Roberto Muehlenkamp has dusted off his weapons of mass bullshitting again, and has truly excelled himself, raising idiocy to an art form. He must be fighting to defend his title as stupidest member of the holocaust controversies blogging team from Jonathan Harrison’s strong challenge. So, it looks like I’ll get in one more round of rebuttals.
First, with respect to the matter of Leningrad birth weights, I’ll have to play kindergarten teacher for Muehlenkamp yet again. He complains that I didn’t mention my argument that “prematurity rates for a population under sustained food pressure are likely to return to somewhat normal levels” and omitted the fact that many of the women giving birth in the second half of 1942 were better fed than the average member of the city. Dear lord. That’s the point, you retard. In a population under sustained food pressure, the only women who are able to become pregnant are those who are comparatively well fed. Very poorly fed women tend to be unable to get pregnant. Often, they don’t even menstruate. (In the context of my initial post, there was also the point that the premature births in the first half of 1942 were significantly influenced by the changing food supply, i.e. they occurred in women who became pregnant when the food supply was more or less normal, who had to adapt to a much smaller food supply in mid-pregnancy – but let’s not get into that again. Muehlenkamp has enough difficulty dealing with one point at a time – two would break him.)
Second, regarding the paper of Ettling, Muehlenkamp simply ignores what I actually argued, while attributing to me positions I did not argue. As I believe that I made my position perfectly clear before, I see no reason to go into the matter again. Muehlenkamp persistently refuses to interpret the paper within its actual context, as I have already explained. Ettling’s experimental results directly contradict Muehlenkamp’s beliefs about cremation. The large quantity of external fuel clearly did make a significant contribution to the burning. As for the significant contribution of the fat, I certainly don’t contest the phenomenon of “spontaneous human combustion” (at least for sufficiently fat humans) or parallel phenomena for animal carcasses, or that such a phenomenon contributed to the latter phase of Ettling’s experiment with the 170 pound ewe, but I do maintain that this phenomenon has nothing to do with mass cremation of a thoroughness that disposes of bodies completely, and that with reference to Ettling’s experiments it is fraud to pretend that you can ignore the fuel that burned during the first phase and act as though the second phase of burning could stand alone and still lead to the same overall results.
Now, to the three main points.
Burial density: Muehlenkamp struggles with the distinction between speculative estimates and data
Regarding my post showing that data on the amount of space taken up by the carcasses of animals contradict Muehlenkamp’s speculations, in which post we saw that initial data-free speculations of high burial densities were empirically refuted, Muehlenkamp writes that
The “without specific data” claim is what can be safely called a lie, as the supposedly non-existing specific data are clearly stated in the article in question
Time to play kindergarten teacher again. Those numbers were assumptions, Roberto, not data. Let’s recall how they were introduced (emphasis added):
The area and volume of burial pits for slaughtered animals were initially estimated from the data on animal weights and age distributions contained in Table 4.1, using the following assumptions [here follow the assumptions – NOT data – that Muehlenkamp quotes]
However, practical experience at some of the mass burial sites suggests that in practice the volumes for sheep and cattle are greater than above and appropriately adjusted values are incorporated in Table 4.2, for herds of 100 cattle or 1000 sheep or pigs. The increase is attributed in part to carcass bloat, which effectively reduces the bulk density.
The initial assumptions were contradicted by the actual data – i.e. real-world experience. Assumptions are not data. Estimates are not data. An example will illustrate this. Suppose I wanted to determine the battery life (under some particular pattern of usage) of my tablet computer. I might initially try to estimate the battery life on the basis of more or less informed estimates concerning how much energy it takes to illuminate one square inch of an lcd screen, how large my laptop’s screen is, the energy consumption specs of the processor, the weight of the battery, the typical energy density of lithium ion batteries, etc. I would write out a formula with lots of specific numbers – but its result would not qualify as data. What would qualify as data would be the results of an experiment that actually tested the tablet’s battery life under the conditions in question by placing it under those conditions and seeing how long the battery lasted. If the results of such experiments contradicted the results of the speculative estimates derived from my formula, that’s the end of things. The data are what matters – the speculation is just that: speculation.
Muehlenkamp proceeds to apply his powers of fantasy to the above-quoted text, stating
First of all, note the highlighted “some”, which means that the mentioned practical experience did not occur at all of the mass burial sites and suggests that the authors, preferring to err on the side of caution, stated in their table densities corresponding to worst case scenarios, despite densities corresponding to their projections having been achieved on some occasions.
This is of course complete nonsense. They stated that “practical experience at some of the mass burial sites” suggested that the requisite volumes are greater. Not “can be greater under certain conditions”, not “are sometimes greater” – simply “are greater”. The fact that they referred to experience at some of the sites does not imply that the results at other sites agreed with their initial estimates. Had that been the case, they would have written something like “while at certain sites these estimated densities were indeed attained, at others the density in practice fell short of these levels. Accordingly it would be wise to plan for the following conservative figures.” The natural interpretation is that they referred to some of the sites simply because they did not claim to have data regarding burial density from every single site – likely because it was not always collected or made available.
What I said in my initial post still stands as all that needs to be said about the matter of the estimates:
(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.)
Regarding the following photo
Muehlenkamp claims that his “packing team” could increase this burial density by over 50% because the carcasses at the edge of the carcass mass are not tightly pressed together. This is foolish – looseness around the edges of the carcass mass is inevitable when the pit is still in the process of being filled, and does not indicate that any great improvement can be made in the burial density. Consider also another picture:
Perhaps Muehlenkamp will explain just how his “packing team” will be able to increase the density of this burial by over 50%.
Speaking of this alleged packing team, Muehlenkamp still hasn’t offered any evidence for the existence of a “packing team” that took special steps to ensure maximal burial density at Belzec. Instead, he refers to an interview with Suchomel (who was not at Belzec) that mentions the question being raised of how much burial space was needed, but which does not state anything about there being the kind of “packing team” which Muehlenkamp asserts. But Muehlenkamp is not one to let a lack of evidence – and testimony to the contrary from Reder and Gerstein – get in the way of his fantasies. He doesn’t even apologize for getting caught out giving bogus references (i.e. making a statement and then referencing a book which does not confirm it) to Sara Berger’s book – which is typical of his lying ways. Similarly misleading is his claim that at Sobibor
it is entirely possible that some of [the] graves were filled below their capacity. The much lower number of deportees to be “processed” also implies that less thoroughness had to be applied to saving mass grave space.
ignoring that Berger does state that bodies were arranged particularly efficiently at Sobibor – but not at Belzec. Oh, what a tangled web we weave…
Dresden pyres: Muehlenkamp builds his pipe dream on the basis of a witness statement from one of Goebbels’ underlings
Regarding the central point – my proof that his assumptions regarding the pyres fueling are false – Muehlenkamp’s only objection is to suggest that likelihood of a “considerable part of [the alleged quantity of gasoline] being soaked up by the victims’ clothing and hair, the straw between the corpses and the wood and straw below the grate”. Recall that we are talking about ten liters per corpse. How much gasoline does Muehlenkamp think a set of charred clothing or hair can absorb? Wood and straw are also not absorbent enough to make a significant dent in the numbers, not under these circumstances. And even if we supposed (ludicrously) that half of the purported quantity of gasoline could be absorbed, the argument would still go through mutatis mutandis. Muehlenkamp is simply clutching at straws. Of course, he does also ask the truly stupid question “how did Jansson determine that there’s no gasoline around the burning pyre on the color photo?” which brilliantly misses the point: if the amount of gasoline amounted to a foot deep pile under the pyre area, it would have spread out all over the square and therefore would not have contributed to the incineration.
In his attempt to claim that the pictured pyres attained complete cremation (despite indications to the contrary from the pictures), Muehlenkamp points to documents referring to ashes, but he is faced with the difficulty that there is recorded forgery in this domain. He responds by asserting that this applies to only one case, but this is merely an interpretation. Yes, one document exists in two different versions, differing in their numbers. The provenance for the “original” version of this document is not the best – it was obtained from a private collection in the 1970s, apparently. The existence of two different versions of the document may show that one must be inauthentic, but it does not show that one of them is authentic – this is simply an interpretation based on a 1970s witness statement. Therefore the situation is not as neat as Muehlenkamp imagines, but more uncertain, and in order to be able to use the example for the purpose of refuting a huge body of experience concerning what’s involved in executing a mass cremation, Muehlenkamp would have to eliminate all this uncertainty – which he cannot do. Speaking of the documents referencing the Dresden pyres, a reference to disposal of the ash in no way contradicts my statement that they do not come from anyone closely involved in carrying out the cremations – meaning actually burning the bodies.
Defending his failure to examine the primary sources, Muehlenkamp writes
Anyway, it’s not like British historian Charles Taylor, quoted i.a. in this blog, had invented what he wrote about those “huge grill racks” and the use of gasoline for incineration. Taylor’s source is an excellent study with the title Dresden im Luftkrieg, of which I own the 2006 edition by Flechsig Buchvertrieb. The author of this study is the late Götz Bergander, who was himself a survivor of the Dresden bombing on 13/14 February 1945. Bergander’s source is a man who must have known what he was talking about – Mr. Theodor Ellgering, in his capacity as Geschäftsführer Interministerieller Luftkriegsausschuβ (Manager of the Inter-ministerial Air War Committee).
Ellgering reported having been put in charge of directing aid measures by Goebbels, and of having received extensive powers for this purpose (Bergander, p. 179). Regarding the pyres on the Altmarkt, Ellgering wrote the following (Bergander, p. 180, after Rodenberger, Axel, Der Tod von Dresden, Dortmund 1951, pp. 158-160) [quotation follows]
Second, Muehlenkamp says that Bergander is quoting Ellgering “after Rodenberger, Axel, Der Tod von Dresden, Dortmund 1951, pp. 158-160”. This is wrong. I don’t know whether this is Muehlenkamp’s error or whether it’s from the edition he used – he says that he is using the 2006 edition of Bergander, while I have the 1977 edition. In any event, the quotation from Ellgering is cited to the document collection Dokumente deutscher Kriegsschäden, not to Rodenberger. I can confirm that this citation is correct, because unlike Muehlenkamp I obtained a copy of the source and was able to examine Ellgering’s statement and verify the footnote. Bergander does give the Rodenberger footnote which Muehlenkamp reproduces, but with respect to a different passage (in the 1977 edition it’s footnote 36, whereas the relevant quote from Ellgering is footnote 33, both of chapter 10). And yes, it’s clear that this latter footnote is not a mistake, because Bergander comments (critically) on Rodenberger’s book in the main text associated with the footnote which points to it.
Third, the organization is not the Interministerielle Luftkriegsausschuβ, but the Interministerielle Luftkriegsschädenausschuβ.
With respect to Ellgering’s testimony, Muehlenkamp asks
So, what is Mr. “primary sources” Jansson going to argue now? That Ellgering was lying about the corpses being drenched with gasoline, just for the fun of it?
Earlier, Muehlenkamp had opined that a document recording the Dresden cremations had “in all probability” been forged by “the ‘Reich Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda’, who had every reason to manipulate figures stated in the document but no reason whatsoever to manipulate the information that body disposal had partially been carried out by cremating the bodies.” The reader will recall that Goebbels was the head of this Ministry, so Muehlenkamp is arguing that Goebbels’ underlings were forging documents about the Dresden cremations. Bergander suggests that Goebbels himself may have been behind this. Now, to precisely whom was Ellgering subordinate? Who was ultimately in charge of the Interministerielle Luftkriegsschädenausschuβ? Well… wait for it… that’s right: Joseph Goebbels. Ellgering himself was one of Goebbels’ underlings. He received his authority in Dresden from… Goebbels. Isn’t that interesting?
Muehlankamp argues that “cremation of a part of the corpses was a propagandistically irrelevant detail” – yet Goebbels’ underling Ellgering would beg to differ. He described the Dresden pyres – not the attacks, just the pyres specifically – as representing a particularly serious atrocity. This suggests that the Propaganda Minister (perhaps taking a cue from Soviet propaganda concerning Majdanek) may have taken an interest in the potential propaganda value of pyres, or claims and images thereof at any rate.
The additional details in the above section serve to further substantiate the position which I outlined previously: there are not sufficient details to permit a technical analysis of the Dresden pyres, and it is very much uncertain whether the bodies were ever fully cremated at all. Certainly the available photos do not show anything even approaching complete cremation. If complete cremation was attained, it will have been in ways not shown in the available pictures, which we cannot assess in terms of resource intensiveness.
The issue at hand is whether the word Ausrottung as used with respect to the Jews in certain documents deriving from prominent National Socialists proves that NS policy was to kill the Jews. Faced with examples where Ausrottung has been used with respect to non-homicidal policy, Muehlenkamp tries to minimise these examples by declaring them figurative and then simply brushing them to the side. His argument is perfectly circular. First, he declares that by (his) definition, non-lethal uses of “ausrotten” are figurative. Second, he declares that we are discussing literal uses of “ausrotten”. But as he just defined the literal meaning of “ausrotten” to be “killing”, he’s reasoned in a perfect circle.
Muehlenkamp objects to mention of non-lethal uses of “ausrotten” by noting that such argument can be extended to show that “terms like “murdering”, “killing”, “slaughtering”, “butchering”, “assassinating” also do not imply killing, because all of them can be and are often used in a figurative sense”. Indeed, even though they are far more explicit words than is Ausrottung, or “rooting-out”, they can also be used non-homicidally. Therefore they do not, in themselves, imply killing. Whether any given passage in which one of those words appears implies killing requires examination of the context. With these particular words, making this determination is usually (though not always) fairly easy, as the lethal and non-lethal usages tend to be quite distinct. With respect to “ausrotten”, the two categories of usage are much closer together than they are for the above-mentioned words, making it considerably harder. Authors critical of the Jews have even being accused (by Jewish authors) of hiding their homicidal intentions behind ambiguous words like “ausrotten”, which permit them to say something that could refer to killing the Jews while still giving themselves plausible deniability. Such a position is the height of refinement in comparison with Muehlenkamp’s crudity.
As he has compiled a list of usages of “ausrotten” which he imagines to be homicidal, Muehlenkamp asks me to explicate the meaning of each entry on his list. There is no reason for me to do this. First of all, even if all of his examples did mean killing, this would not establish his claim that the word implies killing whenever it is applied to a group of people, for giving some examples where a proposition is true does not establish that it is always true. A list of examples of “ausrotten” being used to mean killing would not prove the non-existence of cases where it is applied to a group of people in a non-lethal sense, for example with respect to expulsion. Second, Muehlenkamp has not offered any proof that ausrotten means killing in all of his examples. He has simply asserted it without evidence. Such unevidenced assertions require no response.
Muehlenkamp asks whether
Jansson can demonstrate that ausrotten was ever used in its literal sense, when describing something done to a group or population of human beings, as meaning anything other than killing all or a significant part of that group’s members
As Muehlenkamp simply defines the literal sense to mean killing, this is a logical impossibility. Every time that I give an example of ausrotten being used non-homicidally with respect to a group of people, Muehlenkamp will simply declare that it wasn’t being used literally by definition. But simply declaring this proves nothing. Indeed, Muehlenkamp has no answer to the fact that the Luther bible used “ausrotten” to express a divine command to expel – not kill – certain people. As he still hasn’t addressed this example, I’m not motivated to supply more – yet.