The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Just like wood....

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From: Stephen R Gould
Newsgroups: sci.skeptic
Date: Wed, 22 Sep 1999
Message-ID: <7sauud$f6l$>

Being less busy today than I supposed, I will address some of your claimed physical impossibility. I will use the Stevens argument and your rebuttal as a basis.

[Mr. Moran] What Mr.Stevens is going on about there is - Bodies will burn on their own fuel just like wood. Once we get a pile of bodies burning all we have to do is keep on adding bodies. Bodies are 75 % water. It takes from 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours to cremate one average size body in a modern day cremation facility. It takes so many BTUs to bring so much water to boiling and then more to evaporate it.

(But the bodies were not 75% water when placed on the pyre. Your account mentioned that they were buried in quicklime, which would reduce the amount of water.)

But let's go along with your account. Assume that a body - unaffected by quicklime - weighs about 60-70kg so that the water content is about 50kg. Assume a starting temperature of about 20C. Assume that water evaporates at 100C. (Actually, owing to impurities the water would evaporate at a lower temperature than that.) Assume that a human on a low-calorie diet has a body fat % of 10%. I think those are reasonable assumptions in order to come up with an order of magnitude calculation.

It takes 80 calories to raise 1g of water by 80 degrees to boiling point. It takes 540 calories to boil 1g of water at 100C. So a total of 620 calories is required to turn 1g of water to steam from 20C. 1kg is 1,000g, so it requires (50,000g x 620cal), 31 million calories to boil away the water in a body.

As you can tell from any food table, 1 gram of fat is about 10 kilocalories (10Cal). So (31,000,000/10,000) 3,100 grams, or 3.1 kg, of burning fat provides all the energy needed to boil away all the water in a human body - no more than about 5% of the human body by weight. So an individual human body has more than enough fat to boil all the water in it. (This ignores any other source of fuel.) If you can find errors in my calculation, please do so.

(Incidentally, the reason that people brush up agaist fires all the time and do not burn is that they pull away quickly. No-none claimed that it is easy to initiate burning flesh.)

[Mr. Moran] Try this experiment. Take a pile of wood and start a fire. Take one steak. Hold the steak over the fire and see if you can get it to catch on fire. If it does start to flame, take it off and see if it continues.

Actually, if it's an untrimmed piece of steak, then when it has properly ignited, it will continue to burn particularly if you keep it somewhere that is already very hot, even if not directly in flames.

[Mr. Moran] And incredibly we have Mr.Stevens proclaiming that "*water* itself will combust":

It's a good thing Mr.Stevens put those little "*" before and after the word "water". That really makes the statement solid. At what temperature will the atoms of water break away from each other? Does the fireman know? Does Mr.Stevens know?

Mr. Stevens is wrong about water "combusting", but the fireman is right for the following reason. Once water has turned to steam (as seen not as the water vapour you see outside a kettle but in the small gap between that "steam" and the spout) and its temperature continues to stay high it is a dry gas, and its very high latent heat and high thermal conductivity means that it is a very very good propagator of heat, which will sustain and enhance combustion.

[Mr. Moran] What Mr.Sevens didn't 'think' about with his little return is the account tells us the rails turned red, meaning they got red hot like Mr.Stevens, which would make them soft. Anyone that has had experience wtih red hot metal knows that it is easily bent. One and a half tons of weight per foot (150 tons all together) on red hot rails suspended between concrete pillars would have made the rails sag to the ground. How do we fit that in with Mr.Stevens claim the fire was so hot water burned.

Moran, not all red-hot metal goes soft, as you well know. Steel certainly does not, and some iron becomes malleable, but this is not the same thing as soft.

Your claim of physical impossibility required that there not be sufficient source of fuel to burn the bodies. I have shown using simple arithmetic that this is not true, that there is indeed enough fuel to achieve the result.

You have claimed that the set-up of rails meant that the rails could not withstand the weight placed upon them. This is also not true.

So what's left ? Do you now agree that the Holocaust might have happened ?

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