Supposing all this to be true, an obvious question is why Himmler chose this moment to allow a program involving the burial of some 800,000 bodies at Treblinka.
The first railway transports of victims destined for destruction arrived at the camp on July 23, 1942, and from that time until approximately the middle of December, 1942, there was a constant stream of fresh arrivals. After New Year, 1943, the number of transports began to diminish. In February or March, 1943, Himmler visited the camp, and after this a whole-sale burning of corpses was undertake
-The 1946 Polish Central Commission investigation:
AT Sobibor and Belzec, things happened earlier.
Hundreds of thousands of corpses of people murdered in the death camps during the spring and summer of 1942 lay in huge mass graves. In the autumn of 1942 the camp commandants of Sobibor and Belzec decided to incinerate the corpses; in Treblinka, a start on this was made only in 1943. However, the idea to remove all signs of the crimes was not new. In the spring of 1942 Himmler had decided that in the occupied territories of the Soviet Union, the corpses of the murdered Jews and Russian prisoners of war were to be exhumed from the graves and incinerated without leaving any traces. The same was to be done with the past and future victims of the extermination camps.
From: Operation Reinhard': Extermination Camps of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka," Edited by Aharon Weiss, Yad Vashem Studies XVI, Yad Vashem Martyr's and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, Jerusalem, 198
In the spring of 1942 two crematoria were built, and after that, all the dead were burnt in them (and the bodies previously buried as well).
From: -The Polish Central Commission
I shall assume that Himmler’s February visit to Treblinka is a figment of propaganda, quite probably derived from Wiernik’s seminal memoir A Year in Treblinka. I shall also assume, as against Wiernik, that the Katyn massacre cannot explain the chronology of the German exhumation decisions.
The Yad Vashem explanation is that no explanation is necessary. It was all up to the local commanders. Easy come, easy go. Commanders could choose to to bury rather than to burn, even if they knew, on one reading, that one day they would have to unbury and then burn.
It might be more rational to synchronise the Treblinka concealment with the fortunes of war, although though I have never seen anyone make the case. Some accounts read as if the purpose of the alleged exhumations was to conceal “the eternal shame” from posterity. But the Nazis had no shame and were not afraid of posterity; they were afraid of the Red Army. Yet for some reason it was not until September 1942 that Blobel, by his own account, was able to convey Mueller’s June 1942 order to the German civil authority in Kiev, who were mysteriously “disinclined” to carry it out. It was not until June 1943 that any action was begun - the resurrections at Treblinka apparently coming earlier than resurrections four hundred miles closer to the eastern front. Putting that long delay aside, one might still argue that before Stalingrad the Nazis had never ever been expected to reach the borders of “Greater Germany” and its burial grounds. In June 42 the eastern front was unthreatening. But on March 1943, in the wake of calamity, Himmler might have adopted a defeatist perspective. Better get cracking on those AR camps - even though the Russians were nearly a thousand miles away from Lublin.
However, that would not at all explain why they had in 1942 already got cracking on Sobibor and Belzec, to say nothing of the more westerly Auschwitz and Chelmno.
According to Blobel’s second written affidavit:
Obergruppenfuehrer Heydrich and Gruppenfuehrer Mueller, and in June 1942 I was entrusted by Gruppenfuehrer Mueller with the task of obliterating the traces of executions carried out by the Einsatzgruppen in the East. My orders were that I should report in person to the commanders of the Security Police and SD, pass on Mueller’s orders verbally, and supervise their implementation. This order was top secret and Gruppenfuehrer Mueller had given orders that owing to the need for strictest secrecy there was to be no correspondence in connection with this task
....In May and June 1943 I made additional trips to Kiev in this matter and then, after conversations with Dr. Thomas and with SS and Police Leader Hennecke, the order was carried out
.....During my visit in August I myself observed the burning of bodies in a mass grave near Kiev. This grave was about 55 m. long, 3 m. wide and 2½ m. deep. After the top had been removed the bodies were covered with inflammable material and ignited. It took about two days until the grave burned down to the bottom. I myself observed that the fire had glowed down to the bottom. After that the grave was filled in and the traces were now practically obliterated.
4. Owing to the moving up of the front-line it was not possible to destroy the mass graves further south and east which had resulted from executions by the Einsatzgruppen. I traveled to Berlin in this connection to report, and was then sent to Estonia by Gruppenfuehrer Mueller. I passed on the same orders to Oberfuehrer Achammer-Pierader in Riga, and also to Obergruppenfuehrer Jeckeln. I returned to Berlin in order to obtain fuel. The burning of the bodies began only in May or June 1944. I remember that incinerations took place in the area of Riga and Reval. I was present at such incinerations near Reval, but the graves were smaller here and contained only about 20 to 30 bodies. The graves in the area of Reval were about 20 or 30 kms. east of the city in a marshy district and I think that 4 or 5 such graves were opened and the bodies burned.
5. According to my orders I should have extended my duties over the entire area occupied by the Einsatzgruppen, but owing to the retreat from Russia I could not carry out my orders completely....
I have made this disposition of my own free will, without any kind of promise of reward, and I was not subjected to any form of compulsion or threat
From NMT Einsatzgruppen trial affidavit NO-3947, 18 June 1947:
See: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jso ... obel1.html
I do not know what Blobel said when he took the stand. But we have been told something that someone said he had previously said, in the account written by the colourful presiding Judge, Michael Musmanno.
Although Blobel asserted that he acted legally at all times, he was concerned about the evidence he left of his executions. So also were Himmler, Mueller and Eichmann back in Berlin because it was not too certain now [=June 1942] that Germany could hold the terrain taken from Russia. The long graves spoke too clearly of mass murder. Blobel was called back to Eichmann's headquarters at 116 Kurfürstenstrasse where he was given orders signed by Mueller to erase evidence of the killings, by opening the graves and burning the corpses. The burning process was not too successful, so Blobel resorted to dynamiting.
Rudolf Hoess, commandant of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, co-operated with Blobel in the operation and reported that "the ashes, ground to dust in a bone mill, were thrown in the vast forests around".
Despite these attempts to dissolve the ghosts which could rise to haunt him, Blobel was boastful of his bloody handiwork. A witness, Albert Hartel, called by Blobel himself, testified to being with the red-bearded defendant in Kiev in March 1942. One day Blobel took him into the country to show him around. Suddenly Hartel became frightened, he recalled, by the fact that the earth was heaving beneath their feet. Under questioning by Dr Heim, Blobel's own lawyer, Hartel explained: "There were some kind of eruptions, a kind of explosion, and I asked Blobel what it was, and he said: 'Here my Jews are buried."' just as a wild-game hunter might proudly point to a tiger he had bagged in the jungle –
- Michael Musmanno, JUSTICE, 1961
Hoess recalls that he visited Chelmno in order to learn from Blobel’s early experiments in body disposal. He relates that dynamiting the corpses had proved a failure; open air cremation was better. But Musmanno, having presided over the long court case, remembers it the other way round.