Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka. Holocaust Denial and Operation Reinhard. Chapter 7: Mass Graves (3). Mattogno et al’s Claims.

Mattogno et al’s Claims: Nature and Purpose of Archaeological Investigations

In his book about Belzec, Mattogno tried to present the archaeological investigations carried out in the area of that camp by Kola in 1997-1999 as a (failed) attempt to "furnish the ‘material proof’ of the alleged extermination at Bełżec." Kola is supposed to have been hired in order to obtain corroboration of eyewitness testimonies through physical evidence, and the reason why he restricted his work on the mass graves to core drilling instead of excavating the graves and exhuming the corpses, according to Mattogno, was a concern – motivated by the core drilling results - that excavation would lead to conclusions incompatible with the historical record of Belzec extermination camp.[49]
Mattogno’s insinuations ignored the stated purpose of Kola’s archaeological work, which not only was not about furnishing material proof but also ruled out excavating graves and exhuming corpses because such would have had the very desecrating effect that Kola’s employers intended to avoid:
In 1997, the jurors of the competition for the Belzec memorial selected the work proposed by a team of artists led by Andrzej Solyga. In the selected project, the entire area of the camp becomes the memorial. The artists are of the opinion that the most appropriate way of commemorating the victims is to honour the earth that harbours their ashes. Indeed, it is difficult to think of a more meaningful symbol. For its message, it was necessary to conduct archaeological research in order to thoroughly examine the topography of the former camp, so as to exclude areas with human remnants. So that we, in commemorating, do not violate the memory of those whom we want to commemorate.[50]
Even core drilling was considered a desecration of the dead in violation of religious principles by some Orthodox Jews, one of whom, Rabbi Avi Weiss, spoke of a "monumental failure" under this aspect.[51] Though too late to interfere with Kola’s archaeological investigations at Belzec and Sobibor, this protest seems to have had the unfortunate long-term effect of barring further investigations of this nature. As it stands now, it seems that mass graves at the Nazi extermination centres will not be excavated in the foreseeable future. Information regarding their location and extension will be obtained by remote imagery and non-invasive geophysical methods that are standard tools of forensic archaeology[52]
Confronted with the fallaciousness of his claims[53], Mattogno brought up a conspiracy theory whereby the "official" purpose had been mere window-dressing for the actual purpose, which was to try finding physical proof of the mass murder at Belzec, the "official" purpose having had the function of providing an alibi in case the investigation did not yield the desired results.[54]
The chief argument presented in support of this conspiracy theory was that it would not have been necessary to do an archaeological survey of the whole camp area to build a structure covering just one part of that area. However, the above-quoted foreword of Kola’s book also mentions that the memorial was to cover the entire former camp area, rather than be restricted to a building structure somewhere in that area. Photos of the memorial site show that the memorial was actually implemented in this manner[55], a fact that Mattogno was obviously aware of.[56] This means that identifying the parts of that area containing human remains in order to avoid their disturbance when building the memorial was a pertinent purpose, and that Mattogno’s objection is moot.
In a later blog response[57] to the refutation of his claims about the nature and purpose of the Belzec archaeological survey[58], Mattogno tried to save his objection by arguing that the only building structure in the area whose construction could have disturbed the mass graves is a kind of trench that runs obliquely from the south-western to the north-eastern side, about 180 meters long and about 5 meters wide. According to Mattogno, it would have been sufficient to check for mass graves in the projected area of the trench, if the purpose of the archaeological investigations had been of an ethical-religious nature as was "officially" stated.
This argument, first of all, flies in the face of professional design and construction procedures, as it postulates that the people in charge of designing and constructing the trench would have put the cart before the horses, planning the location and course of this building structure before checking whether conditions on site fit their planning, thereby risking the inconvenience and expense of having to redo their design every time it turned out to be incompatible with site conditions.
Second, a look at an air photo of the Belzec camp memorial area (Image 7.14)[59] shows that, besides the trench (= item 8: The Interstice) there are the museum buildings and a perimeter walkway surrounding the area covered by stones, and that inside this area there are darker spots marking the location of mass burial pits. 

Image 7.14

It is hard to imagine for whoever has seen construction work in progress how all this could have been made without disturbance of the mass graves if their location had not been known. Third, the building of the Interstice was closely connected to the mass graves in the area, insofar as the soil excavated from the "trench" seems to have been placed above the graves and sealed together with them.[60] And fourth, honoring the earth that harbors the victims’ ashes also implied giving the mass graves a special treatment as concerns protection after the memorial’s completion, through measures described by the geotechnical consultant hired for implementing them.[61] Mattogno may want to explain how this desired protection could have been achieved without identifying the mass graves.
Mattogno furthermore claimed that the religious/ethical considerations of respect for the peace of the dead underlying the "official" reason for Kola's investigation were a mere pretext, arguing that, as it is desirable for Jews to be buried in Israeli land or with some soil of Israel if in the Diaspora, it would make more sense, from the point of view of Jewish religious beliefs, to exhume the corpses in wax-fat transformation buried in the Belzec mass graves and rebury them according to Jewish rites.[62]
Notwithstanding the considerations of this self-appointed expert in Jewish religious matters, the fact is that regarding the victims of the Nazi genocide of the Jews there are rulings of Orthodox Jewish courts whereby their remains should be left in peace. These rulings, which may have been related to the fact that exhuming and duly reburying the remains of millions interred throughout Eastern Europe was an impracticable task, were explained to Father Patrick Desbois by Orthodox Jewish legal experts including Rabbi Schlesinger, "people determined to scrupulously respect the prescriptions emerging from the laws of Judaism."[63]
In his aforementioned blog response[64], Mattogno saw it fit to lecture Rabbi Schlesinger about the permissiveness of exhumation under certain circumstances according to Jewish religious laws, and to this effect quoted a related article by Rabbi Myron S. Geller[65] and four web pages containing photos and/or accounts of postwar exhumations of Jews murdered by the Nazis.[66]
The article by Rabbi Geller doesn’t help Mattogno’s argument, for it summarizes the applicable halakhah rules as follows:
From the perspective of halakhah, the removal of remains from a grave is generally barred because of concern for the dignity of the dead. Under certain circumstances, remains may be transferred    A. to move the remains to a family burial plot;    B. to move the remains to Eretz Yisrael;    C. for the security of the remains against vandalism or natural catastrophe;    D. for public need; or,    E. if the remains were buried in a plot belonging to someone else.
Mattogno may want to explain which of the above-mentioned exceptions could have justified disinterring the remains of the victims buried in the Belzec mass graves within the scope of an archaeological investigation connected with preserving the graves on site.
As to the websites containing photos and/or accounts of postwar exhumation of Jews buried by the Nazis, in all these cases the purpose of exhumation was or included burying the dead in the Jewish cemetery of the location to which they presumably belonged, thus arguably matching one of the exceptions ("move the remains to a family burial plot") mentioned by Rabbi Geller. But even if that were not so, if the reburials in question had been at odds with the Orthodox rulings referred to Father Desbois by Rabbi Schlesinger, this would only mean that, like in religious matters everywhere and at all times, there are different views and interpretations within the Jewish religious community, with more restrictive ones being currently entertained by more influential members of that community like Rabbi Schlesinger and his sources. Such differences also become apparent from the aforementioned protests of Rabbi Avi Weiss against what he considered a desecration, which Mattogno tried to use to his advantage omitting that, in the very article referred to for this purpose[67], Weiss laments disagreeing with other Jewish religious leaders and what he considers insufficient care and diligence in safeguarding compliance with Jewish religious principles.  
Further evidence of "the falseness of the officially stated purpose" was seen by Mattogno in the archaeological work done by Kola on the remains of former camp buildings. Why, Mattogno rhetorically asked, was excavation done in these buildings if the construction of the memorial was the sole motive behind the archeological investigations?[68]
Indeed the excavations in question seem to have resulted from a posterior "as we’re at it, let us also" – extension of Kola’s original task, as is suggested by the following passage of the latter’s book (emphases added):
The archaeological works at the Belzec camp area taken up by The Council of Protection of Memory of Struggle and Martyrdom had originally the only aim to locate the mass graves by probing drills. The method, which in a minimum degree touched anthropogenic structures, enabled us to obtain the basic knowledge on the subject. Revealing the other structures, coming from the camp building, which traces were not visible on the surface, because of the complete decomposition during the camp closing 1943, opened a chance to widen the research programme. Archaeology could be helpful to reconstruct the camp building and establish the functions of located objects.[69]
This doesn't validate Mattogno’s conjectures and insinuations, however. For independently of whether identifying the mass grave areas was Kola's only task or he was eventually also commissioned to attempt an archaeological reconstruction of the camp’s buildings, the archaeologist was bound by his employers' religiously motivated concerns about disturbing the dead to keep physical contact with human remains to the minimum indispensable for identifying the areas containing such remains.
As concerns Kola’s archaeological investigations at Sobibor, Mattogno, Graf & Kues briefly hint at similar conspiracy theories when writing that, while the "officially stated purpose" of the survey was "basically the same as for the 1997-1999 excavations at Belzec", the search for "artifacts ‘linked to the organization of the genocide’ – in other words remains of the alleged gas chambers - is also recognized as ‘important’" in Kola’s report.[70]
Regarding the ongoing archaeological investigations at Sobibor, Gilead et al forestalled such conjectural humbug by stating very clearly that they consider Sobibor and the other Nazi extermination camps a past reality amply supported by written and oral documentation, which does not need to be proven by archaeological excavations, that archaeology has "the role of supplementing information on the layout of the sites, structures and artefacts in use there, thus providing data for the historical reconstruction of the sites" but "is not and cannot be an instrument to show deniers how wrong they are", and that "professors of geography, and archaeologists as well, should not waste time debating with people who think that the earth is flat."[71] 
This wholly reasonable approach – assuming that archaeological research is required to prove that Sobibor was what all known eyewitness, documentary and physical evidence show it to have been, i.e. an extermination camp, would be at least as far-fetched as assuming that archaeological excavations were required to prove the amply documented existence of Pompeii – is attacked in the strongest terms by MGK, who accuse Gilead et al of dishonesty and "pseudoscience"[72] - apparently unaware of what they are thereby calling themselves. For if duly taking into account all known evidence in establishing the purpose and importance of an archaeological survey is pseudoscience, what should one call ignoring, distorting or unreasonably dismissing all known evidence, in support of a thesis that is not supported by any and at odds with all known evidence and based on mere preconceived notions and conspiracy theories?

[49] Mattogno, Bełżec, p.90. The pertinent passages are quoted in Muehlenkamp, Carlo Mattogno on Belzec Archaeological Research - Introduction and Part 1
[50] Kola, Bełżec, p.3 (foreword by Miles Lerman, Chairman Emeritus of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council), emphasis added. 
[51] Avi Weiss, A Monumental Failure at Belzec’, April 2003 
[52] Gilead et al, ‘Extermination Centres’, citing Cheetham et al., 2007: pp.196-206
[53] Muehlenkamp, Carlo Mattogno on Belzec Archaeological Research, Part 1
[54] Carlo Mattogno, Bełżec e Le Controversie Olocaustiche Di Roberto Muehlenkamp, pp.1-4; English translation: Bełżec or the Holocaust Controversy of Roberto Muehlenkamp ( Quotes are from the English translation.
[55] See for instance Dr. Bonnie Harris, Holocaust Memorialization in Poland and the Czech Republic, and the web page ‘Belzec Death Camp’, An air photo of the Belzec camp memorial area is included in Barbara Buntman, ‘Tourism and Tragedy. The Memorial at Belzec, Poland’, in: International Journal of Heritage Studies 14/5, September 2008, pp.422-488.
[56] "As can be seen from photographies published online[178] the intense activities in connection with the construction of the memorial have disturbed the soil of the fomer Bełżec camp. A trench with walls of reinforced concrete, serving as a path, intersects the camp, and the surface of the camp has been covered with large stones[179], so that any verification of Kola’s data has now become impossible." – Mattogno, ‘Controversy’ (original Italian text in ‘Controversie’, p.56).    
[57] Carlo Mattogno, ‘Le Ulteriori Controversie Olocaustiche di Roberto Muehlenkamp, Parte I’,, refuted in Muehlenkamp, Belzec Mass Graves and Archaeology - Continuation (1)
[58] Muehlenkamp, ‘Belzec Mass Graves and Archaeology: My Response to Carlo Mattogno (1)’
[59] Included in Buntman’s article (note 54).
[60] Joe Berkovsky, Memorial project in Poland sparks a lawsuit from Holocaust survivor, 25 June 2003,; Joe Berkovsky, Lawsuit Over Belzec Memorial Withdrawn8 July 2003,
[61] A. Klein, ‘Covering the mass graves at the Belzec Death Camp, Poland; geotechnical perspectives’, in: R.W. Sarsby and A.J. Felton (eds), Geotechnical and Environmental Aspects of Waste Disposal Sites, London: Taylor & Francis, 2007, pp.149 ff.; p.155; see also Buntman, as above, note 40: "At Belzec site 'work was carried out in order to avoid even the smallest disturbance of the mass graves', which are now permanently protected with layers of 'geo-textile covering, gravel and sand' (Andrew Baker, e-mail, 18 December 2006) ".
[62] Mattogno, ‘Controversie’, pp. 2-3; Mattogno, ‘Controversy’.
[63] Father Patrick Desbois, The Holocaust by Bullets, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, pp.129-130.
[64] As note 56. 
[66] Discussed in Muehlenkamp, as note 56.
[67] Avi Weiss, ‘A Tribute That Desecrates Rather Than Sanctifies’22 August 2003,
[68] Mattogno, ‘Controversie’ p.3; Mattogno, ‘Controversy’.
[69] Kola, Bełżec, p.69
[70] MGK, Sobibór, p.110.
[71] Gilead et al, ‘Extermination Centres’
[72] MGK, Sobibór , pp.166-167

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