Monday, November 27, 2017

Mattogno on the Mass Graves at Ponary (Part 2)

Author: Roberto Muehlenkamp
Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Back now to Mattogno’s considerations regarding the August 1944 commission’s report as concerns excavations at Ponary and finds of human corpses and cremation remains.

Mattogno complains that the August 1944 commission reported having found only 5 pits whereas witnesses mentioned 8 pits. Apparently he wasn’t very attentive when reading this report, which in its second and third paragraph after the introduction contains the following information (emphasis added) [16]:
In 1940, a construction of a base for liquid fuel was started here, for which huge pits had been excavated. The construction of the base had not been completed, and the pits were used by Hitlerite murderers for burying corpses of the killed people.

Upon the inspection of this district, seven of such circular pits were revealed and three oblong ditches, in which there were corpses of shot people, clothes and what was left of them, miscellaneous things and documents of the killed people, and also bones and ashes of the burnt corpses. Around the mentioned pits and ditches ten locations were found where Hitlerite murderers burnt corpses.

The above suggests that the August 1944 commission did not excavate all of the pits it identified by visual inspection, on hand of their outside aspect.

Having calculated that the August 1944 commission’s figures about the excavated pits’ measurements and volume add up to a total burial space of about 18.200 m³, Mattogno then assumes a burial density of 3.5 corpses per cubic meter and calculates that the total volume of the pits in question could thus hold 63,700 corpses, which is way below the over 100,000 corpses assumed by this Soviet commission.

Why 3.5 corpses per cubic meter?

This density, which appears as a default value also elsewhere in GE2, seems to be based on German historian Christian Gerlach’s mention of a Soviet report about a burial pit at Drogichin in Belorussia, which had a volume of 1,092 m³ and contained 3,816 corpses, thereof 895 men, 1,083 women and 1,838 children. [17] Before his reference to Gerlach, Mattogno mentions two Soviet investigation reports about mass killing pits in the area of Žagare, Lithuania, in which the burial density, according to Mattogno’s calculations, was 2.9 corpses per cubic meter. [18]

From these densities Mattogno seems to have concluded that, wherever Nazi mobile killing squads shot Jews, they buried them at a density of no more than 3.5 corpses per cubic meter.

This is a baseless generalization, especially as a density of 3.5 corpses per cubic meter is way below what is achievable. In earlier writings Mattogno had assumed that a density of 8 corpses per cubic meter[19] was possible if the corpses included those of children. And even that density is way too low, for a density of 12 corpses per cubic meter is well within the range of what is possible if the corpses included a large proportion of women and children. [20] The density at which victims of mass shootings were buried would depend on the available burial space on the one hand and the number of people shot on the other. The burial density in mass graves may thus have been way below capacity in some cases, closer to a most economic use of the available space in others. At 8 corpses per cubic meter the excavated Ponary pits alone could hold a number of corpses way above the highest estimate of Ponary’s death toll. How realistic that highest estimate is will be examined in a further article after completion of this series, on hand of the available documentary and eyewitness evidence.

The August 1944 commission stated to have based its estimate of the number of people killed at Ponary on "the huge quantity of burnt human bones spread on the surface of all the camp area, the corpses found in the pits that were not yet burnt, and witnesses’ testimonies". If Mattogno had argued that such evidence (as opposed to completely quantified physical and/or documentary evidence) is a weak basis for establishing the extent of a crime, he would have a point. But the arguments he makes instead are not exactly the brightest.

The reasonable conclusion to be derived from the contradictions claimed by Mattogno, between the August 1944 Soviet commission’s reported finds of a "huge quantity of burnt human bones" [21] , and eyewitness testimonies whereby such remains were smashed and sifted until they were reduced to "little more than powder" ("poco più che polvere") [22], would be that the eyewitnesses in question were exaggerating where they claimed that they had done a perfect job in reducing cremation remains. That may have been the desired result, but the very scale of the undertaking made it impossible to achieve such result, not only at Ponary but also at other Nazi mass killing sites where it was attempted to erase the traces of the crime as best as possible.

Besides, what eyewitnesses is Mattogno referring to?

One finds no claim of such thorough reduction in the accounts of Blyazer and Zaydel quoted in the August 1944 commission’s report. The closest these accounts come to Mattogno’s argument is Zaydel’s recollection that he and his fellow slave laborers were forced to "gather up what remained from the burnt corpses, for example teeth, rings, etc.". [23] The only testimonies in which a thorough crushing of burned bones is mentioned, unless I missed something, seem to be that of Yuri Farber in Ilya Ehrenburg, Vasily Grossman, The Complete Black Book of Russian Jewry, pp. 461-462 [24], and that of the same Yuri Farber [25] in the previously mentioned "Special Report of the 8th Department of the 4th Office of the NKGB USSR on Atrocities in Ponar" (Mattogno claims that the testimony of the unnamed witness he supposes to be Yuri Farber is "una evidente relaborazione", an "obvious reworking", of said report.)

Regarding Blyazer, it is worth pointing out that, in order to sustain yet another of his claims of physical/logistical impossibility [26], Mattogno tries to make the witness’s statement that of the body disposal team "15 people prepared firewood" [27] into a claim that these forced laborers "cut the wood" ("tagliavano la legna") in the sense of felling trees [28]. This is supposed to follow from the original Russian text "15 чел. работали на распилке дров для костров" [29], which translates as "15 persons worked on sawing firewood". Apparently it didn’t occur to Mattogno that sawing available firewood and obtaining it by felling trees is not exactly the same thing, and that Blyazer obviously meant the former and not the latter, especially as the witness Zaydel clearly referred to preparing firewood: "Здесь немцы нас использовали для приготовления дров и сжигания трупов." [30], correctly translated as "Here Germans used us for preparing firewood and burning corpses." [31].

Mattogno then complains about the lack of publicly available pictures, among the "many photographs of the Ponary site", on which one can see "that" huge quantity of burnt human bones. This argument is a no-brainer for several reasons. First of all, there are not all that many publicly available photographs of the Ponary site, at least of what it looked like during the war. Second, burned human bones don’t look very impressive on photographs and in film footage.[32] Even a photo of a single whole corpse makes a stronger impression on the viewer, so the motivation to photograph or film cremation remains may not have been the highest. Third, the limitations of the camera eye (which are obvious to anyone other than "Revisionists", including the movement’s foremost scholar), would make the depiction of all cremation remains an enormous undertaking, to little avail for the aforementioned reasons. And last but not least, only some of the photos that are publicly available, as we shall see below, are related to the 26 August 1944 report.

Along the same lines, but even less reasonable, is Mattogno’s questioning the veracity of the August 1944 Soviet commission’s statement that 515 corpses were exhumed from the mass graves it excavated at Ponary.

Mattogno claims that the finding of such unburned corpses is incompatible with eyewitness testimonies, namely that of Yuri Farber whereby only "several dozen bodies" had been saved from cremation and buried in "secret places". [33] Emphasizing how "easily" the Soviet commission had found the reported 515 exhumed corpses, Mattogno argues that it would have been impossible, for the prisoners forced to cremate the corpses at Ponary, to conceal these 515 corpses. It obviously didn’t occur to him that these corpses may have been of people who had been buried after the escape of Farber and other prisoners, perhaps even shortly before the Germans left the site.

Another "problem", according to Mattogno, is the supposed incompatibility of the August 1944 investigation report with the aforementioned report issued on 14 July 1944, except as concerns the death toll estimate, which the later report is supposed to have simply taken over from the earlier one. [34] Mattogno quotes parts of this earlier report, which according to Mattogno was issued by "major N.G. Kuznetsov and other Soviet officers", following their inspection of the Ponary site. Actually said report [35] was drawn up by three Soviet army officers, one Soviet army private and a number of local residents (who Mattogno does not mention), the latter being obviously the source of most of the information contained therein. Besides narrating particulars of the killing at Ponary and stating an estimate of about 100,000 victims, the July 1944 report mentions the discovery of 7 enormous round pits six meters deep, with a diameter of 14 meters in the lower part and 25 meters in the upper part, 4 smaller pits and 7 ditches/moats 4 to 1.5 meters deep, 4 to 2.5 meters wide and 20 to 50 meters long. According to the July 1944 report the last mass killing at Ponary was carried out on 3-4 July 1944, when up to 4,000 people were killed ("Обречённые на расстрел в количестве до 4 тыc. человек были доставлены в Панеряй на автомашинах.""Those doomed to execution, up to four thousand persons, were taken to Paneriai in motor cars."). The Germans no longer had the time to burn the corpses of these people, so they buried them in one of the large pits and covered them with a thin layer of sand.

Mattogno’s first argument is that the number and size of the burial pits mentioned in the July 1944 report is in "blatant contradiction" ("palese contraddizione") with the report of "14 August 1944" (by which he obviously means the 26 August 1944 report, as the 14 August 1944 report is merely a rendering of eyewitness accounts). Apparently the above-quoted part of the 26 August 1944 report, which mentions 7 circular pits (obviously not all excavated), escaped Mattogno’s attention.

The next argument in this context is that, because the August 1944 commission didn’t find the 4,000 corpses of the final execution mentioned in the 14 July 1944 report, that figure must be a false propaganda figure. Actually the August 1944 commission, which discontinued excavation in the first pit after unearthing 486 unburned corpses below "the upper layer of the ground, mixed with ashes and burnt bones of people" [36], is likely to have unearthed the corpses of some of the last massacre’s victims, which were obviously buried only slightly below ground. What is more, it speaks in favor of rather than against the reliability of the August 1944 commission that this commission mentioned only 515 exhumed corpses. If said commission (which must have been aware of the July 1944 report) had wanted to "cheat", it would certainly have reported a far larger number of exhumed corpses than it did, at least a number in the order of the up to 4,000 victims of the last execution at Ponary, mentioned in the July 1944 report.

Mattogno’s next argument is that, if the Soviets had exhumed 515 corpses at Ponary, these corpses should be visible in "at least some of the many existing photographs of Ponary" ("almeno in alcune delle molte fotografie di Ponary esistenti"). "Existing" in this context means "publicly available", as Mattogno subsequently "examines" only photos available in the photo archives of The Ghetto Fighters’ House and Yad Vashem.

Now, what makes Mattogno think that either of these entities would necessarily have a complete collection of photographs pertaining to excavations/finds of human remains at the Ponary site?

It’s not like the complete texts and attachments of all the many reports prepared by Soviet investigation commissions had been made available to the public. The aforementioned Soviet reports submitted at the Nuremberg Trial of the Major War Criminals were not published in the IMT collection due to the lack of translators from Russian. Since then a few of the Soviet reports and/or related photographs have been made available to the public. [37] However, neither Yad Vahem nor The Ghetto Fighters’ House claim to possess, let alone to have published, all photographs of NS-crimes that were taken and are available in archives, or even all photographs pertaining to certain killing sites. Both organizations have received their photographs from identified submitters, which are archives in some cases and individuals in many others. So expecting to find in the online archives of either a complete collection of photographs pertaining to a specific killing site, or even to a specific investigation of such killing site, is rather unrealistic.

What is more, even if such collection were available, it would be unrealistic to expect all exhumed corpses to be visible in such collection. Case in point, the report about the Soviet mass killings at Katyn issued by Nazi Germany in 1943 [38], which is held up by "Revisionists" as the gold standard of a complete and thorough mass murder documentation, is about 340 pages long and contains the names (as far as they could be established) of all 4,143 exhumed victims of this Soviet killing. However, in the Bilddokumente section at the end of the report, which contains 57 photographs, one sees about 400 corpses by my count, assuming that no two photos show the same corpses (which is unlikely).

It’s time for Mattogno and other "Revisionists" to realize that the purpose of photos consists in illustrating what becomes apparent from other evidence, and not in providing a complete documentation of corpses exhumed from mass graves.


[16] Tragedy, p. 35.
[17] GE 2 p. 11, reference to Christian Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde. Die deutsche Wirtschafts- und Vernichtungspolitik in Weissrussland 1941 bis 1944, Hamburger Edition 1999, note 1173 on page 718.
[18] GE 2 p. 11, reference to Tragedy, pp. 50-54.
[19] See my article Mattogno, Graf & Kues on the Aktion Reinhard(t) Mass Graves (3) .
[20] See my article "Alleged" Mass Graves and other Mattogno Fantasies (Part 4, Section 2) and Alex Bay, The Reconstruction of Treblinka.
[21] Tragedy, p. 41.
[22] GE2, page 274.
[23] Tragedy, p. 38.
[24] Quoted in GE2, pp. 255-256.
[25] According to Mattogno, GE2 p. 257.
[26] Similar claims regarding Aktion Reinhard(t) camps, are addressed in my article Mattogno’s Cremation Encyclopedia (Part 2, Section 5), among others.
[27] Tragedy, p. 38.
[28] GE2, p. 262.
[29]Трагедия, p. 57.
[30] Ibid.
[31] Tragedy, p. 38.
[32] See for instance the stills from Soviet cameraman Sofin’s footage of burned human bones "near Slonim on the road to Baranovka, on June 13, 1944", which are shown in my article The Atrocities committed by German-Fascists in the USSR (2).
[33] GE2, page 274.
[34] Ibid.
[35] Зверства немецко-Фашистских Захбатчиков. Документы. Выпуск 15 (Atrocities by German fascist invaders. Documents, Issue 15), Moscow, 1945, pp. 38-40; this collection can be downloaded here.
[36] Tragedy, p. 39.
[37] For instance in the collection »Gott mit uns« Der deutsche Vernichtungskrieg im Osten 1939-1945 edited by Ernst Klee and Willi Dreßen, which I mentioned here and here, or in Yakovlev’s Tragedy collection.
[38] Amtliches Material zum Massenmord von Katyn

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