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Frederick A. (Fred) Leuchter, Jr. (born 1944) is a self-taught Americanmarker execution technician and author of Holocaust forensic material. He claims to have improved the design of instruments for capital punishment and had execution equipment contracts with several states. Subsequently, Leuchter became known for his testimony in defense of Holocaust denier Ernst Zündel in 1988. His study for Zündel's trial is referred to as the Leuchter report after it was published by Zündel as such and is often framed as a scientifically based work of Holocaust denial, though his research methods and findings have been refuted. A documentary on the controversy, entitled Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., was released by Errol Morris in 1999.

Education and career

He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Boston Universitymarker in 1964 and later conducted post-graduate studies at the Harvardmarker-Smithsonian Astronomical Observatory. Leuchter holds patents for a geodetic instrument and an electronic sextant. Leuchter has said he is not an engineer and misled people about his expertise. According to the New York Times, before selling execution equipment Leuchter was a former dealer in military surveillance equipment.

Fred Leuchter Associates

Leuchter started Fred Leuchter Associates in which he sold services to several states to help them maintain, improve, document, and ascertain the effectiveness of their equipment for administration of capital punishment. His initial work was with electric chairs, starting in Tennesseemarker. Leuchter's broader claims are that his work in this area is "humanitarian", providing greater respect for both guards and those to be executed. He also claims that he offered his services at considerable economy: off-the-shelf parts, labor, and a 20% profit. By his own account, consultation between state government agencies spread his reputation from Tennessee to other states, and further assignments followed. Leuchter "aggressively solicited business" and in 1985 the state of New Jerseymarker purchased Leuchter's proposal for a lethal injection system for $30,000.

On October 24, 1990 The New York Times described him as "self-proclaimed execution expert and manufacturer of death machinery" who "was charged today in a Middlesex County District Court with fraudulently practicing engineering." It quoted Dr. Edward A. Brunner, chairman of the anesthesia department at Northwestern University Medical School, as saying Leuchter's lethal injection system would indeed paralyze a condemned criminal, but far from being humane this paralysis would merely stop the prisoner from screaming at the "extreme pain in the form of a severe burning sensation" caused by the potassium chloride injection. (Potassium chloride is commonly used in judicial execution through lethal injection.) A subsequent article in the June 13, 1991 edition of New York Times details his agreement with prosecutors to "serve two years' probation for practicing engineering without a license."

Detractor of Capital Punishment

In 1990 Newsweek reported Alabamamarker Assistant Attorney General Ed Carnes calling Leuchter's views on the gas chamber "unorthodox" and alleging that "Leuchter was running a death row shakedown scheme: if a state didn't purchase Leuchter's services, he would testify at the last minute for the condemned man that the state's death chamber might malfunction." The Associated Press quoted Carnes claiming that Leuchter made "money on both sides of the fence." In his memorandum to death penalty states, Carnes observed that in Florida and Virginia the federal courts had rejected Leuchter's testimony as unreliable. The court in Floridamarker had found that Leuchter had "misquoted the statements" contained in an important affidavit and had "inaccurately surmised" a crucial premise of his conclusion.

In Virginiamarker, Leuchter provided a death row inmate's attorney with an affidavit claiming the electric chair would fail. The Virginia court decided the credibility of Leuchter's affidavit was limited because Leuchter was "the refused contractor who bid to replace the electrodes in the Virginia chair."

Zündel trial and investigation at Auschwitz

In 1988 Leuchter was hired by Ernst Zündel, who was being tried in Canadamarker for publishing works of Holocaust denial, to investigate and testify as an expert witness at his trial, at a salary of $30,000. Leuchter was recommended to Zündel by Bill Armontrout, warden for Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, Missourimarker. In his capacity as warden, Armontrout was personally responsible for carrying out executions by the use of cyanide gas. Leuchter traveled to Auschwitzmarker and Birkenau to examine the structures identified by guards, prisoners, and investigators, as gas chambers, and concluded that they could not have been used for mass murder.

Zündel's Samisdat Publications published his findings as The Leuchter Report: An Engineering Report on the Alleged Execution Chambers at Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Majdanek Poland (published in England as Auschwitz: The End of the Line: The Leuchter Report - The First Forensic Examination of Auschwitz) which the court accepted only as evidentiary display and not as direct evidence; Leuchter was therefore required to explicate it and testify to the veracity of his findings under oath in the trial. His report was widely republished and translated by various denial organizations, and he has since lectured on it and his subsequent experiences. Protests were organized in response.

In 1988, Leuchter traveled to several sites of structures identified as gas chambers, where, although he did not have permission to do so, he collected samples from walls, ceilings and floors, using a chisel and hammer to chip and scrape off pieces of the masonry. He took copious notes about the floor plans and layout, and all of his actions were videotaped by a cameraman. (Leuchter, who had been married for about one month before the trip, told his wife that the trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau was their honeymoon.) Leuchter then brought the samples back to Bostonmarker, where he presented them to Alpha Analytical Laboratories, a chemical laboratory, for testing. Leuchter told Alpha only that the samples were to be used as evidence in a court case about an industrial accident. The lab tested them for exposure to cyanide and found trace amounts in the crematoria, which Leuchter dismissed in his report:

Leuchter compares the low amounts in the Krema to the higher readings in his positive control sample.

Lab manager James Roth swore under oath to the results at the trial. It was only after he got off the stand that Roth learned what the trial was about. In an interview for Morris' film, Roth states that cyanide would have formed an extremely fine layer on the walls, to the depth of one-tenth of a human hair. Leuchter had taken samples of indeterminate thickness (he is seen in Morris' film hammering at the bricks with a rock hammer). Not informed of this, Roth had pulverized the entire samples, thus severely diluting the cyanide-containing layer of each sample with an indeterminate amount of brick, varying for each sample. Roth offers the analogy that the tests were like "analyzing paint on a wall by analyzing the timber that's behind it."

Leuchter did not examine the walls of the gas chambers until 50 years after they had been used; his critics note that it would have been virtually impossible to discover any cyanide at all using his method. In fact, tests conducted on ventilation grates immediately after the end of the war showed substantial amounts of cyanide. The chambers were demolished by the Nazis when they abandoned Auschwitz, and the facilities Leuchter examined were, in fact, partially reconstructed. Leuchter was unaware that part of the camp and chambers were reconstructed, so he had no way of knowing if the bricks he was scraping were actually part of the original gas chamber.

Many of Leuchter's conclusions are based on the assumption that it takes 20 to 30 hours to air a room disinfected with Zyklon-B; since far lower concentrations are required when gassing people than for delousing it actually takes 20 to 30 minutes to air out the room, and the forced ventilation systems used are more than adequate to allow the gas chambers to be operated without endangering the executioners. When questioned in court, Leuchter admitted he had not seen a document by the Waffen SS Commandant for construction issued when the gas chambers were constructed which estimated they had a 24-hour capacity of 4756 people, more than 30 times Leuchter's estimate of 156.

Leuchter's opposition to the possibility of gas chambers rests on the relatively low concentration of cyanide residue measured in his sample of the remains of the gas chambers in Auschwitz, compared to his sample of the "delousing chambers" in which clothes were deloused using the same gas, hydrogen cyanide. However, his report contains the assumption that lower concentrations are required for delousing than to kill humans and other warm blooded creatures; in fact, with their simpler structures and slower metabolisms, insects are more resistant to such gross metabolic poisons than mammals. Both toxicological study and practical experience demonstrate that it takes a much higher concentration of cyanide (16,000 parts per million) to kill insects than to kill humans (300 PPM), as well as an exposure time of many hours rather than only minutes. Leuchter also fails to explain his belief that Zyklon-B was used for delousing, in view of his belief that the product would present technical difficulties in ventilating and decontaminating such as to make it impractical for use in a gas chamber.

Aftermath

Protests were organized outside the court house in Canadamarker, and near Leuchter's home in Malden, Massachusettsmarker. However, despite the bad publicity Leuchter remained active until 1990, when his lack of qualifications to practice was exposed. In the late 1980s, following the Ernst Zündel trial, he was featured in both the Atlantic Monthly and Prime Time Live in items on capital punishment, neither of which mentioned his association with Zündel. Also following his involvement in the Zündel trial, Leuchter began giving lectures to Holocaust denial groups such as the Institute for Historical Review (IHR) about his research and continued belief in the conclusions to which he testified in the trial. A speech to the Eleventh IHR Conference in October, 1992, included the following remark:

In October 1990, the state of Massachusettsmarker brought criminal charges against Leuchter for representing himself as an engineer without a license. Leuchter not only lacks an engineering license but has neither an engineering degree nor any other relevant professional certification or recognized credential - his education consists of a BA in history, which he completed in 1964. In 1991, the case was settled under the agreement that he will serve two years' probation for practicing engineering without a license. He admits to having no formal training in toxicology, biology or chemistry.

When he tried to sell parts of a lethal injection machine and other inventory from Fred Leuchter Associates, much of it items pending work for various states who refused to pay him for previously contracted or agreed work, he was again charged. Leuchter claims that the Massachusetts Attorney General had to explain that the sale of the offered equipment was not, in fact, illegal. His wife divorced him in this same period. Furthermore, states started to deny his contracts on the basis of his lack of qualifications.

Leuchter was arrested in and shortly thereafter deported from the United Kingdommarker in November 1991. He had been banned from entering the country by the Home Office and his entry and presence in the country was therefore considered illegal. Leuchter claimed that United States consulate personnel effectively refused him aid. He had been interrupted while giving an invited speech at Irving's instigation; his talk followed immediately one by Robert Faurisson. Leuchter has blamed criticism of his work on an "international cabal... those who have unjustly attacked me and violated my rights... the Klarsfelds, Shapiros, and Kahns of the world".

According to the Institute for Historical Review, Leuchter subsequently took employment as a "telephone solicitor."

Repetition of Leuchter's examination

In February 1990, Professor Jan Markiewicz, Director of the Forensic Institute of Cracow, redid the analysis. Markiewicz decided that the Prussian blue test was unreliable because it depended on the acidity of the environment, which was low in the gas chambers. Markiewicz and his team used microdiffusion techniques to test for cyanide in samples from the gas chambers, from delousing chambers, and from living areas elsewhere within Auschwitz. The living quarter samples (negative controls) tested negative, while cyanide residue was found in both the delousing chambers and the gas chambers. The amount of cyanide found had a great variability (possibly due to 50 years of exposure to the elements to varying degrees), but even so, the categorical results were that cyanide was found where expected in both the gas chambers and the delousing facilities, and not found in the living quarters, supporting the hypothesis that the gas chambers were exposed to high levels of cyanide like the delousing facilities, and not low levels for routine fumigation, like the living quarters.

Mr. Death

Leuchter is the subject of a 1999 documentary by Errol Morris, entitled Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. with Zündel and Irving.

Robert Jan van Pelt, who appears in Mr. Death to specify some of Leuchter's scholarly failures (e.g. not consulting the large documentation archive available at Auschwitz), served as the primary expert witness against David Irving at the libel trial of Deborah Lipstadt in 2000, relating to the court the strength of the physical and documentary evidence supporting the use of that camp for gassing.

References

  1. Leuchter's Qualification as determined by the Court of Ontario at the trial of Zündel[1]
  2. "The man, Frederick A. Leuchter Jr., holds a bachelor's degree in history and is not licensed to practice engineering in Massachusetts, state officials said."
  3. US Patents 3,968,570[2] and 4,339,198[3]
  4. Stephen Trombley, The Execution Protocol: Inside America's Capital Punishment Industry, 1992 (ISBN 0-517-59113-8)
  5. "An 'Expert' on Executions Is Charged With Fraud", The New York Times, October 24, 1990. "A self-proclaimed execution expert and manufacturer of death machinery was charged today in a Middlesex County District Court with fraudulently practicing engineering. The man, Frederick A. Leuchter Jr., holds a bachelor's degree in history and is not licensed to practice engineering in Massachusetts, state officials said."
  6. Associated Press, October 24, 1990
  7. Deborah E. Lipstadt, History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving. Ecco, 2005. (page 36)
  8. Newsweek, October 22, 1990, pg. 22
  9. "...is said to have paid $30000 for Leuchter's report and his testimony."
  10. "Fred Leuchter Needs Our Help," Journal of Historical Review (Institute for Historical Review), 13, no. 4 (July/August 1992), p. 27
  11. That testimony was printed as The Case for Auschwitz: Evidence from the Irving Trial (ISBN 0-253-34016-0).Van Pelt is also the co-author, with Deborah Dwork, of Auschwitz: 1270 to the Present. (New York: Norton, 1990)


Material by Leuchter

  • Fred A. Leuchter, The Leuchter Report: The First Forensic Examination of Auschwitz, With a Foreword by David Irving, London, Focal Point Publications, 1989 (ISBN 1-872197-00-0).
  • Fred Leuchter & Robert Faurisson, The Second Leuchter Report, The Journal of Historical Review, Vol. 10, No.3 Fall, 1990.
  • Fred Leuchter, The Third Leuchter Report: A Technical Report on the Execution Gas Chamber at Mississippi State Penitentiary Parchman, Mississippi, Toronto, Samisdat Publishers.
  • Fred A. Leuchter Jr., The Fourth Leuchter Report: An Engineering Evaluation of Jean-Claude Pressac's Book Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas ChambersHamilton, Ontario, History Buff Books and Video.
  • Fred A. Leuchter, Robert Faurisson, Germar Rudolf, The Leuchter Reports: Critical Edition, Chicago, Theses & Dissertations Press, 2005 (ISBN 1-59148-015-9).


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