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    Operation Reinhard Mass Cremation: Steel Alloy Rails

    How do we know the cremation grills at the Operation Reinhard death camps used standard railroad tracks? How do we know these tracks were effective as cremation grills?

    Holocaust deniers claim:

    Holocaust deniers tend to doubt the materials that the Nazis used for cremating the bodies of their victims, especially after an “experiment” conducted by a Holocaust denier and YouTube video maker known as “Denierbud.” In his so-called experiment, Denierbud supposedly shows that cremation fires would have melted the railroad tracks used for the grills. After cremating a leg of lamb on a beach bonfire, Denierbud noted how his metal grill was warped from the heat. Thus, he concludes, the cremation grills at the Operation Reinhard death camps could not have been real. The Nazis “would have used specially built alloy beams made to hold up a lot of weight in high heat conditions.”[1]

    The facts are:

    There is no realistic comparison between the durability of standard railroad tracks and the metal Denierbud used in his experiment. Rather utilizing standard railroad tracks, Denierbud used a lightweight stainless steel grill in his beach bonfire experiment. Eyewitness testimony from Nazi perpetrators, such as Heinrich Matthes, Karl Streibel, Franz Stangl, and Jewish survivors, such as Thomas Blatt and Samuel Willenberg, shows that standard railroad tracks were used on the cremation grills; use of these tracks posed no problem, as no significant issues were ever reported.

    Use of standard railroad tracks in the cremation grills:

    The SS men and Jewish survivors, both of whom built and operated the grills, described the use of standard railroad tracks in the cremation grills:

    Heinrich Matthes, the commander of the extermination area in Treblinka, testified at the first Treblinka trial in Dusseldorf, Germany in 1964: “The cremation 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.”[2]

    Chil Rajchman (also known as Henryk Reichman), a Jewish survivor of Treblinka who worked in the death camp area, confirms Matthes’ description of the grills. These grills were built by a “specialist” who arrived at the camp to make the process of body cremation more efficient: “He lays down ordinary long, thick iron rails to a length of 90 metres [295 feet]. Several low walls of poured cement are built to a height of 50 centimetres [20 inches].The width of the oven is a meter and a half [5 feet].”[3]

    Karl Streibel, who visited Sobibor at the end of 1942, said that the “roaster made from the railway lines was supported by a stone base.”[4]

    Where did the Germans get these railroad tracks?

    These tracks would have been readily available near every railway line. Formal requisitions to Berlin for “special alloy steel” rails would have taken forever to receive—if they even existed. This was especially true in wartime, when such materials were scarce and needed elsewhere in the war effort.

    Thomas Blatt, a survivor of Sobibor, discusses how he was selected for a special work group to handle the rails: “Wagner led us along the railroad for about five minutes, finally stopping next to a pile of neatly stacked reserve railroad rails . . . Now we were ordered to pick up a rail. The gates opened again and we were back in another hellish world. We marched straight in the direction of Lager III [the extermination area] and left the rails near the gate. This was simply the way the burned-out grates of the pyres were replaced. I was wondering why, with all their might, the SS stole the rails at night. But I assumed that the clever SS Wagner had found this eliminated the hassle of going through regular channels.”[5]

    Samuel Willenberg carried railroad tracks at Treblinka: “A few days later a train of open wagons with a cargo of iron rails pulled up. Miete [an SS guard], screeching, ordered all the prisoners to begin unloading. With Miete alongside, I shouldered the end of one of the rails and set out . . . Miete ordered us to throw down the rail beside the camouflaged fence which separated the death camp and our complex. So it went on for several hours; as they beat and shoved us, we carried dozens of iron rails—at speed—from two wagons to the gate of the extermination area.”[6]

    Railway line to the gravel quarry at Treblinka I
    By Nieznany/unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

    Were standard railroad tracks strong enough?

    The process of using standard railroad tracks in the cremation grills evolved as the Nazis learned what materials would be best for their grisly work. Paul Stangl, the commandant of Treblinka, related: “I know that in the beginning they used rails from the trolley to build the incineration grill. But it turned out that these were too weak and bent in the heat. They were replaced with real railroad rails.”[7] The “trolley” to which Stangl is referring was a small-gauge track laid from the gas chambers to the burial pits. On this track, carts loaded with remains were pushed along by prisoners. Meanwhile, standard railroad tracks are hardened in the manufacturing process; they are designed to hold up continuously under the weight of heavily-loaded trains and withstand all types of weather. The fact that even these strong railroad tracks needed replacement from time to time is a testament to the fierce and extended heat of the pyres.

    Conclusion:

    There is no realistic comparison between the durability of standard railroad tracks and lightweight stainless steel grills used for simple beach bonfires. The speculation and faulty experiments of Holocaust deniers, like Denierbud, are of no evidential value. The eyewitness testimony of SS men Heinrich Matthes and Karl Streibel; the commandant of Treblinka, Franz Stangl; and Jewish survivors Thomas Blatt, Chil Rajchman, and Samuel Willenberg shows that standard railroad tracks were used on the cremation grills.

     

    NOTES

    [1] “One Third of the Holocaust” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taIaG8b2u8I at approximately 3:09 minutes.

    [2] Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (Indiana University Press, 1987), p. 174 citing Treblinka-Franz, Band 10, p. 2057.

    [3] Chil Rajchman, The Last Jew of Treblinka (Pegasus, 2009), p. 86.

    [4] Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (Indiana University Press, 1987), p. 172 citing Sobibor-Bolender, Band 9, p. 1743.

    [5] Thomas Toivi Blatt, From the Ashes of Sobibor: A Story of Survival (Northwestern University Press, 1997), pp. 113-114.

    [6] Samuel Willenberg, Surviving Treblinka, edited by Wladyslaw T. Bartoszewski, translation by Naftali Greenwood (Basil Blackwell, 1989), pp. 107, 108.

    [7] Eugen Kogon, Hermann Langbein and Adalbert Rückerl, editors, Nazi Mass Murder: A Documentary History of the Use of Poison Gas (Yale University Press, 1994), p. 135 citing the Second Treblinka Trial of Franz Stangl in 1969, StA Düsseldorf AZ: 8 Js 10904/59 (ZSL: AZ: 208 AR-Z 230/59, Vol. 13, fol. 3726.)