forgotten. As the author himself put it, “Who gives us the right to close the book for the future? The questions must be kept open. The best thing to do is treat it with respect, and we will see what happens next.”

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