Thursday, March 03, 2016

"Alleged" Mass Graves and other Mattogno Fantasies (Part 5, Section 1)

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4, Section 1
Part 4, Section 2
Part 5, Section 1
Part 5, Section 2

Groundwater Pollution

Mattogno’s arguments in this section start with an instructive self-portrayal of Mattogno.

In the critique (page 429) I had pointed out that MGK had, in a German-language publication[205] preceding their later book about Sobibór, 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. What MGK had specifically done, as explained in detail in an earlier blog[206], was to omit (replacing it by "[…]") the highlighted passage in the following excerpt from Prof. Andrzej Kola’s report about archaeological excavations at Sobibór in 2001[207]:
Object C
(Hectare XXV, acre 35. Dig 3/01)
In the depth of around 40-45 cm below the asphalt, where the cement well was located, there was started an archaeological dig, measuring horizontally 2.3 x 2.1 m. The dig was being excavated until the depth of 95 – 100 m, uncovering – at the depth of 50 m – the upper part of the first remaining cement CEMBROWINA of the well. It was noticed that while building the well, only the sand from its interior was taken out. Hence the following exploration was taken only in its interior not in the area of the dig. The depth of 5.00 – 5.10 m was reached. The exploration had to be stopped here because of the sudden leak of ground waters, of which traces started appearing at the depth of around 3.60 m. They didn’t make it till the end of the well then.

Based on this omission, MGK had then expressly claimed – in order to discredit Prof. Kola’s finds about the depth of the graves, of which one (grave n.º 4) was found to be "around 5m" deep while another (grave n.º 3) was found to be "up to 5.80 m deep" – that Prof. Kola’s excavations in a well "not far from the graves" "had to be stopped at a depth of 3.60 meters due to an intense ground water stream"[208]. In other words, they had deliberately transmitted to their readers the false information that Prof. Kola had not been able to dig below 3.60 meters because of intense ground water, when in fact Prof. Kola had reported that only "traces" of ground water had been encountered at this depth of 3.60 meters and it had been possible to continue digging until, at a depth of 5.00 to 5.10 meters, the ground water stream had become so strong that digging had to be stopped. Or, to put in more bluntly, MGK had blatantly lied to their readers, and that about an issue of major importance in the context of their writing, namely whether mass graves at Sobibór extermination camp could have a depth of 5 meters or more as reported by Kola regarding two of these graves.

In their later Sobibór book[209], MGK had not repeated this falsehood – perhaps because they had read my aforementioned blog and were aware that their lie had been discovered –, but instead provided an essentially accurate rendering of Kola’s description whereby "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". They had further mentioned a 1933 map whereby the ground water level in the Sobibór camp’s extermination sector was 6 m below the surface, merely qualifying this inconvenient information (in that it implied that mass graves with the depth reported by Prof. Kola for graves nos. 3 and 4 were possible) by adding that "the ground water level varies with the seasons and rainfall (or the thawing of snow)" and that the average groundwater level may have been different in 1942/43 from what it had been in 1933.

However, after I had rubbed MGK’s nose in their earlier falsehood, Mattogno now feels compelled to justify the same. He starts out by amusingly accusing me of dwelling "on insignificant details" while omitting "the essence". It is duly noted that Mattogno considers a deliberate falsehood in which he got flagrantly caught to be an insignificant detail. This warrants the suspicion that he is prone to such falsehoods and will indulge in them whenever it serves his argument and he expects to get away with it. And as if eager to prove this suspicion right, Mattogno produces the following blatant falsehood as he explains what he considers to be "the essence" (p. 1266):
The important data is that groundwater was located at a depth of 3.60 m from the surface. What importance does it have that Kola continued to dig in a shaft until he reached a depth of 5.10 m? This means that he merely found (5.1 – 3.6 =) 1.5 m of groundwater. And then? The problem Muehlenkamp dodges is in fact this: How could Kola drill up to 5.80 meters without running into water in an area where the groundwater level was 3.6 meters?

Mattogno adds that a Polish map whereby the groundwater level was 6 meters in 1933 "does not change anything with regard to the abovementioned problem: how could Kola drill down to 5.80 meters without running into water in an area where the groundwater level was at 3.6 meters?"

This reads like Prof. Kola’s team was shoveling nothing but water after 3.60 meters, for a further 1.50 meters. I don’t know how one can remove 1.50 meters of water by shoveling (especially after having reached the water table), but Mattogno apparently believes that this is possible, or then expects his readers to accept this possibility. Worse than that, Mattogno is rather unintelligently returning to the original claim that he and his co-authors had had enough sense to abandon in their Sobibór book, namely that the groundwater level (i.e. the "underground surface below which the ground is wholly saturated with water"[210]) in the area of Prof. Kola’s excavation was 3.60 meters. Actually at that depth, according to Prof. Kola, only traces of ground water "started appearing". Only at a depth of 5 to 5.10 meters, according to Kola’s description, did the ground become wholly saturated with water (Kola wrote about a "sudden leak of ground waters"), making further digging impossible. So the groundwater level or water table in this area was 5 to 5.10 meters, not 3.60 meters.

After having thus made a fool of himself by emphatically reiterating a previous lie, Mattogno provides the useful information that according to a "Planimetric and altimetric map with the displacement of the graves in Sobibór" published by Kola "the area of his archeological survey lies comprised between the isohypses of 169 and of 179 meters above sea level". To Mattogno (or to the readers uncritical enough to fall for his falsehoods) this means that "If the groundwater level was at 3.6 meters on a location 169 m above sea level, at level 170 [read: 179] m it was 4.6 m deep, and an excavation down to 5.8 m would have run into groundwater for the last 1.2 m." To the reader who has Prof. Kola’s description in mind and knows that the groundwater level is the place where the soil is wholly saturated with water (and not the place where first traces of groundwater appear), it means that, if at the location 169 m above sea level the groundwater level was 5 to 5.10 meters, then at a location 179 meters above sea level it was 6 to 6.10 meters (corresponding to the water table mentioned in the 1933 Polish), and that a mass grave 5.8 meters deep was still 0.20 – 0.30 meters above the water table. Mattogno’s renewed (and rather desperate) attempt to discredit Prof. Kola’s reported finds has failed disastrously, and Mattogno has added a stupid lie to his record of falsehoods.

This instructive self-portrait is followed by Mattogno’s reiterating yet another showpiece of "Revisionist" ill-reasoning. After complaining about my having forgotten to mention that, in arguing that Sobibór was a poor choice of location for an extermination camp, MGK had limited themselves "to the exposition of what important exterminationist sources have stated in this regard" (historian Jules Schelvis and judgment LG Hagen vom 20.12.1966, 11 Ks 1/64), Mattogno contradicts this "limitation" claim by proclaiming that "choosing Sobibór as an extermination camp was not just “wrong,” as Schelvis says, but idiotic". The latter he does after presenting the "most reasonable conclusion" that, as one "cannot believe" that Hitler (via the Führer chancellery and Wirth) and Himmler (via Globocnik and Höfle) would have chosen a swampy area with potential groundwater pollution problems as a place to bury "tens or hundreds of thousands of corpses", they didn’t do so (and thus Sobibór was not an extermination camp). In other words, what passes as a "most reasonable conclusion" in Mattogno’s world is an appeal to incredulity based on Mattogno’s personal conviction that Hitler and/or Himmler and/or whoever they put in charge of organizing the particulars of an extermination program would never ever have made "idiotic" decisions in carrying out what Mattogno seems to consider a most reasonable and rational task. Apart from it being moot to argue on the basis of what would or not have been "reasonable" when there’s evidence to what was done ("reasonably" or not), it’s not like Mattogno’s apparent idols had never made decisions that were perfectly idiotic[211].

That said, was the choice of Sobibór as a site of mass extermination really as "idiotic" as Mattogno claims it to be? In fact, as I pointed out on p. 430 of the critique, 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. In support of their claim that this situation was entirely predictable, MGK quoted a 1904 source whereby "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", regarding which I pointed out that it belied rather than supported the notion that groundwater pollution on site (as opposed to wherever underground currents carried the leachate) could have been predicted when choosing Sobibór as an extermination camp location. In response to this argument, Mattogno thunders that in a marshy area like that of Sobibór there would be no underground currents as "the water was by definition stagnant". Coming after MGK’s earlier remarks about "an intense ground water stream" stopping one of Prof. Kola’s excavations in 2001, this argument comes across as somewhat contradictory. While it is true that most freshwater marshes intercept groundwater[212], it is not like all of Sobibór extermination camp, especially the extermination sector known as "Camp III", had been set up in or near a marshy area. In his map of Sobibór included in the judgment LG Hagen vom 20.12.1966, 11 Ks 1/64[213], former Sobibór staff member Erich Bauer recalled a marshy area near the Vorlager and Lager I, which were as far away from the extermination area (which he recalled as having been forested and surrounded by forest) as the camp permitted. As becomes apparent from a topographical map shown by MGK[214], the extermination area was also the highest part of the camp. So it’s by no means a given that whoever was put in charge of choosing the camp’s location need have been aware of the possibility of groundwater pollution issues, assuming he had the corresponding knowledge that Mattogno attributes to such person or persons (which was also not necessarily the case). Mattogno also doesn’t seem too convinced of his "marshy area" claim, for in the next paragraph he turns around to claim that, as according to Bauer there was a well in the Vorlager, it was entirely possible that "any existing undercurrents would have brought corpse poisons" to that well. Needless to say, Mattogno expects the SS officers who chose Sobibór as an extermination site to have been sufficiently versed in hydrology to predict that problem as well.

After chronologically displacing the camp command’s concern about the safety of the water consumed by its personnel to make it look like it had been present before the camp started operating (actually that concern arose only months later, presumably because it had been noted that the water had a foul taste and/or cases of water-borne disease had occurred) and postulating that the SS organizers of Sobibór would not have been indifferent to polluted groundwater carried by underground streams affecting the Polish population "because sooner or later it would also have affected some Germans" (Mattogno surely demands a lot of foresight and care from his defendants), Mattogno dismisses my argument that good railway connections to Sobibór were an argument in favor of its location by pointing out that the rail line to the camp was prone to subsidence as it ran through marshland. In fact the line did subside after two months of the camp’s operation[215] and had to be repaired before deportation trains could again run to Sobibór[216]. But how does this change the fact that Sobibor combined a remoteness at least matching that of the other two camps with railway connections so good that they eventually allowed even for bringing in railway transports from the Westerbork collection camp in the Netherlands[217]? Not at all, I would say.

The benefit of sandy soil that was easy to dig into Mattogno also doesn’t consider significant enough to offset the possibility of groundwater pollution, because "the soil of Eastern Poland is sandy pretty much everywhere". What Mattogno doesn’t do, however, is offer an alternative to Sobibór that the SS should have chosen. Unless there was another place in Eastern Poland (besides Bełżec and Treblinka) that combined remoteness, sandy soil and good railway connections the way Sobibór did, Mattogno has no basis for calling his defendants’ choice of location "idiotic".

As concerns Treblinka, Mattogno sticks with his only indication that huge mass graves filled by mass extermination would have led to groundwater pollution, 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. If this was not done for hygienic reasons, he asks, then "what other reason were there"? One might as well ask what advantage – under the aspect of avoiding groundwater pollution – the commandant of Treblinka I could have hoped to gain by burying the camp’s mortality a mere 500 meters away from the camp. As the answer to this is "none" (while on the other hand one reason for the choice of burial location could have been concealment of huge mortality from potential visitors – after all Treblinka I was a labor camp, not an extermination site), Mattogno’s argument is moot.


[205] MGK, Die Akte Sobibor ([link], p.81
[206] "Mass Graves at Nazi Extermination Camps" ([link]; the section about Sobibór is under [link])
[207] Prof. Andrzej Kola, "I Badania archeologiczne terenu byłego obozu zagłady Żydów w Sobiborze w 2001 r" ("1st Archaeological Research of the Former Jew Extermination Camp at Sobibor in 2001"), in: Przeszłość i Pamięć. Biuletyn Rady Ochrony Pamięci Walk i Męczeństwa Nr. 4 (21) z 2001 r, pages 115 to 123; descriptions of mass graves on pages 116/117. Translated into English by Katarzyna Piotrowska. The translation and a scan of the Polish original are available under [link].
[208] "In diesem Zusammenhang sei darauf hingewiesen, dass beim Ausgraben eines unweit der Gräber befindlichen Brunnens die Arbeiten in einer Tiefe von 3.60 m aufgrund eines heftigen Grundwasserstroms eingestellt werden mussten." - "In this context it should be pointed out that when excavating a well nearby the graves the works had to be stopped at a depth of 3.60 meters due to an intense ground water stream." (Die Akte Sobibor, p. 81).
[209] MGK, Sobibór, p. 127.
[210] Definition of "groundwater level" under [link]. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary (online under [link]), "groundwater level" means "the depth or elevation above or below sea level at which the surface of groundwater stands" and is synonymous with the "water table", i.e. "the highest underground level at which the rocks and soil in a particular area are completely wet with water" (online under [link])
[211] Among other examples of idiotic mistakes made by Hitler, there are the "Top 10 Mistakes by Hitler Proving He Was An Idiot" presented in a Youtube video ([link]). Also of interest in this context: "Top 10 Greatest Military Blunders of World War II" ([link]) In the World’s Greatest Mistakes (Odham Books, 1969), Charles Franklin counts "The Eagle that Failed" and "Barbarossa" among history’s greatest blunders. And here’s how German frontline surgeon Peter Bamm characterized they notoriously hysterical Führer: "The motives of the primitive man at the top became ever less transparent. It is part of the clinical picture of hysterics, especially of the schizoid fanatics among them, that they are unable to admit errors. Whereas female hysteria is a comparatively harmless enrichment of existence, male hysteria often becomes the bloody motive of history. The fact that most people don’t know that there is hysteria in men only makes the disturbance all the more dangerous. After the primitive man had for ten years exercised terror in the land dominated by him, he complained that the terror had created resistance. After he had made himself enemies for ten years, he complained that he had them. He was no politician. " (see the blog "Peter Bamm on male hysteria" ([link]).
[212] See the online article "Wetland classifications" ([link])
[213]See translated excerpt under [link]
[214] MGK, Sobibór, Document 6 on p. 405
[215] Sara Berger (EdV, p. 254) mentions 38,000 – 52,800 deportees to Sobibór in May 1942 and 31,600 – 40,300 in June of that year, followed by no deportees at all in July, only 3,000 deportees in August and none in September, then 21,800 – 44,300 deportees in October and 9,900 – 14,200 in November and December 1942.
[216] The repair works are expressly mentioned in Ganzenmüller’s letter to Wolff dated 28 July 1942, quoted in the judgment Judgment LG Hagen vom 20.12.1966, 11 Ks 1/64: "Gedob steht in ständiger Fühlung mit dem Sicherheitsdienst in Krakau. Dieser ist damit einverstanden, dass die Transporte von Warschau über Lublin nach Sobibor (bei Lublin) solange ruhen, wie die Umbauarbeiten auf dieser Strecke diese Transporte unmöglich machen (ungefähr Oktober 1942)" - "Gedob [Generaldirektion der Ostbahnen = General Directorate of the Eastern Railways] is constantly in touch with the Security Service in Krakow. This service agrees that the transports from Warsaw via Lublin to Sobibor (near Lublin) be interrupted for as long as conversion works on this route make transports impossible (about October 1942)".
[217]For a list of such transports in the period from 2 April to 23 July 1943, see the translated excerpts from the judgment Landgericht München II Gz.: 1 Ks 115 Js 2496/08 dated 12.05.2011 ([link]). The names of all deportees from the Netherlands – over 34,000 in 19 transports of which the first arrived on 5 March 1943 – are known from transport lists shown online by the Dutch Archives ([link]). Only 19 of the deportees, who had been selected for forced labor, came back alive (Wolfgang Benz et al, Dimensionen des Völkermords, May 1996 Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, Munich, p. 153).


Jonathan Harrison said...

"He starts out by amusingly accusing me of dwelling "on insignificant details" while omitting "the essence"."

That is especially amusing given that Mattogno has spent his entire career omitting "the essence".

J Kelly said...

The argument that there were better locations for a death camp therefore Sobibor was not a death camp, is the same logic that there were better ways to kill people than carbon monoxide or Zyclon B therefore the Germans didn't use Carbon Monoxide or Zyclon B to kill anyone.
The Germans built these camps where it was convenient to do so.