Kola's "Building E" at Sobibór - Addenda

Published: 2009-05-31

In my previous posting on the recent excavations at the alleged extermination camp Sobibór I pointed out the incongruence between A. Kola's reported interpretations of findings made at the site and later claims made by among others the museal authorities in charge of the Sobibór memorial. I further examined various eyewitness statements regarding the "gas chambers" and also discussed the apparent reluctance of the archeologists Gilead, Haimi and Mazurek to identify the archeological remains designated "Building E" by Kola with the alleged gas chamber building. This "Building E", we may recall, "is about 60 m long", to quote the article of Gilead et al (“Excavating Nazi Extermination Centres”, Present Pasts, Vol. 1, 2009 pp. 10-39) and judging from Gilead et al's redrawn map of Kola's excavations (p. 28) it appears to have a width of merely 5-7 meters.

Yoram Haimi and the Documentary Exposing Sobibor

When excavating Bełżec in 1997-1998, Andrzej Kola thought it sufficient to show the public a photo of two men operating a manual drill, some pictures of excavated building remains, and a lot of pictures of broken glass, rusty horse shoes etc. No photographs were released showing the drilling samples from the mass graves. Yoram Haimi of the Sobibor Archaeological Project is, on the other hand, more than willing to have his bunglings documented on film (and we are most thankful for this). The result, a one hour documentary made by a certain Mr. Amos Refaeli entitled Exposing Sobibor was originally scheduled for release in December 2008 but appears to have been delayed. Fortunately, a four minute trailer is viewable online and has Haimi himself showing us the site of the mass graves and - hold on to your hats - what is presented as (a part of) the excavated gas chamber building!

As the documentary is in Hebrew, a language I do not speak or understand, I have to trust that the English subtitles gives an accurate, if compressed, translation of Haimi's statements before the camera. I will quote below the subtitles to the most important part, which shows Haimi and his team excavating one of the "gas chambers".

Starting at 02:08 into the trailer, we see Haimi (in a dark jacket and jeans) together with seven assistants at an excavation site. There are two trees (pines?) in the foreground, one to the extreme left of our view, one at the far right. The tree to the right apparently stands inside the excavated area. A few meters behind the men we see the edge of a wooded area, containing a dozen or so trees (birch trees and conifers). Behind that is an open, grassy area. In the background to the left is the large circular, vaguely dome-shaped concrete monument known as the "mound of ashes". A quick comparison with a map showing the present day memorial overlaid on the so-called Rutherford map, and an aerial photograph of the memorial taken in 2008 ("Excavating Nazi Extermination Centres", p. 31, fig. 16) shows the men to be standing at the site of "Building E", which B. Rutherford identifies as the alleged gas chamber building. Haimi and his team are thus depicted re-excavating a site previously dug out by Kola in 2001. At 02:14, Haimi takes a few steps back (first out of view, then the camera turns to focus on Haimi, standing in the middle with a shovel in his hand):   

«This is the wall, it continues. There is a corner here, it's a cell. Maybe it's the gas chamber? Is it 4 meters? Calculate from there 4 meters. 1, 2, 3, 4.. it's 4 meters. Four by three. 1, 2, 3..».

While talking Haimi paces out the length of one side of the "cell". We are then shown the excavated "cell", what appears to be a small rectangular area with the aforementioned tree inside it. In one corner and on one side of it a grey-white substance is visible, likely the remains of a wall. It is difficult to judge from this view alone what materials are present. Someone, possibly Refaeli, then asks "How do you know it's 4 by 3?", to which Haimi replies:

«From the witnesses. We know from one of the Polish witnesses that the size of the gas chambers was four meters by three».

I will return below to the issue of the size of the alleged gas chambers. Here I will first note that Haimi is willing to, at least temporarily, identify the alleged homicidal gas chambers based on eyewitness statements. In the following paragraph I will examine what Haimi himself has to say on this form of evidence in the article he co-authored with Gilead and Mazurek.

Eyewitness Statements as the Basis of Identification of Archeological Remains

To Gilead et al, the fallibility of human memory is one of the primary motivations for excavations being carried out at the sites of the former "extermination centres". On this point they invoke Christopher Browning's expert report from the Irving-Lipstadt trial (quoted on p. 25):

«human memory is imperfect. The testimonies of both survivors and other witnesses to the events in Bełżec Sobibór, and Treblinka are no more immune to forgetfulness, error, exaggeration, distortion, and repression than eyewitness accounts of other events in the past».

Gilead et al then comments (p. 26):

«The problems of human memory that Browning lists affect also the recollections related to space, structures and artefacts, so important in archaeology. Perpetrators and dozens of survivors left Sobibór in late 1943 and only a handful returned to visit the place decades later. The locals were unfamiliar with the inner structure of the site and could go there only after the area was totally levelled and replanted. For survivors, it is not easy to recognize specific locales while walking in the present day forest of Sobibór, with no familiar structures for orientation, decades after the site was erased» (emph. mine).

It thus comes as a surprise that Haimi in the trailer quickly jumps to the conclusion that the "cell" uncovered is a gas chamber based on a detail of an eyewitness account - and a Polish one to boot! As seen in my previous posting, there is considerable disagreement on the size of the Sobibór gas chambers among "eyewitnesses" as well as historians. 

Problems Relating to the Identification of "Building E"

The most striking feature of Kola's "Building E" is its size: (according to Gilead et al) it is approximately 60 meters long, and, judging from the redrawn excavation map about 5-7 meters wide. The problem is that the verdict of the Hagen Sobibór trial, as summarized by Adalbert Rückerl and adopted as truth by historian Yitzhak Arad, found the second gas chamber building (supposedly on constructed on top of the demolished or partially torn down first gas chamber building) to have contained six gas chambers measuring 4 x 4 meters,arranged three and three along a corridor. This is the same layout (although with a differing number of chambers) alleged for the second phase gas chambers at Bełżec as well as Treblinka. Assuming 25 cm thick walls, this building would have a length of 13 meters and, assuming a corridor width of 1.5 meter, a total width of 9.5 meters. It would thus have a length only one-fourth that of "Building E"!

Sobibór historian Miriam Novitch's description (Sobibor. Martyrdom and Revolt, Holocaust Library, New York 1980, p. 26) could hypothetically fit the length of "Building E", as she claims that there were only five chambers, implying that they were placed in a row rather than opposite each other. The crux is that Novitch has each chamber measuring 4 x 12 meters, i.e. three times the size claimed by the Sobibor trial verdict and Arad!

The perhaps foremost expert on Sobibór, Jules Schelvis, apparently believes the (second) Sobibór gas chamber building to have shared its layout with the Bełżec chambers, as in order to portray the former in detail he cites Rudolf Reder's and Kurt Gerstein's testimonies on Bełżec (Sobibor. A History of a Nazi Death Camp, Berg/USHMM, Oxford/New York 2007, pp. 105-109 ). 

Let us now assume for the sake of argument that the (single!) 4 x 3 m "cell" shown in the trailer to Exposing Sobibor is the remains of a gas chamber, and that every chamber had the same size. Assuming moreover the layout stated by the Hagen court, and that the long side of the chambers faced the corridor, we get a building with a length of 13 meters and a width of 7.5 meters (again supposing corridor width of 1.5 m), which is not too far from the width inferred from the excavation map. Thus the width of "Building E" is not the most crucial issue, but rather its length. In order to "fill it out" the surplus length of (60 - 13 =) 47 meters, Haimi would have to identify a further row of (47 : 4.25 =) ~ 11 "cells", so that the hypothetical building contained in all (14 x 2 =) 28 gas chambers! Such a construction would, needless to say, blatantly contradict all witness statements, upon which, in turn, the whole Sobibór narrative is based. What could possibly account for this remarkable discrepancy between the eyewitness descriptions and the archeological remains?

A look at the map of B. Rutherford who, as mentioned above, identifies "Building E" with the gas chambers (numbered "58" on the map), shows a small annex (numbered 59 on the map), an "engine room", tucked onto the northern end of the gas chamber building. As this supposedly contained only the engine used as killing agent, some fuel cans, some piping and perhaps some boxes with repair tools and spare parts, it could hardly have added more than 5 meters to the length of the building. We are thus still left with (47 - 5 =) 38 meters or nearly two-thirds of "Building E".

The only possible solution to the archeologists' problem (i.e. how to identify "Building E" with the "gas chambers") seems to be to assume that "Building E" consists not only of the "gas chamber" remains, but also the remains of the "barbers barrack". On the Rutherford map this is the building (numbered 57) located closest to the gas chambers (58) and also more or less aligned with it. A fenced-in corridor is marked out as leading straight from this barrack to the entrance of the gas chamber building.

This "solution" is, however, riddled with problems. To begin with we have the distance between the two buildings. On Rutherford's map, this amounts to at least 10-15 meters. The map drawn by Arad (Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka. The Operation Reinhard Death Camps, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1987, p. 35) shows a similar distance (Arad maps the camp as a rectangular area with the long side measuring 600 meters). In fact, all maps of the camp seems to agree that the distance was no less than 10 meters. This in turn brings the question: why would Kola, an experienced archeologist, designate the remains of two so separate buildings as that of a single one? One may note in this context that the two small building remains "B" and "D" are located just next to each other (cf. the excavation map in the Present Pasts article, p. 28), without fusing them into one. This map also shows the width of "Building E" to be more and less continuous for at least 30 meters (as pointed out in my previous article, the map is cropped and only shows the northern portion of "Building E"). Moreover, the second gas chamber building was supposedly a brick or concrete structure, while the "barbers barrack" was built of wood! It is also hardly conceivable that Kola would mistake the remains of a fence for the continuation of a wall. If Kola had in fact committed this serious blunder, why did Gilead et al not take the opportunity to point this out when discussing "Building E" in their 2009 article?

The appearance of the "cell" shown in the documentary trailer presents yet an other problem: why did Kola, who uncovered the same remains containing the same "cell" back in 2001, in his brief article published the same year, identify "Building E" not as the gas chamber building but as "the undressing barrack" (as reported by Gilead et al, p. 33)? Just as "mysterious" is the aforementioned reluctance of Gilead et al to equate "Building E" with the gas chamber building, despite Mr. Haimi's awe-inspiring archeological revelations!

Hopefully, the revealed contents of Kola's Polish 2001 article - as well as the hypothetically forthcoming publications from the Sobibor Archaeological Project - will throw more light on the nature of "Building E".      

The Intellectual Bankrupcy of Gilead, Haimi and Mazurek

Finally I would like to adress the purpose of the recent excavations and surveys at Sobibór, as stated by Gilead et al in their article (p. 13-14):

«We regard the Nazi extermination of Jews during the Second World War as a past reality. There is ample written and oral documentation to support it, as well as comprehensive and detailed historical studies that authenticate what Hilberg (1985) calls ‘The Destruction of European Jews’. Arad (1987), in his study of the Einsatz Reinhardt extermination centres, further establishes the role of Treblinka, Sobibór and Bełżec in the destruction process. Beyond the written documents, the evidence consists also of oral accounts of the survivors and SS perpetrators who served in the extermination centres and committed the murders (...). Thus, the extermination of Jews in general, and the extermination of Jews at Sobibór and other centres in particular, is a historically established truth which does not need to be proven by archaeological excavations. Archaeology has the role of supplementing information on the layout of the sites, structures and artefacts in use there, thus providing data for the historical reconstruction of the sites. [...]
Being acquainted with the terrain of Sobibór and other extermination centres, and also being familiar with writings of revisionists, we take a more reserved position regarding the role of historical archaeology in substantiating the extermination in general and gas chambers in particular. Knowing that the evidence of the extermination centres was obliterated by the perpetrators, we assume that remains of gas chambers, even if preserved in situ, are in an extremely bad state of preservation. If the standing gas chambers of Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau are currently denied as such, there is a minimal chance, if at all, that future exposure of poorly preserved remains of gas chambers will assert any truth in the face of a revisionists’ lie. The archaeology of extermination centres is not and cannot be an instrument to show deniers how wrong they are. We think that documentation of detail is intrinsically important even without the need to refute lies, but we believe that, paraphrasing Evans (2002:237), professors of geography, and archaeologists as well, should not waste time debating with people who think that the earth is flat» (emph.mine).

Let us recapitulate:
1) the extermination of Jews at Sobibór is a "historically established truth" based on "eyewitness" testimony, Polish-Soviet reports, and a few documents relating to Jewish deportations, none of which mention killings in any form;
2) since the extermination at Sobibór and the other camps is an Undisputed Historical Fact, based on aforesaid "evidence", there is no need to prove it with the methods of forensic archeology;
3) the remains of the supposed gas chambers are assumed to be in a state which makes impossible the verification of the gas chamber allegations;
4) therefore the results of the archeological excavations and geophysical surveys carried out at Sobibór should not be, in fact can not be, an attempt to verify the existence of the gas chambers;
5) Holocaust "deniers", whose work Gilead et al are acquainted with but loath to provide reference to, are to equate with flat-earthers who are simply not to be debated with.

The above statement is of course nothing but a sort of pre-emptive clause, a guarantee to be able to pass of any uncomfortable data as irrelevant, and a carte blanche to ignore all negative critique of their conclusions, however well-founded it may be. In this way it may be conveniently ignored that no remains of the alleged gas chambers were found at Bełżec, or that the mass graves identified by Kola could have contained, in theory, only a smaller part of the allegedly killed, and that the amount of ash present in the graves is absolutely incompatible with the official claims (as demonstrated by Mattogno in his study on the camp as well as in more detail in a recent article).

In this context we should take special note of what Gilead et al writes on p. 22:

«It is generally agreed that one of the challenges facing the historical archaeologist is the artefact/text dichotomy. […] If contradictions are apparent and real, we are talking about spaces between or within artefact and text, about dissonances, that may reveal additional aspects hitherto unknown […]. However, to establish if in a given case dissonances exist, the nature and quality of the evidence, of both the archaeological and the historical data, should be re-examined carefully.»

But how can an honest and unbiased re-examination of the evidence even be possible if the existence of the Sobibór gas chambers (for which we have only eyewitness evidence!) is taken as an à priori fact? 

Gilead et al's reasoning serves only to betray their intellectual bankrupcy. Also, if Gilead and Haimi are so keen on ignoring fanatical nutters, they should have stayed at home, turning a deaf ear to their own sponsors, the Shoah cultists of Yad Vashem!

Those who read my previous article on "Building E" may remember that the website of the Sobibor Archaeological Project states that its "work will constitute a basis for countering the claims of Holocaust deniers" (my readers are recommended to verify this quote for themselves in case the SAP decides to edit the page). Thus Haimi and his cohorts are furthermore contradicting themselves regarding the purpose of their excavations!

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Author(s) Thomas Kues
Title Kola's "Building E" at Sobibór - Addenda
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Dates published: 2009-05-31, first posted on CODOH: May 31, 2009, 12:11 a.m., last revision: n/a
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