The present commentary deals with the mass graves found at the site of the former Nazi extermination camp at Belzec by Prof. Kola’s archaeological team between 1997 and 1999, and with Carlo Mattogno’s considerations, taken from the English version of Chapter IV: Belzec in Polish Archaeological Research (1997-1999), subchapters 1 to 4, of Carlo Mattogno’s book Belzec in Propaganda, Testimonies, Archaeological Research, and History [large PDF] , about whether these archaeological findings are compatible with the historical record of the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of people at that camp.
The commentary is divided into the following parts:
1. Nature and Purpose of Kola’s Archaeological Investigation
2. Location and Form of the Mass Graves
3. Corpses Found
4. Volume of the Mass Graves, Human and Wood Ashes
4.1 The Capacity of the Graves
4.2 Wood Requirements
4.3 Duration of the Cremations
4.4 The Soil removed from the Graves
4.5 The Ash
4.6 The "Actual" Surface Area of the Graves
4.7 Density of Corpses in the Graves
5. Alternative Explanations
1. Nature and Purpose of Kola’s Archaeological Investigation
From the beginning of his assessment and in several places therein, Mattogno claims or implies that the work of determining the location of the mass graves of the former Belzec extermination camp, carried out by a team of archaeologists from Nicolas Copernicus University of Torun led by Professor Andrzej Kola, was an investigation conducted for the purpose of proving the mass murders committed at Belzec, or of finding physical evidence for these mass murders. This reads as follows, on pages 72 ff of Mattogno’s book:
In 1997, the Rada Ochrony Pamieci Walk i Meczenstwa (Council for safeguarding the remembrance of struggle and martyrdom) of Warsaw, together with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum of Washington, D.C., decided to undertake archeological diggings within the area of the former camp at Belzec, with the principal aim of identifying the mass graves described by witnesses.
The only way to dispel any uncertainty would obviously have been to unearth the corpses buried in the graves – why did the Polish authorities not do this? If the main objective of the archeological research was the identification of the mass graves, why were the corpses buried in these graves not exhumed? When the Germans discovered the graves of the victims of the Soviet NKVD at Katyn and Vinnytsya, they did not simply drill holes in the ground with a manual drill – they opened the graves, exhumed the corpses, did autopsies, and tried to identify them.
On April 13, 1943, on the basis of information from the local population, the Germans discovered seven graves containing a total of 4,143 corpses of Polish soldiers in the forest of Katyn. Between April and June, the bodies were examined by a commission consisting of physicians from twelve European countries, by a commission of the Polish Red Cross, and by U.S., British, and Canadian officers who were prisoners of war. The Germans then published an official report with the forensic medical findings of the investigation, containing 80 photographs and the names of the victims identified.234 The Vinnytsya massacres were discovered by the Germans in the beginning of June 1943. Ninety-seven mass graves were found in three different locations, containing the bodies of 9,432 Ukrainians murdered by the Soviets. Between June 24 and August 25 no fewer than 14 commissions, 6 of them mcomposed of foreigners, visited the mass graves. Again, the Germans collected the results of their findings in a substantial publication: 282 pages with 151 photographs, with forensic medical reports, and victims’ names.235 Why, then, were the corpses of the mass graves at Belzec not exhumed?[…]
Andrzej Kola, who was supposed to furnish the ‘material proof’ of the alleged extermination at Belzec, did not take these facts into account; because of this the layout he gives for the graves is completely random, as is their surface area, their volume, and even their number.
Emphases in the above quote are mine.
That the works Kola was put in charge of were not about furnishing the “material proof” of the “alleged” mass extermination at Belzec becomes apparent already from the foreword of the English language edition of the book Belzec. The Nazi Camp for Jews in the Light of Archaeological Sources. Excavations 1997-1999 by Prof. Andrzej Kola (hereinafter referred to as “Kola’s book”), which can be found on pages 3 and 4 of this book and was written in November 2000 by Miles Lerman, Chairman Emeritus of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. The pertinent statement reads as follows:
[…]For several years now, the Council for the Protection of Memory of Combat and Martyrdom, in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, have been working on the new memorial in Belzec. It is the wish of both parties to find a befitting medium of commemoration. The new memory site should not only pay homage the thousands of victims, but also teach about the tragedy that took place here.
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.
Commissioned by the Council for the Protection of Memory of Combat and Martyrdom, with substantial contribution on the part of its staff, headed by the Council’s Secretary General Andrzej Przewóznik, a series of archaeological surveys was conducted during the past three years. This publication presents the survey’s findings. Credit should be given to a team of archaeologists from the University of Torun, led by Professor Andrzej Kola, for their professionalism and commitment. Archaeological works carried out on a site like Belzec required particular involvement, accuracy and resistance to stress. Professor Kola’s team had all these features and earned the gratitude of all those who cherish the memory of the Holocaust victims.[…]
The emphasis in the above quote is mine. The quote makes clear what the purpose of the archaeological works entrusted to Kola was: in connection with the intended erection of a memorial he was to identity the parts of the former camp area which contain human remains, so that these would not be disturbed when building the memorial. This purpose was obviously guided by ethical considerations about respect for the rest of the dead, from which there follows that Kola and his team, in carrying out their works, were supposed to keep the disturbance of human remains to the minimum indispensable for locating and determining the size and features of the grave sites.
These considerations seem to have influenced the depth of the drills carried out by Kola’s team. About the criteria determining the depth of a drill, Kola wrote the following, on pages 14 and 19/20 of his book:
The samples taken for archaeological analysis from particular drills as soil core were excavated in the shape of soil column inside the drill with the height to 20-25 cm. The depth of the drills depended on the character of the layers structure. In the places where anthropogenic structures were not estimated inside, the drills were as deep as level of ground bed, which appeared depending on layers close to the surface transformations from 40 to 80 cm. The ground bed consisted of fine-grained bright yellow sand, in the deeper parts of the ground it changed into white sand of the same structure all over the researched area. In the case of studying by drilling the cultural objects (grave sites or earth relicts after a non-grave object) the depth of a drill was dependent on character of appearing structures (fig. 12-16).
In the case of drills made in grave structures, the probings were as deep as stated presence of layers of corpses, which were most often situated at the depth from about 3,50 m. As the analysis of sponge in grave sites indicates, in many cases the grave excavations were dug to the depth of 4,50 to 5,0 m, reaching the underground waters. Deposition of corpses in the water-bearing layers or in very damp structure of the ground just above that layer, with the difficulty of air penetration, because of the depth, caused the changes of the deposited bodies into wax-fat mass. In some graves the layer of corpses reached the thickness of ca. 2,00 m. Most often the layers of corpses were covered with burnt bone remains mixed with charcoal.
Emphases are mine. The above suggests that Kola’s team endeavored to avoid drilling through more or less complete human corpses, as far as possible. Where this nevertheless happened, Jewish clerics made a fuss, for instance Rabbi Weiss, who in his online article A Monumental Failure at Belzec , complains as follows:
Several years ago the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum decided to build a Holocaust memorial for the 600,000 Jews murdered at Belzec.
Last June, I warned on these pages that "Despite assurances by museum officials that 'we are being careful in construction not to disturb any human remains,' anyone familiar with the Belzec terrain, saturatedin its depth and breadth with the ashes and bones of the Jewish dead, knows that this is well nigh impossible."
With the recent publication of Andrzej Kola's book "Belzec: The Nazi Camp for Jews in the Light of Archaeological Sources," no one involved with the memorial project can claim ignorance of the desecration that has occurred.
Kola documents how, in anticipation of creating the Belzec memorial, 2,227 very deep "bore holes" were sunk every 16.25 feet in a systematic grid encompassing the Belzec site. Former museum chairman Miles Lerman, whose organization co-published the book, writes in the foreword that "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."
Yet countless violations did occur as described in the book itself. Page after page of Kola's book describes what was found in the name of "archaeological research." In Grave Pit Number One, at a "depth of about [6.5 feet] burnt human bones andcharcoal were mixed together." In Grave Pit Number Thirteen "there was a layer of bodies in a wax-fat transformation." Grave Pit Number Sixteen "contained crematory ashes in layers with sand." A colored map with red circles indicates where remains were found. Red circles are everywhere.
One cannot read Kola's account without wondering what possessed the Holocaust museum to become involved in an effort that so blatantly desecrated the remains of thedead. What did the drillers do when they hit bone or "wax-fat"? How did they dispose of the disturbed remains? Why did they continue to systematically and obsessively drill every few yards when they knew full well what lay under their feet? And was there a rabbi standing by to monitor the treatment of the dead or even to whisper a prayer over their tortured remains?[…]
Emphases are mine. The above again shows the conditions under which Kola was supposed to work and the restrictions to which his work was subject due to the ethical principles of respect for the rest of the dead also upheld by his employers. Therefore, the expectations uttered by Mattogno in his assessment are based on a complete misconception of the nature and purpose of the archaeological works carried out by Kola. That this misconception resulted from a mere misunderstanding on Mattogno’s part seems unlikely insofar as Mattogno obviously worked with the English version of Kola’s book, which is a translation from Polish, his book even containing a complaint in footnote 214 on page 71 about the “imperfect English” of the excerpts quoted from Kola’s book, “derived from the USHMM’s English translation of Kola’s Polish original”. What is more, the purpose of the Kola’s archaeological works is also mentioned in Michael Tregenza’s article Das vergessene Lager des Holocaust, which Mattogno quotes from and criticizes in chapter 2 of his book (pages 41 ff). At the beginning of the Postscriptum in my copy of this article, taken from the Jahrbuch Fritz Bauer Institut of 2000, the following is stated:
Das vorrangige Ziel dieser Untersuchung bestand darin, die Struktur des Lagers und der Massengräber zu lokalisieren, damit weder das geplante Denkmal noch das Museum, die im Herbst 2000 fertiggestellt sein sollen, dies berühren.
The primary goal of this investigation consisted in locating the structure of the camp and the mass graves, so that neither the planned monument nor the museum, which are to be completed in the autumn of 2000, touch this.
It is thus to be assumed that, unless he is a very sloppy reader of the documents he assesses, Mattogno deliberately misled his readers about the nature and purpose of the archaeological investigation carried out by Kola, to then derisively point out the alleged deficiencies of this investigation, especially the fact that the corpses were not exhumed, and to come up with “Revisionist” conspiracy theories about the presumed reason for these supposed omissions.
2. Location and Form of the Mass Graves