The Leuchter report is a pseudoscientific document authored by American execution technician Fred A. Leuchter, who was commissioned by Ernst Zündel to defend him at his trial in Canada for distributing false news, namely Holocaust denial material. Leuchter compiled the report in 1988 with the intention of investigating the feasibility of mass homicidal gassings at Nazi extermination camps, specifically at Auschwitz. He travelled to the camp, collected multiple pieces of brick from the remains of the crematoria and gas chambers (without the camp's permission), brought them back to the United States, and submitted them for chemical analysis. At the trial, Leuchter was required to defend the report in his capacity as expert witness; however he was dismissed because during the proceedings it became apparent that he had neither the qualifications nor experience to act in such a position.
Leuchter chiefly cited the absence of Prussian blue in the homicidal gas chambers in support of his view that they could not have functioned that way. However, residual iron-based cyanide compounds are not a categorical consequence of cyanide exposure. By not discriminating against that, Leuchter introduced an unreliable factor into his experiment, and the outcome was seriously flawed as a result. In contrast, scientifically respectable tests conducted by Polish forensic scientists (who discriminated against iron-based compounds) confirmed the presence of cyanide in the locations and manner in accordance with where and how it was used in the Holocaust. In addition, the report also showed that Leuchter overlooked critical evidence, such as documents in the SS architectural office which directly contradicted him, indicating the mechanical operation of the gas chambers, and verifying the rate at which the Nazis could burn the bodies of those gassed.
In 1985, Ernst Zündel, a German pamphleteer and publisher living in Canada, was put on trial for publishing Richard Verrall's Holocaust denial pamphlet Did Six Million Really Die?, which was deemed to violate Canadian laws against distributing false news. Zündel was found guilty, but the conviction was overturned in an appeal. This led to a second prosecution.
Zündel and his lawyers were joined by Robert Faurisson, a French academic of literature and Holocaust denier, who came to Toronto to advise the defence,:160 having previously testified as expert witness at the first.:161 He was also joined by David Irving, an English writer and also a Holocaust denier, who was to assist in preparing the defence and to testify on Zündel's behalf.:161 After having expressed interest in getting an American prison warden who had participated in executions by gas to testify, Irving and Faurisson (Faurisson, a staunch believer that it was technically and physically impossible for the gas chambers at Auschwitz to have functioned as extermination facilities based in comparison with American execution gas chambers) invited Bill Armontrout, warden of the Missouri State Penitentiary.:162 He agreed to testify and suggested they also contact Fred A. Leuchter, a Bostonian execution equipment designer. Faurisson reported that Leuchter initially accepted the mainstream account of the Holocaust, but after two days of discussion with him, he stated that Leuchter was convinced that homicidal gassings never occurred. After having met Zündel in Toronto and agreeing to serve as expert witness for his defence, Leuchter shortly travelled with them to spend a week in Poland.:162 He was accompanied by his draftsman, a cinematographer supplied by Zündel, a translator fluent in German and Polish, and his wife. While Zündel and Faurisson could not accompany them, Leuchter stated they were with them "every step of the way" in spirit.:162
Once in Poland, the group spent three days in Auschwitz and one in Majdanek. As the cement and bricks they collected were procured illegally,:162 Leuchter's wife and the translator acted as lookouts, while Leuchter was being filmed taking what he called "forensic samples".:163 Drawings of where the samples were taken from, the footage of their collection and Leuchter's notebook were surrendered as permanent evidence to the court, and Leuchter concluded that his findings were based on his "expert knowledge" for gas chamber operation, his visual inspections of what remains of the structures at Auschwitz, and "original drawings and blueprints of some of the facilities".:163 Leuchter claimed that the blueprints had been given to him by Auschwitz museum officials.:163
The compiled report was published as The Leuchter Report: An Engineering Report on the Alleged Execution Gas Chambers at Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Majdanek, Poland, by Zündel's Samisdat Publications, and as Auschwitz: The End of the Line. The Leuchter Report: The First Forensic Examination of Auschwitz by Focal Point Publications, David Irving's publishing house.:163 However, the court accepted the report 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.
Before Leuchter could do this, he was examined by the court. It soon became apparent that Leuchter's credentials were seriously lacking. He admitted that he was not a toxicologist and dismissed the need for having a degree in engineering, to which the judge responded abruptly:
THE COURT: How do you function as an engineer if you don't have an engineering degree?
THE WITNESS: Well, I would question, Your Honour, what an engineering degree is. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree and I have the required background training both on the college level and in the field to perform my function as an engineer.THE COURT: Who determines that? You?— Exchange between Leuchter and Judge Thomas, Her Majesty the Queen vs. Ernst Zündel, District Court of Ontario 1988, p. 8973.:164
Leuchter admitted under oath that he only had a bachelor of arts degree and implicitly suggested that an engineering degree was unavailable to him by saying that his college did not offer an engineering degree during his studies. Boston University actually offered three different kinds of such qualification when he was a student there.:165 The defence continued to obfuscate Leuchter's credentials. When asked by the court if the B.A. he obtained was in a field that entitled him to operate as an engineer, he confirmed that this was so, even though his degree was in history.:165 Similarly, Leuchter claimed that he obtained most of his research material on the camps (including original crematoria blueprints) from the Auschwitz and Majdanek camps' archives, and testified that these documents had a far more important role in shaping his conclusions than the physical samples he collected did, yet after the trial the director of the Auschwitz museum categorically denied that Leuchter had received any plans or blueprints.:165
Judge Ronald Thomas began to label Leuchter's methodology as "ridiculous" and "preposterous", dismissing many of the report's conclusions on the basis that they were based on "second-hand information", and refused to allow him to testify on the effect of Zyklon B on humans because he had never worked with the substance, and was neither a toxicologist nor a chemist.:166 Judge Thomas dismissed Leuchter's opinion because it was of "no greater value than that of an ordinary tourist", and in regards to Leuchter's opinion said:
His opinion on this report is that there were never any gassings or there was never any exterminations carried on in this facility. As far as I am concerned, from what I've heard, he is not capable of giving that opinion....He is not in a position to say, as he said so sweepingly in this report, what could not have been carried on in these facilities.— Judge Thomas, Her Majesty the Queen vs. Ernst Zündel, District Court of Ontario 1988, p. 9049-9050.:166
When questioned on the functioning of the crematoria, the judge also prevented Leuchter from testifying because "he hasn't any expertise".:166 Leuchter also claimed that consultation relating to sodium cyanide and hydrogen cyanide with DuPont was "an on-going thing". DuPont, the largest American manufacturer of hydrogen cyanide, stated that it had "never provided any information on cyanides to persons representing themselves as Holocaust deniers, including Fred Leuchter", and has "never provided any information regarding the use of cyanide at Auschwitz, Birkenau or Majdanek.":166
Claims and criticism
The contents of the report, in particular Leuchter's methodology, are heavily criticised. James Roth, the manager of the lab that carried out the analysis on the samples Leuchter collected, swore under oath to the results at the trial. Roth did not learn what the trial was about until he got off the stand. He later stated that cyanide would have only penetrated to a depth of around 10 micrometres, a tenth of the thickness of a human hair. The samples of brick, mortar and concrete that Leuchter took were of indeterminate thickness: not being aware of this, the lab ground the samples to a fine powder which thus severely diluted the cyanide-containing layer of each sample with an indeterminate amount of brick, varying for each sample. A more accurate analysis would have been obtained by analysing the surface of the samples Leuchter collected. Roth offered the analogy that the investigation was like analyzing paint on a wall by analyzing the timber behind it.
Leuchter's opposition to the possibility of homicidal gassings at Auschwitz relies on residual cyanide remains found in the homicidal gas chambers and delousing chambers at Auschwitz.:167 While both facilities were exposed to the same substance (Zyklon B), many of the delousing chambers are stained with an iron based compound known as Prussian blue, which is not apparent in the homicidal gas chambers. It is not only this disparity that Leuchter cites, but accordingly from his samples (which included measurements of it) that he claims he measured much more cyanide in the delousing chambers than in the gas chambers, which he argues is inconsistent between the amounts necessary to kill human beings and lice.:167 This argument is often cited by Holocaust deniers, and similar claims are also made by Germar Rudolf.
According to Dr. Richard J. Green:
In order for Leuchter or Rudolf to demonstrate the significance of their findings, it is necessary for them to prove the necessity of Prussian blue formation under the conditions that the homicidal gas chambers were operated. Showing that the delousing chambers have Prussian blue and that the homicidal gas chambers do not, proves nothing, if it cannot be shown that conditions in the gas chambers were such as to produce Prussian blue.
In other words, Green points out that Leuchter failed to show that Prussian Blue would have been produced in the homicidal gas chambers in the first place — meaning its absence is not in itself proof that no homicidal gassings took place.
The problem with Prussian blue is that it is by no means a categorical sign of cyanide exposure. One factor necessary in its formation is a very high concentration of cyanide. In terms of the difference between amounts measured in the delousing chambers and homicidal gas chambers, critics explain that the exact opposite of what deniers claim is true. Insects have a far higher resistance to cyanide than humans, with concentration levels up to 16,000ppm (parts per million) and an exposure time of more than 20 hours (sometimes as long as 72 hours) being necessary for them to succumb. In contrast, a cyanide concentration of only 300ppm is fatal to humans in a matter of minutes. This difference is one of the reasons behind the concentration disparity. Another exceedingly sensitive factor by which very small deviances could determine whether Prussian blue may form is pH. This element could be affected even by just the presence of human beings. Also, while the delousing chambers were left intact, the ruins of the crematoria at Birkenau had been exposed to the elements for over forty years by the time Leuchter collected his samples. This would have severely affected his results, because unlike Prussian blue and other iron based cyanides, cyanide salts are highly soluble in water.
Since the formation of Prussian blue is not an unconditional outcome of exposure to cyanide, it is not a reliable indicator. Leuchter and Rudolf claim to have measured much more cyanide in the delousing chambers than in the homicidal gas chambers, but since they did not discriminate against an unreliable factor, Green maintains that instant bias is introduced into their experiments. Similarly, Rudolf acknowledges that Prussian blue does not always form upon exposure to cyanide and is thus not a reliable marker, yet continues to include the iron compounds in his analysis. Green describe this as "disingenuous". Since a building that contains Prussian blue staining would exhibit much higher levels of detectable cyanides than one without anyway, Green writes that Leuchter's and Rudolf's measurements reveal nothing more than what is already visible to the naked eye.
Polish follow-up investigation
In February 1990, Professor Jan Markiewicz, director of The Institute for Forensic Research (IFRC) in Kraków conducted a fair experiment where iron compounds were excluded. Given that the ruins of the gas chambers at Birkenau have been washed by a column of water at least 35m in height based on climatological records since 1945,:Introduction Markiewicz and his team were not optimistic at being able to detect cyanides so many years later; nevertheless, having the legal permission to obtain samples, they collected some from areas as sheltered from the elements as possible.
Leuchter's report states that the small amounts of cyanide he detected in the ruins of the crematoria are merely the result of fumigation. However the IFRC points out that the control samples they took from living areas which may have been fumigated only once as part of the 1942 typhus epidemic tested negative for cyanide, and that the typhus epidemic occurred before the crematoria at Birkenau even existed.:Final Remarks
Accordingly, the IFRC demonstrated that cyanides were present in all of the facilities where it is claimed that they were exposed, i.e. all five crematoria, the cellars of Block 11 and the delousing facilities. Critics state that any attempt to demonstrate that the crematoria could not have functioned as homicidal gas chambers on the basis that they were not exposed to cyanide is unsuccessful, given that its presence in what remains of these facilities is incontrovertible, and write that all of the gas chambers were exposed to cyanide at levels higher than background levels elsewhere in the camp, such as living areas, where no cyanides at all were detected. In addition, tests conducted at Auschwitz in 1945 revealed the presence of cyanides on ventilation grilles found in the ruins of Crematorium II (thus also demonstrating that the Leuchter report was not the first forensic examination of the camp as purported in the title of the London edition). The historian Richard J. Evans argues that due to Leuchter's ignorance of the large disparity between the amounts of cyanide necessary to kill humans and lice, instead of disproving the homicidal use of gas chambers, the small amounts of cyanide which Leuchter detected actually tended to confirm it.
By order of Heinrich Himmler, the crematoria and gas chambers at Birkenau were destroyed by the SS in order to hide evidence of genocide. Nothing more than the bases of Crematoria IV and V can be seen: the floor plans of both facilities are indicated by bricks laid out across the concrete foundations, and Crematoria II and III are in ruins. Professor Robert Jan van Pelt labels Leuchter's comment that the facilities have not changed at all since 1942 or 1941 as "nonsense".
Because hydrogen cyanide is explosive, Leuchter maintained that the gas chambers could never have been operated due to their proximity to the ovens of the crematoria.:168 It is correct that hydrogen cyanide is explosive, but only at concentrations of 56,000 ppm and above – over 186 times more than the lethal dose of 300 ppm. Critics estimate conservatively that within 5 to 15 minutes, gas chamber victims were exposed to 450 – 1810 ppmv – again considerably lower than the lower explosion limit.
Gas chamber ventilation
|“||If Leuchter had gone to the archives, if he had spent time in the archives, he would've found evidence about ventilation systems, evidence about ways to introduce Zyklon B into these buildings, evidence of gas chambers, undressing rooms.||”|
— Robert Jan van Pelt, The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter
Leuchter incorrectly assumed that the gas chambers were not ventilated. The basement gas chambers of Crematoria II and III were mechanically ventilated via motors in the roof space of the main crematorium structure capable of extracting the remaining gas and renewing the air every three to four minutes.
When ventilation was not used such as in Crematoria IV and V (although a ventilation system was later installed in Crematorium V in May 1944), Sonderkommando prisoners wore gas masks when removing the bodies. When presented in court with a document by the chief Auschwitz architect SS-Sturmbannführer Karl Bischoff, Leuchter misconstrued aeration (Belüftung) and ventilation (Entlüftung) as part of the furnace blower systems, when they were actually in reference to the ventilation channels in the walls that straddle the gas chambers. These are visible on blueprints, and can still partly be seen in the ruined east wall of the Crematorium III gas chamber.
Leuchter was also prepared to act as expert witness regarding crematoria ovens despite admitting during cross examination that he had no such expert knowledge. This did not stop him from presenting his own figure of 156 corpses regarding the total daily incineration capacity of the installations at Auschwitz. During cross-examination, Leuchter was presented with a letter written by the Auschwitz Central Construction Office (Auschwitz Zentralbauleitung) of June 28, 1943, from SS-Sturmbannführer Jahrling to SS-Brigadeführer Hans Kammler stating that the five crematoria installations had a collective daily capacity of 4,756 corpses. Leuchter conceded that that this was quite different from his own figure, and that he had never seen the document in question before.
With a patent application by the makers of the ovens, a Nazi document (both made during the war) and two independent testimonies confirming the capacity of the crematoria, critics consider Leuchter's figures irrelevant. Because the 4,756 figure is evidence of the Nazis equipping a camp of a maximum of 140,000 prisoners with the facility to cremate 125,000 of them per month, critics explain that this reveals the true exterminationist purpose of Auschwitz: a camp with the capacity to reduce its entire population to ash on a monthly basis is not merely a benign internment camp.
At various times (such as in the summer of 1944 when the extermination process was going at such a rate that the crematoria couldn't keep up), bodies were burnt in open-air pits. Accordingly, the capacity of the crematoria was never a limiting factor, and the pits yielded practically no limit as to the amount of corpses that could be burnt, making further comment on the capacity of the crematoria irrelevant.
- "Leuchter and Rudolf have published pseudoscientific reports purporting to show that chemical residues present in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau are incompatible with homicidal gassings." Green, Richard J. "Leuchter, Rudolf, and the Iron Blues". Retrieved on 2008-09-11.
- "The Leuchter Report, a pseudo-scientific document which allegedly proves that Zyklon B was not used to exterminate human beings, was translated into Arabic and sold at the International Book Fair in Cairo in January 2001." Roth, Stephen. Stephen Roth Institute. Antisemitism Worldwide, 2000/1, University of Nebraska Press, 2002, p. 228.
- "The turning point came in 1989, when Irving launched Fred Leuchter's pseudo-scientific Leuchter Report, which made the spurious claim that the absence of cyanide residues in the walls of the gas chambers at Auschwitz and other camps proved that they could not have functioned as mass extermination centres." Brinks, Jan Herman. Timms, Edward. Rock, Stella. Nationalist Myths and Modern Media, I.B. Tauris, 2006, p. 72.
- "The Leuchter report, was, indeed, an amateurish report produced by a man with no expertise, either historical or forensic." Hirsh, David. Law Against Genocide. Routledge Cavendish, 2003, p. 134.
- "Another common tactic of the deniers is to engage in historical inquiries that on the surface appear legitimate but upon close examination prove to be based on pseudo-science. One prominent example was the investigation of the Auschwitz gas chambers by Fred Leuchter [...]. Detailed study of the "Leuchter Report" revealed that it was based on erroneous assumptions (cyanide does not penetrate deeply into concrete). It also emerged that Leuchter had falsified his credentials and overstated his expertise. Despite this, his report is still cited by deniers." Cull, Nicholas John. Culbert, David Holbrook. Welch, David. Propaganda and Mass Persuasion: A Historical Encyclopedia, 1500 to the Present, ABC-CLIO, 2003, p. 168.
- "...the institute relied primary on the talents of a California-based publicist named Bradley Smith who packaged and promoted Leuchter's discredited material as if it were the very essence of "scientific research" or at least a tenable "point of view," intrinsically worthy of inclusion in the academic agenda..." Churchill, Ward. A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas, 1492 to the Present. City Lights Books, 1997, p. 24.
- "After the trial, both Irving and Zündel published the results of Leuchter's trial research as The Leuchter Report: The End of a Myth, despite the fact that the court rejected both the report and Leuchter's testimony. [...] The discredited report is popular in the Holocaust denial movement, and one edition features a foreword by Irving." Gerstenfeld, Phyllis B. Grant, Diana R. Crimes of Hate: Selected Readings, SAGE Publications, 2003, p. 201.
- "Leuchter's report contained a considerable amount of scientific, or, as it turned out, pseudo-scientific analysis of chemical residues on the gas chamber walls, and similar matters. It was quickly discredited, not least on the basis of Leuchter's failure adequately to defend his findings on the witness stand." Evans, Richard J. David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial: Electronic Edition, Section 3.3c, The 1991 Edition of Hitler's War, Paragraph 13. Retrieved on 2008-09-12.
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- Evans, Richard J. Telling Lies about Hitler: The Holocaust, History and the David Irving Trial. Verso, 2002, p. 133.
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