The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

"Holocaust" authors claim that the Nazis were able to cremate bodies in about 10 minutes. How long does it take to incinerate one body according to professional crematory operators?

42. "Holocaust" authors claim that the Nazis were able to cremate bodies in about 10 minutes. How long does it take to incinerate one body according to professional crematory operators?

The IHR says (original):

About 2 hours.

The IHR says (revised):

About an hour and a half, although the larger bones require further processing afterwards.

Nizkor replies:

Well, which is it, 1.5 or 2? More recently, the Holocaust-deniers have begun to rely on the testimony of Ivan Lagace, who apparently said at the Zündel trial and later in print that it takes six or eight hours per body.

The IHR has a lot of nerve complaining that survivors' testimonies contradict each other on technical details like cremation time -- it can't even get its own story straight!

The discrepancy between the IHR's estimates and the actual time (more like 30 minutes) is chiefly due to the fact that the IHR is confusing military-industrial crematoria with everyday civilian crematoria.

When they say "professional crematory operators," they mean people like Lagace, whose job is to cremate one corpse at a time, with a coffin, in an oven designed to incinerate even the largest bones into a fine ash for the next of kin to take home. This situation is obviously not comparable to the situation at Auschwitz-Birkenau during the Second World War.

For example, Lagace would never even consider mixing or "comingling" the ashes of one deceased person with those of another. Lagace and the IHR forget that two or three emaciated corpses could be inserted into each "muffle." This would, of course, never be done in a civilian, commercial establishment.

Also, the Auschwitz furnaces were designed to run continuously, using the heat energy produced by the burning of previous bodies to keep the oven hot for the next bodies. After they were fired with coke to their proper operating temperature at the beginning of the day, they required little or no extra fuel to operate. This was a technical achievement that is well-documented (see Gutman et al., Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, 1994, pp. 185-187ff). Lagace claims that there must be a "cooling off" period between each body incinerated, which shows a profound ignorance on his part as to how the ovens worked. Lagace claims that continuous operation would have caused the Auschwitz ovens to break down, but again, he simply does not understand the difference between everyday civilian crematoria and military-industrial crematoria.

Also, typically, a commercial crematory operator will burn a corpse for an extended period to remove all traces of carbonized flesh, i.e., to whiten the bones. Even so, such processes only extend the total cremation time to between two and four hours, and not the six to eight hours that Lagace claimed. Lagace forgets that such cosmetic concerns were not of importance to the Nazis. But these errors and others are dealt with in the reply to question 45.

Those errors aside, there is still simply no question about the burning times of the ovens. In 1939, the firm of Topf and Sons was awarded a contract to build a Dachau furnace which had an estimated capacity of one corpse per hour per muffle (times two muffles). By increasing the air pressure, by July 1940 they had produced a furnace that could burn just under two corpses per hour per muffle (again, times two muffles). It required three hours of maintenance per day, a far cry from the twelve hours per day claimed by the IHR in question 45. (See Gutman et al., op. cit., pp. 185-186, 189-190.)

The crematoriums that were eventually installed at Auschwitz-Birkenau were massive. They were capable of disposing of several bodies per muffle in half an hour or so, and they could run for days at a time without maintenance. (There were difficulties eventually, however, and several of the ovens were out of service for months at a time.) Topf and Sons was awarded a patent in 1951, and the patent also states that a single muffle can cremate a corpse in half an hour.

Photographs of the furnaces in Krema II are available.

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