Burial space, part 1a: Katyn corrections

I previously discussed burial space at Katyn on the basis of this map. Having looked through the matter again, it’s clear that the scale on that map is incorrect.

Given the lack of a really accurate map, how can we analyze the burial space? First, in terms of the grave surface area (rather than total burial area), we can use the German report on Katyn, which specifies that the seven main graves had a total area of 478 square meters and held 4,131 bodies; if these figures are accurate then the graves held 8.64 bodies per square meter. However, the calculation of the area contains an arithmetical error (3.5 x 9 is given as 22.5 rather than 31.5); fixing this would change the total area to 487 square meters. The Congressional investigation of Katyn claimed that there is also an error in the number of bodies, which should in fact be 4,233. If both of these corrections are made, then the density would be 8.69 bodies per square meter. If the entire 4 hectares of the Treblinka upper camp were turned into a single enormous mass grave with this burial density, it would be able to hold less than 350,000 bodies. In fact, the potential grave sites identified by Caroline Sturdy Colls have an area of at most a few thousand square meters. Even if they held bodies at three times the area density of Katyn, they would still have been able to hold less than 100,000 bodies, and not the ~760,000 they supposedly held.

John Ball’s book Air Photo Evidence quotes sources which put the cumulative area of the graves at 96*6 meters, somewhat higher than the above figures; if this were correct than the density would need to be amended downwards.

If we want to look at the burial density in terms of total cemetery area, we can use two maps. First, the one I used previously (whose scale is wrong)


Second, one from the German report:


Although this aerial photo captures only part of the grave site, it still gives some clarification.


The aerial photo (along with the descriptions in the German report) suggest that the first map above shows the graves as too close together.

While one might imagine that the 2500:1 scale on the second map could be used to calculate the area, it is in fact useless, as we do not know how large the original of this map was. We can, however, estimate the burial area based on the fact that the L-grave was 26 meters long. By measuring that grave to get a scale and applying pixel counting, the main burial area (containing graves 1 to 7) comes out to 0.47 hectares from the second map and 0.2 hectares from the first. The discrepancy between the estimates shows that they are only rough sketches of the burial area (which was also obvious just by looking at them). The second map does at least have an official origin, while the original source for the first is unclear.

According to the German report, this area contained 4,131 bodies. Based on the area obtained from the second map, the burial density would be 8,790 bodies per hectare. Based on the first map, the density would be 20,655 bodies per hectare. If we use the Congressional investigation’s figure of 4,233 bodies, then the figures become 9,006 and 21,165.

In any event, even if the figure of 21,165 bodies per hectare were correct, filling the Treblinka upper camp with mass graves at this density would result in the burial of less than 85,000 bodies, far short of the number allegedly buried.

A further observation on the two maps: the first map shows the long axis of the L-grave as nearly perpendicular to the nearby road, while the second map shows it as almost parallel. The aerial photo shows that it was in fact midway in between the two. It may be that the same is true with the burial density, but precision on this point is not presently attainable.

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2 Responses to Burial space, part 1a: Katyn corrections

  1. Pingback: Burial space, part 1: comparison with Katyn | Holocaust History Channel

  2. Pingback: Burial space: the Reinhardt camps vs the real world - Stormfront

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