David Budnik was a Ukrainian Jew interned in the Syretsky Camp, 5 km from Kiev. On 18 August 1943, he was taken from there to Babi Yar, a place where tens of thousands of Jews are said to have been shot and buried by the Germans in mass graves in late September 1941 (see the entry on Babi Yar). He evidently was interviewed about his alleged experiences for the first time more than 20 years after the event on 14 February 1967. In 1980, during another interrogation in the Soviet Union – although not by court officials, yet by the KGB – Budnik repeated his terse description from 13 years earlier.
Among other things, Budnik stated that he and other slave-labor inmates were put in chains and had to exhume mass graves, and burn the extracted bodies on pyres. During his interrogations, he did not give any specifics about the pyres, other than that up to 2,000 bodies were placed on each of them. He asserted, however, that a total of 120,000 to 125,000 bodies were burned this way.
In a 1993 book containing an essay by Budnik, he describes the pyres used. They were built on an area of 10 m × 10 m, and were at least three meters high. However, this description was at least partially plagiarized from another witness, Ziama Trubakov, who testified in 1967:
“Tombstones and iron fences were brought from the Jewish cemetery, and then an area 10 x 10 m was planned, where they were laid in checker board pattern so that they formed an ash pan;”
In Budnik’s 1993 essay, we read:
“These tombstones were laid on the site 10 meters across by 10 meters in width, like a chessboard. Rails and fences were laid on top of them.”
On the pyre described by Budnik, some 20 bodies would have been placed per square meter. With some 250 kg of freshly cut word needed to burn one body, this would have amounted to 5 metric tons of wood. Fresh wood has a density of roughly 0.9 tons per m³, and when stacked on a pyre, the gaps make up some 40% of the space (for air and flames to go through). Therefore, 5 metric tons of wood on a surface of one square meter stack up to a height of some 8 meters. Add to this the 20 to 25 bodies. This means that the pyres described by Budnik would have been at least ten meters high, not just “at least three meters.” Such a huge pyre could have been built only with cranes. Once lit, it inevitably would have burned unevenly, hence would have toppled over and spilled burning wood and corpses all over the place.
Cremating an average human body during open-air incinerations requires some 250 kg of freshly cut wood. Cremating 120,000 bodies thus requires some 30,000 metric tons of wood. This would have required the felling of all trees growing in a 50-year-old spruce forest covering almost 67 hectares of land, or some 149 American football fields. An average prisoner is rated at being able to cut some 0.63 metric tons of fresh wood per workday. To cut this amount of wood within five weeks (35 days) that this operation supposedly lasted would have required a work force of some 1,360 dedicated lumberjacks just to cut the wood. Budnik didn’t specify how many men were in his unit. The maximum number claimed by other witnesses was just over 300 men, all busy digging out mass graves, extracting bodies, building pyres, crushing bones, sifting through ashes, scattering the ashes and refilling the graves with soil. Budnik says nothing about where the firewood came from.
Budnik claimed that, after the pyres had burned down, unburned bones were ground down, the cremation remains sifted through sieves, and the powder scattered. However, wood-fired pyres burn unevenly and leave behind lots of unburned wood pieces, charcoal, and incompletely burned body parts, not just ashes and bones (80% of leftovers would have been from wood, not corpses). Incompletely burned wood and human remains could not have been ground. Any sieve would have clogged with the first load. Moreover, any occasional rainfall would have rendered any burned-out pyre into a moist heap of highly alkaline, corrosive slush that could not have been processed at all. If 120,000 bodies were burned, then several thousand metric tons of cremation leftovers had to be processed. Just this job would have required hundreds of men to complete in time.
Budnik also insisted that they had to throw bodies of people into the pyres who had been killed in gas vans. However, considering that the front was getting very close to Kiev during September 1943, it is unlikely that anyone would have operated gas vans in Kiev’s vicinity. All this apart from the fact that gas vans are a figment of Soviet atrocity propaganda (see the entry on gas vans).