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    Operation Reinhard Mass Graves: Mass Graves in Belzec

    What is the evidence that there are mass graves in the Belzec death camp?

    Holocaust deniers claim:

    The excavations that located and mapped 33 mass graves in the Belzec death camp from 1997 to 2000 revealed only traces of whole human remains in them. These traces are not evidence of mass murder but are the result of death by disease and hardship of a handful of Jews as they were being deported farther to the East.

    The facts are:

    The results of two separate investigations 60 years apart proves that there is more than “several hundred corpses” buried at Belzec and supports the conclusion that some 450,000 Jewish men, women and children were murdered and are buried in mass graves in Belzec.

    Carlo Mattogno, an Italian Holocaust denier, makes two major claims about the mass graves in Belzec. First, he asserts that the 33 mass graves contain “at most several hundred corpses” (unburned bodies).[1] Second, Mattogno claims that the amount of ashes and bone fragments in the graves is “absolutely incompatible” with the remains of 450,000 people supposedly buried in Belzec.[2]

    Mattogno claims that that lack of remains and ashes represent only a resettlement policy that showed a “very severe German attitude toward the Jews.”[3]

    What we know about the existence of mass graves in Belzec. 

    There have been two investigations at Belzec—one in 1946 and the other between 1997 and 2000—which conclusively show that there are mass graves in Belzec.

    The post-war Polish investigation.

    In 1946, Czeslaw Godzieszewksi, the Regional Investigative Judge of the District Court of Zamosc, investigated of the grounds of Belzec. The Polish investigators dug 9 trenches about 10 meters (33 feet) across and 8 meters (26 feet) deep. In them they found meters-thick layers of human ashes, as well as the charred remains of human bodies, body parts, women’s hair and unburned human bones. In one 26-foot-deep trench alone they found a layer of human ashes 3 meters thick (about 10 feet).[4]

    The Kola investigation.

    Between 1997 and 2000, a team of experts including archeologists, historians and cartographers exhaustively and scientifically surveyed the entire site of the camp. The research was authorized by the Polish government and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The team, was headed by Professor Andrzej Kola of the University of Torun in Poland. He undertook the study because the memorial at Belzec needed to be replaced and the authorities did not wish to disturb the mass graves when they designed and built the new memorial space.

    Over a period of three years, Kola’s team drilled 2,001 soil cores five meters (16.5 feet) apart to a depth of six meters (20 feet) in a grid over the entire area of the camp. The Kola investigation found that Belzec was “one large a patchwork of mass graves.”[5] The investigators located and measured 33 mass graves which had a total volume of approximately 15,840 cubic meters or approximately 560,000 cubic feet.[6]  Today, the area of the mass graves had been covered by a field of stones at the memorial site.

    The area of the mass graves now covered with stones at the current memorial site.  Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

    The facts about Mattogno’s claims.

    Claim 1:  The 33 graves contain at most “several hundred corpses.”

    Mattogno claims that of the 33 mass graves found by Kola that only Graves 3, 10, and 20 contain a shallow layer of unburned remains at the very bottom. He concludes that the “only legitimate conclusion one can draw” is that there are “only rare corpses here and there.”[7]  Mattogno does not tell his readers several pertinent facts which invalidate his assertions:

    Grave 3 is 16 meters long by 15 meters wide by 5 meters deep (about 52 feet by 50 feet by 16 feet.)

    Grave 10 is 24 meters long by 18 meters wide by 5 meters deep (about 78 feet by 59 feet by 16 feet deep.)

    Grave 20 extends outside the current camp boundaries and so could not be completely measured. The part that could be measured is 26 meters long by 11 meters wide by 5 meters deep (85 feet by 36 feet by 16 feet deep).

    It is unreasonable to believe that the Germans, using heavy excavators, would have dug three graves so large and deep just to bury the “rare corpses” of Jews who died on their way to the East.

    Why there are unburned human remains in the mass graves if they were supposed to have been cremated.

    We cannot say for sure why there are whole human remains in the graves are there but it is reasonable to suppose that one of the reasons might be that the condition of the bodies at the bottom of the graves was so terrible that the  Germans—even though Jewish slaves did the work—might not have been able to face exhuming them. Further,  after long months of exhuming and burning the remains, the Germans may have wanted to finish the job and get out of that backward and miserable place as quickly as possible. Despite their desire to eliminate the evidence of mass murder, leaving some unburned bodies 25 feet below the surface probably apparently did not seem like a very big risk.

    Claim 2: The amount of ashes and bone fragments in the mass graves is very small.

    Mattogno also claims that the graves contain “only a very thin layer of sand and ash” which is “absolutely incompatible with the cremation of 600,000 corpses.”[8]  However, the layers of ash and bone in the graves are not “very thin” at all. Here are some examples:

    Grave 5 contains “pieces of burnt human bones so densely packed together that the drill could not penetrate further.” The grave is 32 meters long by 10 meters wide by 4.50 meters deep (about 105 feet by 33 feet by 15 feet deep).

    Grave 6 is 30 meters long by 10 meters wide by 4 meters deep (about 99 feet by 33 feet by 13 feet deep). It contains “carbonized wood and pieces of fragments of burnt human bones. At the east end of the grave, the ground is covered with gray sand containing a mixture of crushed pieces of burnt and unburned pieces of human bones.”

    Graves 3, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, and 33 all contain fragments of burnt human bones, human ashes and carbonized wood.

    Grave 14 is the largest in the camp.  It contains “burnt pieces of human bones and fragments of carbonized wood mixed with grey sandy soil to a depth of 5 meters.”  That is about 16 feet deep. No matter how much Mattogno wants it to be, a 5 meter (16 feet) thick layer of ash is not a “thin layer” of ashes.

    The ashes and bone remnants are not just in the graves either. Kola’s team found them mixed with sand on the surface and scattered on the surface of the ground around the mass graves.[9]

    Why the human remains were not exhumed.

    Mattogno complains that his questions about exactly how deep the graves were (when they exceeded the 20-foot core), how many unburned remains were in the graves and precisely how much human and wood ash and bone remnants were in them could have been solved by doing a thorough and proper exhumation to settle the matter once and for all. However, exhumation was not Kola’s brief. He was to map the areas of the mass graves in anticipation of building a new memorial on the site. Even if it had been Kola’s charge, he would have been unable to complete the task because at least one of larger mass graves extends outside the current boundaries of the camp onto private land and could not be investigated.

    In addition, some religious figures objected to the investigation being done at all, feeling that any disturbance of the graves was a violation of the dead.[10] Digging up all the mass graves to count everybody and quantify all the ashes and bone remnants would have been totally intrusive and disrespectful and would have raised a storm of controversy. Therefore, every effort was made to disturb the mass graves as little as possible.

    The self-named “Denierbud,” an American video maker and Holocaust denier, makes the same complaint about Belzec and Treblinka. He contends that the “lack of searching for physical evidence is shocking” and states that Kola was handpicked because “they” knew he would not find anything that “didn’t support the story.”  He wants both camps to be entirely dug up to prove it is not all a “big lie.” The same ethical considerations outlined above—as well as the practical considerations of digging up every square foot of acres of land to the depth of 20 feet in both camps—applies to his complaint.[11]

    Conclusion

    Mattogno’s attempt to diminish the number of unburned remains to “at most several hundred” and the ashes and bones to a “thin layer” to fit his transit camp is not supported by the physical evidence. Two separate investigations 60 years apart show that the remains of some 450,000 Jewish men, women and children are buried in Belzec.

    Mattogno did get one thing right. Jewish men, women and children did meet their death at Belzec as a result of the “very severe German attitude” toward them.

    PL Belzec extermination camp 10
    Field of stones covering mass graves in Belzec. By Lysy (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

    NOTES

    [1] Carlo Mattogno, Belzec in Propaganda, Testimonies, Archeological Research, and History (Theses & Dissertations Press, 2004), 79 at http://vho.org/dl/ENG/b.pdf.

    [2] Carlo Mattogno, Belzec in Propaganda, Testimonies, Archeological Research, and History (Theses & Dissertations Press, 2004), 87.

    [3] Carlo Mattogno, Belzec in Propaganda, Testimonies, Archeological Research, and History (Theses & Dissertations Press, 2004), 99.

    [4] 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, 383 at http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2011/12/belzec-sobibor-treblinka-holocaust.html.  Select Google Docs, Rapidshare or Archive.org for a PDF version.

    [5] “Archeological Investigation: Belzec: A Review by Historians” at www.holocaustresearchproject.org/ar/modern/archreview.html.  The entire study by Andrzej Kola entitled Belzec: The Nazi Camp for Jews in the Light of Archaeological Sources, Excavations 1997-1999 (Council for the Protection of Memory of Combat and Martyrdom and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2000) can be downloaded at www.scribd.com.

    [6]  Andrzej Kola, Belzec: The Nazi Camp for Jews in the Light of Archaeological Sources, Excavations 1997-1999 (Council for the Protection of Memory of Combat and Martyrdom and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2000), 40,  The entire book can be downloaded at www.scribd.com.  An excerpt from the study can be read at http://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/belzec1/bel150.html.  Although Kola calculated 21,000 cubic meters, the 15,840 figure is the estimated adjusted volume when considering that many graves were irregular in shape, the sides of the graves probably sloped and the bottoms may have been uneven.  See 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, 387 at http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2011/12/belzec-sobibor-treblinka-holocaust.html.  Select Google Docs, Rapidshare or Archive.org for a PDF version.

    [7] Carlo Mattogno, Belzec in Propaganda, Testimonies, Archeological Research, and History (Theses & Dissertations Press, 2004), 78.

    [8] Carlo Mattogno, Belzec in Propaganda, Testimonies, Archeological Research, and History (Theses & Dissertations Press, 2004), 87.

    [9] Andrzej Kola, Belzec: The Nazi Camp for Jews in the Light of Archaeological Sources, Excavations 1997-1999 (Council for the Protection of Memory of Combat and Martyrdom and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2000).  See “The grave pits in Belzec,” 21–40. This volume can be downloaded at www.scribd.com. You may see the detailed map of the mass graves found on the site and the meticulous diagrams of the dimensions and contents of the mass graves at http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2006/05/carlo-mattogno-on-belzec_23.html.

    [10] See “Carlo Mattogno on Belzec Archaeological Research–Introduction and Part 1, 1. Nature and Purpose of Kola’s Archaeological Investigation”) at http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2006/05/carlo-mattogno-on-belzec.html.

    [11] See “One Third of the Holocaust” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taIaG8b2u8I at approximately 2:31 minutes.