During my cross-examination, the issue of the coke consumption of the crematoria became a point of contention. It was important for two reasons: first of all the Sonderkommando Henryk Tauber had claimed that, once the ovens were heated and going, one did hardly have to add any fuel as the corpses themselves began to act as fuel. For Holocaust deniers, Tauber's statement is proof that he lies as this is "impossible." Furthermore, Holocaust Deniers, taking the situation in a civilian crematorium as their standard, postulate that it "always" takes 20 to 30 kg of coke to incinerate a body, and as a result the coke-supplies to Auschwitz were only sufficient to incinerate 1/10 of the alleged number of corpses. Again, the bills for the coke supply were to prove that it is "impossible" that crematoria were involved in a genocidal operation. This argument has been fully developed by Carlo Mattogno, and can be found in his Auschwitz: fine di una leggenda (1994) and in the chapter he contributed to Rudolf's (alias Gauss's) 1994 work Grundlagen zur Zeitgeschichte. 128
Irving challenged me on the coke use on the first day of my cross-examination, after I had discussed the projected incineration capacity in Auschwitz. MR JUSTICE GRAY: "Well, I think the point here - we do not want to spend too long on this - he is really making is that the incineration capacity was three times the projected population of Auschwitz in 1943?"
MR IRVING: "My Lord, can I ask one question on that?"
MR JUSTICE GRAY: "Is that right, Professor van Pelt?"
PROF VAN PELT: "No, I do not - no, the incineration capacity is 4/5ths per month. It is 4/5ths of the total projected population of the camp. So in order to justify this by typhus, we would have to start to assume typhus epidemics which start to wipe out in one month 4/5ths of the total camp population, which means that, in terms of filling this camp up again or whatever like that, I mean, we have to - the Germans would have had to ship 120,000 people to Auschwitz every month in order to keep ahead or even with the typhus epidemic. It is absurd, it is absolutely absurd, to use typhus as an excuse to explain the incineration capacity of the crematoria."
I then turned to a paper I had written in response to a number of questions Irving had asked me in an open letter posted on his web-site. This paper had not been submitted as expert evidence, but I had given Irving a copy of it when I arrived in London, before the beginning of my cross-examination. After discussing the two German documents that did provide some evidence about coke use in Auschwitz, I concluded:
PROF VAN PELT: "No, it is not. We have two documents, one which talks about incineration capacity, and one which talks about the coke use. It is about the same buildings. On the basis of that, we know that, we can calculate the amount of coke which is going to be used per corpse which is not a happy calculation, I must say, but the bottom line is you come to three-and-a-half kilo of coke per corpse."
In fact, there was also a third document which was before the court: patent application T 58240 Kl. 24 for a "Continuous Operation Corpse Incineration Furnace for Intensive Use," [Kontinuierliche arbeitender Leichen-Verbrennungsofen für Massenbetrieb], filed by Topf on November 5, 1942. This patent application is very important as it explicitly claims that it is based on the experience gained in the camps in the East - which in the case of Topf must mean Auschwitz (Topf had sold 8 muffles to Buchenwald, 2 muffles to Dachau, two to Gusen, two to Mauthausen, four to Mogilev, and 52 to Auschwitz):
In the gathering camps in the occupied territories in the East with their high mortality rate, as they are affected by the war and its consequences, it has become impossible to bury the great number of deceased inmates [Lagerinsassen]. This is the result of both the lack of space and personnel and the immediate and long-term danger to that immediate and farther surroundings that is caused by the burial of the dead who often succumbed to infectious diseases.
I discussed this patent application in my expert report (pp. 538-9, 540), and also had added an extract of an engineering study of these ovens, made in 1985 on commission of the German publisher Klaus Kunz by the consulting engineers Klaus and Christel Kunz, in consultation with Rolf Decker, manager of incinerator production at the Ruppmann company in Stuttgart. They assumed that the furnace could be initially loaded with 50 corpses, and in the upper part of the furnace the bodies would dry out through evaporation; having been allowed to fall into the second part these corpses would be burned, while the first part would be reloaded. Having been allowed to fall into the third part of the furnace, the remains would be completely reduced to ashes.
On the basis of the plan one may only theoretically calculate the capacity and duration, because exact data can only be determined through practical trials. Nevertheless it is quite conceivable to introduce, when the object is appropriately dimensioned, some 50 corpses on the shelf, assuming it has a length of 25 meters. The process of evaporation in position a should take some 15 minutes, so that at a continuous operation one could arrive at an incineration capacity of around 4,800 corpses per 24 hours.
The report ended with the assertion that it should be possible to increase, after some initial experience, the initial load from 50 to 100 corpses. This would increase the loading rhythm from every 15 to every 20 minutes, and as a result the daily capacity would increase from (50 x 60/15 x 24 =) 4,800 corpses to, at least theoretically, (100 x 60/20 x 24 =) 7,200 corpses. In my report I stated that "it is unclear if the incinerator would have ever worked. What is important, however, is that both the text of the patent application and the design of the incinerator makes the incineration process described in Tauber's testimony not merely plausible, but indeed probable."
During my re-examination, Rampton came back to the Topf patent, and I was asked to read parts of the 1985 engineering report in court. This apparently convinced Mr. Justice Gray that the Tauber's testimony could be trusted, and that the coke supply did not prove that the crematoria could not have cremated the alleged number of corpses. In his Judgment he commented on this issue on three places.
7.65 In addition to the architectural drawings, there are other documents which, according to the Defendants, lend support to their contention that there were gas chambers at the camp which were used for genocidal purposes. I shall not itemize all the documents identified by the Defendants as belonging in this category. They include a patent application for multi-muffle ovens made by Topf. Although the patent application does not in fact relate to the ovens supplied to Auschwitz in 1942/3, it is said that the principle is the same. The two features of the application on which the Defendants focus are, firstly, the method of employing fat corpses to speed promote the rate at which corpses can be burned and, secondly, the claim that no fuel is required after the initial two day pre-heating period, because of the amount of heat generated by the burning corpses. Van Pelt noted that both these features are reflected in the account given by Tauber of the way in which the corpses were incinerated. 7.125 Likewise van Pelt rejected the argument that the quantity of coke delivered to Auschwitz was insufficient to fuel the incineration of the corpses in the numbers which the Defendants claim were killed at the camp. He challenged the premise of Irving's argument which was that as much as 35kg of coke would have been required for each body incinerated: basing himself on a contemporaneous calculation and assuming bodies were burned together at the rate contemplated in the Bischoff's letter of 28 June 1943, he maintained that the quantity of coke required per corpse would have been no more than 3.5kg. 13.90 Irving argued that the quantity of coke required to burn one body would have been 35kg. He contended that the amount of coke which is recorded as having been delivered to Auschwitz is nothing like enough to kill the number of Jews who the Defendants say lost their lives in the gas chambers. But I accept that the evidence of van Pelt, which was based on contemporaneous documents (see paragraph 7.125 above), that, if the incinerators were operated continuously and many corpses were burnt together so themselves providing fuel, no more than 3.5kg of coke would have been required per corpse.
The coke issue was and has remained central to Holocaust deniers, and so it is not surprising that in his affidavit Rudolf tries open the case once again. As to the substance of Rudolf's argument, we can be short: it is utterly misleading. First he wrongly claimed that the Topf patent "had little to do with the furnaces built in Auschwitz." Second he wrongly stated that "this patent was about cremating animal carcasses and butcher's garbage." (p. 320).
As has been shown above, the text of patent application T 58240 Kl. 24 for a "Continuous Operation Corpse Incineration Furnace for Intensive Use," [Kontinuierliche arbeitender Leichen-Verbrennungsofen für Massenbetrieb], filed by Topf on November 5, 1942, refutes Rudolf's allegation. It is clear that the patent is based on experience with the Auschwitz ovens: they involve the multiple burning of corpses and not incineration. The great improvement that the patent offers is a system that allows corpses to be fed continuously. That is the major difference.
Rudolf's claim that the patent concerned an oven to cremate "animal carcasses and butcher's garbage" is preposterous. The patent application never refers to animal carcasses [Kadavers] or butcher's garbage, but only to human corpses [Leichen]. It claims to solve a problem that has risen in the incineration of camp inmates [Lagerinsassen].
I do not know what is the source of Rudolf's claim that the oven was meant only for "animal carcasses and butcher's garbage." Is it a Topf patent application filed in the 1950s in the German Federal Republic? Whatever may be the case, it is interesting that some of the principles involved of the Topf patent I introduced in my expert report seem to have been applied in contemporary oven designs. The Simonds company, which is located in Auburndale, Florida, is a well-known manufacturer of waste incinerators. Simonds offers an extensive website with the address www.simonds-mfg.com. From this website, I pulled the following information about the Simonds Continual Burn Incinerators - ovens that seem to be an updated version of the Topf Continuous Operation Corpse Incineration Furnace for Intensive Use.
The continual burn incinerator (diagram) equipped with an automatic feed allows for the waste loading at the rated capacity for up to 8 hours. A system with the automatic ash removal feature increases waste loading at the rated capacity up to 24 hours on a continual basis. . . . At or near capacity our continuous feed incinerators operate without auxiliary fuel. Our systems maintain precise control over the combustion process through a design which rigidly governs the introduction of all air. [emphasis mine]
Thus the apparent ability of the Topf oven described in patent application T 58240 Kl. 24 to operate, once heated, without extra fuel seems to have become a standard feature of the Simonds Continual Burn Incinerators.
Simonds is also very proud of their Pathological Incinerator, which is designed to consume Type IV waste: human and animal remains, consisting of carcasses, organs and solid wastes from hospitals, laboratories, abattoirs, animal pounds and similar sources. According to the information on the Simonds website, these wastes consist of up to 85% moisture and 5% incombustible solids with a heating value of 1000 BTUs per pound as fired. Simonds informs the potential customer that, unlike the "starved-air systems" of the Simonds Continual Burn and Batch Burn Incinerators, the Simonds Pathological Incinerators function on excess air. I have been informed that this means that, in a Simonds Pathological Incinerator, Type IV waste has heating value to sustain, when supplied with enough air, its own burning process for some time.
Let us return to the text of the affidavit. Rudolf claims that "it is not very relevant what a person without any knowledge in engineering in general and cremation technology in particular (Prof. van Pelt) believes what a document is all about." This document is the letter of June 28, 1943 that lists the incineration capacities of the Auschwitz crematoria. It reports that, with the completion of crematorium 3, the total daily incineration capacity in Auschwitz was 4,756 corpses (crematorium 1 : 340; crematorium 2: 1,440; crematorium 3: 1,440; crematorium 4: 768; crematorium 5: 768). It is remarkable that Rudolf seeks to deny a legitimate historian, who has a great experience in the use of documents as historical evidence - after all, the bulk of historical evidence comes in the form of documents - the use of this particular document. It contains a simple accounting of the incineration capacity of the Auschwitz crematoria. One does not need to be a technical or physical expert to understand this document. Its language is straightforward and simple. It is in that no different from the bulk of other documents a historian considers.
Of course, one may suggest that the person who drafted and/or signed the letter could have been "as ignorant about technical matters as Prof. van Pelt is," as Rudolf suggests. It is unlikely, however. But even if the figures did not reflect the actual capacity of the crematoria - which may have been less or more - the issue remains that this does not really matter so much given the way I interpreted the document: both in my expert report and during my cross-examination I did not use the document to establish what actually happened, but what the SS anticipated. If we read it as an account of the projected incineration capacity, then this documents allows us insight in the expectations of the SS as it concerned the cremation of bodies. As I made clear in my expert report, the importance of this document is to be found when it is cross-referenced with other information concerning the planning process of the crematoria and the anticipated inmate population. It allows us to gain insight into the changing purpose of Auschwitz from a "normal" concentration camp into an extermination camp. The basis of this analysis are three variables: the evolution of the projected inmate population, the evolution of the projected incineration capacity (calculated per month of 30 days) and morgue capacity (calculated in terms of morgue units per month of 30 days, in which each unit is one corpse-day: which means that a morgue with a capacity of 100 corpses has a capacity of 100 x 30 = 3000 morgue units per month). The empirical data to calculate the evolution of the projected inmate population is based on a sequence of designs of the camps and information given by Kommandant Höss after the war. The data to calculate the evolution of the projected incineration capacity is based on the projected number of crematoria at any given moment, and a calculation of their projected capacity based on the June 28, 1943 document. And the data for the intended morgue capacity is again based on the blueprints, and comparisons with the size of morgues in other camps.
Using these data I determined that the evidence shows that in September 1941the SS planned for 30,000 inmates, an anticipated incineration capacity of 10,000 corpses per month (crematorium 1: 10,000), and an anticipated morgue capacity of 1,200 morgue units (crematorium 1: 5,000 cu ft.). In October 1941 the projected size of the camp had increased to 120,000 inmates, the anticipated incineration capacity had risen to 40,000 corpses per month (crematorium 2: 40,000), and the anticipated morgue capacity to 12,000 morgue units (crematorium 2: 50,000 cu ft.). The proportion of 120,000 inmates to an incineration capacity of 40,000 corpses per month was in line with that of Dachau and Buchenwald. In January 1942 the numbers were 150,000 inmates, 57,000 corpses per month (crematorium 2: 40,0000; two auxiliary crematoria in Birkenau: 8,500 each) and 75,600 morgue units (300,000 cu ft.), and in May 1942: 150,000 inmates, 50,000 corpses per month (crematorium 1: 10,000; crematorium 2: 40,000), and 80,600 morgue units (305,000 cu ft). In July 1942 Himmler visited Auschwitz, and ordered that the camp would become an important link in the so-called Final Solution of the Jewish Problem. The new purpose is reflected in the figures. By the end of August 1942 the SS planned for 230,000 inmates, had ordered crematoria with a total anticipated incineration capacity of 120,000 corpses per month (crematorium 2: 40,000, crematorium 3: 40,000; crematorium 4: 20,000; crematorium 5: 20,000), but reduced the anticipated morgue capacity to 24,000 morgue units (100,000 cu ft.). In October 1942 the total anticipated inmate population had dropped to 170,000 inmates, but the projected incineration capacity remained at 120,000 corpses per month (crematorium 2: 40,000, crematorium 3: 40,000; crematorium 4: 20,000; crematorium 5: 20,000). The anticipated morgue capacity was increased to 48,000 morgue units (200,000 cu ft).
I determined that it was clear that, compared to other concentration camps such as Dachau and Buchenwald, which could incinerate the whole camp population in three months, Auschwitz was projected to have a dramatic over-capacity of 190,000 corpses per three months, or more than 60,000 corpses per month, or more than 2,000 corpses per day. In other words, it was to have an surplus incineration capacity of more than 100%. In January 1943 the numbers were 170,000 inmates, 120,000 corpses per month (crematorium 2: 40,000, crematorium 3: 40,000; crematorium 4: 20,000; crematorium 5: 20,000) and 12,000 morgue units (50,000 cu ft), and finally in May 1943: 170,000 inmates, 120,000 corpses per month (crematorium 2: 40,000, crematorium 3: 40,000; crematorium 4: 20,000; crematorium 5: 20,000), and no morgue units.
I argued that if Auschwitz, as Holocaust deniers have maintained, was a "normal" concentration camp comparable to Dachau and Sachsenhausen - that is a camp not dedicated to systematic extermination of large transports - then one should expect an anticipated incineration and morgue capacity comparable to those "normal" concentration camps. If Auschwitz was more lethal than other concentration camps because of the greater prevalence of infectious diseases, then one should expect perhaps a higher incineration capacity, but certainly a very much higher morgue capacity to provide a buffer between the seasonally fluctuating discrepancy between incineration capacity and mortality. But, as we have seen, morgue capacity actually dropped from August 1942 onwards. Therefore the numbers suggested that in August 1942 the intended purpose of Auschwitz changed, and that it was to be an extermination camp in which most people were murdered "on command." This accounted for a high anticipated incineration capacity and a low anticipated morgue capacity, as the administrators of the killing process were in the position to send only as many people to the gas chambers as the crematoria could handle - assuming that the corpses of those killed would be incinerated within the next 24 hours.
I presented this argument in my expert report. On January 25, 2000, I was able to present this argument in court during my cross-examination. The occasion was Irving's question if I had any documentary proof that Himmler's visit to Auschwitz in July 1942 had changed the purpose of the camp from an ordinary concentration camp to an extermination camp with a central role in the so-called Final Solution of the Jewish Problem. I replied that the minutes of a meeting held in the SS Central Construction Office in August 1942, which discussed the construction of two extra crematoria adjacent to the "Bathhouses for Special Actions," could be interpreted as a direct consequence of decisions taken during Himmler's visit. Irving argued that the expansion of incineration capacity was justified by the typhus epidemic which was raging in the camp that August. I answered that the increase of incineration capacity was so massive that it could not be justified by reference to fears for typhus, and that I could demonstrate this by drawing a few graphs. Mr. Justice Gray invited me to make my argument, telling Irving that he would probably not like it, adding however that "it is something Professor van Pelt is entitled to do."
I then presented my analysis of the changing proportion between inmate population and incineration capacity, and showed how in the wake of Himmler's visit this changed dramatically. I concluded my presentation with a firm conclusion that it was absurd to provide Auschwitz with an projected incineration capacity of 120,000 corpses per month when the whole camp was only designed to hold 150,000 inmates. Or in other words, it did not make sense to be able to incinerate 4/5 of the camp population in one month. At the worst moment of typhus in August 1942, the disease had killed at most one third of the camp population in a month, which would require at most an incineration capacity of 50,000 - if the worst case scenario of August 42 was to be repeated. I concluded my presentation with the remark that the incineration capacity projected for 1943 "far and far exceeds the absolutely worst case scenario of typhus developing in this camp."
MR. JUSTICE GRAY: Right. Thank you very much then. That was all an answer, Mr Irving, to your question - actually I put it for you - whether the increase in capacity might have been nothing to do with Himmler's visit, but solely a response to the typhus epidemic. It was a long answer but that is what it was answering.
Thus when Rudolf argues that it is "not very relevant what a person without any knowledge in engineering in general and cremation technology in particular (Prof. van Pelt) believes what [this] document is all about," it is up to him to be specific, and to point out how the use I made of this document requires any specific knowledge of engineering or cremation technology. If these were the figures considered to be one way or another feasible by the SS, then I was perfectly entitled to use them as a way to understand the changing ambitions the SS had with the camp, and Mr. Justice Gray was perfectly justified in accepting my observations.
The main attack of Rudolf concerns, however, not the perfectly legitimate calculations that I made on the basis of this document, but the follow-up part of Irving's cross-examination of myself. I quoted the whole exchange at the beginning of this section. I will quote here only part of it, when Irving has raised the question how many "tons of cadavres" Auschwitz had to incinerate.
PROF VAN PELT: "I do not think after you have you been in Auschwitz very long you weigh 100 kilograms.
Irving told the court that I should take it from him "that it takes 30 kilogrammes of coke to incinerate . . . one body." He offered a premise totally unsupported by evidence. In that situation, I had a simple choice: either I could "take it" from Irving that he was right on that issue - and leave Mr. Justice Gray with that impression - or present evidence available to me that he perhaps not right. This was how I came to challenge Irving's premise, using the letter of June 28 1943 on the daily incineration capacity of the crematoria and another document that discussed the 12-hour coke use of the crematoria. Cross-referencing these two documents, I was able to calculate the coke use per corpse. I did not introduce the issue, Irving did. If indeed Irving would have considered my opinion on the coke-use irrelevant, he could have said so there and then, stopped the cross-examination on that issue, and moved on to some other topic. He would even have been in his right to tell the judge that he did so because any statement on this issue by a person "without any knowledge in engineering in general and cremation technology in particular" would be worthless. But he chose not to do so. Instead, he went on to give a speech on the logistical problems caused by the number of corpses during the Hungarian Action in 1944, and continued to press the issue, trusting that he would prevail. In the end, Mr. Justice Gray was not impressed by Irving's argument.
Again decontextualising one statement made in the midst of a cross-examination, Rudolf tries to suggest that I misled Mr Justice Gray when I said that "the coke consumption of the Auschwitz crematoria was reduced in comparison to others due to the forced draught fans which replaced the recuperator." (p. 321) Rudolf quotes an extract from Irving's cross-examination of me (sentence in italics was dropped from Rudolf's quotation):
[PROF VAN PELT: "That is the idea of a normal incineration. ] In Auschwitz, actually, the ovens - the difference between the ovens is that one element which is used in normal ovens is with a heat kind of regenerator in Auschwitz was replaced by compressed air which was blown into the oven. Now - "
When I brought up the issue of compressed air, Irving interrupted me, so it is not quite clear what point I actually intended to make.. It began with Irving's attack on the letter of June 28, 1943.
MR IRVING: "Professor van Pelt, you were sitting in court yesterday when I challenged that document piece by piece, and indicated the discrepancies on the document which gave not just one discrepancy but several discrepancies which indicated there was every reason to doubt whether this was an original document or whether it is was, indeed, a true document?" 131
In hindsight I think I would have done better to tell Irving, when he interrupted me, "please, Mr. Irving let me finish my point!" I did not, and was somewhat thrown of course. This may reflect not so well on my composure under pressure, but I do not believe that it ought to be judged to be an attempt to mislead Mr. Justice Gray.
Last modified:May 23, 2002