Taking out the garbage

The hapless Roberto Muehlenkamp has continued to attempt responses to a number of my posts. Muehlenkamp’s disorganized meanderings, which rely heavily on attempted line-by-line “rebuttals” that fail to engage with the full argument being made, are characteristically thoughtless, being written in a very short timeframe and without even the slightest effort at coherence. In light of this, I will not waste my time in point by point responses. If anyone believes that Muehlenkamp has raised a genuine argument on any point, he should feel free to let me know in the comments, and I may then address it, but he should also understand that he will be expected to render a more coherent account of the purported argument than what is present in Muehlenkamp’s blogs. I’m genuinely interested: can anyone see any valid arguments in Muehlenkamp’s outbursts? If so, please clarify in the comments.

Despite the above, I will take the time to set straight a few of the matters raised by Muehlenkamp’s blogs.

Concerning my post US government official: ‘Ausrottung’ does not imply killing

1. Meaning of Ausrottung

Muehlenkamp adduces a list of uses of “Ausrottung” where he believes the word implies killing. This enumeration completely fails on the level of elementary logic. The issue in question is whether the word “Ausrottung” implies killing. Even if we supposed (wrongly) that killing is meant in all of Muehlenkamp’s examples, this would not demonstrate that “Ausrottung” implies killing.

Perhaps an analogy will help. Suppose we were dealing with the verb “to finish off”, someone had claimed that the verb “to finish off” does not imply killing, and I wished to refute this position. I could not do so by enumerating cases in which “to finish off” did mean “to kill”, because the issue in question was not whether “to finish off” can be used to mean “to kill” (which of course it can) but whether the use of “to finish off” implies killing, which it certainly does not. In terms of logical quantifiers, it is the difference between “there exists” and “for all”. Likewise with “Ausrottung”: the issue is not whether Ausrottung can be used in a homicidal context – of course it can. The issue is whether “Ausrottung” implies a homicidal context – which of course it does not.

As a very simple example, let’s consider the 1936 book “Der Gelbe Fleck: Die Ausrottung von 500,000 deutschen Juden”. Does Muehlenkamp believe that the word “Ausrottung” in the title refers to killing? Reading the book will readily confirm that it does not – and failing that, a glance at the publication date would suffice.

2. Vrba-Wetzler

Muehlenkamp also questions whether Harrison’s observations reflected the Vrba-Wetzler report, and argues that they did not on account of the inclusion of the Hungarian Aktion. However, Harrison states that “Brigham of the NYT sent it off on Sunday.” This would be Sunday, July 2. There did indeed appear an article by Daniel T. Brigham dated July 2nd in the NYT (it appeared in the July 3 edition). It is completely clear from the NYT article that the claim regarding 1.7 million (which does not include the Hungarian Jews) ultimately derives from Vrba-Wetzler. Evidently Harrison either read a derived version which gave an even more confused treatment of the numbers, or simply misread the report and wrongly assumed that the numerical tabulation was complete. Apparently even this very slight degree of research – checking a single newspaper article – was beyond Muehlenkamp’s capabilities.

As Muehlenkamp is too lazy to obtain a newspaper article, and will doubtless whine endlessly unless spoonfed everything, I suppose I’d better show it to him. First, from Brigham’s article referred to by Harrison:


Now from Vrba-Wetzler:


The only difference: the 50,000 Lithuanian Jews allegedly killed at Auschwitz were left out. Could be a simple copying error, or perhaps someone remembered that they were supposed to have almost all been shot on-site, not shipped to Auschwitz. In short, Roberto is wrong (as usual) in his assertion that this derives from some report other than Vrba-Wetzler.

Certainly my reference to planting the Vrba-Wetzler report with the newspaper agencies could have been worded slightly more loosely; if might have been better to speak of “claims derived from the Vrba-Wetzler report”, emphasizing that there may have been a layer of intermediation, i.e. that the Vrba-Wetzler report was repackaged and supplemented in order to make it more appealing and topical to the newspapers. Naturally the statements regarding Hungarian Jews were added in this process. (Interestingly enough, the July 3rd NYT story gives a description of the Hungarian Jews’ fate in which they are not exterminated on arrival, but only weeks later. This time frame suggests that the “gassing” in this particular report actually reflected the transiting of the Jews through the camp and on to another destination.)

3. Muehlenkamp demonstrates his illiteracy

In his attempt to discredit Harrison, Muehlenkamp writes that Harrison “apparently felt compelled to inquire with someone […] about the meaning of the word ‘Entjudung'”. This is not what the text says at all. There is no indication that Harrison inquired about the meaning of Entjudung. Rather, he reports on a conversation in which the man he was talking to insisted that Entjudung implies killing, which Harrison knew to be false. Reading comprehension is no more Muehlenkamp’s strong suit than is logic.

Muehlenkamp appears to think that the reference to Entjudung and Ausrottung in Harrison’s letter comes from the text of the report of which Harrison spoke. In fact, Harrison did not say that the report contained either of these words. Rather, he knew that a man involved in spreading the report thought (erroneously) that Entjudung implied killing, and speculated that the the report had been fabricated as a result of such misinterpretations. In other words, Harrison’s letter indicates that he thought the Vrba-Wetzler report was atrocity propaganda, and reflected the (false) Jewish belief in extermination, which in turn resulted, at least in part, from the Jews misinterpreting documents they had obtained which did include the words Entjudung and Ausrottung.

4. Who planted the story?

Muehlenkamp objects to my suggestion that the man who planted the story was “probably Jewish”. As my statement was clearly presented as speculation, it’s not clear why it occasioned complaint. I made that piece of speculation on the basis of the extensive activities of groups like the World Jewish Congress in the area from which the report came. The possibility that this man was a Jew is also supported by Harrison’s belief that, given that the man who planted the story believed that Entjudung implied killing, the Vrba-Wetzler report may have derived from mistranslations. However, it certainly is true that Jews sought and obtained non-Jewish participation in promoting stories so as to give their reports more perceived credibility, and that there was such involvement with this report. This, of course, does not answer the question of who planted the story with the newspaper agencies. In any event, the identity of the man who planted the story is not a matter on which I place any particular importance, and if it will help to keep the focus in the more relevant issues, I’m happy to withdraw that particular piece of speculation.


Concerning my post Muehlenkamp lies about Provan

1. Muehlenkamp doesn’t understand how to determine height from photos

Faced with the clear proof that the bodies did not stay below the height of the box, Muehlenkamp feebly attempts to distinguish between the “lateral slab nailed to the box on its open side” and the “top of the box”. In fact, both heights are the same, as this and this picture make clear. Furthermore, the above linked photo is taken from a vantage point below the height of the box, and will therefore tend to understate the extent to which the height of the people in the box exceeds the box’s height. (If this is not immediately apparent, then draw the line of sight from the camera position to the top of the box; observe that it rises above the box when it passes into the box’s interior. This could be illustrated with a diagram, but I’m not going to waste time making a diagram to explain something so self-evident.)

Unbelievably, Muehlenkamp then argues that one should assess the height on the basis of a photo taken from approximately overhead. In reality, relative height is almost impossible to determine from an overhead picture. If you wanted to determine the relative height of trees, would you use an aerial photo from overhead (that showed no shadows)? Of course not. You would use a photo taken from a horizontal position, and not a vertical one. The photo from overhead would tell you very little about relative height. Likewise in the present example. Moreover, Muehlenkamp deceitfully recommends a photo that can give a misleading impression of height; if for some bizarre reason he wanted to insist on using an overhead photo then this one would show the height more clearly. In any event, the horizontal photo is much better at showing this, and overhead photos should not form the basis for any discussion of relative height.

2. Muehlenkamp doesn’t know the difference between centimeters and meters

Muehlenkamp writes: “the height of the box was 60.5 inches = 1.5367 meters and the height of the tallest adult was 67 inches = 1.7018 meters, so if he was standing fully upright his head would have protruded a full 0,1651 centimeters above the top of the box”. That should be 0.1651 meters, or 16.51 centimeters, not 0.1651 centimeters. But what’s a hundredfold error when it comes to holocaust work?

3. Muehlenkamp’s need to resort to speculation rather than actual experimental results reveals his intellectual bankruptcy

One can only laugh at Muehlenkamp’s offer to stuff a few more kids into Provan’s box, and shove down the men’s heads below its top. As he has shown us yet again, Muehlenkamp’s silly claims rest not on experimental results, but on nothing more than his own speculation.

4. Provan’s measurements include manifest errors

While we’re on the subject of Provan’s experiments, we should also mention another reason why the use of such a small-scale, unreplicated experiment is problematic, namely that Provan’s measurements clearly contain errors. Consider the example of “T.J.”, age 34, height 66″, weight 138 lbs, shoulders 49″, and waist 23″! Does Muehlenkamp really believe that Provan’s experimental subject had 49″ shoulders and a 23″ waist? If not, then he concedes that Provan’s measurements are unreliable, which undermines his use of Provan even further.

There are of course other, more fundamental reasons why Provan’s experiment is not the right basis for studying burial density. For instance, he was dealing with living humans who were attempting to fit themselves into a certain space (and a doll, to which he assigned a weight arbitrarily). The element of volition is obviously lacking with the dead (but the element of rigor mortis will play an inconvenient role). Of course, there is also the element of the size of the bodies – which Muehlenkamp distorted in order to make it close to Provan’s value – and the fact that real populations don’t contain one doll for every seven human members. Even if we accepted that the average weight were the same between Provan’s group and Polish Jews, there would remain the fact that an emaciated adult will take more burial space than a well-fed child of the same weight, due to the bony structure of the human body, and the fact that the greater concavity in the shape of an emaciated body causes the carcass mass to have higher porosity (emaciated bodies don’t squish together as efficiently as do plump bodies). (Of course there’s also the layers of dirt which, according to the testimonies, covered each load of corpses – but which Muehlenkamp excludes from his calculations.)

Of course, not every mass grave is filled to capacity, which is why one should look at a considerable number of mass graves to see what kind of burial densities are realistic and attainable, and where possible one should look for information on the density of the carcass mass itself. Muehlenkamp, however, is terrified to touch even the most dense cases of burial, such as Birkshaw forest, of even the cases where the corpse-density of the carcass mass itself is given, because such real data destroys the house of cards he’s created in his writings.

In short, it’s best to study mass graves by studying mass graves, and mass cremation by studying mass cremation, rather than by attempting some creative extrapolation from a different set of circumstances. Nevertheless, one can expect that Muehlenkamp will refuse to admit this evident truth, as his entire position is dependent on its incomprehension.

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One Response to Taking out the garbage

  1. Pingback: Pearls before swine: explaining the obvious to an idiot | Holocaust History Channel

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