Ziama Trubakov 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). Trubakov evidently was interviewed about his alleged experiences for the first time more than 20 years after the event by German court officials on 14 February 1967. Thirteen years after that, in 1980, Trubakov was interrogated in the Soviet Union, but not by court officials, yet by the KGB.
Among other things, Trubakov stated that he and other slave-labor inmates had to exhume mass graves and burn the extracted bodies on pyres. One such pyre was built on a platform measuring 10 m × 10 m. Between 2,000 and 2,500 bodies were placed on it in layers, alternating with layers of wood, reaching a height of 2.5 to 3 meters. He asserted moreover that a total of about 125,000 bodies were burned this way. His team of slave laborers was eventually increased to encompass 320 people.
He insisted that the pyres initially smoked heavily, but then burned without smoking, while “at the bottom, from under the ash pan, a thick black mass flowed to a specially adapted pit and then was buried.” However, there is no way a large pyre using freshly cut wood could burn without smoking heavily. Furthermore, it is absolutely inconceivable how burning corpses in a hot blaze could lead to a black mass flowing anywhere. These claims are utterly bizarre.
On the pyre described by Trubakov, some 20 to 25 bodies would have been placed per square meter. With some 250 kg of freshly cut wood needed to burn one body, this would have amounted to 5 to 6.25 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 to 6.25 metric tons of wood on a surface of one square meter stack up to a height of some 8 to 10 meters. Add to this the 20 to 25 bodies. This means that the pyres described by Trubakov would have been at least ten meters high, not 2.5 to 3 m. Such a huge pyre could have been built only with cranes. Once lit, it inevitably would have burned unevenly, hence would have toppled over, spilling burning wood and corpses all over the place.
Trubakov 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 125,000 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.
Cremating an average human body during open-air incinerations requires some 250 kg of freshly cut wood. Cremating 125,000 bodies thus requires some 31,250 metric tons of wood. This would have required the felling of all trees growing in a 50-year-old spruce forest covering almost 70 hectares of land, or some 156 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 1,417 dedicated lumberjacks just to cut the wood. Trubakov claimed that his unit consisted only of 320 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. Trubakov says nothing about where the firewood came from.
In his KGB interview on 28 May 1980, Trubakov added a few details he had “forgotten” in 1967, such as that all inmates had been shackled, that the evil SS officer running the show was called Topaide. This person was invented in 1944 by the Soviet commission investigating the alleged events at Babi Yar. These little details hint at the actual source of his “information.”