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The Cremation Process

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From: mstein@access1.digex.net (Michael P. Stein)
Date: 3 Jun 1996 04:23:05 -0400

[Quoting from Ernst Zundel's "ZGram" of May 23, 1996]


[Rimland] "The one that caused the greatest mirth is Jamie McCarthy's theory of self-combustion once bodies have been set on fire Wrote one, an engineering student: "Maybe he has now solved the world's energy crisis."

Ms. Rimland, paper self-combusts once it is ignited. All this means is that it requires an initial application of energy to bring the object to ignition temperature, but once ignited, it produces enough energy to sustain the reaction. Perhaps a better term would be "self-sustaining burn." You cannot simply laugh this off. Since it works for paper, you actually have to prove or disprove this for a body. Unless your engineering student thinks that paper will solve the world's energy crisis....


Well, let's see if I can't shed a little light on the subject of cremation.

[Rimland] "For instance, he attacks the assertion by the young engineering graduate that it takes 300 kg to cremate a corpse."

Well, where does that young engineering graduate get his data from? Has he cremated a corpse? If he has no acceptable source of data, his assertion is worthless and mentioning that he is an engineering graduate is a fallacious appeal to authority. He is not exempt from providing a checkable source for his assertion unless he claims he has performed the experiment personally.

[Rimland] "Wrong, says McCarthy, once a fire is started, a corpse self-combusts.

"What does that mean? That zero fuel is required to cremate further corpses? That only 300 kg of coal was required to cremate 6 million, or whatever the number? Spontaneous combustion? If cadavers burst into fire on their own, why do commercial crematories waste time and money doing cremations differently?"

Ms. Rimland, either you do not understand the issues, or you are being disingenuous. The same is true of your anonymous young engineering graduate. Paper does not burst into flame on its own, but it burns without further heating once it is ignited. That is all that Jamie is claiming for corpses. Note that you (correctly) have Jamie saying "once the fire is started" - which ought to tell any intelligent and literate speaker of English that the crack about cadavers bursting into flame on their own is at best the work of an illiterate and at worst the work of someone deliberately trying to mislead people.

There is a difference between the first corpse and the next corpse. It is not only the body which must be heated; the oven itself must be brought up to operating temperature - it has mass and the laws of thermodynamics say that it too will draw off some of the heat energy rather than permitting it all to be directed into the body. While 300kg of coke may be required to heat a cold crematory oven to the ignition temperature of a body, the oven is designed to retain heat and so it does not require an additional 300kg to burn the next body if the oven is not cooled down between cremations. Additional fuel is required only to make up for heat loss. So it will take far less than 300kg to burn the second body if the oven is not cooled down.

I know, Lagace says that the ovens must be cooled down. But he is not a designer of ovens, only a user. As will be shown below, there is now expert evidence on the table challenging Lagace's assertion. And the experts had no idea they were supporting any Holocaust "religion" when they gave their accounts - they were just talking to a newspaper reporter about cremation in general.

[Rimland] "By McCarthy's own assertion, he and his people at Nizkor "have no credibility to lose". They have no expertise in anything."

Neither do you. And there are some people who have contributed information who _do_ have some credentials. E.g., Richard Green in chemistry (a doctoral student), and Scott Mullins in engineering.

[Rimland] "Well, it shows.

"A thousand ignorances assembled together do not make for one knowledge. We see nothing to be gained from unknowledgeable people chewing the cud, for months on end, over a topic on which they know little or nothing - in this case, the technology of the cremation of human remains - when such knowledge is readily available from experts.

"(Here I would refer to the testimony of Ivan Lagace on 5 and 6 April 1988 at the Zundel trial. This testimony can be picked up at the Zundelsite - see Barbara Kulaszka's book. I would summarize the salient points from Lagace's testimony, in `bullet' form, and invite people to pick up the document for themselves for the detail).

"If Nizkor doesn't like Zuendel's expert, then let them get their own. But then they can't, can they, because if they did, they couldn't boast that they're beating the pants off Zundel-even though `they have no expertise'?"

An interesting double-bind. But the point was never to boast. That is an empty personal slur, not an argument.

"Besides, would any expert consent to give contradictory evidence, if he had any concern or pride as to his future standing as an expert in his field? The crematory oven has to be cooled off after each cremation. What else is there to say? No fuel - no cooling off period in between jobs - no cremation."

Sorry, but there is much more to say. Since you cannot be bothered to wallow in the mud (as you put it), you never saw the following article I posted. It was taken from something which appeared in my local free weekly paper. It was about cremation, not the Holocaust, and the experts in it were not (as far as they knew) engaged in defending any Holocaust "myths." Yet they do indeed contradict all of your alleged experts. I have made some enhancements in the footnotes (which are all mine) since I first posted the excerpts.

Richard Rapp stands alongside a waist-high gurney and examines its cargo: a human body zipped snugly into a white plastic bag and lying on a thin slab of plywood. The gurney stands next to a 3-foot-square stainless steel door. The door is set in the wall of an otherwise empty classroom- size room. The room is painted yellow and bathed in fluorescent light.

Rapp unzips the bag several inches an looks at the body. It is a wizened, old white man. Rapp rezips the bag. Then he turns to his nephew, Robert Rapp, who wears a white lab coat and heavy-duty suede gloves that come halfway up his forearms.

"Is the paperwork done?" Rapp asks.

"Yeah," Robert responds.

"OK, then."

Rapp steps around the gurney and punches a button on the control panel by the door. The steel hatch rises at the head of the gurney. There is a quiet roar, and a wave of heat washes over the Rapps and their charge. The open door reveals a deep, narrow hearth that glows bright orange through the heat-smeared air.

"Ready?" Rapp asks his nephew.

Robert nods, places his hand on the edge of the plywood at the foot of the body, and shoves. The sheet of wood carries its load off the gurney and into the chamber. Rapp shuts the door with another punch of a button. He glances at the gauges beside the door and walks away. Robert wheels the gurney toward a door leading to the back room, where yet another corpse awaits its final disposition.

So begins another burn-to-urn cycle in the sacred commerce conducted by Chesapeake Crematory Inc. (CCI) of Beltsville, one of the Washington area's largest cremation facilities. Here, in a dreary landscape of warehouses and distributorships, Rapp and his nephew performed some 900 cremations in 1995. This year they will do even more. On this bright, bitter-cold February day alone, CCI incinerated five bodies.[1]


The centerpiece of any crematory is, of course, the cremation oven, or "retort." CCI's retort is a Phoenix II, the 17-ton state-of-the-art product from B&L Cremation Systems Inc. of Clearwater, Fla., one of a half-dozen U.S. crematory oven manufacturers. The Phoenix II runs about $85,000.

The retort's primary chamber, currently occupied by Mr. James' body, is 96 inches long, 38 inches wide, and 29 inches high. That is more than ample to accommodate a very large person and casket. The chamber's walls and ceiling are lined with heat-reflecting ceramic tiles. The floor, or hearth, is constructed from alumina silica that can withstand temperatures up to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Embedded in the ceiling, right above where the average corpse's chest comes to rest, is a giant blowtorch nozzle. It is known in the trade as the "flame port."

As he once again checks the gauges on the retort, Rapp observes that this third cremation of the day is far different from the first. Human flesh requires extended exposure to 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit in order to ignite.[2] For the first cremation of the day, when the retort is just warming up, Rapp needs to use the flame port. It blasts the body with a 2,800 -degree gush of fire.

But by the time Mr. James' body enters the retort, the air in the primary chamber is roiling well above 1,400 degrees. Shortly after the door comes down, his body is aflame.[3]

Here is how it happens: The human body, which is 85 percent water, burns outside to inside in a rapid cycle of layer-by-layer dehydration and ignition. The heat dries out the skin; the dry skin ignites. That fire dries out the next layer of muscle and fat, which then ignites. And so on, until the internal organs are consumed.

According to B&L President Steve Looker, who designed the Phoenix II, the average body gives off a modest 1,000 Btu per pound of meat (burning wood, by comparison, gives off 6,000 Btu).[4] But an extremely obese corpse - like the one Rapp recently had to burn in its casket because it was wedged in so tightly - can run to 17,000 Btu. "That's like burning kerosene," says Looker. The Phoenix II takes these differences into account and carefully regulates the amount of oxygen entering the retort to ensure a controlled, efficient burn.


The Romans also practiced cremation. But as with the Greeks, only members of the wealthier classes could afford a private cremation. Indeed, calling a fellow Roman's ancestors "half-burned" was a grievous insult that implied that those forebears had been cremated on one of the public mass pyres used to dispose of the poor.[5]


Ninety minutes into the burn cycle, Rapp checks on the corpse's progress. He raises the retort's door about 10 inches and peers into the hearth. It looks like a giant fireplace at the end of a cozy night. There are no flames, but the chamber bed glows orange. Small chunks of whitish- gray debris lie in the oven. A particularly large clump sits about halfway back, just about where the hip was. Rapp closes the door and heads into the storeroom to take care of a couple of things while the retort finishes the job. (According to Looker, much of the burn time is devoted to breaking down and whitening the bones, because "people expect nice white remains.")[6]


In 1983, Rapp hung out his shingle at 18th and T Streets NW. Five years later, he moved the operation to Silver Spring as he could operate his own crematory. But shortly after he opened the new location, a neighbor began an aggressive campaign to shut him down. In his drumbeat of complaints to Montgomery County officials, the man claimed that Rapp's oven was emitting nauseating smells and billows of black smoke. County inspectors found no evidence to support these allegations.[7] In fact, the crematory was never cited for any sort of operating violation. Nevertheless, after spending $100,000 on legal fees without resolving the feud, Rapp agreed in 1994 to relocate the crematory.

The bitterness still lingers in Rapp. Despite his personal feelings about the importance of openness, he says he understands why many crematories prefer a low profile. And when the topic of complaints about "the smell" come up, an uncharacteristic harshness creeps into his voice. Such smells, he says, are in people's minds, not in their noses. "This is 1996, not the turn of the century," he says, almost sneeringly. "With today's technology, there really isn't much odor."[8] [...]

When the burn cycle is complete, Rapp switches off the retort, walks through the storeroom, and turns into the area that houses the back end of the retort. His nephew stands ready with a long-handled tool that looks like a metal squeegee. At Rapp's signal, Robert opens the back door of the retort and vigorously rakes the silvery debris into a chute that leads down to a stainless steel bin. The material makes a chinking sound as it moves - like embers being stirred in a fireplace. After two hours, this is what is left of a human body: five to seven pounds of remains, depending on bone structure.


Rapp points out several clearly identifiable bones among the cooling chips and chunks. A piece of hip. An 8-inch strip - probably a radius or ulna. A ball that once fit a hip or shoulder. In fact, the entire skeleton is there. Bones are largely calcium, which burns only after lengthy exposure to temperatures much higher than those in the Phoenix II.[9]


You can't give mourners bone fragments, so Robert hoists the bin and gently pours its contents into the pulverizer. The pulverizer resembles a small, battered lift-top freezer. A metal-screen drum slightly larger than a paint can sits inside. Robert lowers the lid and hits a switch. The pulverizer will reduce the chunky remains into a pile of matter with the look and consistency of ground oyster shells.

"We've got another [pulverizer] that will take the [remains] down to something with the texture of sand, if that's what people want," says Rapp.

It is a remarkably efficient system: a 200-pound body reduced to an easily handled heap of base elements in just over two hours.[10] [...]

Source: "Keeper of the Flame," Washington City Paper, Vol. 16 No. 11, March 15-21 1996, pp. 20-24.


  1. Obviously they never heard that they could only do three or four or else they'd damage their oven. After all, Lagace is an expert.
  2. The article does not specify the scale; since it is for an American audience I presume the 1,400 degrees refers to Fahrenheit. Mattogno claims that older ovens worked at only 800 degrees C, yet they seemed to do the job - but then, that would translate to about 1,400 Fahrenheit.
  3. Note that the writer actually contradicts himself here - in the paragraph before, he said that "extended exposure" was required. Yet in the very next paragraph, he says that the body is aflame shortly after the door comes down. But the more important point is that the article firmly establishes that the first cremation is different - that the flame port is used for the first one, but it does not have to be used for the third one because the oven is up to temperature. For those who missed it, this means that the oven was NOT cooled down (contradicting Lagace).
  4. 1,000 BTU per pound is modest, and I know that a newspaper article is not a technical journal, but I read this as saying that the burn _is_ self- sustaining provided that the body is kept in an insulated environment. Once the burn is activated, there is a net energy gain from each pound of flesh, even lean flesh. Please ask your engineering student to stop laughing and start providing some rebuttal data.
  5. Contradicting the revisionist assertion that bodies could not have been burned on mass pyres at Birkenau because such things could not have had enough oxygen.
  6. I contacted Mr. Looker by phone. I asked him what the maximum throughput would be if the only concern were burning as fast as possible - say, in case of plague. He said one average adult body per hour. The rating is really in terms of mass - he said ovens vary from about 100 to 200 lbs per hour. (His model is top-of-the-line, but of course you'd expect him to say that.) He agreed it would be quite possible to burn two undersized and emaciated women or 3-4 small children in the same period of time. Without any prompting from me, he mentioned in passing that older crematoria were quite capable of shooting out flames if overloaded, a phenomenon he called a "candle." True, he did not say thirty feet; his figure was "only" eight to ten feet. His own product is designed to avoid this. Even so, he allowed that if he actively tried for it, there is a decent chance he could produce the effect as well. This contradicts the revisionist "expert" claim that flames cannot shoot out of crematorium chimneys.
  7. Were I a "scholar" in the mold of Mark Weber or Greg Raven, I would of course silently snip out this sentence.
  8. In this statement I see an implication that earlier technology might indeed give off smoke and odor.
  9. This was news to Matt Giwer.
  10. ]But see note [6] above.

    [Rimland] "As to alleged "internal contradictions".

    "Revisionists do not claim to speak with one voice and never have. That's why the CODOH website exists: to encourage open debate on the holocaust. Each Revisionist speaks for himself, in his own quest for historical truth.

    "Revisionists may, therefore, freely express conflicting opinions and many do so: without dissent and debate, there is obviously no issue.

    "But contrary to where Nizkor comes from, there is no pain associated with Revisionist debate: Revisionism has no central authority, no "Politburo" to decree what is undeniable truth and what is heinous "denial", and to hurl thunderbolts from on high at the offending party."

    Please identify this "Politburo," Ms. Rimland. Name names. I have not encountered it. I have a fairly simple definition of heinous denial which clearly establishes the difference between it and legitimate revisionism. It is simply this: denial uses selective reading of evidence, rejects all inconvenient eyewitness testimony and documents as being lies and forgeries while embracing any convenient testimony (does Ernst still sell the Lachout Document video?), and uses selective quotation and distortion of evidence in its arguments. Legitimate revisionism follows intellectually honest methods of inquiry.

    [Rimland] "As in so many other fields of human endeavor, historical truth is really arrived at through debate over opposing views by knowledgeable individuals, periodic revision of the historical record, and new discoveries. In attempting to follow such a process, Revisionism has seen no evidence that would lead it to revise its main conclusions respecting the official thesis of Exterminationism."

    What is missing from this description is that the debate must be conducted using consistent and intellectually honest rules of evidence and standards of proof. In my experience that has been missing from what you call "Revisionism." Greg Raven has evaded all attempts to pin him down on standard of proof. Raven and Mark Weber have made arguments based on deceptive quotes out of context. So has Friedrich Berg - he ignored some very inconvenient sections of the same technical papers he used as his sources. Robert Faurisson gave a very dishonest picture of the nature of the ballpoint pen markings in the diary of Anne Frank. Fred Leuchter out- and-out lied about his qualifications, and made up ludicrous and fanciful explanations of documents such as the nature of the gas testers. (Apparently he did not see the letter on Topf stationery, with signatures and enough stamps to send an elephant by airmail, which expressly mentioned _cyanide_ detectors for the Kremas, where Leuchter declared cyanide was too dangerous to use due to the risk of explosion.) The Lachout Document was offered as evidence without being subjected to the same standard of scrutiny and forensic testing demanded by "revisionists" for any document supporting the orthodox history of the Holocaust. And so on.

    Inconvenient documents are simply read out of the record with a naked assertion of "Soviet forgery!" No forensic testing is offered, even for documents which bear signatures (such as the letter from Bischoff to Kammler, file copy signed by Pollock, mentioning a "Vergasungskeller.").

    [Rimland] "Revisionism's conclusions are: (a) that gassings in specifically designed, homicidal mass gassing chambers didn't happen - the "gas ovens" are a propaganda tool; (b) that there never was a Hitler order that called for a genocide of the Jews, and (c) that the numbers of Jewish victims are irresponsibly inflated to boost the reparations claims and to gain moral and political advantage globally. (This is from one of EZ's letters to McCarthy)."

    However, it seems to come from a selective reading of the evidence.

    [Rimland] "(By contrast) the Pope of the holocaust dogma, Raul Hilberg, ran away to revise his book, rather than to come forth and bear witness to his assertions at the 1988 Z|ndel trial. This does not augur well for the extermination cult. Anyone who reads the record of that trial will understand why.

    "The revisionist position is not carved in stone as religious dogma, contrary to that of the exterminationists. Revisionists have always been open to credible proofs in support of other scenarios."

    This I dispute, at least with respect to specific individuals I have encountered. When cogent rebuttal arguments and evidence have been offered, they did not respond, yet later repeated the same challenged arguments without offering any counter-rebuttal. This is not intellectually honest, and it also does not seem consistent with the assertion made above.

    [Rimland] "Fifty years after the alleged event, we are still awaiting such proofs. . ."

    One thing I have often encountered in "Revisionist" argumentation is that it applies the standards of a courtroom to the Holocaust, and argues like a defense lawyer, not a historian. My response is this: what standard of proof is required, and do you require that same standard for other historical events, such as Stalin's crimes?

    [Rimland] "I couldn't have said it better myself!"

    I would be most interested in your answer to the previous question, Ms. Rimland, especially considering your recent Zundelgram about Russian atrocities against Germans.


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