The Lampshade by Mark Jacobson
A Holocaust Detective Story from Buchenwald to New Orleans

No critic rating

Waiting for minimum critic reviews

See 4 Critic Reviews

unrated

Synopsis

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.
 

About Mark Jacobson

See more books from this Author
Jacobson has been a contributing editor to New York and Rolling Stone, a staff writer at The Village Voice, and a columnist for Esquire. Jacobson is a writer living in Brooklyn, where she is working on a novel.
 
Published September 14, 2010 by Simon & Schuster. 368 pages
Genres: History, Travel, War. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Lampshade

Kirkus Reviews

See more reviews from this publication

He received the lampshade from a cultural obsessive and bar owner who had purchased it at a post-Katrina rummage sale from a desperate, colorful substance abuser notorious as the “cemetery bandit of New Orleans.” The author and these two eccentrics became haunted by their suspicions that the lamp...

| Read Full Review of The Lampshade: A Holocaust De...

The New York Times

See more reviews from this publication

He quotes Leon Uris novels and Woody Guthrie songs, as well as Sylvia Plath’s poem “Lady Lazarus,” with its lines about Plath’s soon-to-die body, with its face as fine as “Jew linen” and her skin “bright as a Nazi lampshade.” Mr. Jacobson spends a lot of time in New Orleans, and his book is y...

Sep 30 2010 | Read Full Review of The Lampshade: A Holocaust De...

Los Angeles Times

See more reviews from this publication

The cantor lifts the lampshade from the box in which Jacobson has transported it: " 'It's parchment, that's for sure.' Shiya has handled a lot of parchment in his life, parchment inside tefillin, mezuzahs and the Torah.

Oct 27 2010 | Read Full Review of The Lampshade: A Holocaust De...

Bookmarks Magazine

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 surv...

Oct 25 2010 | Read Full Review of The Lampshade: A Holocaust De...

Reader Rating for The Lampshade
66%

An aggregated and normalized score based on 45 user ratings from iDreamBooks & iTunes


Rate this book!

Add Review
×