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The Design of the Incineration Grills Would Not Have Worked

 

Holocaust Deniers Say:

The design of the incineration grills in the death camps of Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec was faulty and they would not have worked.

To "better understand the outdoor cremation process" an American Holocaust denier recorded a video in which he builds a campfire on the beach over which he props a grill on concrete blocks. He proceeds to tend a single 12.5 pound leg of lamb on top of the grill for hours, adding more wood at regular intervals. Ultimately, the video-maker declares the experiment a failure. The fire does not completely reduce the leg of lamb to ashes. Based on his experiment he concludes that "the Germans wouldn’t have done it that way." Instead, he argues, they would have used the "medieval technology of an adjustable height grill." 1
What we know about how the incineration grills were built
There were no Jewish survivors who had direct experience with the extermination process in Belzec or Sobibor and although there were two from Treblinka-Yankiel Wiernik and Yechiel Reichman-these men mostly described the extermination process in general terms. In this case, the best witnesses are the SS perpetrators themselves who described the incineration grills in their testimony at various trials after the war.
  • In Treblinka, SS Oberscharführer Heinrich Matthes, the commander of the extermination area, testified at the first Treblinka trial in Düsseldorf, Germany in 1964: ". . . railway lines and concrete blocks were placed together. The corpses were piled on these rails. Brushwood was put under the rails. The wood was doused with petrol. In that way not only the newly accumulated corpses were cremated, but also those taken out from the graves." 2
  • Pavel Leleko, a Ukrainian guard in Treblinka, also described the grill: "It had the shape of a cement pit about one meter deep and 20 meters long. A series of furnaces covered on the top with four rows of rails extended along the entire length of one of the walls of the pit. The bodies were laid on the rails, caught fire from the flames burning in the furnaces and burned." 3
  • In Sobibor, Karl Streibel, who visited the camp at the end of 1942, said that the "roaster made from the railway lines was supported by a stone base." 4
It appears that in general the incineration grills were built in or over a pit. Concrete blocks supported the railroad rails at intervals down the length of the pit. The fuel was put into the pit under the actual grill and doused with oil or gas. 5 An image of the Treblinka grill's design is available at http://www.deathcamps.org/treblinka/pic/bigl1model32.jpg.
If incineration grills were so inefficient, then why did they work so well in Dresden?
In February 1945, in the aftermath of the Allied air raid on Dresden, Germany, 6,865 bodies were burned in the central square, the Altmarkt. There are several photographs in existence showing this process including the one displayed at http://www.nizkor.org/ftp.cgi/places/germany/dresden/images/dresden-pyre-01.jpg. (Warning: this image is graphic.)
David Irving, whom the High Court in London declared to be a Holocaust denier, racist and antisemite, describes the design of the grill and the process of incineration in his 1963 book on the Dresden air raid:
"The steel girders had been winched out of the ruins of the Renner department store on the Altmarkt "and these had been laid across crudely collected piles of sandstone blocks. A gigantic grill over twenty-feet long was being erected. Under the steel girders and bars were poked bundles of wood and straw. On top of the grill were heaped the corpses, four or five hundred at a time, with more straw between each layer . . . Finally gallons of gasoline . . . were poured over the stacks of victims. A senior officer cleared the Altmarkt"square of all unnecessary bystanders, and set a match to the heap. Once again thick black smoke coiled up from the center of the Dresden Altmarkt". 6
Since the High Court in London has ruled David Irving an unreliable source, one must verify his retelling through reference to a more reliable one. Frederick Taylor, the author of an historical account on the Dresden air raid, Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945 (2004), confirms Irving’s account on both the design of the grill and the process and concludes that the "task was efficiently done."7
So, according to both Taylor and Irving, the bodies were reduced to ashes and bone fragments using a method nearly identical to the incineration grills in the Operation Reinhard camps.
"Medieval" adjustable-height grills?
The denier who made the video claims that the incineration process in the camps was so primitive that even people in the Middle Ages, who used "adjustable height" grills, would have done a better job of incinerating hundreds of thousands of bodies more efficiently. He argues that the Germans would have used such an inefficient process. He concludes therefore, the mass incinerations never happened and the extermination camps never existed.
However, as is typical in denier claims, he offers no evidence about the existence of "medieval adjustable-height" grills, nor even a description of how one would have worked. His speculation that such grills would have worked better and that the German Nazis would have known that remains just idle speculation. It is not historical evidence.
Conclusion
The American Holocaust denier video-maker uses a logical fallacy in his attempt to prove his position. Rather than using the tools of historiography such as documentary evidence or eyewitness testimony, he tries to convince his listeners through an example he claims is similar: in this case, the attempted burning of the lamb. However, the Germans were not trying to burn a leg of lamb on the beach. They were using the best and simplest mechanism at hand for destroying the largest number of bodies. Through the testimony of the Nazis themselves we know how the grills were designed in Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec.
The Germans built huge fixed-height grills made from concrete and steel railroad rails over a pit full of fuel soaked with gasoline or oil. The design was primitive but very effective.

Notes

1. See Episode 23: "Lamb" at www.onethirdoftheholocaust.com.
2. Treblinka-Franz, Band 10, p. 2057 as cited in Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (Indiana University Press, 1987), p. 174.
3. "The Interrogation of Pavel Vladimirovich Leleko," The Soviet Protocols, February 20, 1945 at http://www.nizkor.org/hweb/people/l/leleko-pavel-v/leleko-001.html. Leleko’s "furnaces" were probably subdivisions of the pit created by concrete blocks placed at intervals in it to support the steel rails. The "rails" he was referring to are the long metal strips along which the trains roll (as opposed to "ties," or the wooden beams which provide support that are laid perpendicular to and underneath the steel rails.)
4. Sobibor-Bolender, Band 9, p. 1743 as cited in Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (Indiana University Press, 1987), p. 172.
5. Every year hundreds of thousands of animals around the world have to be destroyed due to sickness. In one such incident in Taiwan, the carcasses of thousands of pigs had to be destroyed. The elected method was cremation on a grill. The grill the scientists constructed is very similar to those described in the death camps. You may see pictures of this incineration at http://www.pahlawan.com.my/voice/pahlawan19.shtml. Warning: these pictures are graphic.
6. David Irving, Apocalypse 1945: The Destruction of Dresden (Focal Point Press, 2007), pp. 234, 235. This passage can be accessed at http://fpp.co.uk/books/Dresden/Apocalypse_2007.pdf.
7. Frederick Taylor, Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945 (Perennial, 2004), pp. 350, 351.
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