Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka. Holocaust Denial and Operation Reinhard. Chapter 5: Gas Chambers at the Aktion Reinhard Camps (7). Archaeology of the Gas Chambers.

Archaeology of the Gas Chambers

A relatively recent development among Revisionist writers has been a heavy focus on physical evidence in their denial; likely a sign of intellectual bankruptcy, brought about by their failure to refute countless witnesses and documents, as well as provide a coherent and supported alternative explanation of resettlement. In nearly all of MGK’s writings since 2002 with the original German edition of Treblinka there has been a similar focal point on ‘forensic’ evidence, including in their criticisms of all three Reinhard camps.[273]
Before we explore the archaeological findings related to the gas chambers, it is important to keep in mind that the Nazis made a concerted effort to destroy all evidence in relation to the Reinhard death camps. On November 4, 1943, Globocnik confirmed the end of Aktion Reinhard in a letter to Himmler, writing that he had “dissolved (aufgelöst) all the camps.”[274] What Globocnik meant with such dissolution can be seen in Dubois’ testimony:
In March or April 1943 the transports to Belzec and consequently the gassing op­erations stopped quite suddenly. Staff members of the Belzec camp were informed that the camp would be completely rebuilt.  A Jewish work commando, whose size I don’t remember, was in charge of the demolition work.  It is worth mention that to this point in time the cremation of the corpses was finished and the graves were leveled.  The camp was entirely cleared and leveled accor­dingly.  I heard that some planting was performed there.[275] 
Sobibor official Franz Hödl also described the removal of the gas chambers prior to his return to the camp in November 1943:
When I returned to Sobibor in November 1943, I learned of this (death of a camp official). By this time, the gas chambers were already torn down.[276]
Globocnik was also eager to destroy as many documents related to the camps as he could, writing to Himmler in January 1944 that “all vouchers should be destroyed as soon as possible, as has been done in the case of all other documents pertaining to this operation (Reinhard).”[277] The question must be asked, why such a strong campaign to conceal evidence for the camps’ functions would be necessary if they ultimately served as innocent transit camps for purposes of resettlement as proposed by MGK?
Polish Judge Lukaszkiewicz travelled to Treblinka in late 1945 to investigate the grounds of the camp site, with the help of several Treblinka survivors. Excavations and diggings were performed between November 9 and 13, largely focusing on locating the mass graves in the camp.[278] Briefly on one of the days, a search was also undertaken for the gas chambers of the camp. Lukaskiewicz recorded the search as follows:
November 11, 1945
A series of test excavations were performed at the place where the [gas] chambers had to have been located, in order to find their foundation walls if possible. Pits 10 - 15 meters in length and 1.5 meters deep were dug.
Undisturbed layers of earth were uncovered by this.[279]
Thus, the search for the gas chamber was unsuccessful. This should no come as a complete surprise. The witnesses who directed the brief Polish investigation on sites to excavate (Samuel Rajzman, Tanhum Grinberg, Szimon Friedman, and M. Mittelberg) were not direct witnesses to the gassings, as they did not work in the extermination sector of the camp, so there is no reason why we should expect them to know the exact location of the gas chambers, especially when they could have been confused as the site had been thoroughly devastated by the retreating Nazis and the Polish ‘gold rush’ that ensued. The investigating team also does not appear to have been exhaustive in their search for the structures, as seen by their continued work on other grave sites that same day, and the limited amount of work put towards locating the gas chambers (“test excavations”). 

Image 5.5: Map of Graves Found to Contain Brick Rubble in Belzec
Source: http://holocaust-history.org/belzec/deathcamp/Figure%20463.html

During the late 1990s, Toruń University Professor Andrzej Kola led an archaeological team to perform work on the Belzec camp site. During the work, Kola discovered the remains of two buildings that he originally suspected served as the first and second phase gas chambers, which he labelled buildings “D” and “G” in his report.[280] Kola later concluded that building “D” did not operate as a gas chamber, but held to his view that the wooden remains of building “G” could “hypothetically be regarded as the remains of the 2nd gas chamber.”[281]
For building “G”, the presumed remains of the second phase gas chamber, Kola writes as follows:
The location of the building with death chambers functioning in the second stage of the camp in Belzec should be searched in the central part. R. Reder’s report says that on both sides of the loading platform along the building burial pits were situated, either filled with corpses or prepared for them. The dead bodies were transported from the platform manually, which indicates that way was not too distanced. The drills did not prove any graves in the central part of the camp, although the other non grave structures occurred. In the place of the biggest concentration of non grave structures the archaeological survey recognized the traces of non-defined building with the size of about 15 x 3.5 m (building G). It was a completely wooden building. They may have been relicts of the second gas chamber from the second stage of the camp existence. Such an interpretation is supported by planigraphy of the camp. Reder’s information, that the building was made of concrete, does not seem to be convincing, because no traces of concrete objects were spotted in the central part. The tar paper mentioned by him, which was to cover the flat gas chamber rood, is archaeologically proved in the relict layers of the building.[282]
As previously pointed out by Alex Bay, Kola’s suggestion that the second phase gas chamber was completely wooden does not take into account the fact that several nearby graves were found to have brick rubble during the archaeological work, which can be seen in the image presented below. Three of the four graves containing bricks were located within 50-60 meters of Kola’s building “G”, the presumed new gas chamber.[283]
Bay also believes that the new gas chamber in Belzec could have been built on a wooden grade beam foundation, a system which would be efficient, cheap, and quick to build.[284] On top of the foundation, brick walls could then be used for the building as a whole, creating and dividing it into six gas chambers. During the liquidation of the camp itself, the building could have been taken apart, if anything leaving parts of the wooden foundation behind in some areas (not necessary in all areas of the building, meaning Kola could have missed some parts of the building). Kues contested this explanation, his essential argument being that according to Bay’s theory Prof. Kola would have “somehow managed to miss the major part of the building’s remains.”[285] Kues rhetorically asked whether this is “really plausible”, thus making an argument from incredulity. Depending on the thoroughness of the camp’s dismantling and subsequent modifications of the area due to robbery-digging, Prof. Kola’s not having found more than he did find need not be implausible at all. Bay considers it possible that Prof. Kola also missed several of the Belzec mass graves.[286] On the other hand, arguments against Prof. Kola’s interpretation of building "G" are also brought up by archaeologists Gilead, Haimi and Mazurek, who conclude that "the claim that building G is a gassing installation cannot be substantiated”[287] It comes as no surprise that Kues gleefully refers to their conclusions, which seemingly also give substance to Mattogno’s earlier euphoria:
To recapitulate: On the one hand, the archaeological findings contradict the testimonies and the judicial findings, making them inadmissible; on the other hand, Kola’s hypotheses regarding the functions of “Building G” are in disagreement with the testimonies and the judicial findings. However, if we are to accept the official thesis, we cannot free ourselves from these sources: Either the gas chambers did exist the way the witnesses have described them, or they did not exist at all. And because the archaeological findings contradict the witnesses, the gas chambers of the second phase of the camp never existed.[288]
However, what neither Mattogno nor Kues tell their readers is that Prof. Kola did not investigate all objects and structures in the camp area, as he expressly pointed out in his book when writing that the examined relicts of 8 buildings were "only few of all the objects of the camp" and that further interpretation was possible "only after more detailed excavation"[289] This means that one cannot exclude the hypothesis that traces of one or both gas chamber buildings could still have been found by "more detailed excavation" in other places in the camp area.
At the same time, Mattogno’s above-quoted reasoning is a showpiece of Revisionist ill-reasoning (to put it politely). To the extent that archaeological findings contradict eyewitness testimonies, either of the two are wrong, that’s all. If it’s the eyewitness testimonies that are wrong, this does not mean they are "inadmissible". It only means that they cannot be relied on as concerns the particular details proven wrong by archaeology, and arguably that their reliability as concerns other details is also questionable bar corroboration by other evidence. However, the description of the gas chamber building in the camp’s second phase as a concrete rather than a wooden building comes from several eyewitnesses independent of each other, and there’s no reason to assume that all these eyewitnesses were wrong about the essential features of homicidal gassing at Belzec. Thus the likelier conclusion to be derived from this contradiction is that Prof. Kola's hypothesis regarding building "G" is wrong and building "G" was either the first gas chamber building or no gas chamber building at all.
This, in turn, would mean that either Prof. Kola sought the gas chamber building in the wrong place (a distinct possibility because his investigation did not cover all objects in the camp area, as pointed out above) or that the SS understandably went to great lengths to remove all traces of the gas chamber buildings that might allow for their location and identification. Why such thorough erasure should not have been possible Mattogno does not explain, instead offering a silly argument at incredulity whereby the SS would not have thoroughly erased the traces of the gas chamber building unless they "sensed that over half a century later Kola and Robin O’Neil would come looking for them with their manual drill". Archaeologists investigating the place half a century later were certainly not the SS-men’s concern, but Soviet or Polish forensic investigators employing archaeological means to identify the gas chamber buildings are likely to have been, which is why Mattogno’s argument comes across as rather unintelligent.[290]
Archaeological studies have also taken place at the site of the Sobibor camp. Kola briefly conducted work at the site in 2000-2001, during which he identified mass graves and uncovered the remains of five buildings in a small section of the camp.[291] It is noteworthy that during the work, Kola did not perform excavations in the areas where he suspected the gas chambers to be, in close proximity to the mass graves, presumably for the same reasons that precluded excavations in the mass grave areas at Belzec, i.e. concerns of religious Jews about what they considered a desecration of the dead.[292] One of the buildings he did excavate (building “E”), estimated around 60 m long and located in the south-western section of the extermination area, was guessed by Kola to serve as an undressing barrack.[293]
During further studies of the camp site by archaeologist Yoram Haimi’s team, the location of the gas chambers remained a key issue for the archaeologists to solve. A possible location may already have been found:
Yoram noticed a number of post holes, and he used those to target his excavations for the possible site of the gas chambers. After the Germans blew up the gas chambers, they pulled the concrete pillars out of the ground, and pieces of metal fell into the holes. Those pieces of metal became readily identified as magnetic anomalies.[294]
The above statement reflects the complex nature of the search for the gas chamber structure, given the efforts by the Nazis to destroy traces of their murderous activities.
Archaeological work at the Sobibor camp is still ongoing, with publications from the archaeological team expected to appear in 2011, along with a documentary of their work to be released in the fall through the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Thus, no solid conclusions can be obtained until the mentioned archaeological team’s full research is published. In addition to the expected archaeological studies, Alex Bay has also been analyzing wartime photographs of Sobibor in an effort to better detect the remains of structures and aspects of the former camp.[295] 
Also with Sobibor, MGK have feebly attempted to use the archaeological evidence to support their transit camp thesis by focusing on two of Professor Kola’s Sobibor finds. The first, building “A”, was described by Kola as a small building measuring 2.75 x 2.75 m with a basement, likely with an oven, and that probably functioned as a blacksmith’s workshop. Without any evidence whatsoever, MGK instead wish to see this building as containing a hot air disinfestations furnace or a hot-water boiler, drawing a comparison (again, without evidence) to the Zentralsauna in Auschwitz.[296] That this building was isolated from all other structures discovered by Kola by many meters (unlike the Zentralsauna), that no type of piping was discovered to carry heated water, and that there is no witness or documentary evidence for such a building (the latter is usually demanded by Revisionists) does not stop MGK from their wishful thinking. Regarding Kola’s building “E”, MGK  capitalize on various perceived inconsistencies: while "all maps of Sobibor place the gas chamber building in the south-western part of camp III, which is exactly where Object E is located," the characteristics of Object E are "absolutely incompatible with those of the alleged second phase gas chamber building," among other things because "no witness has ever mentioned the presence in camp III of a structure the size of the larger barrack," Prof. Kola’s suggestion that Object E served as an undressing or sorting barrack is dismissed because "it lacks a basis in the testimonial evidence and is in fact contradicted by the eye witnesses who claim that the Jewish deportees had to undress before they entered the camouflaged pathway, known as the Schlauch (tube)"[297] (while dismissing testimonial evidence whenever it is incompatible with the Revisionist agenda, MGK have no problem with invoking testimonial evidence or the lack thereof when it suits their argument).
MGK’s arguments amount to much ado about nothing if one considers the simple explanation that Object E was a building set up after the camp’s dismantlement, namely that it was part of the "small farm" created on the area of Sobibor (as well as the other two Aktion Reinhard camps) "for reasons of surveillance", according to Globocnik’s letter to Himmler dated January 5, 1944.[298] Though this document is mentioned in other contexts by MGK,[299] the inconvenient reference to the "reasons of surveillance" (why surveillance?) that these farms were meant to serve, along with other parts of 4024-PS discussed in this section, is conveniently omitted by these "inconvenient historians."
MGK and other deniers have also shown a blatant double standard in their demands and elevation of archaeological evidence, while ignoring the obvious failure of Revisionists to publish Richard Krege’s report after allegedly conducting ground penetrating radar work at the Treblinka extermination camp. Krege is said to have first conducted preliminary investigations in October 1999, with more results gathered in 2000, when Graf accompanied Krege to Treblinka, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Belzec.[300] Krege’s work was initially expected to be included with Mattogno and Graf’s book on Treblinka (first published in 2002), but apparently was delayed for the purpose of its own separate publication. This work, which Graf valued as possessing “special importance,” has still not appeared more than ten years after the alleged occurrence of the study, despite the publication of several other Revisionist works as well (ruling out publishing limitations).[301] In his articles, prior to discovering Kola’s 2001 Polish article on the work in the Sobibor camp, Thomas Kues several times declared that without such a public article in any language, the value of Kola’s archaeological work was deemed to be “highly questionable,” if worth anything at all.[302] Kues also took the liberty to suggest that Kola or his associates “delayed the publication of documentation in order to avoid critical scrutiny.” Of course, these comments are irrelevant as Kola did publish material on his archaeological work in the camp in 2001; however, would MGK accept similar comments regarding the failure of Krege to publish the results of his work, formerly partnered with their own?
With clear evidence of building removal and camp destruction by the Nazis, turning the sites into virtual wastelands, we are unlikely to ever get a completely accurate picture of the layout of the three Reinhard camps during their operation; this was the exact purpose of the Nazi efforts. Due to the limited or unfinished archaeological work throughout the camps the issue of the gas chambers’ locations remains unclear at this point, a situation which MGK have exploited in their criticisms of the exterminations. Even if buildings were discovered and declared to be the gas chambers, no doubt MGK would provide some excuse to continue their denials of the reality of homicidal gassings; Gilead et al point out in their article that, as the “standing gas chambers of Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau are currently denied as such (by Holocaust deniers), there is a minimal chance, if at all, that future exposure of poorly preserved remains of gas chambers” will cause deniers any reason to correct their beliefs.[303] The same goes for what is perhaps a more important archaeological discovery than an old structure’s traces, the enormous mass graves and huge amounts of human remains that have been located in all three Reinhard camps, corresponding to far more than the 5% of deportees that MGK assume to have perished in these camps.[304] And yet deniers still cling to their core faith.

[273] M&G, Treblinka, pp.77-111, 137-152; Mattogno, Bełżec, pp.71-97; MGK, Sobibór, pp.107-171.
[274] 4024-PS; IMT Vol. XXXIV, p.77.
[275] Karl Dubois, 16.9.1961, BAL 162/208 AR-Z 252/59, pp. 1402-1403.
[276] Franz Hödl, 18.04.1963, BAL 162/208 AR-Z 251/59, Bd. 9, p.1823. 
[277] Globocnik an Himmler, 4.1.1944, 4024-PS; IMT Vol. XXXIV, p.71.
[278] More on these excavations can be found in the chapter on Mass Graves.
[279] Protokol czynnosci wykomanych w terenie w toku dochodzenia sadowego w sprawie obozu smierci w Treblince, AIPN NTN 69, p.97R.
[280] Kola, Bełżec, pp.65-69.
[281] Ibid., p.69.
[282] Ibid.
[283] Bay, ‘Reconstruction of Belzec: Camp II The Killing and Graves Area.’
[284] Bay, ‘Reconstruction of Belzec:  Appendix A Grade Beam System of Construction of the New Gas Chamber.’
[285] Thomas Kues, ‘Traces of a Chimera, or Belzec’s Vanishing Gas Chamber Building,’ Inconvenient History Blog, 3.4.10, http://www.revblog.codoh.com/2010/04/traces-of-a-chimera-or-belzec%E2%80%99s-vanishing-gas-chamber-building/
[286] Bay, ‘Belzec.’ Discussion in Roberto Muehlenkamp, ‘Belzec Mass Graves and Archaeology - Continuation (2)’, Holocaust Controversies Blog, 10.3.10, http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2010/03/belzec-mass-graves-and-archaeology_10.html
[287] Isaac Gilead, Yoram Haimi and Wojciech Mazurek, ‘Excavating Nazi Extermination Centres’, Present Pasts, 1, 2009, online: http://presentpasts.info/index.php/pp/article/view/2/2
[288] Mattogno, Bełżec, p.94
[289] Kola, Bełżec, p.66.
[290] For discussion of this and other arguments of Mattogno’s see Roberto Muehlenkamp, ‘Belzec Mass Graves and Archaeology: My Response to Carlo Mattogno (5,1)’, Holocaust Controversies, 31.7.09, http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2009/07/belzec-mass-graves-and-archaeology-my_31.html
[291] Andrzej Kola, ‘Badania archeologiczne terenu byłego obozu zagłady Żydów w Sobiborze w 2001 r’ (‘Archaeological Research of the Former Jew Extermination Camp at Sobibor in 2001’), in: Przeszłość i Pamięć. Biuletyn Rady Ochrony Pamięci Walk i Męczeństwa 4/21 z 2001 r, pp.115-123. This article has been translated into English by Katarzyna Piotrowska; the translation is available under http://holocaustcontroversies.yuku.com/topic/1071
[292] See the Mass Graves section and the discussion in Muehlenkamp, ‘Belzec Mass Graves and Archaeology: My Response to Carlo Mattogno (1)’ (http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2009/05/belzec-mass-graves-and-archaeology-my.html ) and ‘Belzec Mass Graves and Archaeology - Continuation (1)’ (http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2010/03/belzec-mass-graves-and-archaeology_7846.html
[293] Gilead et al, ‘Excavating Nazi Extermination Centres,’ mention that in later reconstructions including the map by B. Rutherford (http://web.archive.org/web/20060303202718/http://deathcamps.org/sobibor/pic/bmap21.jpg), this structure is considered to be the gas chamber building.
[294] Leonard Felson, ‘The Secrets of Sobibor: An Oral History,’ Reader’s Digest, August 2010, http://legacy.rd.com/content/printContent.do?contentId=183235&KeepThis=true&TB_iframe=true&height=500&width=790&modal=true .
[295] Gilead et al, ‘Excavating Nazi Extermination Centres.’
[296] MGK, Sobibór, p.286.
[297] MGK, Sobibór, p.161.
[298] 4024-PS; IMT Vol. XXXIV, p.72. See also Roberto Muehlenkamp, ‘On 12.05.2011, Demjanjuk was sentenced to 5 years in prison,’ Holocaust Controversies, 14.5.11, http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2011/05/on-12052011-demjanjuk-was-sentenced-to.html
[299] MGK, Sobibór, p.250, due to its mention of  “measures for the conciliation of the foreign ethnicities in the case of resettlement”.
[300] Jürgen Graf, ‘Treblinka: Extermination Camp or Transit Camp?’ The Revisionist, 2/1, 2004, p.98.
[301] The probable reason why Krege’s report has not been published is that Krege realized that his GPR had discovered what it was supposed to prove the non-existence of, i.e. soil disturbances indicating the presence of mass graves corresponding to mass murder on an enormous scale. For indications in this direction see the assessment of Krege’s published GPR scan by GPR expert Lawrence B. Conyers Quoted in the post dated Tue Nov 13, 2007 2:12 am by "wet blanket" on the "Atheist Parents" discussion forum, http://www.atheistparents.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=14940&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=25); regarding Conyers' GPR expertise see his website at University of Denver, http://mysite.du.edu/~lconyer/).  
[302] Kues, ‘The Alleged First Gas Chamber Building at Sobibor’; Thomas Kues, ‘The Ground Water Level at Sobibor 1942-1943,’ CODOH, http://www.codoh.com/newrevoices/nrtksgwl.html.
[303] Gilead et al, ‘Excavating Nazi Extermination Centres,’ pp.13-14.
[304] See the section Mattogno et al’s Claims and Arguments, Chapter 7.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for an interesting blog. I am researching the post-war life of Franz Hodl and was wondering if you could give me the full reference to this document?
    "Franz Hödl, 18.04.1963, BAL 162/208 AR-Z 251/59, Bd. 9, p.1823."
    Could you tell me where I could see/obtain a copy of Hodl's evidence?


Please read our Comments Policy