Sunday, May 24, 2009

Belzec Mass Graves and Archaeology: My Response to Carlo Mattogno (1)


About three years ago I finished publishing on this blogspot a critique[1] of Carlo Mattogno’s discussion[2] of Prof. Andrzej Kola’s archaeological finds about the mass graves on the site of former Belzec extermination camp[3]. In this critique I exposed the falsehood and ill-reasoning that pervades Mattogno’s analysis, with special focus on his contentions about the technical/logistical feasibility of mass burial and cremation and the alleged incompatibility of Prof. Kola’s finds with the historical evidence whereby hundreds of thousands of Jewish deportees were murdered at Belzec[4]. I also addressed the fallacy of Mattogno’s claims about the nature and function of the Belzec camp[5].

Mattogno’s response to this critique took a long time in coming. It was only in January 2009 that what Mattogno claims to be a paragraph-by-paragraph "examination" of my 2006 article was published on a "Revisionist" website[6]. This response consists of 63 pages of text and ten pages of documents, amazingly long for a response by one of the leading "scholars" of "Revisionism" to who he refers to as a nobody he had never heard of before ("un tale Roberto Muehlenkamp", i.e. "a certain Roberto Muehlenkamp"[7]). It is written in Italian, and as far as I know an English translation is not yet available. Italian is not a language I speak, but due to my fluency in Spanish and Portuguese I understand enough of it to follow Mattogno's argumentation, without this precluding the possibility of misunderstandings that, if present, I shall be glad to correct when an English translation of Mattogno's response becomes available. In the meantime such eventual misunderstandings should not be decried as misrepresentations, an exercise that I – unlike many a "Revisionist" writer including Mattogno himself – don’t indulge in. I have of course not bothered to obtain a translation into English, as this is Mattogno’s job.

That said, I proceed to commenting Mattogno’s response, in the same order in which he responded to the various parts and sections of my original blog.

1. Nature and Purpose of Kola’s Archaeological Investigation[8]

In Part 1 of the original blog[9], I addressed Mattogno’s misrepresentation of the nature and purpose of Prof. Kola’s archaeological investigation. I pointed out that Mattogno had failed to mention the stated purpose of that investigation (identifying the parts of the former camp area which contain human remains, so that these would not be disturbed when building the memorial), and ignored the ethically/religiously motivated constraints under which the archaeologists headed by Prof. Kola were working as concerns disturbance of human remains, when postulating that the investigation was meant "to furnish the 'material proof' of the alleged extermination at Belzec"[10] and derisively pointing out alleged deficiencies of this investigation, especially the fact that the corpses were not exhumed[11].

In his response, Mattogno starts by pointing out that he did mention the "official" purpose of Prof. Kola’s investigation in the original Italian version of his Belzec book – a matter he should take up with his translator, who failed to include that mention in the English translation that was the subject of my analysis.

He then proceeds to arguing that the "official" purpose was mere window-dressing for the actual purpose, which was to try finding physical proof of the mass murder at Belzec, the "official" purpose having the function of providing an alibi in case the investigation did not yield the desired results. The reasoning behind this conspiracy theory is that if a building (i.e. the presumed memorial building) is to be constructed in an archaeological area, it is not necessary to do a survey of the whole area, but a survey of the part of that area meant for construction is sufficient ("Se si deve costruire una struttura edilizia in un’area archeologica, non si eseguono sondaggi nell’intera aerea, ma soltanto nel sito scelto per la costruzione").

Mattogno’s reasoning might be pertinent if indeed it had been planned to erect a memorial building somewhere in the area of former Belzec extermination camp. That this was not so, however, becomes apparent from the foreword of Prof. Kola's book – which Mattogno obviously read, which is quoted in Part 1 of the original blog, and where the following is stated[12](emphases added):

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.

So the memorial was to cover the entire former camp area, rather than be restricted to a building somewhere on that area, which 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.

How could Mattogno have failed to notice the above-quoted statement about what the memorial was to be like, i.e. that it was to cover the entire camp area?

If he noticed it and dismissed it as another "official" lie, he should at least have made himself familiar with what the Belzec memorial actually looks like. He would have needed to go no further than some sources readily available online to realize that, indeed, the memorial covers all, or almost all, of the former Belzec extermination camp site[13]. In fact, a later statement in his response suggests that he is well aware of this fact, as he laments that checking the data from Prof. Kola’s investigation has become impossible because a communication trench of reinforced concrete crosses the camp in its length and the surface of the camp has been covered by large stones ("Una camminamento a mo' di trincea di cemento armato attraversa il campo nella sua lunghezza e la superficie del campo è stata ricoperta di grosse pietre, sicché ormai qualunque verifica dei dati addotti da Kola è diventata impossibile")[14]. In other words, Mattogno is arguing against his own better knowledge when he claims that the nature of the memorial would not have required searching the whole camp area for mass graves. Right at the beginning of his response, Mattogno has thus again shown his dishonesty.

Transforming himself into an expert on Jewish religious matters, Mattogno then claims that the religious/ethical considerations of respect for the peace of the dead underlying the "official" reason for Prof. Kola's investigation are also phony. He quotes a description by Simon Wiesenthal of a ritual burial in a Romanian village of soap found in a German army depot, falsely believed to have been made of Jews murdered by the Nazis, and refers to a 1973 study about habits and customs of Orthodox Jews whereby it is desirable for Jews to be buried in Israeli land, and where this is not possible some soil of Israel is placed on the head or the body of Jews buried in the Diaspora. From this Mattogno concludes that 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.

With all due disrespect for Mattogno’s conjectures about what would better correspond to Jewish religious tradition, the fact is that regarding the victims of the Nazi genocide of the Jews there are rulings of Orthodox 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 (especially while these countries were still behind the Iron Curtain) are mentioned as follows by Father Patrick Desbois [15](emphases added):

The Rabbi sat down slowly, silent and serious, and started to study the several handwritten documents in Yiddish on yellow and white paper that had been previously placed on the table. They were Rabbinical Court decisions that came from various Orthodox courts throughout the world regarding the laws and rules applicable to the bodies of Jews killed during the Holocaust. Picking up a yellow paper, Rabbi Schlesinger raised his eyes and explained to me in English that it had been ruled that the Jews assassinated by the Third Reich were tsadiqim, "saints", and that the plenitude of eternal life had been granted them. Because of this, their burial places, wherever situated – under a motorway or in a garden – should be left intact so as not to disturb their rest.
He repeated his explanation vigorously, while his disciples silently acquiesced by nodding their heads. […] I had been called to meet in this schul, as a Catholic priest and the representative of Christian religious tradition to examine the sensitive issue of the violation of the burial sites of the Jews killed in the Holocaust together with Orthodox Jewish legal experts, people determined to scrupulously respect the prescriptions emerging from the laws of Judaism.

At Belzec the determination mentioned by Father Desbois even led to a campaign conducted by Rabbi Avi Weiss of New York against the construction of the Belzec memorial. An article in which Rabbi Weiss furiously complained about what he considered a desecration of the dead through the memorial building and the archaeological investigations preceding it[16]] was quoted in Part 1 of the original blog, and it is indicative of the level of Mattogno’s "scholarship" that he doesn’t even bother to mention this article, which clearly contradicts his assumptions. Rabbi Weiss did not only write against the project, but also filed a petition aimed at halting the construction of the memorial[17]. On the other hand, the construction project was approved and supervised by the Orthodox rabbi serving Warsaw and Lodz following consultation with Rabbi Elyakim Schlesinger, the source cited by Desbois, who is "regarded as the foremost ultra-Orthodox authority on the preservation of Jewish cemeteries in Europe"[18]. Mattogno may forgive me preferring the opinion of such authority on the matter over the conjectures of a "Revisionist".

Mattogno sees "the most obvious and irrefutable proof" ("La prova più evidente e inconfutabile") of the supposed actual purpose of Professor Kola’s investigation in the latter’s book, which was published "without the least reference to the optimal location of the memorial" ("senza il minimo accenno alla localizzazione ottimale del memoriale"). As we have seen, the memorial covers and was meant to cover the whole camp area, so an "optimum location of the memorial" to be recommended in Prof. Kola’s book did not exist. Mattogno was obviously aware of this, so this faulty argument is a further consequence and demonstration of his intellectual dishonesty.

Another argument invoked by Mattogno is that, as I'm supposed to know ("Come Muehlenkamp sa bene"), "Holocaust propagandists" (he quotes an Italian publication called Il Manifesto, Italian author Roberto Sforni and Michael Tregenza) have referred to the results of Prof. Kola’s investigations as material proof of the mass extermination at Belzec. This argument is a non sequitur for anyone who does not believe – like Mattogno apparently does – that "Holocaust propagandists" belong to some monolithic conspiratorial entity. Outside "Revisionist" cloud-cuckoo-land whatever any "Holocaust propagandist" wrote about the significance of Prof. Kola's investigation results tells us nothing about the reason why this investigation was originally commissioned.

Further evidence of "the fallaciousness of the official motivation" ("La fallacia della motivazione ufficiale") is seen by Mattogno in the archaeological work done by Prof. Kola on the remains of former camp buildings. Mattogno quotes a passage from his book [19] in which he contrasts the fact that "actual diggings were undertaken to bring to light the original structures" with the approach taken as concerns the mass graves, and spins the amusing conspiracy theory that the latter approach was guided by concerns that excavation "risked too blatant a refutation of the thesis of mass extermination". Apparently it didn't occur to someone as eager as Mattogno to hear the grass grow that, unlike in the mass graves, disturbance of human remains may not have been expected to occur when excavating the structures of former camp buildings, and that this might be the reasonable explanation for the different archaeological treatment of one and the other.

Mattogno rhetorically asks why these excavations of former camp structures were undertaken if "the motivation of archaeological surveys was exclusively that of the memorial" ("Se la motivazione delle indagini archeologiche era esclusivamente quella del memoriale, a che scopo far disseppellire tutti i reperti archeologici trovati?"). Indeed the excavations in question seem to have resulted from a posterior "as we’re at it, let us also" – extension of Prof. Kola’s original task, as is suggested by the following passage of the latter’s book[20] (emphases mine):

The archaeological works at the Bełżec 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.

So it looks like Prof. Kola found traces of camp building structures during his probing drills aimed at identifying the mass graves, and that based on these finds his employers eventually became interested in widening the program of his investigations. In other words, identifying the mass grave areas within the context of building a memorial to cover the whole camp area was the sole purpose of Prof. Kola's work at the outset, but not at the end.

This doesn't validate Mattogno’s conjectures and insinuations, however. For independently of whether identifying the mass grave areas was Prof. 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 I pointed out in Part 1 of the original blog.

Whether dishonest or simply based on faulty reasoning, Mattogno's arguments therefore fail to alter the conclusions expressed in my original blog. Mattogno deliberately misrepresented the nature and purpose of the archaeological investigation carried out by Prof. Kola in order to spin "Revisionist" conspiracy theories around supposed omissions of this investigation, unduly claimed on the basis of said misrepresentation.


[1] Carlo Mattogno on Belzec Archaeological Research (hereinafter the "original blog").

[2] Carlo Mattogno, Belzec in Propaganda, Testimonies, Archaeological Research, and History (hereinafter "Mattogno, Belzec"), translated from Italian by Henry Gardner, 2004 Chicago (Illinois): Theses and Dissertation Press, pages 71 to 92. A digital copy of the book is available for free download [large PDF].

[3] Andrzej Kola, Belzec. The Nazi Camp for Jews in the Light of Archaeological Sources. Excavations 1997-1999 (hereinafter "Kola, Belzec"), translated from Polish by Ewa Józefowicz and Mateusz Józefowicz, published in 2000 by The Council for the Protection of Memory of Combat and Martyrdom and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Warsaw-Washington, pages 5 to 39 and page 70.

[4] See Parts 4(1), 4 (2), 4(3) and 4(4) of the original blog.

[5] See Part 5 of the original blog.


[7] Controversie, page 1.

[8] Controversie, pages 1 to 4.

[9] Carlo Mattogno on Belzec Archaeological Research - Introduction and Part 1.

[10] Mattogno, Belzec, page 90.

[11] As above, page 77.

[12] Kola, Belzec, page 3.

[13] E.g. archived ARC Page "Belzec Memorial"; Scrapbookpages page "Belzec Death Camp"; Bonnie M. Harris, Holocaust Memorialization in Poland and the Czech Republic.

[14] Controversie, page 56.

[15] Father Patrick Desbois, The Holocaust by Bullets, translated by Catherine Spencer, 2008 Palgrave Macmillan, New York, pages 129/130.

[16] Avi Weiss, A Monumental Failure at Belzec.

[17] World Jewish Congress Global News, US court rejects suit against Belzec memorial.

[18] Alan Elsner, Unearthing the Horror of Belzec.

[19] Mattogno, Belzec, page 92.

[20] Kola, Belzec, page 69.

2. Location and Form of the Mass Graves

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