Mopping up

Roberto Muehlenkamp has left some more messes on his blog. One more clean-up job is in order – perhaps the last one.

First, a few quick points. Muehlenkamp reiterates his accusation that I dishonestly omitted information from the Leningrad birth weight paper; in fact, as I have already repeated, in my initial post, I mentioned this fact quite clearly (“improved food supply, at least among the pregnant population”). If Muehlenkamp’s reading comprehension wasn’t good enough to notice, that’s hardly my problem. Regarding Ettling’s experiments, Muehlenkamp replies with many words but no content. The most substantial part of his reply is an expression of incredulity at the possibility that an author of a paper might mention something in his discussion section which was not directly supported by his experiments. If Muehlenkamp is really so astonished as such a possibility, he needs to get out more – this is totally normal. The painstaking explanation which I gave in my last post on the topic stands unchallenged, and is evidently correct, as anyone who troubles to read the paper with a clear head will see. (Muehlenkamp tries to save himself with careful formulations about how the large quantity of external fuel made no “significant” contribution, which is absurd in light of the fact that Ettling’s 150 pound ewe lost 30 pounds in the fire, in spite of the fact that it was less fat and consequently had less easy-burning mass, that only roughly half the amount of gasoline as in the case of the 170 pound ewe was used, that in this case (and not the other one) the car was shut so as to starve the fire of oxygen until the heat broke a window, and that the fire was actively extinguished rather than being allowed to burn itself out. In spite of these comparatively enormously unfavorable circumstances, going by Ettling’s estimated (not measured, which reduces the value of the study) weights, it was reduced to 80% of its initial mass, while the 170 pound ewe was reduced to 29.4% of its initial mass. Therefore, (20 / 70.6 ~=) 28.3% of the proportional mass loss took place in that way – certainly a significant contribution, pace Muehlenkamp – and consider how much higher that number would have been with nearly double the gasoline, with a considerably fatter animal, letting the fire continue burning rather than extinguishing it, and without starving the fire of air by shutting the car. Clearly Muehlenkamp’s empty rhetoric about this not being a significant contribution is nonsense, as usual.

Muehlenkamp also claims that my observation of his error regarding quantities of wood neglects another of his errors which works in his favor, namely one involving the wood equivalent of railroad ties. Here I must confess that I did not think there was an error. I imagined that Muehlenkamp was being intelligent for a change, and was acknowledging that railroad ties have a higher energy density than does wood. The reason for this is that they are generally soaked with creosote (coal tar, amounting to perhaps an additional 15% of their weight) which has a higher energy density than wood. Evidently I was wrong to think that Muehlenkamp had done something correctly for once. Therefore I must lodge another complaint regarding his treatment of the energy content of railroad ties, which ignores their creosote content (this may or may not be relevant to the quantity of residual ash, but it is highly relevant to the energy content of the fuel).

Now, the main topics:

Burial density

Muehlenkamp has finally managed to read the source which I cited in my post on burial density.

As I stated in my previous post,

(Interestingly enough, the authors of this study had also supposed – without specific data – that higher densities of burial were possible, but found that supposition refuted by real-life experience.)

That is to say, the authors began with some data-free assumptions on burial density (perhaps derived from guesswork based on studying landfills), but they then noted that real-life experience proved that these assumptions overestimated actual possible burial density. Here in the reality-based community, empirical results take priority over data-free assumptions. When reality contradicts a model, reality is not refuted – the model is. Muehlenkamp, on the other hand, wants to focus on precisely these refuted speculations.

Not only does Muehlenkamp prioritize the speculations over empirical data, but he also manages to misinterpret them severely. In one case he is partly excused by the authors’ poor use of terminology in speaking of bulk density when they meant something else. He writes:

The assumed bulk density of 0.9 g/cm3 is quite interesting, if one considers that one cubic meter equals 1,000,000 cubic centimeters. So if 0.9 grams of carcass mass could theoretically fit into one cubic centimeter, then 900,000 grams or 900 kg could theoretically fit into one cubic meter.

Here Muehlenkamp has failed to realize what is clear from the passage, namely that the authors have misused the term “bulk density”, which is supposed to include the gaps in a pile of a substance. The reason this is clear is that the authors go on to reduce this number on the basis of their conjectured porosity (they assumed that 70% of the volume would be occupied, or a packing factor of 10/7, which they round to 1.4). If it were a true bulk density, porosity would have already been factored in. Thus, the density given is in fact the assumed average density of a carcass, not an actual bulk density. The correct bulk density is obtained by multiplying this density by the percentage of space in the carcass mass filled by carcasses rather than open space. (While, as I stated, Muehlenkamp is partly excused by the fact that the authors did use terminology poorly, I should also note that on first reading the paper, I was initially confused about this precise point, but was able to figure out the correct meaning in less than ten seconds. Muehlenkamp, in contrast, wrote and published a blog post without figuring this out – a fine tribute to the slipshod quality of his work.)

Muehlenkamp also erroneously treats the assumptions contained in the authors’ data-free speculation as if they applied to the actual burials, stating that

it becomes apparent from Jansson’s source why the assumed density, calculated above after the data in that same source, is not considered achievable in practice: the carcasses are “placed randomly in the pit, with a packing factor of 1.4”. This random placing obviously leads to unused space between the carcasses, which could be avoided if there was a packing team inside the pit arranging the carcasses in a space-saving manner and squeezing them together as tightly as possible – the way the corpses of murdered deportees were arranged and squeezed together in the AR camps’ mass graves.

Muehlenkamp lies. The reference to random placement and a packing factor of 1.4 was not made with respect to the actual practice in the burials on which they reported, but was rather simply part of a speculative – and unsuccessful – attempt to model them. As for the actual burials, they looked like this:


Muehlenkamp claims that his supposed “stacking team” could increase the density of the carcass mass by over 50% in comparison with this. What evidence does he have to support this claim? In fact, what evidence does he have to support his idea that a “stacking team” performed such work at Belzec – which is the camp at burial space is being discussed? Rudolf Reder describes a lack of any such procedure, forcing Muehlenkamp to offer a lame excuse:

Reder’s observation that the corpses were thrown “without order” into the graves does not contradict the evidence whereby, once inside the graves (and obviously outside the range of Reder’s observation), the corpses were ordered systematically by a team created for that purpose in order to save space (see Berger, EdV, pp. 66, 113, 148 and 372; judgment LG Düsseldorf vom 3.9.1965, 8 I Ks 2/64 (1st Düsseldorf Treblinka Trial), transcribed online here; Claude Lanzmann’s interview with Franz Suchomel).

A Treblinka trial verdict is not about Belzec, and Suchomel was not at Belzec either. As for Muehlenkamp’s citations from Sara Berger’s Experten der Vernichtung, p. 66 refers to Sobibor and p. 148 to Treblinka, while p. 113 refers to Belzec but does not say that a stacking team arranged the bodies for the sake of highly efficient use of space, and p. 372 has nothing to do with the subject. None of the references support Muehlenkamp’s idea of a Belzec “stacking team”, and he is lying in implying that they do. (Incidentally, Berger lies outrageously on p. 113 about the dimensions of the Belzec graves, claiming that there was a 70×33 meter grave. More charitably, she could have been misled by Michael Tregenza’s numbers, which are close to hers, but as she cites Kola as well there’s little excuse for this.) As for the fact that careful use was supposedly made of burial space at Sobibor, this actually works against Muehlenkamp, as if one accepts Muehlenkamp’s claims about burial space at that camp, only a relatively low burial density was achieved there, indicating that contrary to his claims these measures did not lead to any extraordinary burial density.


Incidentally, Muehlenkamp is wrong to assume that a packing factor of 1.4 is very loose. Take, for example, cordwood, to which stacks of bodies in the camps in 1945 were so often compared. A cord is 128 cubic feet of tight-stacked wood. By tight-stacked, this is what is meant:


But how much of that 128 cubic feet is actual wood, and how much is empty space? Direct measurements are not easy to come across, and many people are very poor at estimating this, but the generally accepted figure, which is fairly accurate in most cases, is around 80 cubic feet. This source says 85 cubic feet – a very good stack. Another source gives the figure as 70-90 cubic feet of wood. This range corresponds to wood occupying between 54.7% and 70.3% of the space, or alternatively put packing factors between 1.42 and 1.83! (For another illustration, see this comparison of a tight stack with a relatively loose stack.) Yet Muehlankamp imagines that a packing factor of 1.4 – which was just a data-free assumption, and not as he implies something found to apply to the actual burials whose density I reported – is very high, so much so that a “packing team” can make a huge improvement.

I can say from personal experience that if you want to get anywhere near the upper part of that range for the density of stacked firewood, you need very regular wood. If you have irregularly shaped wood, or worst of all, pieces with forks – or even beginnings of forks – in them, your achievable density will be much worse, and after all, a fork in wood is just like the shape of a torso and (short) legs. The human body is not very well shaped for dense stacking in this form, certainly worse than cordwood. It has all sorts of concave parts – the space between the legs and under the arms, the space under the chin, the waist, etc. All of these lead to a worse packing density.


Regarding my proof that his assumptions on pyre fueling are false, Muehlenkamp first contests the fact that there are serious doubts concerning the procedures involved in the execution of the pyres, their fueling, and their results. He notes that “there are photographs of pyres while and before burning” – but this is just the problem. The photographs only show pyres with largely intact bodies, and not a pyre that has burned down and largely cremated the carcasses. As the pictures do not show a complete cremation – not even close – they cannot be used to determine the amounts and types of fuels used, even supposing that complete cremation did eventually take place.

As for Muehlenkamp’s claims that the ashes seen in the photos are from the pyres, this is his interpretation, nothing more. The city was full of ashes; even clearing a spot for the cremation would have left piles of ash pushed to the side. Even if the photographed piles of ashes were from previous pyres, their presence would not show that they were the only remains: the larger remains could have been removed first. As for documents mentioning cremation, they only give an offhand mention without details on the full course of events, or on fueling, and do not come from anyone closely involved with carrying out cremations. Moreover, even Muehlenkamp believes that there are wartime forgeries among the documents mentioning these cremations, which implies that the pool of documents has been subject to propagandistic manipulation. Muehlenkamp may imagine that only one version of a document was subject to this, but this is only an assumption, not a proven fact. This renders the evidence still more uncertain, and totally unsuitable for proving that something is possible which all other experience says is not possible. A piece of paper claiming something is very poor evidence for such an occurrence (if a document mentioned that someone drove a large truck from Lisbon to Moscow using only one gallon of fuel, would you believe it?) even under the best of circumstances, and the circumstances here are far from the best. In short, as I stated, the evidence concerning the Dresden pyres is inadequate to allow for a technical analysis of the cremation (if complete cremation did indeed take place).

Muehlenkamp asks whether I can “point out any source mentioning a different type of flammables used in addition to the wood below the pyre?” As usual, he does not know his own sources. David Irving’s book on Dresden, which Muehlenkamp cites in this connection, refers to the inclusion of “more straw between each layer” of corpses. Ultimately, however, one needs to examine the primary sources, which Muehlenkamp fails to do entirely.

Second, Muehlenkamp complains that I did not spoonfeed him the very simple calculations for the depth of the puddle, and asks me to

provide his puddle “arithmetic” (I hope for him that he didn’t understand my considerations in the sense of 68,000 liters being poured over a single pyre, which is what his writing about an amount “used on the pyre pictured” suggests, as opposed to this being the total amount used on a number of pyres set up over the period between 21 February and 5 March 1945)

Looks like we need another hand-holding session. I can only wonder at Muehlenkamp’s inability to do a word problem that one might assign to a nine year old. (“Dick has ten hats. If Dick gives two hats to Jane each day, how many days will it take until Dick runs out of hats?”) Following Muehlenkamp’s assumptions on fuel demands and the number of bodies per pyre, one is looking at some 5,000 litres of fuel per pyre, or 5 cubic meters. Muehlenkamp has estimated the pyre dimensions at some 6×2.5 meters, or 15 square meters. Dividing, we see that the puddle should have been one third of a meter deep, or a little over a foot.

Muehlenkamp also asks a stupid question about what makes me think that the gasoline had been poured on the pictures that don’t show burning. Who said it was? There’s no deep puddle of gasoline in the pictures showing combustion either, even though they show largely intact corpses. In fact, the point it that it isn’t possible to pour that amount of gasoline on a pyre of those dimensions, unless you have some kind of sealed tub underneath it to keep it contained (which the pictures show there was not). If that amount of gasoline were poured on such a pyre, it would simply spread out all over the square. That’s what liquids do.


Regarding my statement that as Ausrottung was held to be an appropriate term to describe Nazi Jewish policy in the 1930s, it cannot imply any further radicalization from that point, such as to a policy of killing the Jews, Muehlenkamp states that

that argument is a non-sequitur, for the use of “Ausrottung” as meaning something other than physical extermination at a certain time would not preclude its use in the sense of physical extermination at a later time.

As usual, he has misread. If he is unable to understand the meaning of the verb “to imply” in this context, he should take some English lessons rather than boring everyone with imbecile blogs. As was clear to everyone except Muehlenkamp, the argument was not that Ausrottung applied to people cannot be used to refer to killing, but rather that it does not imply killing, i.e a conclusion of “killing” does not follow from the use of “Ausrottung” with respect to the Jews.

Muehlenkamp proves unable to respond to my explanation of the actual meaning of the “assassination” passage from Der Gelbe Fleck of which he is so fond, so he spams the text again, and then tries to change the subject. He then tries to draw a sharp distinction between literal and figurative meanings, maintaining that at least ausrotten’s literal meaning involves killing. By conceding that it also has a figurative meaning, he effectively concedes the argument: it follows from the existence of a “figurative” meaning that Ausrottung does not imply killing, as I said. To conceal this fact, Muehlenkamp tries a rhetoric aimed at minimizing the problem by giving the example of the verb “to kill” and the expression “you’re killing me”, where the former meaning is clearly dominant; one might also give examples of the figurative use of “to drown” (“we will shut the Jews in the ghettos and they will drown in their own filth”) or cases of the figurative use of “totschlagen” (strike dead). Here there is a sense that the verb has a very strong literal and lethal meaning, and the others meanings are of somewhat restricted and subordinate use. This is not the case for ausrotten (particularly not at the time; postwar re-education has emphasized the lethal meaning of this word and its derivatives, which has led this sense to dominate in contemporary German, but this is irrelevant and anachronistic for the period we are studying). It is just not that explicit a verb. The literal meaning is “to root out” – no death implied, although death is certainly one possibility. In short, it is a polyseme, and the non-homicidal uses are not subordinate to the homicidal one in the way that they are with “to kill” or “totschlagen”. I have no particular objection to referring to the homicidal sense as “literal” and the non-homicidal sense as “figurative”, but one cannot pretend that the homicidal sense is the “true” meaning of “ausrotten.” Both are true meanings. Therefore the use of ausrotten or its derivatives with respect to the Jews is perfectly consistent with revisionism – which is what I said in the first place.

Muehlenkamp also tries to whine about the supposed anti-semitism in my explanation of Der Gelbe Fleck – but doesn’t dare try to prove me wrong. Evidently Muehlankamp is one of those who believes that the truth is anti-semitic.

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