The difficulty involved in cremating the bodies of the huge number of people said to have been killed at the Reinhardt camps is one of the strongest revisionist arguments against the reality of the Reinhardt extermination. Consequently it has generated a steady series of attempted replies by internet anti-revisionists, most recently that by Roberto Muehlencamp in chapter 8 of the well known “cut-and-paste manifesto.” In this post I will not be discussing the problem of fuel requirements for cremation, which has been the focus of debate on Reinhardt body disposal. Rather, I will consider a subsidiary problem, that problem of burning the fuel. After all, if the fuel for the cremation cannot be burned in the manner described, then the cremation is impossible. I will therefore at times accept, just for the sake of argument, that Muehlencamp’s estimates of fuel requirements are correct*, and see what can be said about burning that fuel in the manner described.
(*) They are not.
1.1 The tl/dr version
Like my post Cremation Remains at the Reinhardt Camps, this will be an aggregation of a number of sources concerning a variety of problems surrounding cremation, or in this case, concerning combustion. Such a crabbed and terse digest can take considerable effort to read and comprehend, so for the benefit of people deciding whether it’s worth their time to read this, I will state a few conclusions at the beginning.
2. The type of fuel used at the Reinhardt camps
Thomas Kues has already given a good (though incomplete) overview of statements of Treblinka witnesses on the fuel used for cremations. We will assume that the fuel used was wood, perhaps supplemented by liquid fuels for ignition. (The possibility of liquid fuels making a more substantial contribution will also be briefly considered, but it goes strongly against the consensus of the orthodox historians.) We will not make any assumption on how the wood was obtained, but will consider the problems posed by the various possibilities in turn.
The main questions concerning the wooden fuel are first, whether it was green or dry, and second, whether it was brushwood or cordwood/lumber. There are witnesses for all of these possibilities*, but we will not dwell on the contradictions between the different accounts, but consider each possibility in turn.
(*) For example – Richard Glazar: green cordwood. Chil Rajchman: dry branches. Heinrich Matthes: brushwood.
3. Experience from burning brush piles
As Kues notes in the article linked above, the picture that emerges from the statements of the Treblinka witnesses is that the wood used for cremation was gathered from around the camp. Similar statements hold for Belzec and Sobibor. One particularly common version is that the fuel was brushwood. Fortunately, there is an extensive body of experience with burning brushwood available. Many land owners collect and burn brush piles (aka burn piles) as a way of disposing of unwanted wood that has accumulated on their property.
It is standard practise to let such piles season for several months at the very least. People who try to burn their brush piles when they are freshly cut or nearly so end up being very disappointed when their piles fail to burn. It is very difficult to burn a pile of freshly cut wood. Even partially green piles can cause severe difficulties. Inclement weather does the same. The following links which contain real people asking for help with burning their partially wet brushpiles. Note in particular that sprinkling liquid fuels on the wood is far from a complete solution to this problem.
I truly expected this pile to light off and burn easy. I piled dead wood on three sides that I had cut up in two foot lengths with the chainsaw. Since it was piled with a dozer I really did not have control of what went were. In retrospect I think I would have talked to them and started with some dead stuff on the bottom.
Anyway yesterday, I dumped about 24 gallons of diesel fuel on the pile and lit it off. Some of the small branches flashed off and the dry stuff I had piled caught fire and burned well. This dry stuff was under the green wood and I had 3 fires burning 6-8 feet tall. We even used a leaf blower to accelerate the burn. But once the dry stuff had burned up the fire was done !
Obviously the kind of statements contained in the above links cannot be taken as any kind of a final word, because individual circumstances can vary drastically, but they should help people start to think realistically about the difficulty involved in burning green wood outdoors.
4. “The wood was doused with petrol”: comments on the role of liquid fuels
Heinrich Matthes, who from the orthodox perspective is the most important German witness to the Treblinka cremations (he was allegedly commander of the “extermination area”), stated the following:
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.
Is dousing wood with gasoline a good way to ignite a large fire? No. Gasoline is highly volatile, and the vapors it gives off are heavier than air. Consequently the vapor spreads out along the ground, often leading to a dramatic explosion when the pyre is ignited. Here are some examples of what this looks like:
Of course, the Reinhardt cremations were on a larger scale, and would have required more time to douse with gasoline, which means that there would have been even greater vapor densities…
If the Treblinka story were true, then the commander of the extermination area would be an expert in outdoor body disposal, and therefore an expert on fire. So why would he use a fool’s method for igniting his pyres?
4.1 Comments on methods of ignition
A number of witnesses speak of liquid fuels in connection with Treblinka cremations. As stated above, gasoline is a poor choice for this purpose. Gasoline mixed with diesel fuel (more diesel fuel than gasoline) could be used, but it has limitations. It won’t do any good if it simply runs off into the ground, and wood doesn’t absorb it very well. Wet wood especially doesn’t absorb it well, because it’s already wet – it won’t absorb anything very well. The same observation applies to most other liquid fuels: green wood (small twigs excepted, of course) will not absorb enough of them to burn. Liquid fuels are normally only able to ignite brush piles that are already partly dry. Getting around this problem requires using something thick enough to adhere to the wood, such as gelled gasoline (napalm).
A better method for the use of liquid fuels is to soak straw with diesel fuel. This prevents the diesel fuel from running off and allows it to burn for longer, but I don’t know of any witness who mentions this method.
4.2 Comments on liquid fuels as supplementary fuel sources
I have already commented on the unsuitability of gasoline by itself as a fuel for corpse incineration, although the witness Abe Kon did describe the cremations being fueled by “gasoline and petroleum” alone. In any case, outdoor cremation using liquid fuels alone is beyond the scope of this post. However, Muehlencamp also appears to consider a middle option, writing
Wood could to a large extent be replaced as a combustion agent by gasoline or other liquid flammables.
Could gasoline (or more plausibly some less volatile liquid fuel) provide the bulk of the energy for the cremations in the context of a wood burning fire? No, for the same reason it has a poor ability to ignite green wood: most of it will run off and soak into the ground. Wood cannot absorb enough gasoline to make a significant difference in its energy content.
5. Experience from burning stumps
Continuing on the theme that green wood is hard to burn, it’s worth noting how difficult it is to burn a stump out of the ground. I strongly recommend the experience to anti-revisionists – it will provide them with a world of practical assistance in understanding the difficulty of cremation. There are many chemical products available that are supposed to help with the process, and recommended procedures for making air holes in the stump, adding diesel fuel, and piling lots of dry wood around it, but even if done right, burning out a large stump remains very difficult.
6. Data from forest fires
We now move on to some data from real fires, specifically forest fires. We are interested in the following questions:
With respect to the first question, here are some data points:
A. Experimental burns of aspen consumed less than 1 kg of fuel per square meter:
B. The largest of a number of experimental burns with red pine consumed 0.45 lbs of fuel per square foot (2.2 kg/m^2). This fire was a crown fire, i.e. it burnt at the level of the canopy like the fire in the picture above.
C. Here is data on some more experimental fires. Note in particular the crown fires, and especially fire C4. This fire burned on a 100×200 foot plot.
Fire C4 consumed 4.4 kg of fuel per square meter, which means a total of 8,176 kg on the entire 100×200 foot plot.
Here are some pictures of the fires:
Now, keeping in mind the above pictures and the fact that fire C4 consumed 8,176 kg of fuel, let us consider Muehlenkamp’s numbers for the Treblinka cremations:
As we see in the above table, Muehlenkamp asserts that he can burn 24,360 – 57,850 kg of wood on a 66 – 90 square meter pyre. This many times the amount of fuel consumed in fire C4. Look at the pictures and ask how reasonable it is to think that the every day for months the Germans burned multiple fires, each of which consumed many times the fuel consumed in fire C4. Wouldn’t the neighbors have noticed? I mean, really noticed? Maybe even taken some pictures?
One thing that must be noticed in the above examples is that the total fuel consumption is much less than the total amount of wood in the forest. For instance, Mattogno and Kues have used the figure 500 tons of wood per hectare of forest, but even fire C4 only consumed 44 tonnes per hectare. The discrepancy results from the fact that forest fires do not consume the trunks of large trees. Here are some photos of the aftermath of forest fires. As you can see, most of the wood is unconsumed. This is another testament to the difficulty of burning green wood.
In fact, discrepancy is even greater than this, because the values given above are the total amount of fuel consumed, and fair share of that is duff (the forest floor) rather than anything that could be gathered from trees.
6.1 The International Crown Fire Modeling Experiment
Another source of forest fire data is the International Crown Fire Modeling Experiment (ICFME). The picture of a large fire at the top of this post is from the ICFME.
This video gives an overview of the ICFME. For a quick look at the fires, see 0:32, 1:58, 2:41, 3:29, and 6:23.
Here is fuel consumption data for the ICFME fires:
Most of the fires consumed between 4 and 5 kg of fuel per square meter. The fires burned on 150m x 150m plots. Using a fuel consumption of 4.444 kg/m^2, that’s a total fuel consumption of 100,000 kg. Recall that Muehlencamp claims he can cremate 2,500 bodies with 57,850 kg of green wood. Since forests do contain some dry deadfall, we’ll drop that number to 50,000 kg for the type of wood burned in the ICFME. That means that the total fuel consumption of a typical ICFME fire is equal to the fuel needed (according to Muehlenkamp’s numbers) to burn 5,000 corpses, which was according to the holocaust story a pretty typical daily load at Belzec or Treblinka. Watch the video, and ask yourself whether it’s likely that the Germans burned fires every day that consumed as much fuel as one of the ICFME fires did.
6.2. How much fuel is available per hectare of forest?
We return to the observation made above that the amount of fuel burned in forest fires is greatly less than the total amount of wood in the forest. Of course, even a large forest fire might not succeed in burning all the wood that could potentially burn. For instance, the fuel load of the forests in section 6 example C was 23.8 tons/acre, but fire C4 only succeeded in burning 19.8 tons/acre.
Most of the ICFME fires burned 4-5 kg per square meter, which is 40-50 tonnes per hectare. Looking at the ICFME data again, we see that generally no more than 1 kg per square meter (10 tonnes per hectare) of deadfall was burned. If the Reinhardt camps were fueled with dry wood gathered from the surrounding forests, this would have been the only supply, with the possible exception of dead lower limbs from some trees.
6.3 A suggested experiment for holocaust believers
Anti-revisionists will probably dispute my assertion that green logs and green cordwood do not readily burn. I would like to challenge them to perform the following experiment:
The last part will be the trick, of course. I encourage them to try whatever method they like. Propane torch? Go for it. Soak it with gasoline? Go right ahead. I predict that they will not succeed without taking some pretty radical measures (such as mixing the wood with a large quantity of dry wood, or splitting the wood down into kindling).
6.4 Conclusions on Green Wood
Green wood is so difficult to burn that for all practical purposes it is impossible to use as the primary fuel for an open air fire unless it is reduced to small pieces. The degree of difficulty of reducing tree trunks to small pieces with hand tools is so great as to make this totally impractical. Given the lack of testimony to such a process, this possibility can be totally ruled out.
7. Data from slash piles
The comparisons with forest fires were interesting, but forest fires are quite different from the kind of fires allegedly burned at the Reinhardt camps. The brush piles discussed in section 3 above were a closer comparison. Another similar source of examples is slash piles, which consist of logging slash. That is, they consist of the wood that is cut in the course of a logging operation which the loggers don’t want – limbs and the like.
This article gives information on the density of slash piles:
Now recall Muehlenkamp’s assertions about the cremations
The Treblinka pyres are usually described as 70 cm high, but as Muehlencamp realizes this is unworkable he adds a 1 meter pit to his pyres to give a total height of 1.7 meters. Using the larger figure of 90 square meters, this gives us a total volume of 153 cubic meters. Now, the woods around the Reinhardt camps (Treblinka at least) are mostly softwoods – pine and fir – and 500 kg per cubic meter of wood is a reasonable estimate for the density of this kind of wood when dry. Therefore is the pyre was filled with a solid block of wood it would weigh 76,500 kg. As slash never gets denser than 26% wood, that means that a maximum weight of slash that could fit in the pyre is 19,890 kg, less than Muehlenkamp thinks is necessary to cremate 2,000 bodies. Using a more realistic density of 15%, the amount of wood that could fit drops to 11,475 kg.
In fact, these numbers are far too generous – slash does not get with dense without compaction by heavy equipment, which didn’t occur at the Reinhardt camps. What’s more, true brushwood is even less dense than the kind of slash described here, because it lacks large chunks of wood.
7.1 Flaming versus smoldering
In his cremation experiment filmed for One Third of the Holocaust, denierbud observed an important problem with cremation on a grate suspended over a fire. As the fire dies down, its level sinks, and so does the amount of heat which makes it to whatever you are cremating. When the fire is no longer putting out long flames but just smoldering, no cremation can occur.
This problem is very severe for brushwood, which is the fuel most commonly described as being used for the Reinhardt cremations. A study of a 486 hectare [!] burn of logging slash made the following estimates of the share of fuel consumption which occurred in flaming and smoldering modes:
Only 12% of fuel consumption occurred in flaming combustion, the remaining 88% resulting from smoldering! This shows that logging slash and other similar fuels are even less suited as fuels for cremation than we has seen thus far, because when they burn, most of the combustion occurs in the smoldering phase, which is useless for cremation on a grill.
8. Data from Crib Fires
A crib fire is a fire made by criss-crossing several layers of logs. This is a pyre using a crib fire design together with a central peak stack:
This is a crib fire burning in a laboratory:
This is the kind of dense wood arrangement that would be a good choice for outdoor cremations. With dry wood, crib fires can certainly exceed the 80 kg per square meter per hour of fuel consumption that Muehlenkamp assumes for the Reinhardt cremations, as the following data shows:
However, getting them to sustain such a high rate of combustion would require careful design. During Project Flambeau, which investigated mass fires, a number of large crib fires constructed of lumber were burned. Each crib was 6 feet by 6 feet by 64 inches, and the fuel was distributed in the following way:
This is what a collection of the cribs looked like:
Before the full burns, which involved several fuel beds each made of 49 six foot by six foot cribs, one such fuel bed was burned as a test. Here it its fuel consumption over time:
8.1 Further data from Project Flambeau and other mass fire experiments
During the 1960s there were a number of fire tests performed which, inspired by the fire storms of the second world war together with concerns with fires that might arise in nuclear war, sought to understand the dynamics of extremely large fires. This is the setup for one of these fires:
There fires aren’t the most directly relevant to our context, because like forest fires they have more diffuse fuel beds than do realistic cremation pyres. Still, they’re pretty interesting.
9. Drying fuel on site?
We have argued above that the situation for wood gathering at the Reinhardt camps was much more dismal even than Kues stated in his excellent article Tree Felling at Treblinka, because most of the wood in the surrounding forests would have been too green and in too large of pieces (even after being split onto cordwood) to be burned in the manner described. What about the possibility that fuel was dried on site?
Properly seasoning cordwood requires a year or more, but you can make a useful start in less time than that. I will assume a minimum of 100 days of seasoning to make any appreciable difference, and I stress that this is only an extremely partial degree of seasoning. Recall again Muehlenkamp’s estimates of fuel consumption.
Belzec and Treblinka needed to burn at least 5,000 bodies per day – two of Muehlankamp’s 2,500-body fires. I’ll assume that a cord of dry fir or pine weighs 1,000 kg, so Muehlenkamp’s fuel requirement is a little over 60 cords per day, or 6,000 cords for 100 days. A cord is 8 feet long x 4 feet wide x 4 feet high. Therefore 6,000 cords would be 480 feet long x 400 feet wide x 4 feet high. To allow for drying, you would need to allow for air space between stacks – let’s say one foot between 4 foot wide piles, although this is really far too little for proper drying. That increases the pile size to 480 feet x 500 feet x 4 feet. The total lack of any reference to such a enormous collection of stacked cordwood in any witness account proves that there was no such wood drying program at the Reinhardt camps.
Of course, if the wood were merely piled rather than tight-stacked (and who did the work to stack it?), the volume would be even larger.
10. Fuel Delivery?
We have shown that the Reinhardt cremations could not have been performed with wood gathered from around the camps, even if Muehlenkamp’s calculations of wood requirements were correct. We have also shown that, again using Muehlenkamp’s fuel requirements, brushwood could not have performed the cremations. We have shown (unless some anti-revisionist documents his successful completion of the experiment in section 6.3) that green cordwood could not have been used as the primary fuel for the cremations. The only possibility remaining is that dry cordwood, or at any rate some dry wooden fuel with density much greater than that of logging slash, was delivered to the camp. By delivered, of course, we mean delivered from some location other than the surrounding woods.
This is precisely what Muehlenkamp argues:
The realistic possibility of wood supplies being mostly brought into the camp by rail and/or truck renders irrelevant Revisionist considerations about the incompatibility of cremation wood requirements with available woodcutting labor and deforestation around the camp observable on air photos, as it means that only a part of the required wood had to be cut by each camp’s own inmate lumbering teams.
Muehlenkamp cites one witness in association with wood deliveries, although it seems likely that these are supposed to be deliveries of wood gathered from around the camp rather than transports from more distant locations. He supposes that the deliveries took place over the period of one year, although this would lead to the accumulation of piles even larger than those described in section 9. Nick Terry asserts that there are accounts of deliveries of wood for cremation that are still unpublished, although when queried concerning them he did not provide any more details. In any event, what we are concerned with is the logistical problems involved with such deliveries, and whether they would have been sufficiently attention-grabbing that we would expect witnesses to mention them.
10.1 Deliveries by train
The Reinhardt camps are supposed to have had a bipartite division, with a rail spur into camp 1 but extermination and cremation in camp 2, the two camps being connected by a narrow “tube.” If wood were delivered by train, it would need to be carried from camp 1 to camp 2 through the tube. Muehlenkamp’s estimates of fuel requirements mean that some 60 cords per day of wood needed to be delivered (sticking with softwoods). Due to the camps’ busy extermination schedules and lack of a night shift, this work would need to be fit into a short time, say 2 hours. That’s 2 minutes per cord. A cord probably requires some 60 armloads, so one armload needed to be carried into the extermination area every 2 seconds. The narrow tube could not have accommodated any more than one line of people travelling in each direction, so the wood carriers would have had to form a single file line. The round trip from the train to the “roasts” and back would have been on the order of 800 meters. Jews carrying a armload of firewood could not have sustained a pace of any greater than 1 meter per second, and even that is generous. Therefore there would have to have been at least 400 wood carriers. Somehow these are lacking in the accounts of camp occupations.
It’s also worth noting that the much vaunted separation of the two camps would have been entirely destroyed by this system of wood deliveries.
These considerations entirely rule out wood deliveries by train as a solution to the fuel supply problem.
10.2 By Truck
How about delivering the 60 cords of wood per day for Muehlenkamp’s fuel supply (less at Sobibor) by truck? At least this way the wood could be dumped near the desired location and would not need to be carried by hand.
Just how much wood is that? This is a truck with what’s claimed to be around one cord of firewood:
This picture claims to contain two cords of firewood:
However, this firewood supplier, like all too many of them, is shortchanging his customers. A cord is 128 cubic feet of tight stacked wood. When thrown into a loose pile as in this truck the volume is considerably greater. This site suggests that the tight stacked volume is 0.7111 times the loose piled volume, which would put this load (assuming 280 cubic feet is correct) at 1.56 cords. Various legal definitions give similar numbers.
Whatever size truck was used, delivering 60 cords of firewood per day would have attracted a lot of attention. For concreteness’ sake, we’ll assume a truck that would carry one cord was used. That would mean that every day during the cremation period 60 firewood trucks delivered their loads – one truck every 8 minutes for 8 hours a day, every day! This would have been extremely noticeable. How much this is so is clearer when we look at maps of the camp. For instance, here’s a map of Belzec:
There’s only one road into the extermination area, and it runs right through the middle of the camp. No-one could have failed to take note of the continual parade of firewood trucks, but if there are testimonies to this, they haven’t shown up yet.
Noise is another consideration. A large scale delivery of firewood would certainly be done with dump trucks of some kind, and I can say from experience that dumping even one cord of firewood makes quite a racket. Everyone nearby would hear the dumping being done. But witnesses have not, to my knowledge, testified to this noise.
The same considerations apply at Treblinka, where the one road into the extermination area passed right by the Jewish living quarters and in plain view of the assembly area:
At Sobibor there is not said to have been a road into the extermination area, but instead there was supposedly a narrow gauge rail line.
Here the wood might have been delivered by train and then transferred to the narrow gauge rail cars for shipment into the extermination area. However, the task of transferring the wood from the trains to the narrow gauge rail does not appear in witness accounts, while the task of transferring clothing onto trains frequently does. But the weight of the wood would have far exceeded the weight of the clothing. It’s not plausible that all the witnesses would have completely forgotten this work.
10.3 Comment on the fact that the deliveries are not documented
Arguing that there were enormous – but totally undocumented – deliveries to the Reinhardt camps puts anti-revisionists into a bind, in that they rely heavily on the argument that there is little or no documentation of Jews being shipped onward from the Reinhardt camps, But if enormous deliveries of fuel can occur without leaving documents, so too can similar shipments of Jews.
10.4 Buying dry firewood
Although Muehlenkamp is correct that there was plenty of wood in Poland to fuel the Reinhardt cremations, this was never in question, and nor is it sufficient to ensure the wood supply. What is needed is not a delivery of firewood, but dry firewood. The difference is very important. Obtaining large quantities of dry firewood in the middle of the winter is no easy task. People who burn wood seriously buy their firewood green and season it themselves. Consequently, vendors do not normally have very much seasoned wood, especially not in the middle of the winter. Even today, I am quite sure that arranging for shipments of 60 cords of dry wood per day would be very difficult and would generate a great deal of attention, as local suppliers would not have anywhere near that amount of dry wood on hand.
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