17/4/1917 The German Corpse Factory

Readers of The Times and The Daily Mail today find themselves confronted with a bizarre and distasteful story. Supposedly based on a report in a German publication, both newspapers carry articles on a secret German factory where dead human bodies are taken for rendering, with the factory extracting all kinds of useful material from the cadavers. A tallow is produced from the body fats and made into soap, which is in short supply in Germany thanks to the British blockade. The ground down corpses are also used to make fertiliser. The workers in this grim factory are kept as prisoners, lest they reveal its terrible secret.

This shocking story is complete nonsense. There is no corpse factory but that does not stop two supposedly respectable British newspapers presenting its fictional existence as the truth. The origin of this story is however not entirely clear, though it has been circulating as a rumour for some time. Is it a piece of propaganda, prepared by the British intelligence services to discredit the Germans? Or have the imaginations of the journalists so run away with themselves that they are now willing to print any unsubstantiated nonsense that conforms to their stereotypes regarding German beastliness?

See also: Spartacus Educational has an interesting discussion on this topic, with the text of original newspaper articles and diary entries on the matter here.

images from: BBC News: The corpse factory and the birth of fake news

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