Saturday, February 26, 2011

Mattogno, Graf & Kues on the Aktion Reinhard(t) Mass Graves (4)

Last updated on 02.03.2011 due to corrections in Part 1, which affect the estimated volume of Sobibór grave # 4 mentioned in sections 3.6 and 3.7.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

3. Mattogno et al’s Claims and Arguments

3.5 Groundwater Pollution

3.6 The "Actual" Surface of the Graves

3.7 Density of Corpses in the Graves

3.8 Conclusion

3.5 Groundwater Pollution

In a German-language online pamphlet preceding their Sobibór book, Mattogno, Graf and Kues tried to take their readers for a ride, arguing that the depth of the mass graves identified at Sobibór by Prof. Kola (grave # 4 is about 5 meters deep, grave # 3 up to 5.80 meters, see section 2.2) is not compatible with the high groundwater level in the camp’s area. They deliberately misrepresented an excerpt from Prof. Kola’s report about his Sobibór 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.[142] What Prof. Kola actually had written was that excavation in the well had to be stopped at a depth of 5.00 to 5.10 meters because of underground waters that had started appearing at a depth of 3.60 meters[143].

This misrepresentation was not repeated in MGK’s Sobibór book, perhaps because they realized, after reading my related comments[144], that they had been caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Now they write that "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", and go on to explain that the ground water level in the area is probably that of nearby Lake Spilno, 164 meters high, and Sobibór’s extermination sector "Camp III", with a height of 170 m, is 6 meters above that level.[145]

While no longer arguing against the compatibility of the graves’ depth with the groundwater level, MGK now use the groundwater’s proximity to the bottom of the larger graves and the swampy nature of the area, with the resulting risk of water contamination, to argue that the Germans would have been stupid to set up an extermination camp in such an area, and that this is evidence against Sobibór having been an extermination camp.[146]

Indeed there was concern among the Sobibór 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 Sobibór changed its body disposal procedure from burial to burning at a relatively early stage[147]. According to MGK, this "inevitable" situation was entirely predictable, as the danger of contaminating the ground by the products of decomposed corpses had been known for decades. They support this claim with a quote from a 1904 publication, where the following is stated:[148]
Ground water, even more so than soil or air, is suitable for the propagation of decomposition products. It is all the more dangerous as the subterranean currents can take on changes which are not noticeable on the surface. Thus, 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.

Apparently MGK didn’t realize that the above-quoted information harms rather than helps their argument, for it means that the SS could hope that ground water pollution by leachate from the corpses would not occur at the site of the graves because underground currents carried such leachate away, and whether people elsewhere in Poland got dysentery or other sanitation-related diseases from contaminated water carried their way from Sobibór wasn’t necessarily their concern. Set against the possibility of ground water pollution on site, on the other hand, was the ease of digging graves in the sandy soil of Sobibór, its relative remoteness and, most important for operating an extermination camp, its good railway connections with places that Jews were to be deported from, factors that would probably prevail even if the people in charge (presumably from the lower echelons of the chains of command, as higher-ranking decision makers would hardly bother themselves with technical execution details) had recognized the risk of on-site ground water pollution as considerable.

Regarding Treblinka extermination camp there is no evidence of concern about groundwater pollution leading to a change in body disposal procedures, even though the presence of a disease referred to as typhus or typhoid fever among the inmates suggests the possibility of contamination[149]. This may have been related, besides the possibility mentioned by MGK’s above-quoted source, to the lower groundwater level in that camp and to the presence of other factors that determine whether and to what extent leachate from corpses reaches and contaminates the groundwater at the site of mass graves[150].

Without taking all these factors into consideration, Mattogno & Graf bluntly claimed that there can be "no doubt" that "hundreds of thousands of bodies allegedly buried in ‘Camp II’ would have completely poisoned the ground water, which supplied the wells". The only indication they provided in support of this contention is 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. Without evidence regarding the reasons for the placement of these graves, M&G postulated that it had been "due to obvious considerations of hygiene and sanitation".[151]

3.6 The "Actual" Surface of the Graves

Independently of the unrealistic calculations and considerations by which he tried to demonstrate the incompatibility of Prof. Kola’s findings with the mass murder he denies, Mattogno of course didn’t feel comfortable with graves of such area and volume having been found at all at Bełżec. So he tried put in question the reliability of Kola’s findings about the area of the graves, invoking the robbery digs also mentioned by Kola as his key argument for this purpose. There were robbery diggings in the area over a period of 20 years after Judge Godzieszewski’s investigation in October 12, 1945, and these diggings "took place in total disorder, without any regard for orientation, order, or symmetry, which explains the total lack of orientation, the confusion, and the irregularity of the graves identified by Kola", whose drawings show that "the individual graves nearly always show a highly irregular bottom, with bumps and holes", which is "evidence of the activity of wildcat diggers, certainly not of excavations of mass graves aligned in military fashion", while the core samples show that "there is often a difference between samples in a single grave, with very thin and very thick layers", which "can only be explained by the inclusion in the grave of soil from an area that did not initially belong to it". Prof. Kola supposedly failed to take these "facts" into account, and because of this "the layout he gives for the graves is completely random, as is their surface area, their volume, and even their number".[152]

Contrary to Mattogno’s accusations, Prof. Kola’s team was well aware of the difficulties created by postwar robbery digs in identifying the mass graves at Bełżec, and can thus be assumed to have duly considered the possibility of a modification of the original shape and/or size of the graves due to robbery digs. Thus the observed damages to the original grave structure in the area between graves 12, 13, 14 and 24 are expressly mentioned in the description of grave # 13.[153] Moreover 26 out of the 33 graves identified by Prof. Kola have a regular geometrical shape, which can hardly have been the work of robbery diggers, and in six irregularly shaped graves the original regular shape that was later modified can be made out.[154] As to the bottoms of the graves, the only ones in which I could make out "bumps and holes" are graves nos. 8, 14 and 20, which are expressly mentioned by Prof. Kola as having resulted from a connection between previously neighboring graves[155]. The bottoms of all other graves, as I see them, are shaped either like a tub with a fairly regular bottom or like a swimming pool progressively deepening towards a certain spot. These shapes may be related to the composition of the soil at Bełżec, which was made of sand or sandy loam and would thus make steep rectangular walls unadvisable as these would more easily cave in. It should also be borne in mind that SS personnel of Aktion Reinhard(t) were no militarily trained specialists in grave digging, but non-military supervisors who had previously worked in the Aktion T4 murder program[156], and were gaining their first experience in organizing and running an extermination camp. If indeed there is "a difference between samples in a single grave", as Mattogno claims to have made out, this may just signal that the alternating pouring of cremation remains into the graves (when these were backfilled after exhumation and burning of the corpses) did not always occur in layers equally thick and/or equally distributed throughout the grave. And the "inclusion in the grave of soil from an area that did not initially belong to it" is also hardly an indication against the accuracy of Prof. Kola’s finds, insofar as the SS need not have refilled the graves with exactly the soil that had originally been taken out of them.

In response to the deconstruction of his above-mentioned claims, Mattogno complained that Prof. Kola’s allowance for modifications of the original grave structures due to subsequent factors like robbery digging did not translate into a quantitative reservation as to the number and volume of graves he established[157] – true, but probably related to the difficulty of establishing said quantitative effect plus the not unreasonable consideration that this effect must have been minimal, as backfilling, covering up the traces of the camp and robbery digging (especially with pits as small as the one shown in section 2.1, Image 2.1.1) could cause grave walls to collapse only between graves that were very close together.

Mattogno furthermore claimed that "the geometric forms of the mass graves delineated by Kola does not constitute factual data, but are merely arbitrary conjecture"[158]. In support of this claim he did a somewhat puerile dot-connecting exercise, which supposedly demonstrates that the outlines of the graves drawn by Prof. Kola are "purely fictitious and do not correspond at all to the result of the drillings"[159].

Mattogno obviously made things easy for himself, especially failing to take into account Prof. Kola’s information about the number of drills that were used to estimate the shape and size of a mass grave in each case[160]. Taking this information into account helps to group (to the extent permitted by the accuracy of Kola's map of core drillings and by my poor drawing skills) the dots presumably corresponding to drills on the basis of which Kola estimated the shape and size of each mass grave into units that a) bear some resemblance to the mass grave shapes shown in Prof. Kola's book[161] match the number (33) of these shapes, as shown in Image 3.6.1 below.[162]

Image 3.6.1 (click to enlarge)

This alone already shows that Prof. Kola's estimating the shapes and sizes of the mass graves on the basis of his core drilling finds was not nearly as "arbitrary" as Mattogno would like his readers to believe.

Mattogno’s last straw in this context was to invoke the map drawn by former SS-Unterscharführer Robert Jührs[163], which shows only one area of mass graves in the camp’s north-western corner. From this one is apparently supposed to conclude that those of the graves identified by Prof. Kola that are not in the area of what Jührs called the "field of graves" (Gräberfeld) – nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 15, 18, 19 and half of grave no. 14, with a total volume of 7,775 cubic meters, according to Mattogno – were not graves made to bury corpses during camp times but holes that subsequently came into being and into which cremation remains (and apparently also the whole corpses found by Prof. Kola in graves 1, 3 and 4 – see section 3.2) somehow made their way from the original graves. By this somewhat-less-than-logical reasoning, one would have to conclude that the sketch made by SS man Heinrich Gley in 1961[164], which is even more incomplete than Jührs’ in that it shows no mass graves at all, means there were no mass graves at Bełżec during the camp’s operation – yet it was Gley who provided a detailed description of the emptying of the mass graves and the burning of the corpses[165].

Thomas Kues surmised another "possible cause of grave pit enlargement" besides robbery-digging, the downhill movement of human cremation remains in a south-westerly direction from the mass graves in the northern portion of the camp area during heavy rain falls due to an absence of tree cover[166]. This problem is reported to have occurred when all the trees on site were removed and their roots killed as part of the building of the new memorial site in 2003/2004, and Kues speculates that it may also have occurred in the postwar period and "caused the enlargement of the soil volume containing human remains, half a century later leading Kola’s drills to detect (yet) larger graves than were originally present at the site". To his credit, however, Kues readily acknowledges that the extent of this presumed phenomenon is unknown and "might be not very significant", in which he is probably right: while one can imagine cremation remains lying in upper soil layers to be swept downhill during heavy rain falls (certainly a reason of concern for memorial-builders wanting to protect the remains in the soil against perceived desecration), the downhill movement of whole layers of soil and cremation remains up to 5 meters deep, moreover maintaining the regular geometric shape that most of the identified Bełżec graves have, is somewhat harder to fathom.

Regarding the Sobibór mass graves, MGK bluntly claim that, due to the activity of robbery diggers on site and "the unknown number of diggings carried out by the surveyors of the Central Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes in Poland", one may "conclude with high probability that the original size of the mass graves was considerably smaller" than becomes apparent from Prof. Kola’s measurements[167]. They may want to explain why, then, the size of the graves that archaeological investigations points to is in line with what becomes apparent from eyewitness testimonies, such as led the Hagen District Court to conclude that in the camp’s first extermination phase the corpses were buried in large pits, each of them with a length of about 50-60 meters, 10-15 meters wide and about 5-7 meters deep.[168] While it is probable that posterior digging in the area somewhat altered the shape of the mass graves in the surface layers, a wholesale enlargement of graves up to 5 meters or more deep down to the bottom is not so likely, moreover if robbery diggers made small pits like the one shown in Image 2.2.1 (section 2.2). Things might be different if robbery diggers had blasted big holes with explosives like Red Army scavengers did at Treblinka (see section 3.2). MGK are understandably interested in making the most of robbery digging, which is why they refer to Polish witness Parkola’s describing "one of the first wildcat excavations – carried out by a single man – as covering an area of about fifteen square meters"[169]. However, their source provides a less dramatic image of these excavations than MGK’s rendering suggests:[170]

People from the local area suspected that the Jews might have buried valuable items in the ground where the camp had once been. Shortly after the departure of the Germans and Ukrainians they came flocking to dig over the earth. The stationmaster observed how a local road builder staked out an area of about fifteen square meters and dug up several gold rings – including wedding rings – and gold coins. He said they now belonged to him.

In trying to overstate the impact of postwar excavation, MGK also swiftly convert what the 1947 Central Commission Report described as a pit filled with chloride of lime "close to the eastern limit of the camp" into a lime pit close to the eastern limit of the camp’s burial area, to then speculate that grave # 4 (the largest grave in the camp with a surface area of 1,575 m² and an estimated volume of 6,819.80 m³, see see section 2.2, Table 2.2.1), which contains lime (as does grave # 3), might have resulted from a 300 m² lime pit’s being "drastically enlarged by various diggings, including those of the commission surveyors".[171] The lime pit is supposed to have been enlarged to more than five times its original area. The "Revisionist" coryphées are obviously grasping at straws.

3.7 Density of Corpses in the Graves

Karl Alfred Schluch, a former member of the SS staff of Bełżec extermination camp, described one of the graves in that camp as follows in the course of the Munich Public Prosecutor’s Office’s criminal investigation procedure StA München I, AZ: 22 Js 64-93/61[172]:

The size of a pit I can only indicate approximately. It should have been about 30 meters long and 20 meters wide. The depth is difficult to estimate because the side walls were at an angle and on the other hand the earth taken out had been piled up at the edge. I think, however, that the pit may have been 5 to 6 meters deep. All in all one could have comfortably placed a house inside this pit.

Schluch’s description roughly matches the measurements of the larger among the Bełżec mass graves (see section 2.1, Table 2.1.1), but what is especially noteworthy is the impression that the size of the pit described made on the witness: he remembered it as a pit so large that one could have comfortably placed a house inside.

Elementary common sense tells us that who makes graves this big a) does so because he needs them to bury large numbers of bodies and b) intends to use them to the maximum of their capacity. Especially when all known evidence shows that this was what the graves at Bełżec and the other Nazi extermination camps were made for and how they were used – evidence including but not limited to vivid eyewitness descriptions like the following from Sobibór extermination camp:[173]

The first grave had been covered with a layer of sand. As this grave was completely full, the other bodies had to be taken elsewhere, even though the new grave was not yet ready. I still clearly remember arriving for work at the second grave one morning, to find that the bodies which had already been piled up along one side had decomposed to such an extent that in the sweltering heat blood and body fluids had run all along the bottom of the unfinished grave. It was clear that we could not continue to work under such circumstances. I remember giving directions to build a kind of bank, about 30 cm high perhaps, right across the bottom of the grave. Ittner was there as well; I spoke to him about it. In this context I can also give an impression of the extent of deterioration of the bodies in the first grave. The layer of sand covering the grave cracked and rose up to the point where some of the bloated bodies were being pushed to the surface, rolling out sideways. So I had the Arbeitsjuden build a proper sand bank all around the grave. The sight of it all was intolerable, and the stench also unbearable.

Mattogno, Graf & Kues disagree with elementary common sense. In their book, the reasoning that enormous graves are made for enormous numbers of bodies is "fallacious" because "if there were no hundreds of thousands of corpses to dispose of, there would also exist no pressing need to save burial space", and there were "several documented mass graves that have a density of 1-2 corpses per cubic meter"[174].

To be sure, if there were no enormous numbers of corpses to dispose of, there would also exist no pressing need to save burial space. But what need would there have been, then, to create such an enormous amount of burial space in the first place? Why make gigantic pits like grave # 4 at Sobibór, which was 70 meters long, 20-25 meters wide and 5 meters deep and had a volume (corrected for sloping) of 6,819.80 m³, when a few much smaller and more shallow graves would have been sufficient to dispose of the camp’s mortality?[175]

The "several documented mass graves that have a density of 1-2 corpses per cubic meter" were the three graves found by Soviet investigators at Treblinka in August 1944, with the dimensions 10x5x2, 10x5x1.9 and 10x5x2.5 meters[176]. Only one of these graves was a little deeper than the proverbial "six feet below ground", and this grave – the biggest of the three – had a volume of merely 125 cubic meters, i.e. it was about 55 times smaller than Sobibór grave # 4. People may make relatively small graves in order to toss a relatively small number of bodies inside, but who would expend the time, effort and resources required to dig five meters below ground and make a grave with a volume of 6,819.80 m³, only to then squander the grave space so laboriously created by burying corpses at a density of no more than 1-2 corpses per cubic meter? According to Alex Bay, a pit 50 by 25 meters with a volume of 8,500 cubic meters would "require weeks or months to dig by manual methods using picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows, depending on the number of laborers available"; even with mechanical excavators "the time needed to complete these large pits would have been on the order of a two or three weeks"[177]. The time required for the 6,819.80 m³ of Sobibór grave # 4 would be a little but not much less.

One might think that Mattogno, Graf & Kues would like their readers to believe that the SS made graves big enough for a house to comfortably fit in because they liked to keep their Jewish labor force digging all the time, or because they enjoyed the healthy exercise themselves or were so fond of handling excavators that they made enormous graves just for the fun of it.

3.8 Conclusion

The arguments of Mattogno, Graf & Kues discussed above do not support their claim that the physical evidence of the mass graves at Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka is not compatible with or need not correspond to mass murder at these camps on the scale that historiography has established.


[142] Mattogno, Graf & Kues, Die Akte Sobibór, p. 87.
[143] Kola, Sobibór, description of object "C", see Katarzyna Piotrowska’s translation transcribed in the thread 1st Archaeological Research of the Former Jew Extermination Camp at Sobibor in 2001.
[144] See the blog Mass Graves at Nazi Extermination Camps, Sobibór.
[145] MGK, Sobibór, p. 127.
[146] Ibid, p. 130.
[147] See Judgment LG Hagen vom 20.12.1966, 11 Ks 1/64, as note 26; Arad, Reinhard, p. 172.
[148] MGK, Sobibór, pp. 128/129. The source quoted is Max Pauly, Die Feuerbestattung, Leipzig 1904, pp. 19f., 24.
[149] The disease known in English as typhoid fever is caused by the bacterium Salmonella typhi and unrelated in its cause – though similar in certain symptoms, namely a rash on the skin of the diseased – to the disease known in English as typhus, which is caused by the louse-borne bacterium Rickettsia prowazekii. The German terminology is different, designating as Typhus the water-borne disease caused by Salmonella typhi whereas the disease caused by Rickettsia prowazekii is known as Fleckfieber (spotted fever) in German medical terminology and as Läusetyphus in the vernacular .
[150] These factors include environmental conditions like temperature, dessication (increased virus reduction in drying soils), soil PH, cations and soil texture, the depth of the unsaturated zone separating the groundwater table from the bottom of the mass graves, bodies in wax-fat transformation at the bottom of the graves hindering the filtration of leachate, and the disinfecting effect of quicklime, which also hastens decomposition and thus reduces the time during which leachate leaves the bodies. See the discussion in Andrew Mathis, Roberto Muehlenkamp and Sergey Romanov, Well. Well? Well!.
[151] MGK, Treblinka, pp. 139/140.
[152] Mattogno, Bełżec, pp. 88ff.
[153] Kola, Bełżec, p. 28.
[154] For details see Carlo Mattogno on Belzec Archaeological Research - Part 4 (4)
[155] Kola, Bełżec, pp. 25, 28, 30, 32/33.
[156] See biographies on the webpage Belzec Perpetrators. An overview of the German and Austrian SS and Police Staff.
[157] Mattogno, Controversie, p. 52; Controversy
[158] Ibid, p. 53
[159] Ibid, p. 53 and Documento 8 on p. 70.
[160] Kola, Bełżec, pp. 21 to 39.
[161] Kola, Bełżec, p. 19 (reproduced in the thread Archaeological investigation of Belzec mass graves).
[162] This image is an enlargement of the image included in the blog Belzec Mass Graves and Archaeology: My Response to Carlo Mattogno (4,4).
[163] Controversie, Documento 10 on page 72.
[164] Sketch made by SS man Robert Jührs in 1961.
[165] Deposition of Heinrich Gley on 7 January 1943, quoted in Kogon et al, Massenmorde, p. 188 after StA München I, AZ: 22 Js 64-93/61.
[166] Thomas Kues, Grave pit enlargement at Bełżec caused by soil movement?.
[167] MGK, Sobibór, pp. 122f.
[168] Judgment LG Hagen vom 20.12.1966, 11 Ks 1/64, as note 26
[169] MGK, Sobibór, p. 122.
[170] Schelvis 2007, p. 191. Schelvis’ source is the deposition of Franciszek Parkola (head official of Sobibór train station) regarding Sobibór before deputy district attorney Gorgol in Lublin on 05.05.1967 (translation from Polish to German of this deposition in the Dortmund Public Prosecution Office’s file StA.Do Sob 85 PM V NO fl. 127 ff., fl 136; Schelvis file 22, pp. 29 ff., p. 38). Parkola mentioned a German from some road-building enterprise who staked out an area of 15 m² and, after having dug through this area (nach Durchgraben der abgezeichneten Fläche), which he called his, extracted several golden objects by moving the soil one [spade] cut deep (einen Stich tief).
[171] MGK, Sobibór, p. 125.
[172] Quoted in Kogon et al, Massentötungen, p. 168. Translation from German and emphasis are mine. The text of Schluch’s deposition on 11.11.1961 is filed in BAL B162/208 AR-Z 252/59, Bd. VIII, fl. 1504 ff (description of grave on fl. 1513), Schelvis file 49, pp. 225 ff., p. 234.
[173] Deposition of former SS-man Kurt Bolender in Hagen on 18.12.1963 (as note 26).
[174] MGK, Sobibór, pp. 123f.
[175] On pages 167 ff. of their Sobibór book, MGK treat their readers to an "estimate" whereby "the number of Sobibór victims is in the vicinity of 10,000" over a period of 16 months, i.e. ca. 600 per month. To bury 600 corpses at a density of only 3 per cubic meter (half the "maximum" concluded on by Ball according to Mattogno, see section 3.3, and corresponding to the minimum density estimated by medical expert Mieczysław Piotrowski in an investigation of the Treblinka I labor camp’s mass graves in August 1946, see M&G, Treblinka, p. 88), a mere 200 cubic meters of grave space would have been required. The volume of Sobibór grave # 4 alone (corrected for sloping) was 34 times larger.
[176] See note 84.
[177] Bay, Treblinka, Reconstruction of the Death Camp (Continued).

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