Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka. Holocaust Denial and Operation Reinhard. Chapter 5: Gas Chambers at the Aktion Reinhard Camps (6). Corpse Color.

Corpse Color

Another of MGK’s criticisms of Aktion Reinhard witnesses involves the color of the gassed corpses.[246] For them, it can be taken as a “matter of fact”[247] that the gassing victims should have exhibited clear cherry-red features, and as no witness refers to such a color on the victims, MGK are “certain that something is not right with the gas chamber testimonies.”[248] This type of argumentation is dubious on its face, for it presupposes an exact knowledge of several things: the murderous circumstances inside the gas chambers, the factors which bring about a “bright cherry red” appearance of carbon monoxide victims, that the gassing victims would necessarily have displayed the cherry-red color, and that this discoloration is easily apparent to the untrained human eye.

To support such a claim, MGK have to rely on medical and toxicological literature regarding carbon monoxide poisoning; however, to our knowledge, none of the four deniers (including Friedrich Berg) who use this argumentation have any type of medical expertise from which to judge or interpret such medical discourse. In their cursory review on such a complicated topic, they are quick to jump to selective conclusions without a full appreciation of the explanations made in the literature and their applicability to the Reinhard camps.
A classic example of such a selective and faulty approach can be found in Thomas Kues’ handling of reports written by Jewish physicians on bodily conditions inside the Warsaw Ghetto between 1940 and 1942. In their account on circumstances inside the ghetto, the physicians provide medical data on the residents soon to be sent to Treblinka, and the effect of the malnourished and starvation conditions on their physical health, something they termed as “hunger disease.”[249] The physicians refer to “hemodilution” and substantial decreases in the amount of haemoglobin in the blood of the Warsaw ghetto Jews.
Kues dishonestly represents the work of the Warsaw physicians. In his article, Kues cites a chart put together as a review of autopsy results of strictly hunger disease deaths. Kues includes the statistic that anaemia was found in only 5.5% of the autopsy cases as “an indication that even among fatal cases of malnutrition, anaemia was far from always present.” However, Kues leaves out an important statement by the physicians related to the lack of anaemia found in the autopsies: 
We must emphasize that only 5.5% of the cases showed advanced anaemia. Fairly large amounts of hemosiderin are found in livers and spleens, and it is certain that in hunger disease RBCs are being destroyed, but on the other hand as a result of the diminished size of the organs and tissues, the amount of blood left is enough to prevent the symptoms of advanced anaemia.[250]
Thus, the anaemia that Kues refers to is advanced anaemia, which was less present than more mild forms. Kues must realize this, for he quotes reports from the physicians examining patients of hunger disease openly stating that “anaemia was prevalent.”
The points that ghetto residents suffered from anaemia and hemodilution are very noteworthy, as they greatly undermine any expectation that Aktion Reinhard victims should have exhibited a cherry-red lividity. One source makes this point explicitly about carbon monoxide victims:
When the victim is anaemic the (classical ‘cherry-pink’) color may be faint or even absent because insufficient haemoglobin is present to display the color. In racially-pigmented victims the color may obviously be masked, though may still be seen on the inner aspect of the lips, the nail-beds, tongue, and palms and soles of hands and feet. It is also seen inside the eyelids, but rarely in the sclera.[251] (Emphasis added)
Thus, in a medical article describing a circumstance which was applicable to the ghetto victims (insufficient haemoglobin), the appearance of cherry-red is hardly expected to be noticeable (“faint or even absent”).
Among other points, the reports detail the horrendous state of the Jews’ circulatory and respiratory systems.[252] Their poor health in these regards was certainly tied to the starvation conditions of the ghetto, as medical literature bears out:
Malnutrition has a tremendous impact on respiratory functions. It affects respiratory muscle performance, lung structure, defense mechanisms, and control of ventilation and predisposes to respiratory failure and prolonged mechanical ventilation.[253]
Residents of the ghetto had an average cardiac output (volume of blood circulated by heart to body) which was 50% of the normal output of a human being.[254] This is an important fact as Risser et al believe that low carboxyhemoglobin levels in carbon monoxide victims (which they believe is strongly correlated with the absence of cherry-red discoloration) can be explained as due to a “compromised ability to oxygenate.”[255] This poor inability to properly oxygenate is well reported for the future Treblinka victims by the Jewish physicians, but certainly also held true for Jews living in other ghettos across the Generalgouvernment, where similar starvation conditions abounded.
When these poorly oxygenated bodies were tightly packed into an enclosed gas chamber for a period of time, Oxygen deprivation would also certainly have played a role in the victims’ death, which would explain witness references to blue features of the gassed corpses. In a postwar statement that Mattogno dishonestly left out, Pfannenstiel specifically noted the cause of asphyxiation in testimony about his trip to Belzec as the cause of the “bluish faces” in some of the gas chamber victims.[256] Mattogno is aware of this statement, as he quotes from the exact location in the interrogation document, but he selectively left out Pfannenstiel’s association of the blue faces with asphyxiation (not carbon monoxide poisoning) made in the sentence immediately after his quote; instead, Mattogno dishonestly criticizes Pfannenstiel by alleging that carbon monoxide victims should have been cherry-red, despite the clear statement by Pfannenstiel that the blue faces were not the result of carbon monoxide.[257] Also, among the testimonies who recall blue features on the corpses (Pfannenstiel, Schluch, and Gerstein), Schluch and Pfannenstiel restricted the bluish tinge to the victims’ facial features.[258] 
Kues also is incorrect to assume that the cherry-red color of carbon monoxide victims is present “in at least 95% of all fatal cases” of such poisoning.[259] In a September 2008 publication regarding a review of ten years worth of carbon monoxide victims in Louisville, Kentucky, the authors noted:
Fatal CO intoxication has been described in persons who did not exhibit the classical cherry red cutaneous lividity (27-29). Although the presence of cherry red lividity in these victims aids in postulating a potential cause of death, it is not always a reliable characteristic feature. Twenty-eight cases in our study pool, representing c. 30% of the total cases (n=94) reviewed, failed to show classic cherry red lividty at autopsy. In the victims, who exhibited neither decompositional changes nor cherry red lividty (n=13), COHbg (carboxyhemoglobin) ranged from 29% to 71.5%. Classical cherry red lividity was absent in decomposed cases secondary to the literal rainbow of cutaneous putrefactive discoloration. From the data from our study pool, we conclude that CO intoxication often occurs without cherry red lividity, in part from decompositional color alterations manifested at autopsy.[260]     
Thus, a study more recent than any cited by Kues lowers the expectation of a cherry-red appearance in corpses to 70%. Indeed, it remains unclear when the corpses should have displayed the discoloration. In Kues’ article on the issue, after citing several sources of medical literature discounting the appearance of the cherry-red color in non-fatal cases as a reliable indicator of CO poisoning due to its rarity amongst patients[261], Kues finds one such example sufficient enough to declare that such an appearance is “not highly exceptional.”[262] Despite recording many more fatal cases of CO poisoning which did not display the cherry-red discoloration, Kues writes that the discoloration occurs as soon as the poison had been absorbed into the blood. The visibility of such discoloration before livor mortis (the settling of blood after death), however, is not an often observed phenomenon as Kues’ own sources show.[263] Also, physical pressure upon a corpse either prevents or severely limits the color appearance during livor mortis; as mentioned earlier in this chapter the gas chambers, while not always filled to extreme levels, had many people per square meter which would have brought pressure upon the corpses.[264]
When these facts are combined with the unlikely chance that Poland’s malnourished Jews would turn cherry-red after a gassing (due to the numerous health problems described above), the variables that determine the appearance and visibility of such a discoloration[265], and the dishonest presumptions of the deniers’ argument to this end, we can dismiss their cherry-red corpse color claims as unsubstantiated.[266]
It should also be pointed out that MGK have falsely attacked Wiernik’s description of the color of gassed corpses in his experience in the Treblinka death camp. In the English translation of this account, the text states that all of the victims were “yellow from the gas.”[267] Kues then snidely remarked that yellow was a color “hardly confused with cherry red.”[268] For Mattogno and Graf, this supposed observation by Wiernik shows “beyond doubt” that the “story of the engine exhaust gas chambers lacks any kind of basis in reality”, but is simply a propaganda tale.[269]  
MGK have always cited the English edition of Wiernik’s text, seemingly never bothering to check the original Polish. The problem that arises here is that Wiernik, in the original Polish version of 1944, uses a vernacular expression: the gassed were "żółci-zatruci."[270] "Zatruci" means "poisoned," - "żółci" here comes from "żółć," meaning "gall," a substance often associated with "poison," (e.g. the German "Gift und Galle speien," not from "żółty," which means "yellow"). In Polish literature, we often find "żółć" associated with "cierpienie," "suffering." So Wiernik, who is using poetic language in this instance, wants to tell us that the victims were "dead as a doornail" (or something to that extent).[271] Thus MGK had criticized Wiernik on the basis of a misunderstood translation. One would think that since MGK were the ones to focus on corpse color descriptions, that they would actually check Wiernik’s original description. Revisionist scholarly standards must not be too strict. Recently however, many years after making the allegation and only after being informed of the translation problem Kues withdrew his criticism of Wiernik’s statement, dismissing him as having “nothing concrete to say about the appearances of the corpses.”[272]


[246] The point originated (briefly) with Berg’s 1983 presentation on the toxicity of diesel exhaust, and was then developed further in Berg’s 2003 contribution to Rudolf’s Dissecting the Holocaust. In Treblinka and Bełżec, Mattogno and Graf accept this argument in passing, while Kues expanded it in his article, ‘Skin Discoloration Caused by Carbon Monoxide Poisoning’, http://www.codoh.com/newrevoices/nrtkco.html.
[247] M&G, Treblinka, p.73.
[248] Thomas Kues, ‘Skin Discoloration Caused by Carbon Monoxide Poisoning,’ Inconvenient History blog, http://www.revblog.codoh.com/2011/06/skin-discoloration/.
[249] Myron Winick, ed., Hunger Disease: Studies by the Jewish Physicians in the Warsaw Ghetto, trans. Martha Osnos. New York: Wiley, 1979. 
[250] Ibid., p.226.
[251] Bernard Knight, Forensic Pathology (New York: Oxford University, 1991), p.507; See Charles Provan, ‘The Blue Color of the Jewish Victims at Belzec Death Camp,’ The Revisionist 2/2, 2004, pp.159-164.
[252] Winick, Hunger Disease, pp.134-137.
[253] Marco Ghignone and Luc Quintin, ‘Malnutrition and Respiratory Function,’ International Anesthesiology Clinics 42/1, Spring 1986, pp.65-74.
[254] Winick, Hunger Disease, pp.134-135.
[255] Daniele Risser, Anneliese Boensch, and Barbara Schneider, ‘Should Coroners Be Able to Recognize Unintentional Carbon Monoxide-Related Deaths Immediately at the Death Scene?’ Journal of Forensic Sciences, 40/4, July 1995, p.597.
[256] Wilhelm Pfannenstiel, 6.6.1950, BAL 162/208 AR-Z 252/59, Bd. 1, p.44.
[257] Mattogno, Bełżec, p.56.
[258] Pfannenstiel stated that some victims showed “a bluish puffiness about the face,” while Schluch stated that the blue only appeared in “the lips and nose tips” of some corpses. It is thus likely that Gerstein’s reference to “blue bodies” was due to exaggeration, something Gerstein was prone to in his accounts.
[259] In ‘Skin Discoloration Caused by Carbon Monoxide,’ Kues cites two studies, one of which clearly states that it found such a characteristic in 91% of the CO cases it surveyed.
[260] Sean M. Griffen, Michael K. Ward, Andrea R. Terrell, and Donna Stewart, ‘Diesel Fumes Do Kill: A Case of Fatal Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Directly Attributed to Diesel Fuel Exhaust with a 10-year Retrospective Case and Literature Review,’ Journal of Forensic Science, 53/5, September 2008, p.1208.
[261] i.e., Bruno Simini, ‘Cherry-red discolouration in carbon monoxide poisoning,’ The Lancet, Vol. 352 (October 1998), p. 1154; Kent R. Olson, MD, ‘Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: Mechanisms, Presentation, and Controversies in Management,’ The Journal of Emergency Medicine, Vol. 1, 1984, p. 236.
[262] See Kues’ second bullet point in the section ‘Summary of the medical evidence’.
[263] See in Kues’ article Item 2, item 3, Item 4, Item 5, Item 6, Item 7, and Item 8. All fatalities presented through his selected sources had progressed into stages of livor mortis, including those of the “fresh corpses” that Kues discusses in Risser et al (“fresh corpses…are said to show a typically cherry-pink coloring of livor mortis.”)
[264] Jason Payne-James, Anthony Busuttil, William S. Smock (editors), Forensic Medicine: Clinical and Pathological Aspects, London: Greenwich Medical Media, 2003, p.98, Table 9.5.
[265] G.H. Findlay, ‘Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: Optics and Histology of Skin and Blood,’ British Journal of Dermatology, 1988, pp.45-51.
[266] It should be kept in mind that testimony regarding the gas van experiment at Sachsenhausen reported the cherry-pink color (see pX). We doubt that such a detail will change MGK’s denial of homicidal gassings.
[267] Wiernik, ‘A Year in Treblinka,’ p.158.
[268] Original version of Kues, ‘Skin Discoloration Caused by Carbon Monoxide,’ available at http://www.codoh.com/newrevoices/nrtkco.html.
[269] M&G, Treblinka, p.73.
[270] Wiernik, Rok w Treblince, p.7.
[271] Perhaps another example would be the statement, “I am feeling blue today.” This is not connected to the actual color blue.
[272] Kues, ‘Skin Discoloration Caused by Carbon Monoxide’, Revised version, n. 40.

1 comment:

David N. Brown said...

The argument about the color of the corpses actually fails from both directions: Discoloration of the body is commonly caused by postmortem blood pooling or decomposition, and therefore has minimal value in establishing cause of death.