Yakov Kaper was a Ukrainian Jew interned in the Syretsky Camp, 5 km from Kiev. In 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). Kaper evidently was interviewed about his alleged experiences for the first time more than 20 years after the event by German court officials on 13 February 1967. In 1993, a book was published containing an essay by Kaper, which repeated with different words what he had stated in his 1967 testimony.
Among other things, Kaper stated that he and more than 300 (or exactly 330) other slave-labor inmates were put in chains and had to exhume mass graves and burn the extracted bodies on pyres. He does not give any specifics about the pyres, other than that they consisted of many layers of wood and bodies and were 2.5 or 3 meters high. This makes it difficult to assess his claims. He asserted, however, that a total of 120,000 bodies were burned this way.
In his 1993 essay, Kaper mentions the evil SS officer Topaide, who was invented in 1944 by the Soviet commission investigating the alleged events at Babi Yar. This little detail hints at what the actual source of Kaper’s “information” is.
Kaper 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.
Kaper also insisted that they had to throw onto the pyres bodies of people who had been killed in gas vans, some by gas, some by getting shot. Often, the allegedly gassed people were still alive, hence thrown into the fire still alive. 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).
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. Kaper claimed his unit consisted only of 300+ inmates, all busy digging out mass graves, extracting bodies, building pyres, crushing bones, sifting through ashes, scattering the ashes and refilling the graves with soil. Kaper says nothing about where the firewood came from.