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Decomposition of bodies in mass graves
by friedrichjansson » Mon Nov 12, 2012 3:47 pm
Regarding the influence of decomposition on required grave space, I wrote the following in Part 3 of the blog series «Mattogno, Graf & Kues on the Aktion Reinhard(t) Mass Graves» (which was the basis for Chapter 7 of the paper Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka. Holocaust Denial and Operation Reinhard. A Critique of the Falsehoods of Mattogno, Graf and Kues.):FJ wrote:Roberto Muehlencamp has argued that the bodies in the Reinhardt camps would have decomposed rapidly. He uses this argument to reduce estimates of the required burial space and the fuel needed for cremation.
At Sobibór:Modeling the effects of corpse decomposition on the amount of grave space available at Bełżec should ideally be done on the basis of a day-by-day or at least month-by-month breakdown of the 434,508 deportees delivered at that camp according to the Höfle Report. Unfortunately no such breakdown is available. The next best thing is a table in Appendix A of Arad’s study on the Reinhard(t) camps that adds up to a higher number (513,142, according to my summation) and allows for a day-by-day breakdown of this number, albeit with certain assumptions and the inaccuracies inevitably resulting from such assumptions. Based on this table, I modeled a scenario of mass grave space management at Bełżec taking into account the loss of body volume due to decomposition, the results being that even 513,142 dead bodies could have been buried in 20,670 cubic meters of burial space (the volume of the burial graves according to Prof. Kola’s investigation results, see section 2.1) considering decomposition-related grave space economy, and that it was therefore also possible to bury the much lower number of documented deportees to Bełżec (434,508) in the same burial space. The model assumed a density of 14.8 non-decomposed corpses per cubic meter, which means that with the density calculated above (19.51 per cubic meter) the saving of burial space due to decomposition would be even higher. While of reduced relevance to demonstrating sufficiency of the burial space estimated by Prof. Kola for the number of corpses corresponding to Höfle's report of 11 January 1943 (as the concentration of 19.51 bodies per cubic meter established above means that 415,758 out of 434,508 bodies could have been buried in all Bełżec mass graves and 403,272 could have been buried in the 20,670 cubic meters of the burial graves alone even if all bodies had been buried at the same time or maintained their original mass and weight), the model shows what significant contribution the decomposition process could have made – and probably did make – to the SS' management of the burial space they had available Bełżec.[emphasis added – RM]
At Treblinka:If 22.1 corpses per m³ are MGK’s benchmark for using available burial space as effectively as possible, the Sobibór staff certainly fell behind what their colleagues at Bełżec managed to achieve, which may be related to Sobibór having handled much less "traffic" than Bełżec and the Sobibór body disposal procedure having changed from burial to burning at a relatively early stage. But the difference in efficient use of burial space was not as large as MGK make it out to be, for only graves 3, 4, 5 and 6, with a total volume (corrected for sloping) of 9,525 cubic meters, were used for burial at Sobibór extermination camp (see section 2.2). The total area of these graves was 2,310 m², so deducting 2,310 x 0.3 = 693 m for the 0.30 cm sand cover assumed by MGK there would be 8,832 cubic meters available for burial. Assuming 80,000 buried corpses this would mean a density of 9.1 corpses per cubic meter – more than the "maximum" claimed by Mattogno & Graf in their Treblinka book and by Mattogno in his book about Bełżec.
We see thatAt Treblinka, the people killed during the year 1942 and buried in mass graves amounted to 713,555 mentioned in the Höfle Report plus some 8,000 deportees from Theresienstadt between 5 and 25 October 1942. The Bełżec mass graves identified by Prof. Kola had an area of 5,391.75 square meters and a volume of 21,310 cubic meters (see section 2.1, Table 2.1.1), with 5,101.75 square meters corresponding to the burial graves, whose volume was 20,670 cubic meters. If all 434,508 victims of Bełżec extermination camp were buried in these graves, this would correspond to an average of 85 bodies for each square meter of grave area and 21 bodies for each cubic meter of grave space. Burying the total number of 721,555 Jews killed at Treblinka in 1942 would have required 721,555 ÷ 85 = 8,489 square meters and 721,555 ÷ 21 = 34,360 cubic meters, if the same density that was achieved at Bełżec could also be achieved at Treblinka (the deportee population was also essentially from miserable ghettos in the General Government, and the victims that had been killed between July and October 1942 had been lying in the mass graves for at least four months when the overall exhumation and incineration of the corpses began after Himmler’s visit in late February/early March 1942). However, the fact that ashes, bone fragments and larger remains covered an area of at least 1.8 ha when Judge Łukaszkiewicz investigated the site in November 1945 (see section 2.3) suggests that the mass graves alone covered an area larger than 8,489 square meters, while on the other hand the depth to which human remains were found in the crater that Łukaszkiewicz ordered to be further excavated (7.5 meters) suggests that the burial pits at Treblinka were deeper than the deepest burial pits at Bełżec.
Bay projected 9 areas representing mass graves with an area of 50 x 25 meters into the "Death Camp" sector just to show that that the same could comfortably fit into the "Death Camp". These mass graves could take in at least 900,000 corpses, according to Bay’s calculations and estimate. The surface area of these projected graves is 9 x 1,250 = 11,250 m², and their volume was calculated by Bay as being 9 x 8,502 = 76,518 cubic meters. The grave space accordingly required to bury the ca. 721,555 Jews murdered at Treblinka in 1942, with the density of ca. 12 corpses per cubic meter assumed by Bay, was somewhat smaller: 721,555 ÷ 12 = 60,130 cubic meters, corresponding to a surface area of 60,130 ÷ 76,518 x 11,250 = 8,841 m² (roughly 21-22 % of the "Death Camp" sector’s entire area).
a) decomposition plays a part in my considerations and calculations chiefly as concerns Bełżec;
b) I consider my decomposition-related calculations an argument «of reduced relevance to demonstrating sufficiency of the burial space estimated by Prof. Kola for the number of corpses corresponding to Höfle's report of 11 January 1943».
And regarding the influence of decomposition on fuel required for cremation, I wrote the following in Part 2 of the blog series «Mattogno, Graf & Kues on Aktion Reinhard(t) Cremation» ((which was the basis for Chapter 8 of the paper Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka. Holocaust Denial and Operation Reinhard. A Critique of the Falsehoods of
Mattogno, Graf and Kues.):
We see thatThe conclusions that the above leads to are the following:
a) Fuel expenditure in cremating corpses or carcasses essentially depends on applying the correct method.
b) MGK presented no arguments that would make a wood weight to corpse/carcass weight ratio of 2:1 seem inappropriate.
c) There are good reasons to assume that the fuel-weight to carcass-weight ratio achieved in burning corpses at Nazi extermination camps was much lower than 2:1. Aggarwal’s "raised human-sized brazier" may have achieved a ratio of 100 kg of wood vs. 70 kg of corpse = 1.43:1, and the carcass-burning experiments I to III conducted by Dr. Lothes and Dr. Profé in the early 20th Century (the comparatively less fuel-efficient of their experiments) showed an average ratio of 0.56:1. Descriptions of the burning process at Sobibór actually suggest a similarity to the more fuel-efficient of Dr. Lothes & Dr. Profé’s experiments, the ones at which a ratio of 0.48:1 was achieved.
d) There's no reason why SS - expert Floss (the man who according to the Stangl judgment "brought the grid into the right position" at Treblinka) could not have achieved in mass burning a ratio equal to or lower than what had been achieved by Dr. Lothes & Dr. Profé burning individual carcasses in the early 20th century.
Therefore the ratio of 0.56:1 that the veterinarians achieved in the comparatively less fuel-efficient of their experiments – ignoring the possibility of a lower ratio at Sobibór, for good measure – shall in the following be considered as the likely expression of wood or wood-equivalent expenditure on cremation grids at Bełżec, Sobibór, Treblinka and Chełmno, as soon as they had been properly arranged. [emphasis added – RM]
The importance of bringing the grid into the "right position", one that provided for good air circulation and in which the corpses burned largely on their own combustible substances because they were suspended over a fire fed by body fat, is illustrated by the experimental burning of two carcass in two different cars described in a 1969 scientific article by Bruce V. Ettling. One of the experimental carcasses burned rather incompletely whereas the other was mostly consumed by fire. The reason for the difference was that the latter carcass "was still suspended on the seat springs with a lot of char and ash underneath. The fat being rendered from the carcass dripped onto the char which acted like a candle wick and kept the fat burning." This burning rendered more fat, which in turn kept alive the fire consuming the carcass. Ettling concluded that a carcass, and presumably also a human body, "can be rather thoroughly consumed by fire from its own fat", a necessary condition being that "the body be suspended in such a way that it is over the fire which is fed from the body fat". He drew the following parallel with burning procedures at the Aktion Reinhard(t) camps (emphasis added):
Considering the numbers and average weights of corpses to be burned established above (Table 3.3), the amounts of wood required for cremation would thus be as shown in Table 3.4. The average life weights of deportees and the wood-to-corpse weight ratio assumed by MGK lead to considerably higher wood requirements, as also shown in this table for the same numbers of deportees.Some related information was found in an article concerning a Nazi extermination camp and its trouble destroying the corpses (3). Burning gasoline on piles of corpses on the ground did not consume the corpses. Eventually an "expert" was brought in who arranged the bodies on a rack with the corpses that appeared to contain some fat being placed on the bottom of the pile. A good fire beneath the rack caused fat to drip down and burn. The corpses which were thus over the fire instead of on the ground were reduced to ashes.
The conclusion is that one would overestimate wood requirements by a factor of almost ten using the life weights and wood-to-corpse weight ratios assumed by MGK. [emphasis added – RM] To be fair, it should be pointed out that regarding Bełżec and Treblinka the respective authors (Mattogno in the former case, Mattogno & Graf in the latter) don’t use the corpses’ assumed life weight for their calculations but what they claim was the corpses’ decomposed weight – 45 kg. This leads to the question what impact the corpses’ decomposition - the corpses at Bełżec, most of the corpses at Treblinka and a significant part of the corpses at Sobibór were in some stage of the decomposition process at the time of cremation – is likely to have had on wood requirements for cremation.
The categories of dead bodies according to calorific profile that have been established above are the following, by increasing absolute amount of required wood:
A - Decomposed/dehydrated corpses of sufficiently nourished deportees (Table 3.15). Average weight: 28.88 kg. Weight of wood required for cremation: 8.25 kg. Weight ratio: 0.29.
B – Decomposed/dehydrated corpses of malnourished deportees (Table 3.13). Average weight: 16.96 kg. Weight of wood required for cremation: 10.54 kg. Weight ratio: 0.62.
C – Non-decomposed corpses of malnourished deportees (Table 3.11). Average weight: 34 kg. Weight of wood required for cremation: 29.60 kg. Weight ratio: 0.87.
D - Non-decomposed corpses of sufficiently nourished deportees (Table 3.14). Average weight: 57 kg. Weight of wood required for cremation: 31.92 kg. Weight ratio: 0.56.
a) I reduced MGK’s overestimation of wood requirements by a factor of almost ten before considering the effects of the decomposition process at the time of cremation on wood requirements;
b) I considered that decomposition would, in the corpses of sufficiently nourished deporteers, reduce
• the average corpse weight from 57 kg to 28.88 kg;
• the wood weight to corpse weight ratio from 0.56 to 0.29; and
• the wood weight required for cremation per corpse from 31.92 kg to 8.25 kg.
c) I considered that decomposition would, in the corpses of malnourished deporees, reduce
• the average corpse weight from 34 kg to 16.96 kg;
• the wood weight to corpse weight ratio from 0.87 to 0.62; and
• the wood weight required for cremation per corpse from 29.60 kg to 10.54 kg.
Actually my sources are the following (see Part 3 of the blog series «Mattogno, Graf & Kues on the Aktion Reinhard(t) Mass Graves»):FJ wrote:He bases his argument on the behavior of a 1.5kg [!] piglet left out in the open, apparently in Australia, together with a rule of thumb that decomposition takes place at 1/4 the rate underground as it does out in the open. His main reference is here:
1. The Australian Museum’s webpage Stages of Decomposition. This source states the following:
The "[!]" aside, FJ doesn’t explain what’s supposed to be wrong with using a 1.5 kg piglet as a model corpse to illustrate human decomposition, as is done by the Australian Museum.To illustrate the process of decomposition, we use the piglet as the model corpse. Piglets are used because a 40 kg pig resembles a human body in its fat distribution, cover of hair and ability to attract insects. These factors make pigs the next best things to humans when it comes to understanding the process of decay of the human body.
2. The webpage How long does it bring for a human body to completely disintegrate after it's be embalm?, which contains the following information:
3. Alan Gunn, Essential Forensic Biology, 2009 John Wiley & Sons Ltd., Chichester, West Sussex, UK, p. 30: "Buried corpses decay approximately four times slower than those left on the surface, and the deeper they are buried, the slower they decay (Dent et al., 2004)."Decomposition in the atmosphere is twice as fast as when the body is lower than water and four times as hastily as underground.
4. The article «Beyond the grave - understanding human decomposition», by forensic anthropologist Arpad A. Vass. Vass and his colleagues have "worked out a simple formula, which describes the soft tissue decomposition process for persons lying on the ground. The formula is y=1285/x (where y is the number of days it takes to become skeletonized or mummified and x is the average temperature in Centigrade during the decomposition process). So, if the average temperature is 10 °C, then 1285/10 = 128.5 days for someone to become skeletonized". According to Vass's formula, the time to skeletonization at Bełżec in the late spring, summer and autumn of 1942, at temperatures presumably ranging between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius, would have been 43 to 64 days for bodies exposed to air and insects, as bodies lying in open mass graves can be expected to have been. The time until the bodies were reduced to less than half their original volume and weight through loss of fluids and other factors would be even lower.
What other sources would those be?FJ wrote:Other sources suggest that decomposition underground in fact takes place at 1/8 its surface rate , but most warn against reliance on any such heuristics, as behavior can be dramatically altered by individual conditions.
I have taken the liberty of emphasizing the parts of FJ’s quote that I consider relevant for applying this quote to the decomposition process in the mass graves of the Aktion Reinhard(t) camps.FJ wrote:Knight's Forensic Pathology gives this description of decomposition:
In broad terms, a corpse outdoors in a temperate climate is likely to be converted to a skeleton carrying tendon tags within 12-18 months, and to a 'bare-bone' skeleton within 3 years; there are, of course, numerous exceptions, depending mainly on the local environment.
The rate of decay of bodies buried in earth is much slower than of those in either air or water. In fact the process of putrefaction may be arrested to a remarkable degree in certain conditions, allowing exhumations several years later to be of considerable value. [...] The speed and extent of decay in interred corpses depends on a number of factors. If the body is buried soon after death, before the usual process of decay in air begins, putrefaction is less and may never proceed to the liquefying corruption usually inevitable on the surface. A lower temperature, exclusion of animal and insect predators, and lack of oxygen are important factors. Although most bacteria originate in the intestine, there is less access for secondary invaders and the restriction of oxygen inhibits aerobic organisms. If the body is rotting before burial then, although the process slows down, it will still severely damage the corpse, as enzymatic and bacterial growth have had initial encouragement from a higher ambient temperature and free access of air, thereby producing conditions in which secondary invaders (including anaerobes) can continue their work in a good culture medium that is already partly liquefied by the earlier stages.
As I pointed out in my above-quoted blogs, the mass graves of the Aktion Reinhard(t) camps remained open until they had been completely filled, which took some time to happen. In my blog Belzec Mass Graves and Archaeology: My Response to Carlo Mattogno (4,1),
According to this calculation, the initial burial capacity (without considering later "recovery" of burial capacity due to the corpses’ decomposition) of Bełżec grave # 10 the would be used up "only" after two weeks. While the largest of the Bełżec mass graves discovered in 1997-1999 by Prof. Andrzej Kola (see Table 2.1.1 in Part 1 of the blog series «Mattogno, Graf & Kues on the Aktion Reinhard(t) Mass Graves»), Bełżec grave # 10 was by no means the largest grave of the Aktion Reinhard(t) camps. Sobibór grave # 4 (see Table 2.2.1 in the same blog) had a volume available for burial of more than 6,800 cubic meters, and the Treblinka mass graves, if they were the size of the graves modeled by Alex Bay, would have an available burial space of 8,502 cubic meters, enough to take in (at a comparatively conservative concentration of about 12 bodies per cubic meter) "at least 100,000 people" – meaning that it would take at least 20 days to fill one of these graves with the 5,000 deportees per day from Warsaw mentioned in Secretary of State Ganzenmüller’s letter to the head of Himmler’s personal staff, SS-Obergruppenführer Karl Wolff, dated 28 July 1942, and in Wolff’s reply to Ganzenmüller dated 13 August 1942 (both quoted in the judgment LG Hagen vom 20.12.1966, 11 Ks 1/64, see translated excerpt from that judgment).[...] I considered that the first grave used was grave # 10, with a volume of 2,100 cubic meters and a burial capacity of 2,100 x 14.8 x 34 ÷ 1000 = 1056.72 tons of body mass to start with on 17 March 1942. The capacity used that day, shown in column (b) "(Additional) burial capacity used up on day (in tons)" was 119 tons (input from column (c) "Total cumulated body weight (in tons)" of Table 4 - "Cumulated burial weight per day"), so that the burial capacity remaining for the next day, shown in column (c) "Burial capacity of burial space not yet used on day (in tons)" was 1056.72 – 119 = 937.72 tons of body mass. On the next day, 18.03.1942, there were no burials, so that the available burial capacity at the end of the day was the same as at the beginning. Then on the following day, 19.03.1942, an additional 85 tons of body mass were placed in that grave, bringing the burial capacity still available down to 937.72 – 85 = 852.72. And so on, day after day, until on 30.03.1942 the burial capacity of grave # 10 was down to 40.12 tons of corpse mass and new burial space had to be added to that of grave # 10 in order to cope with the next day's load of corpses.
A dead body starts rotting very soon after death, as pointed out on the Australiam Museum’s page Initial Decay:
Insects start their activity right away:Although the body shortly after death appears fresh from the outside, the bacteria that before death were feeding on the contents of the intestine begin to digest the intestine itself. They eventually break out of the intestine and start digesting the surrounding internal organs. The body's own digestive enzymes (normally in the intestine) also spread through the body, contributing to its decomposition.
Between day 4 and day 10 after death, decomposition is in the stage of putrefaction:From the moment of death flies are attracted to bodies. Without the normal defences of a living animal, blowflies and house flies are able to lay eggs around wounds and natural body openings (mouth, nose, eyes, anus, genitalia). These eggs hatch and move into the body, often within 24 hours.
Claas Buschmann describes the early stages of the human corpse’s decomposition process as follows:Bacteria break down tissues and cells, releasing fluids into body cavities. They often respire in the absence of oxygen (anaerobically) and produce various gases including hydrogen sulphide, methane, cadaverine and putrescine as by-products. People might find these gases foul smelling, but they are very attractive to a variety of insects.
The build up of gas resulting from the intense activity of the multiplying bacteria, creates pressure within the body. This pressure inflates the body and forces fluids out of cells and blood vessels and into the body cavity.
If a mass grave was filled over a period of two weeks, 20 days or more than that, it stands to reason that the corpses in that grave, except for those added last and lying in the upper layers, would by the time the graves were closed (assuming they were completely closed after having been filled and not left semi-open for further use after the body mass inside lost volume – see below) have started rotting and be somewhere in between the stage of green skin discolouration and the state of putrefactive blisters, distented abdominal walls and reddish putrefactive fluid exuding from mouth and nose, described by Buschmann. Decomposition having started before burial – i.e. before the respective mass grave was closed – it would, according to FJ’s quote from Knight's Forensic Pathology, continue below ground (albeit more slowly) and "severely damage the corpse, as enzymatic and bacterial growth have had initial encouragement from a higher ambient temperature and free access of air, thereby producing conditions in which secondary invaders (including anaerobes) can continue their work in a good culture medium that is already partly liquefied by the earlier stages".The decomposition of a corpse occurs as a combination of bacterial putrefaction and enzyme-induced autolysis. The first visible sign is green skin discolouration that appears after 2 – 3 days, usually on the right lower abdomen – here the bowel lies close to the abdominal wall. Rigor mortis is completely resolved after 4 – 5 days; the eyeballs sink backwards, and the green skin discolouration increases and spreads over the entire body with venous marbling. After 10 – 14 days, putrefactive blisters form on the epidermis; the abdominal walls are distended, and reddish putrefactive fluid exudes from the mouth and nose. Two to three weeks after death, the skin falls off in shreds; the hair and nails can be pulled off; and fluid-filled putrefactive blisters also form in the soft tissues. The body is strongly distended.
When and to what extent mass graves at the Aktion Reinhard(t) camps were closed after having been filled is uncertain. As I pointed out in Part 3 of the blog series «Mattogno, Graf & Kues on the Aktion Reinhard(t) Mass Graves»,
There is evidence suggesting that the mass graves at Bełżec were filled to or even beyond the rim, the upper layer being covered with further layers of bodies or with sand after the corpses had sufficiently matted down due to decomposition. In his report dated 4 May 1945 Kurt Gerstein wrote the following:Despite the obviously exaggerated statement about the depth of the pits, Gerstein’s description is interesting in its reference to a procedure, that of filling the graves to the rim and then adding further bodies when the collapse due to decomposition of those already inside the grave freed some space at the top, which was probably at the root of the following ghastly phenomenon at Bełżec described by the later commander of Treblinka, Franz Stangl:The naked corpses were carried on wooden stretchers to pits only a few metres away, measuring 100 x 20 x 12 metres. After a few days the corpses welled up and a short time later they collapsed, so that one could throw a new layer of bodies upon them. Then ten centimetres of sand were spread over the pit, so that a few heads and arms still rose from it here and there.
Wirth was not in his office, they said that he was up in the camp. The man I talked to said that one of the pits had overflown. They had thrown too many bodies inside, and the decomposition had gone too fast, so that the liquid gathering below had pushed the bodies up, to the surface and above, and the corpses had rolled down the hill. I saw some of them. – Oh God, it was awful …
What is more, body disposal at the Aktion Reinhard(t) camps didn’t always run smoothly, especially at the early stages of these camps’ operation. Regarding the early phase of Treblinka’s operation, Yitzhak Arad wrote the following (Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka. The Operation Reinhard Death Camps, pages 65 f.:
People who died on the trains might already arrive at the camp in a state of beginning decomposition, which might be furthered by the chaotic conditions inside the camp, where many bodies were decomposing prior to accommodation in the mass graves. During his interview by filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, former Treblinka SS-man Franz Suchomel remembered the following (emphases added):The trip from Warsaw and other ghettos to Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka, which should have lasted a few hours, sometimes lasted a day or two. The combination of conditions in the freight cars and the extended journey led to mass deaths.
Due to lack of coordination between the size of the transports, their frequency, and Treblinka’s absorptive capacity, the deportees would be held in the trains for days en route, and in the interim many died. Even at the last station, Treblinka village, they would be delayed for hours. Franciszek Zabecki, a Pole in Treblinka village, noted that:
There were days when two or three trains stood at Treblinka station with their unfortunate cargo, waiting their turn to be sent to the death camps. The transports sometimes waited all night, because transfer to the camp was not carried out in darkness. The cruelty of the security guards, Germans, Latvians, and Ukrainians, is difficult to describe. Sadism and torture seemed to know no bounds. I saw how guards, who were always drunk, would open the freight-car doors at night and demand money into the valuables. Then they would close the doors and fire into the cars … During the day, the corpses remaining at the station were collected, loaded onto a car and sent to the death camp. This task was attended to by a group of Jews from the camp, under SS and Ukrainian supervision.
The train delays en route to the death camps were not planned in advance by those in charge of the transports and extermination. Rather, they were the result of inefficient planning, and they in turn caused additional overloading of a railway system already overburdened by the logistical requirements of the eastern front. However, the extreme crowding in the freight cars, which, indeed, was a deliberate act on the part of the deportation authorities, and the inhuman behavior of the train guards turned the journey into a shocking nightmare. Treblinka’s initial “running in” difficulties contributed to additional delays. These factors, taken together, accounted for the high mortality rate of the Jews on the trains to the death camps.
Abraham Krepicki, a deportee who managed to flee from Treblinka during the early stages of the camp’s operation, recalled similar scenes (emphasis added):We wept too, yes. The smell was infernal because gas was constantly escaping. It stank horribly for miles around. You could smell it everywhere. It depended on the wind. The stink was carried on the wind. Understand? More people kept coming, always more, whom we hadn't the facilities to kill. The brass was in a rush to clean out the Warsaw ghetto. The gas chambers couldn't handle the load. The small gas chambers. The Jews had to wait their turn for a day, two days, three days. They foresaw what was coming. They foresaw it. They may not have been certain, but many knew. There were Jewish women who slashed their daughters' wrists at night, then cut their own. Others poisoned themselves.
They heard the engine feeding the gas chamber. A tank engine was used in that gas chamber. At Treblinka the only gas used was engine exhaust. Zyklon gas...that was Auschwitz. Because of the delay, Eberl, the camp commandant, phoned Lublin and said: "We can't go on this way. I can't do it any longer. We have to break off." Overnight, Wirth arrived. He inspected everything and then left. He returned with people from Belzec, experts. Wirth arranged to suspend the trains. The corpses lying there were cleared away. That was the period of the old gas chambers. Because there were so many dead that couldn't be gotten rid of, the bodies piled up around the gas chambers and stayed there for days. Under this pile of bodies was a cesspool three inches deep, full of blood, worms and shit. No one wanted to clean it out. The Jews preferred to be shot rather than work there.
As late as October 1942, the mass graves at Treblinka issued such a stench of decomposition that the Wehrmacht’s local commandant at Ostrow, a town 20 kilometers away from Treblinka, complained about the environmental disturbance:Ten Thousand Corpses In One Place. Here we beheld a horrible sight. Countless dead bodies lay there, piled upon each other. I think that perhaps 10,000 bodies were there. A terrible stench hovered in the air. Most of the bodies had horribly bloated bellies; they were covered with brown and black spots, swollen and the surfaces of their skin already crawling with worms.
The lips of most of the dead were strangely twisted and the tips of their tongues could be seen protruding between the swollen lips.
The mouths resembled those of dead fish. I later learned that most of these people had died of suffocation in the boxcar. Their mouths had remained open as if they were still struggling for a little air. Many of the dead still had their eyes open.
(Christopher R Browning, Evidence for the Implementation of the Final Solution, chapter V. Section C., quoting from the War Diary of the Oberquartiermeister, Mbfh Polen, 1.5..41-31.12.43, in National Archives, T-501/219/461. (OK Ostrow meldet, dass die Juden in Treblinka nicht ausreichend beerdigt seien und infolgedessen ein unerträglicher Kadavergeruch die Luft verpestet.))OK Ostrow reports that the Jews in Treblinka are not adequately buried and as a result an unbearable smell of cadavers pollutes the air.
Due to the factors mentioned above (graves were filled over a period of weeks and remained open until they were full to the brim or even beyond that, bodies were sometimes already in a state of decomposition before being even placed inside the graves), it can be assumed that decomposition of corpses in the mass graves at the Aktion Reinhard(t) camps was somewhat faster than in mass graves in which corpses were buried prior to the start of the decomposition process.
Despite FJ’s enthusiasm, all that becomes apparent from the text he quotes is that in mass graves bodies tend to decompose at different rates inside a mass grave, with those on the periphery decomposing more quickly whereas those "within the core of the assemblage" decompose more slowly than those on the periphery. Whether this means that mass graves tend to be better preserved in a mass grave than in an individual grave, as FJ claims, is another matter.FJ wrote:But the decomposition of bodies in mass graves is different: mass graves preserve bodies! From Advances in Forensic Taphonomy, chapter 12: Recent Mass Graves: an Introduction
Mant clearly showed that bodies decompose at different rates depending on their condition at burial, method of burial, and soil conditions in and around the grave. He also pointed out that bodies in the center of mass graves decompose more slowly than those on the outer edge of the body mass, thus creating a feather edge effect, which ran contrary to the general consensus of medical opinion at that time.
A major factor in determining of the state of a particular individual in a mass grave is its relative position in relation to the body mass. Satellite remains are least preserved. Peripheral bodies of the body mass are less preserved (Figure 12.4) than individuals within the core of the assemblage (Figure 12.5). This dynamic was noted in the 1943 report of the International Medical Commission that investigated the Katyn Forest Massacre.
FJ shows two images from his source to support his claim:
The lower image is from the same site Figures 12.2 and 12.3, which show views of the mass grave in question suggesting a lesser preservation state of most corpses contained therein:
I have again taken the liberty to highlight, in FJ’s quote from Chapter 12 of Advances in Forensic Taphonomy, the characteristics of one and the other grave described that might help in determining how close to (or how far away fron) the "favorable conditions" of the Ovcara Grave, which led to the preservation of most corpses therein as "fleshy remains", the mass graves at the Aktion Reinhard(t) camps were as concerns decomposition of the corpses contained therein.FJ wrote:Two examples from ex-Yugoslavia:Under favorable conditions, a mass grave may yield partially to fully fleshed remains up to several years following the primary burial; for example, after 5 years of internment in the Ovcara Grave outside of Vukovar, Croatia, the majority of the 200 victims were fleshed remains, some retaining tattoos. On the other hand, the Bosnia-Herzegovina grave at Cerska, opened merely 12 months following burial, revealed 150 males in varying stages of advanced skeletonization.* The stark contrast of soft tissue preservation between these two examples can be attributed to several factors. The grave at Ovcara was relatively deep with clay soil that facilitated drainage from surrounding fields. The overburden had been firmly compacted. In locations of highest body density they had as many as eight bodies deep. Both the body mass and drainage conditions conspired to trap moisture. In contrast, bodies of the Cerska grave were deposited on a roadside embankment and had been covered by a relatively thin layer of dloosely compacted gravel overburden. The lack of compaction and incline of the surface upon which the bodies rested did not allow moisture to be trapped. Drainage was transient and encouraged rinsing and draining of bodily fluids and products of decomposition from the area. Decomposition was accelerated further because the grave surface was fully exposed to the sun. This allowed warming of the overburden and the remains, some deposited as little as 50 cm below the surface. The moisture-trapping ability of the remains was lessened due to their low density. Throughout most of the grave, with the exception of the foot of the embankment where bodies had piled up against each other, the density of the remains tended to be only 1 to 3 bodies deep.
(*) Some would advocate that the Cerska “grave” is not technically a grave. The bodies were simply deposited on the ground surface and covered with borrowed soil. No excavation or hole was made in which to deposit the remains. Regardless, preservation dynamics hold and are relevant to this discussion.
One difference – perhaps the most important one – has already been mentioned in my above comments regarding the excerpt from Knight's Forensic Pathology quoted by FJ: as the AR mass graves were not filled all at once but over periods that could reach two or three weeks or more, most the bodies lying in these mass graves would already have entered into decomposition by the time further bodies were added (or, at the latest, by the time the grave was considered to have been filled), all the more so as sometimes (namely during the early phase of Treblinka’s operation, according to the testimonies of Suchomel and Krepicki) dead bodies had already entered into decomposition before they were placed in the graves. Decomposition, once begun, would progress as long as the grave was open, and even after it was closed. The evidence mentioned in in Part 3 of the blog series «Mattogno, Graf & Kues on the Aktion Reinhard(t) Mass Graves» suggests that, at least at Bełżec, graves were filled to such an extent that the swelling of the bodies during the putrefaction process caused them to be pushed above the rim of the grave and even outside the grave, after which swelling the bodies "collapsed", allowing for "a new layer of bodies" to be added (Gerstein). The swelling presumably corresponded to the putrefaction stage of the decomposition process, the "collapsing" to the stage of black putrefaction, at which the bloated body "eventually collapses, leaving a flattened body whose flesh has a creamy consistency". No such processes presumably occurred in the Ovcara mass grave before it was closed. This relatively small mass grave was presumably filled within a short time with the victims of a massacre, which were covered with a soil overburden before decomposition had set in.
Other differences between the Ocvara mass grave and the Aktion Reinhard(t) mass graves concern the following aspects:
• Soil drainage: in the Ocvara grave, clay soil "facilitated drainage from surrounding fields", and drainage conditions contributed to "trap moisture". I understand this as meaning that moisture got into the grave from surrounding fields but did not so easily leave the grave in the direction of the subsoil below. By contrast, in the Cerska mass grave (the other of FJ’s "examples from ex-Yugoslavia"), "Drainage was transient and encouraged rinsing and draining of bodily fluids and products of decomposition from the area". This suggests that the better the drainage from the grave, the more liquids from the corpses will seep into the soil below the grave, and the more strongly the corpses will decompose/dessicate. What was drainage like at the Aktion Reinhard(t) camps, where the soil where soil was sandy (see, as concerns the composition of the soil at Sobibór, the film I made there on 14 October 2008)? Probably quite good, considering that sandy soil facilitates drainage, as is for instance mentioned on this page:
In soils dominated by large pores (i.e., sandy soils), water moves rapidly. Soils that allow rapid leaching (water movement down through the soil profile) also pose environmental hazards because rain or irrigation water moving through the soil profile takes water-soluble pollutants with it. Ground water pollution is a sensitive issue on coarse-textured sandy soils.
In comparison, in soils dominated by small-sized pores (i.e., compacted soils and soils with greater than 20% clay content), water is slow to move or may not move at all. Soils easily waterlog.
On this page, one reads that
It thus seems safe to conclude that, as concerns drainage of liquids from the grave, the Aktion Reinhard(t) mass graves resembled the Cerska mass grave rather than the Ocvara mass grave.Clay soil is a very dense type of soil. Its particles are closely packed together and clay generally does not allow water to drain through. This type of soil slowly releases air and allows water to seep down into it. Clay soil generally sits on top of a solid rock bed.
Once water draining slowly through clay reaches the rock bed, it no longer has an outlet and pools within the soil. Plants that grow in it are at risk for root rot. Roots that sit in standing water for long periods of time will become prone to disease and fungus and may wilt and die.
Sandy soil is very loose. Its particles allow for the passage of both water and air. This soil drains water very quickly, which allows air to circulate around the plants within it. This can also cause the plants to dry out and some varieties grown in sandy soil may need to be watered more frequently for this reason.
• Thickness and compaction of overburden: The description of the Ocvara mass grave ("The grave at Ovcara was relatively deep with clay soil that facilitated drainage from surrounding fields. The overburden had been firmly compacted.") suggests that the overburden was quite thick, considering that this "relatively deep" grave contained "only" 200 dead bodies. The overburden had also been firmly compacted. By contrast, Gertein’s description of the mass graves at Bełżec, quoted in Part 3 of the blog series «Mattogno, Graf & Kues on the Aktion Reinhard(t) Mass Graves», suggests that the overburden was everything other than thick and compacted ("Then ten centimetres of sand were spread over the pit, so that a few heads and arms still rose from it here and there."). MGK, as quoted in the aforementioned blog, assume an overburden 30 cms thick for the Bełżec and Sobibór mass graves.
• Exposure to sun/heat, which facilitated decomposition at the Cerska mass grave (where the upper layer of corspes was still somewhat lower beyond the surface than at the AR camps according to Gerstein and MGK’s assumption, see previous bullet) was another factor contributing to decomposition at the AR mass graves, leading to hideous, far-reaching smell of decomposing corpses mentioned by the above-quoted sources (and presumably related to the practice of burning the corpses in the graves, addressed in my aforementioned blog and in Sergey Romanov’s blog The Clueless Duo and early corpse incineration in Treblinka and Belzec). At Sobibór, the problem of the corpse’s decomposition led to a change in the body disposal method at a relatively early stage, as mentioned in the judgment LG Hagen vom 20.12.1966, 11 Ks 1/64. From the translated excerpt:
Already in the summer of 1942 another reason had required a partial change of the extermination mechanism. Due to the heat the already filled corpse pits swelled up, gave off corpse fluid, attracted vermin and filled the whole area of the camp with a horrible stench. The camp command furthermore feared a poisoning of the drinking water, which was gained from deep wells in the camp building. A heavy excavator with a grabber extension was thereupon taken into the camp, Jewish working inmates having to help. The already decomposed corpses were extracted from the pits with the excavator’s help and burned on huge grids in an already dug, but still empty pit. The grids consisted of old railway rails laid on top of concrete foundations. Henceforth all corpses accruing from the gassing were immediately burned over these fireplaces, also at night. The glow of the fire could be seen not only inside the camp but also outside, and the smell of burned flesh filled the air over a long distance.
The differences pointed out above allow for concluding that, if conditions in the Ocvara mass grave were favorable to preserving the corpses contained therein, conditions in the AR mass graves were rather unfavorable to corpse preservation and more similar to those in the Cerska mass grave.
In my above considerations I have addressed the similarities or differences between the AR mass graves and FJ’s "examples from ex-Yugoslavia" only as concerns the factors mentioned in FJ’s sources.
Other factors that may have influenced the reduction of the corpse mass in the AR graves, with impacts on grave space availability and corpse cremation, have not been taken into consideration, namely the aforementioned practice of burning bodies in the graves (a practice that, incidentally, seems to have also been applied, in order to make room for more, regarding the corpses of African slaves dumped into a grave pit in Brazil – see the article Brazil: Cemetery of African slaves honored) and the use of quicklime, which according to FJ’s claims in another CODOH thread (to be discussed separately) would have hindered or slowed down decomposition.
Watch a clip from the 1943 German documentary film Im Wald von Katyn, link to be found here.FJ wrote:Has anyone studied the reports of the Katyn exhumations? What condition were the bodies in?