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    Operation Reinhard Evidence: Use of Excavators

    What is the primary documentary evidence that excavators were used to dig the mass graves and exhume the bodies for cremation in the Operation Reinhard death camps of Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor?

    Holocaust deniers claim:

    The only proof that excavators were used in the Operation Rein hard death camps of Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor are two drawings created by a survivor.

    The facts are:

    Evidence, including photographs, documents, and eyewitness testimony, shows that excavators were used to exhume the bodies of the Jews from the mass graves in the Operation Reinhard death camps of Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor.

    Holocaust deniers claim that the “sole” proof that excavators were used in Treblinka to remove the remains from the graves for incineration is “two drawings produced by S. Willenberg in the 1980s, in which one sees a part of the camp with an excavator in the background!”[1]

    The facts about the existence and use of the excavators in Treblinka.

    Samuel Willenberg’s drawings are not the “sole” proof of the existence and use of excavators in the Treblinka. There are also photographs, documents, and eyewitness evidence about the acquisition and use of the excavators.

    Photographs: Kurt Franz was the last commandant of Treblinka. Although photographs were explicitly forbidden by SS directive, Franz still took numerous pictures of the camp including the excavators, gas chambers and mass graves in the death camp area.[2]

    Documents include:

    • A telegram from Odilo Globocnik, the head of Operation Reinhard in Lublin, Poland, dated September 4, 1942, in which he insisted that two “bucket excavators” be acquired immediately from the August Harms Company in Hamburg, Germany.[3]
    • A telegram from Christian Wirth, the overseer of all three camps, to Hans Kammler in Berlin dated June 2, 1942, about the delivery of an excavator from the Lamczak Company located in Berlin. In it, Wirth complains that an excavator had arrived damaged and could not be repaired in Poland.[4]
    • A shipping document dated June 29, 1943, indicating that one of the three excavators at Treblinka was being dispatched back to the firm of Adam Lamczak in Berlin.”[5]

    Eyewitness testimony corroborates the contents in the documents.

    In Belzec:

    Maria Daniel, a Polish woman who lived near Belzec: “We could see a machine that took the corpses from the graves and threw them into the fire [. . .] At that time a dreadful smell dominated the whole area, a smell of burned human bones and bodies. From the moment they began burning the corpses, from all directions of the camp came the smell of the corpses. When the Germans completed the burning of the corpses, they dismantled the camp.”[6]

    Rudolf Reder, a Jewish survivor of Belzec: “We dug pits, enormous mass graves [. . .] We dug with spades, but there was also a machine which loaded sand, brought it to the surface, and emptied it beside the pits.”[7]

    Heinrich Gley, an SS guard, who arrived in Belzec towards end of July 1942: “When all the bodies had been removed from the graves, a special search commando sifted through the earth and extracted all the leftovers—bone, clumps of hair, etc. and threw those remains on the fire. An additional mechanical excavator was brought to accelerate the work. One excavator came from Sobibor and the other from the Warsaw district, which were operated by Hackenholt.”[8]

    In Sobibor:

    Dov Frieberg, a Jewish survivor: One day a large crane, with two unusual shovels, was brought into the camp. The crane stood beside Lager 2 [the reception area] for a few days, where Getzinger worked on it for a long time, and then it was brought to Lager 3 [the death camp area]. After some time the air around us was filled with the terrible smell of rotting, burning flesh, and thick black smoke wafted over to us from Lager 3, covering the sky.”[9]

    In Treblinka:

    Franz Stangl, the commandant of Treblinka: “It must have been at the beginning of 1943. That’s when excavators were brought in. Using these excavators, the corpses were removed from the huge ditches which had been used until then [for burial].[10]

    Samuel Willenberg, a survivor of Treblinka: “Peering over the 5-metre-high sandbank, we saw the tip of a crane which had previously been used to dig pits and build up the sand between ourselves and the Todeslager [death camp area]. Now it was digging up corpses and scattering them. As its scoop rose in the air, we saw corpses fall between its serrated edges [. . .] The crane toiled thus, dumping bodies into the blazing furnace, for days on end.”[11]

    Thus, the eyewitness evidence of Polish bystanders, Jewish survivors and German perpetrators corroborate the documentary evidence that excavators were used in all three camps.

    Conclusion

    Samuel Willenberg’s drawings of Treblinka are not the “sole” proof of the existence and use of excavators in Treblinka. Primary documents, photographs and eyewitness testimony when taken together persuasively support the assertion that excavators were used in Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor initially for digging mass graves and then for emptying the graves of remains so they could be cremated.

    Shmuel Willenberg, 1942. Photo Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Shmuel and Ada Willenberg
    Shmuel Willenberg, 1942. Photo Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Shmuel and Ada Willenberg

    NOTES

    [1] Carlo Mattogno and Jürgen Graf, Treblinka: Extermination Camp or Transit Camp? (Theses & Dissertations Press, 2004)141 at http://vho.org/dl/ENG/t.pdf. The drawings can been seen in Samuel Willenberg, Surviving Treblinka, edited by Wladyslaw T. Bartoszewski (Basil Blackwell, 1989), Plates 2 and 3. One of the drawings can also be seen at http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/ar/treblinka/maps.html.

    [2] You may see many of the images in Franz’s album, including the excavators, gas chambers and mass graves at http://www.deathcamps.org/treblinka/photos.html.

    [3] For a facsimile of the telegram and a translation into English see “Treblinka Excavators” at http://deathcamps.org/treblinka/excavators.html.

    [4] For a facsimile of the telegram and a translation into English see “Treblinka Excavators” athttp://deathcamps.org/treblinka/excavators.html.

    [5] Jonathan Harrison, Robert Muehlenkamp, Jason Myers, Sergey Romanov and Nicholas Terry, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: Holocaust Denial and Operation Reinhard. A Critique of the Falsehoods of Mattogno, Graf and Kues, 356 citing Vernehmung Maria Daniel, 16.10.1945, BAL B162/208 AR-Z 252/59, Bd. 1, 1154 at http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2011/12/belzec-sobibor-treblinka-holocaust.html. Select Google Docs, Rapidshare, or Archive.org for a PDF version.

    [6] Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (Indiana University Press, 1987), 173 citing court documents from the Belzec-Oberhauser trial, Band 6, 1154.

    [7] Rudolf Reder, “Belzec,” Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, Volume 13: Focusing on the Holocaust and its Aftermath, edited by Antony Polonsky (Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2000), 280.

    [8] Robin O’Neil, Belzec: Prototype for the final Solution: Hitler’s Answer to the Jewish Question (“Belzec: Second Phase, Belzec’s dead: burning of the corpses”) at http://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/Belzec1/bel100.html#67r citing court documents TAL/ZStL, Belzec Case: Statements of Heinrich Gley and Robert Jührs, 11 October 1961.

    [9] Dov Freiberg, To Survive Sobibor (Gefen House Publishing, 1099), 266, 267.

    [10] Jonathan Harrison, Robert Muehlenkamp, Jason Myers, Sergey Romanov and Nicholas Terry, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: Holocaust Denial and Operation Reinhard. A Critique of the Falsehoods of Mattogno, Graf and Kues, pp. 445, 446 at http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2011/12/belzec-sobibor-treblinka-holocaust.html. Select Google Docs, Rapidshare, or Archive.org for a PDF version.

    [11] Samuel Willenberg, Surviving Treblinka, edited by Wladyslaw T. Bartoszewski (Basil Blackwell, 1989), 108.