Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka. Holocaust Denial and Operation Reinhard. Chapter 7: Mass Graves (7). Groundwater Pollution.

Groundwater Pollution

In a German-language online pamphlet preceding their Sobibor book, Mattogno, Graf and Kues tried to take their readers for a ride, arguing that the depth of the mass graves identified at Sobibor by Kola (grave # 4 is about 5 meters deep, grave # 3 up to 5.80 meters) is not compatible with the high groundwater level in the camp’s area. They deliberately misrepresented an excerpt from Kola’s report about his Sobibor investigation to claim that excavations in a well "not far from the graves" supposedly had to be stopped at a depth of 3.60 meters because of a ground water stream.[145] What Kola actually had written was that excavation in the well had to be stopped at a depth of 5.00 to 5.10 meters because of underground waters that had started appearing at a depth of 3.60 meters.[146]
This misrepresentation was not repeated in MGK’s Sobibor book, perhaps because they realized, after reading this author’s comments[147], that they had been caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Now they write that "ground water was encountered already at a depth of 3.60 m, and the work had to be halted at a depth of 5 m because of the steady inflow of ground water", and go on to explain that the ground water level in the area is probably that of nearby Lake Spilno, 164 meters high, and Sobibor’s extermination sector "Camp III", with a height of 170 m, is 6 meters above that level.[148]
While no longer arguing against the compatibility of the graves’ depth with the groundwater level, MGK now use the groundwater’s proximity to the bottom of the larger graves and the swampy nature of the area, with the resulting risk of water contamination, to argue that the Germans would have been stupid to set up an extermination camp in such an area, and that this is evidence against Sobibor having been an extermination camp.[149] Indeed, there was concern among the Sobibor camp staff that their drinking water might be polluted by leachate from the corpses, and indeed this seems to have been the reason, or one of the reasons, why Sobibor changed its body disposal procedure from burial to burning at a relatively early stage.[150] According to MGK, this "inevitable" situation was entirely predictable, as the danger of contaminating the ground by the products of decomposed corpses had been known for decades. They support this claim with a quote from a 1904 publication, where the following is stated:
Ground water, even more so than soil or air, is suitable for the propagation of decomposition products. It is all the more dangerous as the subterranean currents can take on changes which are not noticeable on the surface. Thus, it is entirely possible for wells on the cemetery itself or close to it to have good water, free from organic substances, whereas the secretions of the graves may be carried away by underground currents to reach wells or other types of usable water and then exercise their harmful potential.[151]
Apparently MGK didn’t realize that the above-quoted information harms rather than helps their argument, for it means that the SS could hope that ground water pollution by leachate from the corpses would not occur at the site of the graves because underground currents carried such leachate away. Whether people elsewhere in Poland got dysentery or other sanitation-related diseases from contaminated water carried their way from Sobibor wasn’t necessarily the concern of the SS. Set against the possibility of ground water pollution on site, on the other hand, was the ease of digging graves in the sandy soil of Sobibor, its relative remoteness and, most important for operating an extermination camp, its good railway connections with places that Jews were to be deported from, factors that would probably prevail even if the people in charge (presumably from the lower echelons of the chains of command, as higher-ranking decision makers would hardly bother themselves with technical execution details) had recognized the risk of on-site ground water pollution as considerable.
Regarding Treblinka extermination camp there is no evidence of concern about groundwater pollution leading to a change in body disposal procedures, even though the presence of a disease referred to as typhus or typhoid fever among the inmates suggests the possibility of contamination. This may have been related, besides the possibility mentioned by MGK’s above-quoted source, to the lower groundwater level in that camp and to the presence of other factors that determine whether and to what extent leachate from corpses reaches and contaminates the groundwater at the site of mass graves.[152]
Without taking all these factors into consideration, Mattogno & Graf bluntly claimed that there can be "no doubt" that "hundreds of thousands of bodies allegedly buried in ‘Camp II’ would have completely poisoned the ground water, which supplied the wells." The only indication they provided in support of this contention is the fact that the mass graves pertaining to the Treblinka I labor camp were located in the forest of Maliszewa, about 500 m away from the camp. Without evidence regarding the reasons for the placement of these graves, M&G postulated that it had been "due to obvious considerations of hygiene and sanitation."[153] 

[145] MGK, Die Akte Sobibor, p.87.
[146] Kola, Sobibor, description of object "C".
[147] See Muehlenkamp, ‘Mass Graves at Nazi Extermination Camps: Sobibor’,
[148] MGK, Sobibór, p.127.
[149] Ibid., p.130.
[150] See Judgment LG Hagen vom 20.12.1966, 11 Ks 1/64; Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, p.172.
[151] MGK, Sobibór, pp. 128/129. The source quoted is Max Pauly, Die Feuerbestattung, Leipzig, 1904, pp.19f., 24.
[152] These factors include environmental conditions like temperature, dessication (increased virus reduction in drying soils), soil PH, cations and soil texture, the depth of the unsaturated zone separating the groundwater table from the bottom of the mass graves, bodies in wax-fat transformation at the bottom of the graves hindering the filtration of leachate, and the disinfecting effect of quicklime, which also hastens decomposition and thus reduces the time during which leachate leaves the bodies. See Andrew Mathis, Roberto Muehlenkamp, Sergey Romanov, ‘Well. Well? Well!’,
[153] M&G, Treblinka, pp.139-140.

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