Saturday, May 30, 2009

Belzec Mass Graves and Archaeology: My Response to Carlo Mattogno (2)

(1) - Introduction and 1. Nature and Purpose of Kola’s Archaeological Investigation

2. Location and Form of the Mass Graves[21]

In Part 2 of the original blog[22], I discussed Mattogno’s claims about contradictions regarding the location of the mass graves between the maps of Prof. Kola’s finds[23] and postwar maps of the Belzec camp area, namely the map drawn by J. Bau on hand of descriptions provided by survivor eyewitness Rudolf Reder[24] and two maps drawn by the investigative commission of the German crimes in Poland[25], and about the supposed "random" scattering of the mass graves "all over the camp" and the "oddest" shapes of some of them. I also provided digital copies of the plans and sections of all 33 mass graves from Prof. Kola’s book.

To my argument that "in what concerns the drawing by J. Bau there exists the possibility of a misunderstanding of Reder’s description, which may also not have been very clear and/or exact in this respect", Mattogno responds by pointing out that the drawing was expressly stated to be based on the account of Rudolf Reder (I suppose it was, but this does not affect my argument) and quoting two statements of Reder's about the number, size and capacity of the mass graves, which are rather exaggerated as concerns the second and consequently the third of these aspects.

Apart from not refuting my argument, he is thereby changing the subject, for his original argument – which was accordingly the subject of my comment – was not about the number and size but about the location of the mass graves. Mattogno had written the following[26](emphasis added):

In conclusion, we can see that the location given by Kola for the majority of the graves is in disagreement both with Rudolf Reder’s testimony and with the findings of the Polish investigative commission.

On top of this dishonest changing of the subject, Mattogno has the cheek of calling me dishonest for not having addressed in this context (i.e. in discussing his claims about diverging mass grave locations on various maps) the exaggeration of Reder's claims as concerns the mass graves' size. Why I should have bothered with size when discussing his claim regarding location he doesn't explain.

What I might have done in the original blog is take a closer look at the "disagreement" claimed by Mattogno. For while he was obviously wrong about the size of the mass graves and (assuming the drawing was not an oversimplified rendering of Reder's description) about their being all aligned in the manner depicted by J. Bau, there were aspects in Reder's account that are not so far away from the findings of Prof. Kola. As Mattogno himself tells us [27], J.Bau’s map based on Reder's account shows "26 graves along the northwestern border and 6 in the center". Prof. Kola found 21 of his 33 graves, or 64 % of the total, in the western and north-western part of the camp, the other 12 or 36 % in the camp's north-eastern area. So apart from the total number of graves counted by Reder and Kola being similar (30 vs. 33), there are two things that Reder got more or less right: the fact that there were mass graves in two different areas of the camp and the placing of most mass graves in the western/northwestern camp sector. In emphasizing the "disagreement" between Prof. Kola’s map and the map of J.Bau/Reder, Mattogno apparently failed to realize the similarities between the two.

Mattogno takes issue with my argument that "the area of the graves shown in the investigative commission’s maps corresponds to the graves Kola located in the eastern part of the camp" by pointing out that on said maps the area of the graves is represented by a rectangle placed near the northeastern border of the camp, whereas on Prof. Kola’s map the majority of graves is (dis)located along the north-western confines ("mentre nel disegno di Kola la maggior parte delle fosse risulta dislocata lungo il confine nord–ovest, nel disegno della Commissione di inchiesta polacca tutta l'area delle fosse è concentrata in un rettangolo posto sul confine nord–orientale del campo").

Had I had written anything to the contrary? I don’t think so. And what is this oh-so-clear "contradiction" supposed to mean, other than the Polish investigators having only excavated graves in the north-eastern camp area (Mattogno quotes from reports about these excavations later in his book[28]) and perhaps wrongly assumed that this north-eastern area was the camp's only area of mass graves? This might not look good on the thoroughness of contemporary Polish criminal investigations, but the fact remains that the 1945 Polish investigators found mass graves in a part of the camp where Prof. Kola also found mass graves, and vice-versa.

To Mattogno’s original claim that "Kola’s and Robin O’Neil’s maps (documents 4 and 5 in the Appendix) show mass graves scattered at random all over the camp, without any particular orientation or order"[29], I had responded by pointing out that the graves, as shown on Kola’s maps, are concentrated in the western and north-western part of the camp area on the one hand and in the eastern part of the camp area on the other, the former lying close together whereas the latter are more scattered. Mattogno brushes away this comment with the hand-waving remark that the mass graves are really scattered at random, in the form of a horse-shoe, in the north-western and north-eastern parts of the camp ("Su questo punto qualunque discussione è inutile: le fosse comuni sono proprio sparpagliate alla rinfusa, a ferro di cavallo, sui lati nord–ovest/nord–est del campo, come risulta indubitabilmente dal relativo disegno di Kola").

It is interesting to see how "scattered at random all over the camp, without any particular orientation or order" becomes "scattered at random, in the form of a horse-shoe, in the north-western and north-eastern parts of the camp", as if both concepts were identical (which they are obviously not), and without Mattogno acknowledging that the concentration of graves in two specific camp areas means a certain "orientation or order" and that the description in his book is rubbish.

Why Mattogno considers the graves to be "scattered at random" in the two areas in which they are concentrated he doesn't explain, but it becomes apparent from his original text[30] that his measure is an "orderly arrangement" such as depicted on J. Bau’s map. Mattogno ignores my arguments against such arrangement in the original blog:

It certainly has advantages to dig the graves in rows next to each other, insofar as this doen’t lead to grave walls too thin and thus subject to collapsing in sandy soil like that at Belzec. The results of Kola’s investigation suggest that in fact graves next to each other merged in some cases through the collapse of sides, which makes it more difficult to establish the original number, shape and size of the affected graves. Placing the graves too close together might also have made the removal of the soil taken out of the graves more difficult.

Another explanation, not considered in the original blog, is that an orderly arrangement of huge mass graves as idealized by Mattogno required expertise and machinery, two factors that only came into play at Belzec as the camp's SS staff (whose members were not trained military personnel but had mostly worked before in the Aktion T4 program of murdering hospitalized mental patients in Germany and Austria[31]) gained experience in their murder work. Alex Bay has addressed the resulting differences between mass graves made in the early and later stages of the Belzec camp's operation, as follows[32](emphases added):

In Figure 4.6.13, the graves sites as mapped by Kola are overlaid to the aerial photograph. It is notable that none of the mounds numbered 1 through 6 coincide with site Kola identified as containing ashes and charcoal. This is an indication that there were more large graves sites in this area of the camp.

In support of this conclusion, Figure 4.6.14 is presented. The areas, annotated A through D have been added to the overlay, where Kola found disturbed soils, but found neither human remains or charcoal. It is immediately apparent that there are six roughly equally spaced sites of disturbed soil or where ashes were present 25 to 30 meters apart ( A through D plus the two grave sites) along this northern camp boundary. All are in the same size range - about 25 meters long - the exception being site D whose full size being unknown since Kola coring ceased in that place. However, the region in which bright new soils brought up by excavation extends another 25 to 30 meters further east. The even spacing and uniform sizes suggests that each site of disturbed soil is a grave, and that the lettered sites were those emptied of bodies for burning and whose the ashes were reburied elsewhere. The ordered arrangement of these sites also points to their belonging to the last period of the camp. Furthermore, there is room for two more large grave site in the section to the east that remains archeologically unexplored. If one takes the chaotic and disorderly scatter of the burial sites elsewhere to be symptomatic of the earlier months of the camp's existence, then here, the relatively even spacing and sizes of the graves suggest they belong to the final months. One would expect that the SS’s refinement of the mechanical and procedural techniques of mass murder and corpse disposal to be reflected in more orderly graves. In addition, the use of two large excavators would be reflected by large graves.

It is concluded that in Belzec’s final period, the refinement of the mechanics of mass murder, aided by mechanization, led to the use of uniformly sized mass graves dug in a rough orderly way.

Besides plausibly suggesting early incompetence/inexperience as the reason for a comparatively haphazard arrangement of the graves in the first period of the Belzec extermination camp's operation, Alex Bay's assessment is also significant in that it points to the existence of huge mass graves not identified by Prof. Kola in the area of Belzec extermination camp. We’ll get back to this in connection with Mattogno's objections to what I wrote about the capacity of the graves[33].

In the original blog I pointed out that "most of the graves, as becomes apparent from Kola’s descriptions thereof and the figures shown hereafter, have the form of squares or rectangles, and where there are irregular shapes, as especially in the case of grave no. 14, it is reasonable to assume that these resulted from changes to the original grave structure, due to the camp staff's ash disposal and leveling work at the end of the camp's operation or to postwar robbery digs".

Mattogno does not dispute this (though he will later claim that these regular shapes were arbitrarily determined by Prof. Kola’s, as we shall see when I discuss his comments about section 4.6 of the original blog[34]), but claims that the irregular shapes of some of the graves confirm his thesis that "only a part" ("solo una parte") of the mass graves identified by Prof. Kola can be considered original mass graves of the Belzec camp. The mass graves he sees as having a somewhat strange form ("una forma alquanto stramba") are 6 out of 33 mass graves identified by Prof. Kola: graves nos. 1, 9, 12, 14, 22 e 29[35].

Mattogno's remark: "It is no exaggeration to claim that, if the camp commander had had the mass graves dug in such an irregular fashion, he would have been shot for sabotage. Unless, of course, he had peculiar artistic inclinations. Many graves shown by Kola have, in fact, the oddest shapes!" was criticized in the original blog as displaying not only a rather infantile cynicism, but also an ignorant notion of practices within the SS hierarchy, there being no case known to me (and I've done some reading about the matter, especially in judgments of West German courts where this issue was examined[36]) of an SS-man having been executed or otherwise severely punished for refusing an order to commit mass murder or showing incompetence in carrying out such order (I gave the example of the first commander of Treblinka extermination camp, Dr. Eberl, whose incompetence in running this camp had no further consequences for him than being replaced in command by Franz Stangl).

Mattogno’s response to this criticism is some lame mouthing that he was being "ironic" in connection with his claim that "only a part" of the mass graves identified by Kola can be considered original, and that I should have spotted his fine "irony".

A revealingly tasteless irony that would have been, if it really was one and Mattogno is not just scrounging up a post-hoc excuse.

Either way, it is also (but not only) through "ironic" remarks like this that Mattogno shows himself to be what one of my fellow bloggers has aptly called him – an intellectual dwarf[37].


[21] Controversie, Pages 4 to 6.

[22] Carlo Mattogno on Belzec Archaeological Research - Part 2.

[23] Figure 17, Kola, Belzec, page 19; Plan of Archaeological Probing Drills, page 70.

[24] Figure 4, Kola, Belzec, page 7.

[25] Figures 2 and 3, as above.

[26] Mattogno, Belzec, page 75.

[27] As above.

[28] Mattogno, Belzec, pages 79/80.

[29] Mattogno, Belzec, page 76.

[30] As above.

[31] See archived ARC page about the "Belzec Perpetrators"; regarding Aktion T4 see the page "Euthanasia".

[32] Alex Bay, The Reconstruction of Belzec, 4.6 - Camp II: The Killing and Graves Area.

[33] Carlo Mattogno on Belzec Archaeological Research - Part 4 (1); Controversie, pages 12-29.

[34] Carlo Mattogno on Belzec Archaeological Research - Part 4 (4); Controversie, pages 52-54.

[35] See Figure 18, Kola, Belzec, page 21; Figure 26, page 26; Figure 29, page 28; Figure 31, page 29; Figure 39, page 34; Figure 46, page 37.

[36] See for instance the judgment at the 1st Düsseldorf Treblinka trial (LG Düsseldorf vom 3.9.1965, 8 I Ks 2/64), section D, where the absence of reported cases of SS-men having been severely punished for refusing orders to commit mass murder is addressed in some detail.

[37] See Sergey Romanov’s first comment to my blog That's why it is denial, not revisionism. Part VIII: The Simferopol Massacres.

3. Corpses Found

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