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Excerpts from The New Yorker, February 1, 1999, relating to the new film on Fred Leuchter made by controversial US film maker Errol Morris.

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New Yorker

Mark Singer on Fred Leuchter:

"The Friendly Executioner."


In late February, 1938, [Fred] Leuchter went to Poland, bankrolled by Zündel and accompanied not only by his new bride, Carolyn, but also by a draftsman, a video-camera operator, and a translator. Their itinerary included a four-day inspection tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and, in addition, a day at Majdanek, the former concentration camp near Lublin. (Morris, who followed Leuchter's journey ten years later, briefly toyed with calling his film "Honeymoon in Auschwitz") This undertaking was expensive -- it cost thirty-seven thousand dollars -- but within a few weeks Zündel reaped the yield from his investment[1] in the form of a twenty-page document that eventually acquired near-Biblical stature among devout negationists.

Leuchter reportThe bottom line of "The Leuchter Report" -- sorry, no gas chambers at Auschwitz -- rested upon the observation that there was no ventilation or exhaust equipment or gasketed seals, or even hydrogen-cyanide residue, amid the weathered ruins of the crematoria.[2]

("I don't think the German S.S. had a death wish," Leuchter says in "Mr. Death," paraphrasing his inductive reasoning.) In Leuchter's jargon, the assembly line for the crime of the century is referred to only as "the alleged German execution gas chambers."

"The Leuchter Report" avers of Krema [crematorium] I at Auschwitz, "it would be sheer suicide to attempt to utilize this morgue as an execution gas chamber. The results would be an explosion or leaks gassing the entire camp." At a number of sites within Birkenau -- most notably, the imploded, cavelike interior of Krema II and a building where Zyklon B, which was a trade name for the most convenient source of hydrogen cyanide, had been used to delouse inmates' clothing -- Leuchter did something utterly appalling.[3] Auschwitz-Birkenau is now a museum and every day pilgrims to the crematoria recite memorial prayers and leave behind lighted candles and tiny wooden tablets inscribed with the names of Holocaust victims. This did not deter Leuchter from hacking away wherever he pleased with a hammer and a chisel. The video camera recorded his labors. Sometimes wearing a surgical mask and sometimes not, he gouged a wail here and a ceiling there, sealed the dislodged fragments in plastic bags, and offered a simultaneous narration that sounded like a parody of the old "Mr. Wizard" kids-television program. When it came time to leave the country, he wrapped these souvenirs in his dirty laundry and concealed them in his luggage.

Back home, Leuchter delivered his plunder to a laboratory in Ashland, Massachusetts, and there a chemist named Jim Roth, unaware of the origin of the material,[4] performed an analysis that found a significant level of cyanide in fragments removed from the delousing building but negligible or no traces in the specimens from the crematoria -- proof, according to Leuchter's logic, that the mourners at Auschwitz have come to the wrong place. The most concise explanation to counter Leuchter's conclusion is that a much higher concentration of Zyklon B is required to kill lice than to kill human beings, and that the delousing building had remained intact while the crematoria, which were dismantled and dynamited by the Germans (or, in one case, by insurrectionist inmates) before the camp was liberated by the Allied forces,[5] had been exposed to the elements for forty -- three years before Leuchter came along. Nevertheless, Leuchter did much to reinforce a maxim favored by negationists: "Only lice were gassed in Auschwitz" -- a slur that echoed, not coincidentally, Hitler's characterization of Jews as a plague of vermin.


For a couple of years after the report's publication, Leuchter himself didn't seem to be doing badly. His execution-equipment business continued. He rebuilt Tennessee's electric chair and was retained as a consultant by the State of Florida after a bungled electrocution caused a condemned man's head to catch fire. And by now he had a legion of grateful admirers, whom he perhaps thought of as friends -- members of the Holocaust-denial, mob. Zündel, tantalized by the possibility of a series of sequels to "The Leuchter Reports" sent him in 1989 on a tour of Dachau and other sites in Germany and Austria, during which he was joined by Faurisson and other prominent negationists.

He was embraced by the loathsome British historian David Irving -- described by Ron Rosenbaum, in his book "Explaining Hitler," as the Führer's "chief postwar defender" -- who extolled the "gruesomely expert author" of "The Leuchter Report" and labelled its results "shattering" and "truly astounding."[6]

Unavoidably, Leuchter became a target of Jewish activists, and it was only a matter of time before prison wardens stopped hiring him. In Massachusetts, he was prosecuted and threatened with jail for practicing engineering without a license.[7] In 1992, he went to Germany, again to testify on Zündel's behalf (Zündel had been charged with violating Germany's Holocaust-denial stature after organizing an International Leuchter-Kongress in Munich); while there, he, too, made what the authorities deemed a Holocaust-denial speech. The next year, Leuchter was again lured to Germany, ostensibly to appear on television to talk about electrocution, but he was arrested the day he arrived and charged with "slander of the murdered Jews." He spent six and a half weeks in prison before he was finally bailed out by Zündel, and a trial was scheduled for 1994, He has never returned to Germany. Also, in 1994 his marriage came unravelled, whereupon he moved to California and, for a long while, as far as Morris was concerned, simply vanished.


Morris's schedule called for two full weeks of shooting [at Auschwitz-Birkenau]. He planned to photograph blueprints and other documents in the Auschwitz museum archives -- to introduce explicit references to the existence of the gas chambers (and to the inadequacy of Leuchter's argument).[8] And he would interview a Dutch-born historian, Robert Jan van Pelt, an authority on the camp's genealogy and evolution into a death factory and the co-author of a book entitled "Auschwitz: 1270 to the Present," published in 1996.

Auschwitz gateThat first afternoon, van Pelt and I walked along a path parallel to railroad tracks that entered the main gate of Birkenau and terminated half a mite later. On our right was a perimeter of barbed wire, and, beyond that, twenty wooden barracks, which gave way to an endless gridwork of brick chimneys -- a ghostscape that remained wherever the barracks had come down. On our left was another border of barbed wire, then brick barracks, and in the distance, the Carpathian Mountains. At last, we reached a crossroads, the spot at which trains dispatched from all over Europe by Adolf Eichmann had been halted and new arrivals were lined up -- mothers, children, and the elderly here, able-bodied men and women there. This was where the infamous "selections" had taken place, where the S.S. literally expropriated the divine prerogative: deciding who shall live and who shall die. From this nexus, at the height of the gassings, in 1943 and 1944, the doomed would be consigned to the crematoria and, typically would be dead within a couple of hours.

"If I had to create a geography of evil, this would certainly be my center point," van Pelt said. "Many people consider this the most important place in their life. I'm not a Catholic, but I wouldn't go into a Catholic Church and piss on the altar.[9] There are standards of human decency. Fred Leuchter came here for two or three days and took samples. I don't want to deny people the right to doubt. But I want them to do it after they've done their homework; I hate Holocaust deniers not just for their moral atrociousness but because they're sloppy craftsmen.[10] I walk around here and I still find things that I don't understand -- why they're here. This is an enormous place. This is a city: Originally, there were a hundred and twenty-five architects and draftsmen working here. Why would one or two people think they can come here and in two or three days understand this place?"

THE next morning, Morris shot footage inside one of the three remaining delousing buildings, including a disquisition by van Pelt, who posed in front of what he sardonically called "the Wailing Wall of Holocaust deniers" - -- the spot from, which Leuchter had chiselled material turned out to possess a relatively high cyanide content; this became the control against which other samples from the "alleged gas chambers" were measured.


DURING the making of "Mr. Death," Morris augmented his usual complement of anxieties with a sense of dread at what might happen when he showed Leuchter the completed film.

In addition to van Pelt, Morris had enlisted Jim Roth -- the chemist who had analyzed Leuchter's forensic evidence -- as a rebuttal witness. Only after he testified or Zündel's trial, Roth told Morris, did he realize where the material he analyzed had originated.[11] He acknowledged the limitation of his analysis: cyanide, by its molecular nature, would have bonded with the iron in the brick of the gas chambers only on the surface -- ten microns deep, just one-tenth the diameter of a human hair.

Thus, when a chunk of brick was crushed in the lab, the material beneath the surface would have diluted the specimen, rendering the test pointless. Looking into Morris's camera. Roth summarized, "I don't think the Leuchter results have any meaning."[12][Flush this loo]


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Notes by this Website:

1: The innuendo is that Fred Leuchter was bribed to produce the desired result. In fact before accepting the Zündel team's commission, Leuchter warned that if he found the opposite result in Auschwitz, he would not hesitate both to report to that effect and to publicize his findings widely. This was a risk which Zündel and his defence team had to accept. No-one was sure of the outcome until Mr Roth delivered his lab tests.

2: The throwaway adjective "weathered" echoes the complacent belief of Germany's cowardly historians that "of course" no cyanide residue could be expect to persist in those ruins after being exposed "to fifty years of wind and rain." When chemist Germar Rudolf of the prestigious Max-Planck Gesellschaft determined that precisely the opposite was true -- cyanide forms a chemical compound with iron that is so permanent that it is used as a dyestuff, Prussian Blue -- his scientific colleagues unwittingly applauded and endorsed his paper; Rudolf was then prosecuted by the German government, dismissed from the institute at the request of the country's Jewish community, sentenced to jail, and forced into exile.

3: Noteworthy that over recent years, the historical argument has seamlessly shifted from the objective chemical-analysis basis to the somewhat safer sacrilege/blasphemy/religious-outrage leg: never mind the laboratory findings, it was utterly outrageous for Mr Leuchter to have "stolen" the samples (a few grams of brick dust) from the historic site. Has the same argument been used to condemn the forensic scientists who questioned the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, a relic precious to the Catholic church?

4: It says very little for the ethical qualities of this forensic chemist Mr Roth that he is quoted as hinting that, had he known where the samples came from, his analytical results might have been different. How else to interpret this passage of Mr Singer's article? If we were Mr Roth, we would sue for professional defamation.

5: Auschwitz was liberated not by the Allied armies, but by the Red Army. Told of this new setback (it meant the loss of the huge I.G Farben plant so painfully built by slave-labour from the camp) on the following day by Generaloberst Heinz Guderian, Adolf Hitler merely said, according to the stenographic record: "Oh." (Not, for example: My God, did we manage to blow up every trace of our factories of death first, Herr Guderian?) All extermination camps were in the eastern zones liberated by the Russians; none was found in those zones liberated by the Allies. It would of course be wrong to draw any conclusions from this.

6: Before writing these words, Mr Singer or the magazine's fact-checkers could usefully have consulted The New Yorker's library and taken on board Naomi Bliven's glowing review of Mr Irving's biography Hitler's War (New York, 1977): "It is wonderful how Mr Irving, without any confusion or any dull stretches, ranges over the entire German war effort. He shows us the precise importance of each problem, from the squabbles between Rumania and Hungary to the decay of the Luftwaffe, from the sources of raw materials to the roles that individual generals played. The book is a brilliant study of war which makes military problems fascinating, and -- possibly because the loosing side becomes so vivid -- war loathsome." There's that word again, Loathsome; so perhaps Singer did read it after all.

7: The Massachusetts prosecution was instigated by Beate and Serge Klarsfeld and their stooges, who also sent private circular letters to prison governors in the United States suggesting that they cease hiring Mr Leuchter. This is how they operate.

8: We are eager to see, when the film is released, what blueprints and explicit references to "gas chambers" Mr Morris was shown at Auschwitz.

9: This imagery clearly establishes that Professor van Pelt is not, as he agrees, a Catholic.

10: Is Van Pelt himself not a sloppy craftsman? See the unanswered letter written to him to by Mr Irving suggesting that the professor ought to have read the verbatim interrogations of Rudolf Höss and Kurt Aumeier, or studied the British decodes of the SS and police cypher messages from Auschwitz, or the countless other original source documents on Auschwitz before completing his otherwise commendable book.

11: see 4 above.

12: Then how to explain the saturation of the brickwork of the delousing chamber, with the cyanide-blue stain permeating right through the bricks to the outside wall (see the photographs in the Rudolf Report)? That is more than "a few microns." If Mr Roth is not to become the laughing stock of his profession, he must have been misquoted.

© Focal Point 1999 e-mail:  write to David Irving