The Holocaust Historiography Project


Book-length 'Scholarly' Polemic Fails To Discredit Leuchter

  • Truth Prevails: Demolishing Holocaust Denial: The End of the Leuchter Report. Edited by Shelly Shapiro. New York, N.Y.: The Beate Klarsfeld Foundation, and Holocaust Survivors and Friends in Pursuit of Justice, 1990. Softcover. 135 pages. Illustrations. Index. $15.00. ISBN 1-879437-00-7.

Reviewed by Mark Weber

In response to Fred Leuchter’s findings about the alleged wartime extermination gas chambers, the Holocaust lobby has mounted a well-orchestrated campaign of slander, distortion, half-truth and falsehood to discredit him and destroy his career as a consultant to state governments on execution technology.

At the forefront of this effort have been the Paris-based Beate Klarsfeld Foundation and a US-based group that calls itself “Holocaust Survivors and Friends in Pursuit of Justice.” An important propaganda tool in this international campaign is this angry, awkwardly written and poorly organized 135-page polemic, which is perhaps the most ambitious effort so far to discredit Leuchter and his findings. Published jointly by these two organizations in 1990, it bears the pretentious and rather bombastic title Truth Prevails: Demolishing Holocaust Denial: The End of the Leuchter Report.

As Journal readers know, this is not the first time that these two groups have sought to discredit Holocaust Revisionism with a book-length publication. In 1989 the Klarsfeld Foundation released Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers, an ambitious 564-page work by French researcher Jean-Claude Pressac. (See the reviews of Pressac’s book in the IHR Journal by Mark Weber, Summer 1990, and Robert Faurisson, Spring and Summer 1991.)

Truth Prevails consists of a preface by editor Shelly Shapiro (who is also director of “Holocaust Survivors and Friends"), six essays (including two by Jean-Claude Pressac), and a short commentary by Serge Klarsfeld. In spite of its erudite pretension, this is a poorly written, edited and organized work. Its language is often snide and crude.

All the same, Truth Prevails has had a measurable impact. Libelous and error-ridden articles based on it have appeared in daily newspapers and weekly Jewish community papers around the country. In addition to the usual and untruthful attacks against the IHR and Holocaust Revisionism in general, these articles viciously attack Leuchter as a man.

Throughout this book, Revisionists are routinely referred to as “Holocaust deniers,” a formulation that suggests a medieval Inquisition against religious heretics who have blasphemed against a sacred dogma. By treating “Holocaust denial” as the most terrible sin that anyone can commit these days, this book serves to underscore the way that the Holocaust has become, for many, a kind of religion.

In the preface, “Holocaust denial” is also compared to denying the existence of slavery in 18th and 19th century America, or denying the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. However, one might reasonably ask, if “Holocaust denial” is really so obviously absurd, why bother about it? No rational person wastes time refuting those who might deny the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima.

The preface also sets the tone of Truth Prevails, where the reader is told: “The incomprehensible death factories 'with their bulging gas chambers and smoke-belching crematoria eclipsed man’s visions of hell.' The name of Auschwitz means the epitomy [sic] of evil.” Overlooking the emotion-charged rhetoric here, it should be pointed out that, as anyone who is even superficially familiar with the reality of Auschwitz knows, there were no “smoke-belching crematoria” there (or anywhere, for that matter). Like similar facilities elsewhere, the crematory facilities at Auschwitz were structurally not able to “belch” smoke. (Accordingly, Allied aerial reconnaissance photos taken of the camp complex in 1944 — at the height of the supposed extermination process there — show absolutely no trace of any smoke whatsoever.)

Editor Shapiro also expresses outrage at a reference (in the British edition of the Leuchter Report) to an inmates' swimming pool at Auschwitz. In point of fact, there was such a pool. (On this, see: R. Lenski, The Holocaust on Trial, pp. 38, 132, 142, 358-359, 385, and, R. Faurisson, IHR Journal, Summer 1991, pp. 133-134.)

Truth Prevails seeks to discredit the Leuchter Report by, above all, attacking its author’s qualifications. A main purpose of this book is to prove that Leuchter lacks the expertise he claims, and to show, instead, that he is a pretentious fraud. “Our goal,” the preface explains, “is to show Leuchter’s lack of expertise” as an execution hardware specialist, and “to demonstrate that 'The Leuchter Report' is not a credible scientific analysis…” (p. 1).

Charging that “Leuchter does not have the scientific background or experience despite his claims” (p. 11), Truth Prevails insists that Leuchter is simply not qualified to give an expert opinion about the alleged gas chambers at Auschwitz and Majdanek.

In this regard, much is made of the fact that Judge Ron Thomas declined to accept the Leuchter Report as a defense exhibit during the 1988 Zündel trial. Strictly speaking, this is true. But Truth Prevails essentially ignores the fact that Judge Thomas did decide to accept Leuchter as an expert of homicidal gas chamber technology, and accordingly permitted him to give opinion evidence. During his testimony, Leuchter was allowed to read extensively from his Report, which became part of the court record.

As detailed in an article published elsewhere in this issue of the Journal, Leuchter’s impressive expertise in the field of execution hardware is a matter of public record, and has been authoritatively and publicly confirmed. For example, in a letter of January 13, 1988, Missouri state prison director William Armontrout wrote: “Mr. Leuchter is an engineer specializing in gas chambers and executions. He is well versed in all areas and is the only consultant in the United States that I know of.” Testifying in the 1988 Zündel trial, Armontrout also declared that he had consulted with Leuchter on the design, maintenance and operation of the Missouri state gas chamber, and reaffirmed that, to the best of his knowledge, Leuchter is the only such consultant in the United States.

As part of its vicious assault against Leuchter’s character, this book charges that financial greed was the motive behind his forensic investigation of the alleged extermination gas chambers, and his conclusion that they were never used as killing facilities. Leuchter’s motivation, Pressac writes here, was “to collect the steep fee he asked of Zündel and which the latter paid him.” (p. 32)

In another chapter, contributor Arthur Goodman provides a mendacious explanation of how Leuchter was chosen to carry out his forensic investigation (p. 76):

Faurisson quickly applied himself to the task of finding an “engineer” who would testify for Zündel. Very soon thereafter, Faurisson dug up the hitherto unknown Leuchter whom he contacted and who was only too willing to earn the money, gain the notoriety and establish a reputation as the one man whose investigation would sustain the [Revisionist] thesis … Leuchter [was] only too eager to be won over …

In fact (and as explained in more detail elsewhere in this issue of the Journal), Leuchter’s motives in conducting his forensic investigation of the alleged wartime gas chambers in Poland were entirely honorable and professional. Prof. Robert Faurisson and Ernst Zündel sought out Leuchter not because of any pre-existing views or prejudices he may have had on this issue, but solely because he was, at that time, the only acknowledged execution gas chamber specialist in the United States.

While it is true that he was paid a standard fee by Zündel, this is not at all remarkable. Any expert witnesses who testifies in a court case under such circumstances is normally paid a fee in keeping with his or her professional standing. Christopher Browning, for example, the star prosecution witness in the 1988 Zündel trial, received 150 (Canadian) dollars an hour for his services.

Shapiro and the Klarsfelds are understandably angry that, in spite of their efforts, the major media continues to acknowledge Leuchter’s expertise as America’s foremost expert of execution technology. Shapiro expresses outrage that “major news organizations” have given him with “a semblance of respectability and credibility.”

The Atlantic monthly, for example, is taken to task for an illustrated article about Leuchter in the February 1990 issue. In this piece, attorney and author Susan Lehman factually described Leuchter as

the nation’s only commercial supplier of execution equipment … A trained and accomplished engineer, he is versed in all types of execution equipment. He makes lethal-injection machines, gas chambers, and gallows, as well as electrocution systems. [He] … probably knows more about electric chair technology than anyone else.

The Zionist Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith responded to this rather flattering profile with an angry letter of protest. In her reply to the ADL, Susan Lehman correctly pointed out that Leuchter’s findings about the Holocaust “gas chambers,” and his testimony in the Zündel trial, “have no direct bearing…on the subject of my report.” In his essay in Truth Prevails, Charles R. Allen, Jr., dismisses Lehman’s reply as “insolence.”

An even greater calamity, in the view of Shapiro and her friends, was a profile of Leuchter broadcast nationwide May 10, 1990, on the widely viewed ABC television news program “Prime Time Live.” Co-host Diane Sawyer described Leuchter as “the country’s foremost expert at creating, designing and maintaining execution equipment.”

Particularly galling to the Shapiro crowd is the fact that ABC news television went ahead with its profile of “Dr. Death” even after it had been “informed” of Leuchter’s shocking views on the Holocaust extermination story, and of his links with the infamous Institute for Historical Review. Shelly Shapiro and Beate Klarsfeld had even met with producer Bob Currie to urge him not to air the report.

Finally, The New York Times is castigated for prominently featuring an article, October 13, 1990, which included a front-page photograph of Leuchter, that describes him as “the nation’s leading adviser to states on capital punishment.” Leuchter, the article also reported, has “advised 16 states on every kind of execution equipment. Four states have bought his lethal injection systems…”

This unequivocal acknowledgment of Leuchter’s expertise by the nation’s most influential daily paper is all the more significant because its author, and the paper’s editors, were entirely aware of the Shapiro/Klarsfled team’s criticisms of Leuchter when the article went to press.

And much more recently, Leuchter’s standing as the premier expert of execution hardware was affirmed in “The Execution Protocol,” a television report broadcast November 1, 1992, on the Discovery cable television network, as well as on the session of the popular Phil Donahue show broadcast nationwide November 13, 1992.

Truth Prevails tries to explain away these embarrassing tributes by contending that Leuchter has somehow been able to trick or fool these savvy periodicals into accepting his bogus claims of expertise. If Leuchter was actually able to somehow “take in” the media as this book suggests, he must be gifted with truly extraordinary powers of persuasion.

Truth Prevails ruefully notes that Leuchter “is still sought by the media as the only available spokesman on the technology of the death penalty in the U.S.” (p. 24). One can be certain that if there is anyone (besides Leuchter) in the United States who could plausibly be portrayed as a “real” expert on execution hardware, Shapiro and her diligent colleagues certainly would have found him. Interestingly, though, the Shapiro/Klarsfeld team has not produced any such person: To date, the best they have been able to come up with is a confused and unqualified suburban French pharmacist, Jean-Claude Pressac.

Fittingly, much of this book consists of two essays by Pressac that seek to refute the Leuchter Report on technical grounds. (For a point by point response to Pressac’s critique of Leuchter’s findings, see the detailed essay by Paul Grubach in this issue of the Journal.)

Shapiro and Klarsfeld use a grotesque double standard in deciding just who qualifies as a gas chamber expert. While Leuchter is dismissed as an untrained fraud and crank, Pressac is praised here (by Serge Klarsfeld, on page 29) as “one of the world’s rare research specialists in gas chamber extermination technique.” This description is almost laughable in light of Pressac’s lack of any formal training, credentials or recognized expertise in architecture, engineering, history or document analysis.

Leuchter is not this book’s only target. Prof. Faurisson is accused of “intellectual dishonesty” (p. 36), and Ernst Zündel is referred to as Canada’s “prime practitioner of Holocaust denial” (p. 22), as if he is the high priest of an evil satanic cult, and historian David Irving is called a “Nazi propagandist” (p. 85).

In a ten-page chapter by H. L. Silets, a specialist of legal history at the University of Cambridge, the 1946 “Zyklon B” trial is cited as irrefutable proof that German officials used hydrogen cyanide gas from Zyklon to exterminate Jews in wartime concentration camps. Dr. Bruno Tesch, the German businessman who headed the company that supplied Zyklon, and his assistant and business manager Karl Weinbacher were the two main defendants in the 1946 trial in Hamburg. They were found guilty by the British military court, sentenced to death, and hanged.

Revisionist scholars are familiar with this important trial, which was a travesty of justice. (Retired American research chemist Dr. William B. Lindsey provides a thorough examination of it in a carefully researched article in the Fall 1983 IHR Journal.) Even Jean-Claude Pressac has rightly castigated this trial as unjust and probably a “masquerade.” (J.-C. Pressac, Auschwitz, 1989, p. 17.)

A key witness in the trial was Charles (or Paul) Bendel, a Jewish doctor who had been an inmate physician in Birkenau in 1944. His “eyewitness” testimony about extermination gassings in the camp helped to send Tesch and Weinbacher to the gallows. As even Pressac has confirmed, Bendel’s testimony is demonstrably wrong on numerous key points. (J.-C. Pressac, Auschwitz, 1989, pp. 469-472.)

Perhaps most remarkably, this British court determined that, of a grand total of six million people killed in the German camps, no less than four and a half million were “systematically exterminated” with Zyklon B at Auschwitz-Birkenau alone. (United Nations War Crimes Commission, Law Reports of Trials of War Criminals, London: HMSO, 1947, Vol. 1, p. 94. See also Nuremberg document NI-12207.)

As further proof of extermination gassings at Auschwitz, Truth Prevails contributor Silets cites the postwar “confession” of former Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss. However, as even prominent Holocaust historians (including J.-C. Pressac in his 1989 book) now concede, key statements in this “confession” are quite demonstrably untrue. Moreover, it has been indisputably established that Höss' infamous “confession” was extracted by brutal torture. (See: R. Faurisson, IHR Journal, Winter 1986-87, pp. 389-403.)

Beate Klarsfeld has announced that Leuchter “has to understand that in denying the Holocaust, he cannot remain unpunished.” (JTA dispatch, Detroit Jewish News, March 1, 1991.) In this spirit, Ms. Shapiro has boasted about the measures that she and her collaborators have taken to pressure public officials, prison wardens, state correction departments, politicians and journalists into blacklisting Leuchter.

In August 1990, for example, the Shapiro/Klarsfeld group succeeded in pressuring the Illinois Department of Corrections into canceling its $8,320 consulting contract with Leuchter to inspect and supervise administration of its lethal injection equipment. (p. 17) Complaints were also made to state prison officials in Alabama, North Carolina, California, Arizona and Maryland. In one state, a lawmaker said that to retain Leuchter as an execution consultant would conflict with the state’s requirement of mandatory “Holocaust studies” for every public school pupil. (For more on this campaign, see the IHR Newsletter, July-August 1991, p. 3.)

Sadly, this insidious campaign to “punish” Leuchter for his insolent refusal to toe the Holocaust line has been largely successful. As he explains in his essay elsewhere in this issue of the Journal, his livelihood has largely been destroyed.

Although it is actually little more than a mean-spirited, bigoted and error-ridden polemic, Truth Prevails is not ineffective as a work of Holocaust propaganda. It will undoubtedly continue to have an impact among the ignorant. All the same, its very existence is somewhat gratifying because it is a tangible expression of the growing impact of Holocaust revisionism.