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    Operation Reinhard Mass Cremation: Weather Delays

    How do we know that the mass cremation process in the Operation Reinhard death camps of Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor would not have been significantly inhibited or halted by Poland’s climate?

    Holocaust deniers claim:

    Snow, wind and rain would have slowed down significantly or stopped the process of cremating remains in the Operation Reinhard death camps of Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor. There is no evidence that the Germans attempted to protect the grills from the elements with either roofs or walls.

    The facts are:

    The evidence shows that snow, rain and wind—unless it was extreme and extended—would not have substantially affected the process. Even if it did rain and snow 20 percent of the time, the remains could still have been cremated in the time stated by the witnesses.  

    The self-described “Denierbud,” an American Holocaust denier video maker, claims that:

    Rain: It did not “dawn on the storytellers” who made up the “Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor story” that rain would be a “logistical problem.” He claims that because Claude Lanzmann, in his film Shoah, interviews a man in the rain at Treblinka in the early 1980’s that meant that in 1942 it would have rained so much it would have disrupted the mass cremations.[1]

    Snow. Lanzmann filmed Sobibor in the winter under a covering of snow. Denierbud claims that because it snows in the winter in Poland that this would have inhibited the cremation process.[2]

    Wind. The accounts of the cremation grills never mentioned a fire wall to protect the fires from the wind, therefore it would have blown most of the heat away from the grills. Thus, “the bodies on top wouldn’t even get warm, let alone be cremated.”[3]

    Poland’s Climate

    Poland has a temperate climate, which means it has distinct seasons of spring, summer, fall and winter. The summers can be hot with temperatures sometimes as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the winters can be cold with temperatures below zero. Annual precipitation (rain and snow) averages about 18 to 24 inches in the southeastern lowlands (where the Operation Reinhard camps were located). That is 1.5 inches to 2 inches of precipitation a month on average. It tends to rain more often in the summer than snow in the winter. The average winds range between 4 and 22 miles per hour.[4]

    We cannot know precisely how much rain or snow fell in southeastern Poland in late fall/early winter 1942 and winter/spring 1943. However, the Germans did not have to conduct mass cremations continuously. If we assume that it rained or snowed 20 percent of the time as the climate statistics show then:

    At Sobibor they had an estimated 292 days to cremate about 250,000 remains. This amounts to needing to burn 856 remains per day, which was more than doable and was in fact leisurely compared to the urgency in the other camps.

    At Treblinka, the cremation time probably lasted longer than the 156 days that Denierbud claims was available. However, if we accept his estimate of 156 days, then the Germans had 125 days to cremate about 750,000 bodies. They started with one grill but rapidly increased them to a total of six. Each grill could hold at least 2,000 remains. Allowing for three-quarters or 1,500 remains per day per grill taking into account that nothing operates at peak efficiency all the time, they could still have burned all or most of the remains within his time span.

    In Belzec the work of burning the remains began in November 1942 and lasted until March 1943, or about five months. The total number of remains they had to burn was around 600,000. In 120 days, assuming the 1,500 remains per cremation grill figure, they could have cremated 540,000 remains. However, the investigation team found that several graves still had the remains of unburned remains in them. It appears that as the Germans neared the bottom of the graves they lost their taste for the job or were in a hurry to be done and so they left them.[5]

    As a final note, Foot and Mouth Disease struck the cattle population in Great Britain throughout 2001. Possibly as many as 6,000,000 carcasses had to be destroyed or buried quickly. Some were buried while others were burned on open air pyres.[6] Great Britain is not known for its sunny, dry climate yet none of the news accounts or scientific or governmental reports on the disposal process discuss or show roofs over or walls around the burning pits. There is no evidence that the process was substantially impeded by the notoriously wet and cold British weather.

    In fact, Chil Rajchman (also known as Henryk Reichman), a survivor of the death camp area in Treblinka, confirms that the work proceeded even in the rain: “It has been raining since morning without interruption. But we have to work. Each of us is soaked . . . Although the soil is sandy it turns muddy, and it becomes hard for us to run. The chief orders us to bring several dozen litters of ash from the ovens and spread it on the ground . . . From time to time we have to add ashes, because it keeps raining harder. The day weeps along with us.”[7]

    By Dariusz Kowalczyk (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
    By Dariusz Kowalczyk (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

    Why a roof over the pyres was not necessary.

    Yankiel Wiernik, a survivor of Treblinka, describes many of the camp’s buildings in detail, including the new gas chambers which he helped build—but he never mentions building roofs over or walls around the cremation grills.[8]

    Would the Germans have risked setting the roofs on fire in these blazingly hot and huge fires? Further, the Germans were in a big hurry. They did not have time to build whole buildings around the fires, use special alloy rails, rig up adjustable grills or provide walls around or roofs over the grills. They needed to get it done and get out of there. Complicating the job would only have extended it and perhaps even made it impossible.

    The wind and its impact on the cremation process.

    Denierbud fusses about how his bonfire on the beach surrendered much of its heat to the wind, lengthening the time, decreasing the efficiency and creating the need for even more firewood to cremate his leg of lamb.[9]

    The cremation grills at Treblinka covered about 66 square meters (710 square feet).[10] What would a little wind do to a fire this hot (between 800 and 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit or more) and big, where the flames leaped 30 feet into the air? It is likely that it would have helped it along, just as happens in forest fires.

    Denierbud claims correctly that the experts get better results with a fire wall.[11] But the cremation fires were built into pits that provided wind protection for the fuel source. In fact, the very model he claims shows that there were no pits under them to protect the fire when examined more closely shows that they do. Denierbud did not look at his own example closely enough.

    Conclusion

    The snow, rain and wind—unless it was extreme and extended—would not have substantially affected the process. Even if it did rain and snow 20 percent of the time, the remains could still have been cremated in the time stated by the witnesses. Further, guessing about roofs and fire walls is just thatspeculation. It does not rise to actual evidence.

    NOTES

    [1] “One Third of the Holocaust” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taIaG8b2u8I at approximately 2:04 minutes.

    [2] “One Third of the Holocaust” at approximately 2:05 minutes.

    [3] “One Third of the Holocaust” at approximately 2:10 minutes.

    [4] “Geography of Poland” at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geography_of_Poland; “Weather in Poland” at http://www.staypoland.com/poland-weather.htm.

    [5] For more in-depth information on the burning of the remains in all three camps see Roberto Muehlenkamp, “It’s Raining Empty Claims . . . “ at http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2006/12/its-raining-empty-claims_24.html.

    [6] “Burial to replace burning of cattle,” BBC News Online: UK, March 31, 2001 at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/1253622.stm.

    [7] Chil Rajchman, The Last Jew of Treblinka: A Survivors Memory 1942-1943 (Pegasus Books, 2011), p. 92.

    [8] Yankel Wiernik, A Year in Treblinka (American Representation of the General Jewish Workers’ Union of Poland, New York, 1945) at http://www.zchor.org/treblink/wiernik.htm (“Chapter IX”) at pp. 28-31.

    [9] “One Third of the Holocaust” at approximately 3:03 minutes.

    [10] “Mattogno, Graf & Kues on Aktion Reinhard(t) Cremation (1)” at http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2011/03/mattogno-graf-kues-on-aktion-reinhardt.html.

    [11] “One Third of the Holocaust” at approximately 2:07 to 2:09 minutes