Memo for the controversial bloggers, part Vd: Dresden pyres, gasoline as a fuel for cremation, and High Bishopton farm

We now move on to the Dresden pyres, the second plank in Muehlenkamp’s platform. For his claims on Dresden, Muehlenkamp relies on the books by David Irving and Frederick Taylor. Irving gives no source for the statements concerning cremation, while Taylor cites a book by Götz Bergander, who refers us further to a document collection where we find that the only source for Muehlenkamp’s description of the cremations is a testimony from Theodor Ellgering dated December 20, 1955.[125] This is far too weak a source to have any value for the discussion of a technical problem concerning the practicality of mass cremation.[126] The pictures of the Dresden pyres offer little help, as they do not show the conduct of a cremation from beginning to end. In any large-scale pyre cremation (as seen for example in the extensive photographic record from the 2001 UK foot-and-mouth disease epidemic), there will be an initial period of rapid burning in which the pyre is engulfed with large flames, followed by a longer period of slower burning (possibly with periodic refueling) as the pyre burns down. The photos of the Dresden pyres show at most rather weak flames, consistent with the burning-off of a modest quantity of liquid fuels – nothing like the initial period of burning in a genuine pyre mass cremation – yet they also show largely intact bodies, too intact to be consistent with the latter phase of a successful pyre cremation, after the initial period of rapid burning. Given that the available photos clearly do not show the full conduct of a successful pyre mass cremation, what do they represent? The sources do not allow a definite answer to this question, which in any case is irrelevant to the technical analysis of the problem of mass cremation, but they do raise the question of whether the photos were composed with an eye to propaganda exploitation. Certainly Joseph Goebbels does appear to have desired to use the Dresden attacks for propaganda to strengthen German morale by demonstrating the wickedness of the enemy and the necessity of total resistance. Incidentally, Ellgering’s Interministeriellen Luftkriegsschädenausschuss was subject to the Minister of Propaganda, and Ellgering clearly desired to make the Dresden pyres (“a spot of shame in the history of our century”) a symbol of allied atrocity.

In any event, one conclusion is clear: the available sources are inadequate for a technical analysis of the Dresden pyres. We simply do not know the full course of events involved in carrying them out. We do not know what fuels were used, nor in what quantities. The interaction between propaganda concerns and the representation of the attacks complicates the problem of interpretation still further. What can be said is that such pyres – however they were arranged – will have obeyed the same laws of nature as prevailed in better-documented mass cremations, such as those during the 2001 UK foot-and-mouth disease epidemic. Any analysis claiming that cremations in Dresden proceeded in a fashion enormously superior to the comparatively well-documented cremations during that epidemic, or to other documented cases of mass cremation, can be safely disregarded.

Muehlenkamp’s other claim vis a vis Dresden is that “the possible presence of Treblinka ‘experts’ at Dresden […] suggests that cremation at Treblinka may also have chiefly relied on gasoline as external combustion agent” (p. 488). His source for this is Frederick Taylor’s book on the bombing of Dresden, which in turn cites a book by Olaf Groehler, who in turn refers us to an article by Ino Arndt and Wolfgang Scheffler. In this article, the matter is mentioned only in a footnote, the relevant portion of which reads:

As the disposal of the victims after the devastating air raid on Dresden in February 1945 caused difficulties, iron roasts were set up in the city’s Altmarkt and the dead burned by the thousands. This work was carried out by “Ukraininan volunteers”. These were a newly formed team from the former SS-Ausbildungslager Trawniki, and it is fairly certain that among them were also former guards of the extermination camp [Treblinka is meant. –FJ] who had at their disposal relevant experience.[127]

Arndt and Scheffler cite no source for this whatsoever. Given that Scheffler was closely involved in trials related to the Reinhardt camps, it seems reasonable to assume that he had some source in mind, perhaps a witness statement from one of the Trawnikis, but supposing it is true that Trawnikis were used in the clean-up work in Dresden, what source precisely points to their use in cremations? (Ellgering mentions kommandos of Russians and Ostarbeiter – although not Trawniki specifically – only for burial work, not for work on cremations.) Which Trawniki witness, precisely, testified to his participation in Dresden cremations, and what did he say? As for the possible presence of Treblinka guards with cremation experience in Dresden, the authors admit that this is merely speculation.

In support of his gasoline argument, Muehlenkamp cites the Eichmann trial testimony of Kalman Taigman concerning the existence of a tank of petrol in Treblinka. He does not acknowledge that Taigman is a lower camp witness, and fails to explain why testimony indicating the existence of a gas tank in the lower camp should be viewed as offering support for the notion that large quantities of gasoline were used for cremations in the upper camp. Had he bothered to examine the testimonies concerning the Treblinka cremations, he would have seen a very different picture, in which the liquid fuels are either dispensed with entirely or used in very moderate quantities. Consider, for instance, Eliahu Rosenberg, who reported that the cremations were initially fueled by “a few dry branches” ignited by a match, but that due to difficulties during the winter, permission was granted to pour one bucket of fuel over the corpses.[128] Another account is that of Jerzy Rajgrodzki,[129] who declared that at first the bodies were sprinkled with gasoline, but later, as they proved to burn well on their own, the practice of adding gasoline was stopped.[130] (He would appear to be the source for Yitzhak Arad’s unsourced claim to this effect.[131]) Rajgrodzki makes a point of mentioning the fuelwood used when describing his work in the kitchens,[132] so the fact that he does not mention wood in connection with cremations is significant: he really is saying that the bodies burned on their own, without the help of any additional fuel.

John DeHaan has pointed out that because of how quickly it burns off, gasoline is a poor fuel for body incineration and generally causes minimal damage.[133] Of course, this observation was made with regard to the burning of individual bodies. Could gasoline be more suited as a fuel for mass cremation? An official report on the 1967/1968 UK foot-and-mouth disease epidemic, during which many animals were cremated on open-air pyres, explains why the answer is no:

We asked the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment of the Ministry of Defence about other methods of burning which might be more satisfactory than the use of coal and wood, but none was available. Napalm for instance would not be successful because of the high water content of carcases; the water must be evaporated before combustion takes place and since the rate of heat transfer from outside to inside the carcase is slow the process of evaporation is also slow. It has not yet been possible to improve on the method of burning other than by using “Isocal 1” (an exothermic product used in the iron smelting industry) to enhance the heat and burning qualities of coal and wood. This material was used extensively during the 1967/1968 foot-and-mouth disease epidemic to replace tyres which leave an inconvenient residue of wire.[134]

This analysis of the problems with the use of napalm applies a fortiori to gasoline. What evidence does Muehlenkamp have to offer for his belief that the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment of the Ministry of Defence was so massively incompetent as to completely fail to see that carrying out mass cremations is actually extremely easy?

We now move on to the third and last plank in Muehlenkamp’s empirical platform. This source is a third-party report on the cremations which took place at High Bishopton farm during the 2001 UK foot-and-mouth disease epidemic (pp. 494-495), and is easily disposed of. The report in question[135] was written in October, 2001, and describes a cremation which took place in April of that same year. Muehlenkamp uses this source to determine the rate at which cremation can take place per unit of pyre area. The topic of the report, however, is the monitoring of air quality during the cremation, and the numbers it contains contradict those found in the literature written for the sake of the the people actually responsible for carrying out mass cremations.[136] Clearly works written for the sake of those who actually carried out cremations cannot be ignored in favor of a report written some six months after the fact by a company whose duties were limited to monitoring air quality. To make things even worse for Muehlenkamp, not only was the report written long after the fact by a company that played no role in the actual process of the cremation, but the report also contains a demonstrable error in its numbers. Muehlenkamp accepts without question the report’s claim that the width of the pyres was 1.5 meters, not knowing that this is evidently an error for 2.5 meters. The narrowest width of pyres used during the 2001 UK FMD outbreak was determined by the length of a railroad tie (as railroad ties were placed crosswise along the pyres), which is approximately 2.5 meters. Given that the source made this one demonstrable numerical error, it is all the more certain that the other figures are erroneous as well.

Figure 1: The crosswise positioning of railroad ties dictates a minimum pyre width of about 2.5 meters.

Figure 1: The crosswise positioning of railroad ties dictates a minimum pyre width of about 2.5 meters.

Thus, all in all, Muehlenkamp’s real-world sources for his fantastic picture of cremation are (1) a set of experiments dealing with the cremation of a single large carcass which took place over a century ago and have remained unreplicated by any other author in the literature on cremation, which was characterized as impractical by contemporaneous commentators, whose authors referred to the results of their experiments as being complete carbonization, and which took place within the context of the sanitization of anthrax carcasses by thermal means, which the authors understood could be achieved without complete cremation; (2) a witness statement concerning Dresden cremations from ten years after the fact, used together with an unsubstantiated and unfounded interpretation of some photographs; (3) a report dealing with air quality in connection with a pyre from the 2001 UK foot-and-mouth disease epidemic, written some six months after the incineration took place, whose figures are demonstrably erroneous. One can only laugh at Muehlenkamp’s pretensions to overturn all experience concerning the reality of mass cremation on the basis of such flimsy sources, particularly given his colleagues’ pretensions to get close to the first-hand sources and dismiss second-hand and hearsay material.

Given the complete failure of Muehlenkamp’s cremation evidence, we are back to the conclusions reached by Mattogno, Graf, and Kues: the alleged Reinhardt cremations cannot have taken place as claimed, and therefore the alleged Reinhardt extermination also cannot have taken place as claimed. The pillars of his previous argument having collapsed, Muehlenkamp – and his blogging colleagues – will have to come up something entirely new if he hopes to evade this conclusion. Given his fondness for fantasy, will he perhaps explain that Herbert Floss struck a rail with his staff and cried Loge! Loge! Hieher! to summon magic fire? At this point, he had might as well rely on Konrad Morgan’s account of fuel-free cremation, which is just as good a source as the rest of his analysis:

By means of a special procedure which Wirth had invented, [the bodies] were burned in the open air without the use of fuel.[137]

——

[125] Theodor Ellgering, Bericht über die Erfahrungen des Interministeriellen Luftkriegsschädenausschusses – Berlin 1943-1945, 20.12.55.
[126] The same applies to Muehlenkamp’s use of this source to support the claim that gasoline’s volatility would not cause practical problems with explosions (p. 490).
[127] Ino Arndt & Wolfgang Scheffler, Organisierten Massenmord an Juden in nationalsozialistischen Vernichtungslagern, in: Karl Dietrich Bracher, Manfred Funke, and Hans-Adolf Jacobsen (eds), Nationalsocialistische Diktatur 1933-1945: eine bilanz, 1983, pp. 539-571, here p. 562.
[128] Demjanjuk trial, 25.2.87, pp. 1012-1014. According to Rosenberg’s testimony, the bucket was small enough to be carried by a single individual.
[129] A witness seemingly unknown to the bloggers: he is mentioned only once, in a footnote, where his name is misspelled.
[130] Jerzy Rajgrodzki, Jedenaście Miesięcy w Obozie Zagłady w Treblince, Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, No. 27, 1958, pp. 101-118, here p. 107.
[131] Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps, 1987, p. 175.
[132] Jerzy Rajgrodzki, Jedenaście Miesięcy w Obozie Zagłady w Treblince, Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, No. 27, 1958, pp. 101-118, here p. 104.
[133] John DeHaan, “Fires and Bodies,” in: Christopher Schmidt & Steven Symes (eds), The Analysis of Burned Human Remains, p. 12.
[134] Report of the Committee of Inquiry on Foot-and-Mouth Disease, 1969-1970, §128.
[135] available at http://www.fmd-enviroimpact.scieh.scot.nhs.uk/Papers/FMD%20Whithorn.pdf
[136] e.g. National Animal Health Emergency Management System Guidelines. U.S. Department of Agriculture. April 2005. Operational Guidelines: Disposal. Online: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/emergency_response/tools/on-site/htdocs/images/nahems_disposal.pdf
[137] IMT Vol. XX, p. 494.

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One Response to Memo for the controversial bloggers, part Vd: Dresden pyres, gasoline as a fuel for cremation, and High Bishopton farm

  1. Bertus says:

    Are you serious? You must be joking with this…So, if I don’t smoke and a friend who does leaves an empty packet in my house after visiting me, you will claim I smoke when you find it? Even though everybody knows and tells you I don’t smoke? You got to be kidding.

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