Mass Incineration of so many bodies would have produced too much ash to fit in the mass graves
The Holocaust Deniers Say:
In Belzec the amount of human and wood ash that would have been created by the incineration of 600,000 or more corpses would have filled the entire volume of known mass graves with "60 railroad freight cars" left over. 1
Holocaust denier Carlo Mattogno asserts that his calculations, that there would have been too much wood and human ash from the mass incinerations to be reburied in the mass graves, proves his theory that Belzec (and Sobibor and Treblinka) was a "transit camp" for Jews being deported further east.
How Mattogno arrives as his figures for wood usage:
- He estimates that 46 kilograms is the weight of an average body. Multiplying by 600,000 bodies he comes up with 1,350 tons of human ash with a volume of 2,560 cubic meters.
- He claims that the 96,000 tons of wood would have created 7,680 tons of wood ash with a volume of 22,600 cubic meters.
- The total volume of ash is therefore 25,300 cubic meters (2,700 + 22,600).
- The known area of the mass graves in Belzec is 21,310 cubic feet-leaving according to Mattogno about 4,000 cubic meters left over.
Why are Mattogno’s figures wrong?
As was demonstrated in LP 5, Parts 1 and 2 2 , Mattogno’s figures for both the total kilograms of human remains and the total kilograms of wood needed are many times too high. More accurate figures are:
- The average body weighed about 25 kilograms, not 45 kilograms. Mattogno’s figures are almost 2 times too high.
- The total amount of wood needed is about 6 times less than the amount Mattogno calculated. The amount of wood needed was closer to 1 kilogram of wood for 1 kilogram of remains (a 1:1 ratio.)
Using these more realistic figures for the mass incinerations in Belzec, the total amount of human and wood ash produced was closer to:
- 1,500 cubic meters of human ash and 3,530 cubic meters of wood ash.
- This is a total of 5,030 cubic meters of ash which is only 24 percent of the total known area of the mass graves.
Mattogno contends that open air burning would produce more ash than a cremation in a formal cremation oven. However, he offers no supporting evidence for this assertion nor does he tell the reader how much more ash open air burning would produce.
Even increasing the figures arbitrarily to 35 kilograms for the average body and increasing the ratio of wood to 2 kilograms of wood to 1 kilogram of human remains (a 2:1 ratio) would have produced a total of 9,760 cubic meters of ash, or 45% of the total volume available in the mass graves.
Recall, too, that the figure of 21,310 cubic meters is the minimum volume of the mass graves, as two of the largest graves extend outside the current area of the camp onto private land and could not be measured.
What we know about the disposal of the ashes in the camps
Yitzhak Arad, the primary scholar of the Operation Reinhard camps, summarizes generally the situation regarding the disposal of bone remnants and teeth that existed in all three camps:
"When the fire went out, there were only skeletons or scattered bones on the roasters, and piles of ash underneath. Another special prisoner team, known as the "ash group" (Aschkolonne), had the task of collecting the ash and removing the remains of the charred bones from the grill and placing them on tin sheets. Round wooden sticks were then used to break the bones into small fragments. These were then run through a tightly woven screen made of metal wire; those bone fragments which did not pass through the screen were returned for further smashing. Unburned bones which proved difficult to fragment were returned to the roaster and reignited with a new pile of bodies." 3
It is also possible that all of the ashes were not reburied on site but disposed of in other ways:
- Regarding Chelmno, Simon Srebnik, one of the two survivors, said: "There was a concrete platform some distance away [from the incineration pits], and the bones that hadn’t burned, the big bones of the feet, for example, we took. There was a chest with two handles. We carried the bones there, where others had to crush them. It was very fine, that powdered bone. Then it was put into sacks, and when there were enough sacks, we went to a bridge on the Narew River, and dumped the powder. The current carried it off. It drifted downstream." 4
- In Auschwitz-Birkenau, Rudolf Höss, the commandant of the camp, wrote about the handling of ashes in the crematoria ovens and the open air burning pits: "During the period when the fires [in the crematoria ovens] were kept continuously burning without a break, the ashes fell through the grates and were constantly removed and crushed to powder. The ashes were taken by trucks to the Vistula [River], where they immediately dissolved and drifted away. The ashes taken from the burning pits near Bunker II and from Crematory V were handled in the same way." 5
We have very little information about the handling of ashes in the three Operation Reinhard camps. Of the about 1.8 million Jews who passed through their gates, only two men who worked in the extermination area in Treblinka survived. One of these men, Yankiel Wiernik, who survived Treblinka, dwells on the horror of the incinerations and of working on the burning detail in his testimony but he does not speak in detail about ash disposal, other than it was returned to the mass graves and reburied. However, it is reasonable to conclude that some of the ashes from the Operation Reinhard camps may also have been dumped into rivers or used as fertilizer or in road building as occurred in other camps.
Mattogno’s backyard grill experiment does not even remotely resemble the conditions in the mass incineration process in the camps; as a result, his conclusions about the amount of ash produced are invalid and his figures about the amount of wood and human ash produced are grossly inflated.
Taking into account more realistic figures for the amount of wood and the total mass of the volume of the bodies buried in Belzec’s mass graves, there was more than adequate space to re-bury the human and wood ash that was produced from the mass incinerations.
1. Carlo Mattogno, Belzec in Propaganda, Testimonies, Archaeological Research, and History (Theses & Dissertations Press, 2004), p. 86.
2. (link here, with whatever you end up calling them)
3. Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (Indiana University Press, 1987), p. 176.
4. Simon Srebnik’s testimony in Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah. The film transcript is available in Claude Lanzmann, Shoah: The Complete Text of the Acclaimed Holocaust Film (Da Capo Press, 1995), pp. 10, 11.
5. Rudolph Höss, Death Dealer: The Memoirs of the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz, edited by Steven Paskuly (Prometheus Books, 1992), p. 45.