BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
It's impossible to say whether the item listed for sale April 16 on the Craigslist Bakersfield web page caught the attention of any prospective buyers, but one appalled couple, followed soon after by Kern County sheriff's investigators and local prosecutors, certainly took notice.
The advertisement, replete with misspellings and bad grammar, read in part, "world war 2 Jewish skin wallet from a consecration camp -- $12,000 (Eastside bakersfield)."
It has since been removed from the site.
The writer clearly meant "concentration camp," as the post also said a soldier recovered it from Dachau, a Nazi concentration camp where an estimated 32,000 Jews were killed between March 1933 and April 1945.
The Mountain Enterprise in Frazier Park reported April 25 that a couple alerted deputies at the Frazier Park substation about the ad. Sgt. Mark Brown told the weekly paper an investigation is ongoing. The post, which apparently included images of the wallet, was removed April 20.
According to the paper, Brown said it did appear from the photo that the wallet could be made of human skin. Brown could not be reached for comment Friday.
Prosecutors are discussing the question of what crime, if any, the person who posted the ad may have committed.
Kern County Chief Deputy District Attorney Mark Pafford called the Craigslist post "reprehensible and morally outrageous," but said he couldn't find anything that made selling the wallet a crime under California law.
It's unknown if the wallet is, in fact, made of human skin, or if someone posted the ad as a hoax. There's also the larger question: Do such artifacts from World War II actually exist or are they apocryphal, a tale believed because the horrifying acts perpetrated by the Nazis -- including grisly human experiments, torture and all methods of killing -- make anything seem possible?
Stories abound of Nazis making lampshades and other items from the skins of concentration camp prisoners. Articles in the Jewish Virtual Library make special mention of Ilse Koch, an overseer at Buchenwald who collected "lampshades, book covers, and gloves made from the skins of specially murdered concentration camp inmates, and shrunken human skulls."
Koch was sentenced to life in prison after the war and committed suicide in 1967.
A company in the United Kingdom called Human Leather Exclusive Products claims to sell wallets, belts and shoes made of human skin that people agreed to donate upon their death.
"There are a few areas of the body, (back and abdomen) that have uninterrupted skin coverage, and are therefore the best for processing into human leather," the company's website reads.
The cheapest item, a wallet, costs $14,000. The legality of the venture is unclear, and the website says "we will give you details on how to pay, if you become a client of ours."