Huns and Their Dead – Great Corpse Factory – Last Word in Barbarism

Published: 1917-04-20

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Wellington, NZ Evening Post, Volume XCIII, Issue 128, 30 May 1917, Page 2
(Previously published by London Times, 20th April, 1917)

“We pass through Evergnicourt. There is a dull smell in the air, as if lime were being burnt. We are passing the great corpse exploitation establishment (Kadaververwertungsanstalt) of this army group. The fat that is won here is turned into lubricating oils, and everything else is ground down in the bones mill into a powder, which is used for mixing with pigs’ food and as manure.”

This description of the German Corpse Exploitation Establishment behind their lines north of Reims is furnished by Herr Karl Rosner, special correspondent of the Berlin Lokalanzeiger on the Western front. The statement corroborates an account of this new and horrible German industry which appeared in the Independance Belge for 10th April, taken from La Belgique, of Leyden, in Holland. Moreover, it will be recalled that one of the American Consuls, on leaving Germany in February, stated in Switzerland that the Germans were distilling glycerine for nitroglycerine from the bodies of their dead, and this [sic] were obtaining some of their explosives.

The Belgian account referred to (omitting the most repulsive details): “We have known for long that the Germans stripped their dead behind the firing-line, fastened them into bundles of three or four bodies with iron wire, and then dispatched these grisly bundles to the rear. Until recently the trains laden with the dead were sent to Leraing, near Liege, and a point north of Brussels, where there were refuse consumers. Much surprise was caused by the fact that of late this traffic has proceeded in the direction of Gerolstein, and it was noted that on each wagon was written ‘D.A.V.G.’

“German science is responsible for the ghoulish idea of the formation of the German Offal Utilisation Company (Ltd.) (‘D.A.V.G.’ or ‘Deutsche Abfall-Verwertungs Gesellschaft’), a dividend-earning company with a capital of £250,000, the chief factory of which has been constructed 1000 yards from the railway connecting St. Vith, near the Belgian frontier, with Gerolstein, in the lonely, little-frequented Eifel district, southwest of Coblentz. This factory deals specially with the dead from the West front. If the results are as good as the company hopes, another will be established to deal with corpses on the East front.

“The factory is invisible from the railway. It is placed deep in forest country, with a specially thick growth of trees about it. Live wires surround it. A special double track leads to it. The works are about 700ft long and 110ft broad, and the railway runs completely round them. In the north-west corner of the works the discharge of the trains takes place. The trains arrive full of bare bodies, which are unloaded by the workers who live at the works. The men wear oilskin overalls and masks with mica eyepieces. They are equipped with long, hooked poles, and push the bundles of bodies to an endless chain, which picks them up with big hooks, attached at intervals of 2ft. The bodies are transported on this endless chain into a long, narrow compartment, where they pass through a bath which disinfects them. They then go through a drying chamber and finally are automatically carried into a digester or great cauldron, in which they are dropped by an apparatus which detaches them from the chain. In the digester they remain from six to eight hours, and are treated by steam, which breaks them up while they are slowly stirred by machinery.

“From this treatment result several products. The fats are broken up into stearine, a form of tallow, and oils, which require to be redistilled before they can be used. The process of distillation is carried out by boiling the oil with carbonate of soda, and some part of the by-products resulting from this is used by German soapmakers. The oil distillery and refinery lie in the south-eastern corner of the works. The refined oil is sent out in fine casks, like those used for petroleum, and is of a yellowish-brown colour. The fumes are exhausted from the buildings by electric fans, and are sucked through a great pipe to the north-eastern corner, where they are condensed, and the refuse resulting is discharged into a sewer. There is no high chimney, as the boiler furnaces are supplied with air by electric fans.

“There is a laboratory, and in charge of the works is a chief chemist, with two assistants and seventy-eight men. All the employees are soldiers, and are attached to the 8th Army Corps. There is a sanatorium by the works, and under no pretext is any man permitted to leave them. They are guarded as prisoners at their appalling work.”

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Author(s): London Times
Title: Huns and Their Dead – Great Corpse Factory – Last Word in Barbarism, [1917]
Sources: Smith's Report, no. 212, February 2015, pp. 8f.; previously published in London Times, 20th April, 1917; reprinted in NZ Evening Post, Wellington Volume XCIII, Issue 128, 30 May 1917, Page 2.
Published: 1917-04-20
First posted on CODOH: Feb. 18, 2015, 6 p.m.
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