Learning Tools

Myth/Fact Sheets

The bodies of Jewish victims would not have burned "on their own"


The Holocaust Deniers Say:

The bodies would not have burned " like wood" like the eyewitnesses said.

An American Holocaust denier cites the account of Yankiel Wiernik, a survivor of Treblinka, and one of the few people who actually witnessed the incineration process, as saying that the bodies "burned on their own" and insists that this was impossible.
How would the bodies have burned?
Only two survivors of Treblinka can speak to the incineration process in the Operation Reinhard camps (specifically Treblinka) with first-hand knowledge: Yankiel Wiernik and Yechiel Reichmann.
In one line among several pages of his account of the mass incineration process in Treblinka, Wiernik wrote: "It turned out that bodies of women burned more easily than those of men. Accordingly, the bodies of women were used for kindling the fire." 1
The denier understands this passage to mean that the bodies of women burned on their own "like wood."
How the bodies were burned
This denier does not tell the whole story however. Yechiel Reichman, the only other survivor of Treblinka who saw the incineration process, added a little more detail to Wiernik’s observation:
"The SS 'expert’ on body burning ordered us to put women, particularly fat women, on the first layer of the grill, face down. The second layer could consist of whatever was brought-men, women, or children-and so on, layer on top of layer . . . Then the 'expert’ ordered us to lay dry branches under the grill and to light them. Within a few minutes the fire would take so it was difficult to approach the crematorium from as far as 50 meters away . . . The work was extremely difficult. The stench was awful." 2
Reichman’s account reveals that the bodies did not burn on their own "like wood" but were set alight with wood under the grill.
Heinrich Matthes, the commander of the extermination area in Treblinka, confirms the use of wood:
"At that time SS Oberscharführer or Hauptscharführer [Herbert] Floss, who, as I assume, was previously in another extermination camp, arrived. He was in charge of the arrangements for incinerating the corpses. The incineration took place in such a way that 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." 3
The incineration process
In the Operation Reinhard camps, the Germans were faced with disposal of two different types of bodies:
  • Bodies from the mass graves that had been buried for at least one month and had lost most of their soft tissues and bodily fluids (about 60% of the body is water) and were only dry skin and bones which, once ignited, burned like coal, and created a very hot fire. Also, the decomposition process produces methane and butyric acid which are highly flammable.
  • Bodies of people from recent transport who had just been murdered and which contained fat which also contributed fuel to the incineration process. These were the bodies that were placed on the bottom to continue to feed the fire with fat.4
Placing bodies with a higher fat content on the bottom was also practiced in Auschwitz-Birkenau, as described by Filip Müller, a member of the Sonderkommando that burned the bodies in the crematory ovens. According to Müller they were sorted for their combustibility:
" . . the corpses of the well-nourished were to help burn the emaciated. Under the direction of the Kapos, the bearers began sorting the dead into four stacks. The largest consisted mainly of strong men, the next in size of women, then came children, and lastly a stack of dead Mussulmans, emaciated and nothing but skin and bones . . . the most economical and fuel-saving procedure would be to burn the bodies of a well-nourished man and an emaciated woman, or vice versa, together with that of a child, because as the experiments had established, in this combination, once they had caught fire, the dead would continue to burn without any further coke being required."5
The Holocaust deniers select short passages that they believe support their contention that mass incineration of bodies on the grills in the death camps was impossible. They distort and omit the evidence we do have to justify their pre-conceived conclusions.
And yet, even in a video made by this same denier, one can see that a leg of lamb, placed on a small grill did ignite briefly and burned "on its own" just as the Holocaust deniers claim cannot have happened. 6
The evidence shows that bodies do burn when the grills and pits were properly built and provided with enough fuel.


1. Yankel Wiernik, A Year in Treblinka (American Representation of the General Jewish Workers’ Union of Poland, New York, 1945) at , Chapter 9.
2. Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (Indiana University Press, 1987), p. 175, citing YVA, 0-3/3816, pp. 41-42, testimony of Yechiel Reichman.
3. Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (Indiana University Press, 1987), p. 174.
4. For more information on this process see "Carlo Mattogno on Belzec Archaeological Research," Part 4.2 "Wood Requirements" at .
5. Filip Müller, Eyewitness Auschwitz: Three Years in the Gas Chambers (Ivan R. Dee, 1979): p. 98, 99.
6. See Clip 23: "Lamb" at www.onethirdoftheholocaust.com.
Popups by overLIB