Leonid Ostrovsky was a Ukrainian Jew interned in the Syretsky Camp, 5 km from Kiev. On 16 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 was interrogated by the NKGB on 12 November 1943 about his alleged experiences at Babi Yar.
Among other things, he stated that he and other slave-labor inmates were put in chains some 50-60 cm long, and had to exhume mass graves and burn the extracted bodies on pyres built on a stone platform measuring 30 × 40 meters. On an iron grid placed on rails, a layer of wood was placed, then two rows of corpses with the heads pointing outwards, and these were then covered with another layer of wood. Such a pyre was 2 to 2.5 meters high and contained 2,500-3,000 bodies.
However, this results in 1,250 to 1,500 bodies in one row of a pyre that could not have been longer than 40 meters. This means that 31 to 38 bodies were placed on each running meter of the pyre. With 40 cm body width and 20 cm body height, that layer of bodies would have been up to 3 meters high.
Considering that some 250 kg of freshly cut wood is required to burn one average human corpse, to burn this many corpses per running meter would have required up to almost ten 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, ten metric tons of wood on a pyre fill a volume of some 15 cubic meters. Assuming a surface of 2 m² for each running meter of the pyre, this means that the stacked wood alone would have been 7.5 meters high, and the total pyre thus up to 10 meters and more – not 2 to 2.5 m as claimed by the witness. 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.
Furthermore, placing wood on top of the corpses would have been a complete waste of everything, as most heat would have escaped upwards. Hence, this certainly would not have been done.
Ostrovsky asserted that a total of 25-30 pyres with 2,500-3,000 bodies each were built and burned down, so a total of some 62,500 to 90,000 victims. The initial number of 100 slave-labor inmates was increased to 321 “at the beginning of September.”
Cremating an average human body during open-air incinerations requires some 250 kg of freshly cut wood. Cremating 62,500 bodies thus requires some 15,625 metric tons of wood. This would have required the felling of all trees growing in a 50-year-old spruce forest covering almost 35 hectares of land, or some 78 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 700 dedicated lumberjacks just to cut the wood. Ostrovsky claims that his unit initially consisted only of 100, then of 321 inmates, all busy digging out mass graves, extracting bodies, building pyres, and according to other testimonies also sifting through ashes, scattering the ashes and refilling the graves with soil. Ostrovsky says nothing about where the firewood came from.