Review

Flawed Documentary of Execution Expert [Fred Leuchter]

  • Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (1999) Genre: Documentary film. Length: 1 hr. 31 min. MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (www.mrdeath.net). Starring: Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., David Irving, James Roth, Shelley Shapiro, Suzanne Tabasky, Robert-Jan Van Pelt, Ernst Zündel. Director: Errol Morris (www.errolmorris.com). Producers: Dorothy Aufiero, David Collins, Michael Williams. Released by: Lions Gate Films.

Reviewed by Greg Raven

"Mr. Death" is a stylized documentary that deals with the life and work of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., a US Federal Court qualified expert in execution technology. On the basis of his qualifications, in 1988 Leuchter was commissioned by German-Canadian publisher Ernst Zündel to conduct the first thorough forensic examination of the alleged Nazi gas chambers at Auschwitz and Birkenau in Poland. After Leuchter testified that the alleged facilities were not -- and could not have been -- used for mass extermination, Jewish activists ruined his life. (See Winter 1992 Journal, pp. 421-492)

Even though director Errol Morris is known for his portrayals of eccentrics ("Stairway to Heaven," "Fast, Cheap & Out of Control," "The Thin Blue Line," and "Gates of Heaven"), his choice of Leuchter as a subject may seem odd, considering that Morris is Jewish and claims to have lost relatives in the Holocaust, while Jewish groups have attempted to portray Leuchter as a dangerous anti-Semite.

Leuchter's Background

During the opening credits, Leuchter sits in what appears to be an oversized bird cage, which rises from the floor amidst arcing bolts of electricity. From this jarring beginning, "Mr. Death" settles down to allow its subject to retrace the path he took in becoming America's only execution hardware specialist. Leuchter recounts how he grew up around prisons, prison employees and convicts, the result of going to work with his father (a corrections officer for Massachusetts). It quickly becomes apparent that Morris has a gift for combining interviews and new footage (typically seen in documentaries) with contemporaneous images, recreations, and other clips, to make fluid montages that are striking in their impact.

As Leuchter explains, he became involved in the manufacture of execution equipment out of concern with the deplorable condition of the hardware found in most of the state's prisons, "which generally results in torture prior to death."

A number of years ago, I was asked by a state to look at their electric chair. I was surprised at the condition of the equipment and I indicated to them what changes should be made to bring the equipment up to the point of doing a humane execution.

His first job was refurbishing an electric chair for the state of Tennessee. This led to jobs for other state prisons in a sequence Leuchter acknowledges defies logic:

What lethal injection has to do with electrocution is beyond me.... Simply because I'm capable of building an electric chair, doesn't mean I'm capable of building a lethal injection machine; they're two totally different concepts.... Essentially the states talk with each other.... The reasoning here is that I built helmets for electric chairs, so now I could build lethal injection machines. I now build lethal injection machines, so I'm now competent to build a gallows. And since I'm building gallows, I'm also competent to work on gas chambers because I've done all of the other three. And what really makes you competent is the fact that you have the necessary background, you do the investigation, you find out what the problem is and you solve it.

Throughout the 30 or so minutes required to establish Leuchter's credentials and work history, interruptions are few and minor: most of the time, Morris trains his camera on Leuchter in close-up, letting Leuchter tell his story almost alone. This changes radically, however, in the segments that follow.

The Leuchter Report

In Toronto, Ernst Zündel was being tried under the little-used "false news" law for publishing Did Six Million Really Die?, a booklet by British author Richard Harwood that disputes Holocaust extermination stories, including claims of mass killings in Nazi gas chambers. French revisionist Robert Faurisson urged Zündel to have an acknowledged American gas chamber expert conduct a forensic examination of the alleged Nazi gas chambers, which at that time had never been done (See Robert Faurisson, "The Zündel Trials [1985 and 1988]," Winter 1988 Journal, pp. 417-431). In the film, Zündel explains, "You can't open up the telephone book and say gas, and then chamber, and then experts, and out come ten Fred Leuchters. No. There's nobody. Fred Leuchter was our only hope." Leuchter concurs:

I testified in Canada for two reasons: First, the trial was an issue of freedom of speech and freedom of belief. As an American, one who supports the Bill of Rights, I believe that Mr. Zündel has the right to believe and say what he chooses. I have this right in the United States.

Secondly, Mr. Zündel was not on trial for a misdemeanor. This was a major felony. He could have faced up to 25 [sic] years in prison for printing a document stating that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz. I believe that any man, no matter what he's done, has a right to a fair trial, and the best possible defense that he can muster.

I, unfortunately, was the only expert in the world who could provide that defense. There was no one else.

Morris artistically intercuts footage taken by Zündel's videographer of Leuchter's visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau, with his own recreations of Leuchter gathering samples at various sites alleged to have been Nazi gas chambers. Leuchter says, "I was taught that they had gas executions there."

I expected to see facilities that could have been used as gas chambers. I expected to see areas that were explosion-proof. I expected to see areas that were leak-proof. There have to be holes in walls or areas where they had exhaust fans and pipes. There has to be something to remove the gas after it has been put into the room. There has to be some kind of a device to heat the chalk pellets and sublimate the gas to get it to go into the air. These things didn't exist ... Whether or not these facilities were used for gas execution, that's not a mystery; I don't believe they were, because in my best engineering opinion I don't think they could've been. It's a tough job, to execute several hundred people at once. We have a hard job executing one man. I think it'd be easier to shoot them or hang them ... I did everything possible to substantiate and prove the existence of the gas chambers, and I was unable to.

Tests performed on Leuchter's samples by a prestigious US laboratory revealed there were almost no traces of cyanide compounds in the
concrete, bricks, and mortar of the alleged gas chambers.

Leuchter presented his engineering and chemical findings to the Toronto court in 1988, causing an immediate sensation. Zündel quickly published an abridged version of Leuchter's detailed forensic study as the Leuchter Report. Since then, it has been translated into dozens of languages, with hundreds of thousands of copies circulated world wide.

Best-selling British historian David Irving was so impressed by Leuchter's findings that he agreed to testify on Zündel's behalf. While Irving disparages Leuchter personally on film in a variety of ways, he does acknowledge:

He came back with these earth-shattering results. The big point: there is no significant residue of cyanide in the brickwork. That's what converted me. When I read that in the report in the courtroom in Toronto, I became a hard-core disbeliever.

The Attacks Begin

In an attempt to discredit Leuchter's competence and findings, Morris juxtaposes architect Robert-Jan van Pelt, and chemist James Roth. Van Pelt teaches cultural history and architecture at the University of Waterloo, Canada, has written a book about Auschwitz, and has submitted a lengthy expert opinion about the Holocaust and other matters on behalf of anti-revisionist author Deborah Lipstadt in Irving's lawsuit against her in London. (See Irving's opening statement to the court elsewhere in this issue.) Roth, formerly a professor of chemistry at Cornell University, was laboratory manager of Alpha Analytical Laboratories, where Leuchter had his samples assayed. Conspicuously absent are researchers who have independently verified Leuchter's findings, such as Germar Rudolf, formerly of the prestigious Max Planck Institute, and Walter Lüftl, a court-recognized expert engineer in Austria, head of a large engineering firm, and formerly president of the Austrian Engineer's Chamber. (See "The Lüftl Report," Winter 1992 Journal, pp. 391-420.)

Morris gratuitously includes Jewish activists Shelly Shapiro, director of the Holocaust Survivors and Friends Education Center, and Adjunct Professor at the University of Albany School of Education, and Suzanne Tabasky, founding member of the Malden Holocaust Commission. Neither has any competence in the field of execution technology, forensic science, or chemistry; they appear only to disparage Leuchter's character.

Robert-Jan van Pelt leads off the barrage by dismissing Leuchter as a "fool" who is "no Sherlock Holmes," a taste of what's to come from others. Van Pelt claims to have painstakingly retraced Leuchter's steps in collecting samples at Auschwitz and Birkenau, and belittles Leuchter for not visiting the Auschwitz Museum archives, where van Pelt claims there exists a "concentration of evidence" for gassings. Morris shows van Pelt handling blueprints in the archives, but their contents are never revealed to the viewer.

Perhaps more damaging are the remarks of James Roth. Although he has never been to Auschwitz or Birkenau, he is portrayed as someone with an expertise greater than Leuchter's. At the 1988 trial of Zündel, Roth's testimony explicitly supported Leuchter's methodology in collecting samples. However, in "Mr. Death," Roth states:

I don't think the Leuchter results have any meaning.... Hindsight being 20/20, the test was not the correct one to have been used for the analysis. He presented us with rock samples anywhere from the size of your thumb up to half the size of your fist.... You have to look at what happens to cyanide when it reacts with a wall. Where does it go? How far does it go? Cyanide is a surface reaction, it's probably not going to penetrate more than 10 microns. A human hair is 100 microns in diameter. Crush this sample up. I have just diluted that sample ten thousand, a hundred thousand times. If you are gonna go look for it you are going to look on the surface only. There's no reason to go deep because it is not going to be there.

Which was the exposed surface? I didn't have any idea. That's like analyzing paint on a wall, by analyzing the timber that's behind it. If they go in with blinkers on, they will see what they want to see. What was he really trying to do? What was he trying to prove?

The viewer is left to decide whether Leuchter was the best person to conduct a forensic examination of the alleged gas chambers, or whether he has been miscast all his adult life by people assuming he had skills in one area based on past performance in another area.

Morris intersperses Shapiro's and Tabasky's denigrating commentary among what should properly be a scientific discussion. At one point, for example, Shapiro appears on screen and abruptly declares, "The man is an anti-Semite. There are hate-mongers in this country, and he's one of them." Nothing in Leuchter's manner, tone, or utterances lends any credence to that charge. To leave no doubt as to who "they" are, Morris shows Leuchter addressing the Ninth IHR Conference in 1989, and a meeting in Germany. (Videos of all of Leuchter's IHR conference presentations are available from the IHR.) Morris fails to inform the viewer that Leuchter subsequently was arrested and for months kept in "investigative detention" in Germany because of his findings, or that Leuchter was arrested in Britain and subsequently expelled for the same reason, or that the man shown standing next to Leuchter at the meeting in Germany, Günter Deckert, himself was sentenced to one year imprisonment and had to pay a fine merely for translating Leuchter's remarks. (See "Political Leader Punished," July-August 1993 Journal, p. 26.)

Not until some time later does Morris give Leuchter the chance to say:

Of course I'm not an anti-Semite. I have a lot of friends that are Jewish. I've lost Jewish friends, too, because of what's happened. I bear no ill will to any Jews any place, whether they're in the United States or abroad. I bear a great deal of ill will to those people that have come after me, those people who have persecuted and prosecuted me, but that's got nothing to do with them being Jewish. That only has to do with the fact that they've been interfering with my right to live, think, breathe, and earn a living.... They've expressed their unquestioned intent of destroying me simply because I testified in Canada, not because I have any other affiliation with any anti-Semitic organization, not because I'm affiliated with any Nazi or neo-Nazi organization.

Jewish activists embarked on a relentless campaign of defamation against Leuchter, going so far as to lodge a complaint with the state of Massachusetts that he was practicing engineering without a license. Wardens around the United States received a letter, warning them not to do business with Leuchter. He lost his livelihood, his wife, his car (twice), and eventually had to work anonymously in another state in menial jobs just to feed himself.

Toward the end of the film, Morris asks Leuchter, "Have you ever thought that you might be wrong, or do you think that you could make a mistake?" Leuchter replies:

No, I'm past that. When I attempted to turn those facilities into gas execution facilities and was unable to, I made a decision at that point that I wasn't wrong. And perhaps that's why I did it. At least it cleared my mind, so I know that I left no stone unturned. I did everything possible to substantiate and prove the existence of the gas chambers, and I was unable to.

Morris seems unconcerned that Jewish activists have ruined Leuchter's life and career for alleged thought crimes, and that by slanting his film to alter the viewer's perception of Leuchter, he is participating in the ongoing attempts to destroy Leuchter.

Shabby Treatment

Leuchter comes across just as straightforward and guileless on film as he is in real life. As a result, some viewers of earlier versions at the Sundance Festival, the Toronto Film Festival and Harvard University began to question the Holocaust extermination stories they'd been told, while others suspected that Morris himself might have been converted to Holocaust revisionism. At the eleventh hour, Morris re-edited the film in an effort to emphasize his anti-revisionist point of view. Character assassination aside, the question remains as to whether or not Leuchter's findings regarding the alleged Nazi gas chambers at Auschwitz and Birkenau are correct.

Van Pelt

Perhaps in response to Holocaust revisionists, some anti-revisionists today are attempting to minimize the role of gas chambers in the Holocaust. Van Pelt is not among them. He tells the viewer:

Crematorium II is the most lethal building of Auschwitz. In the 2500 square feet of this one room, more people lost their lives than any other place on this planet. 500,000 people were killed.

In this short statement, van Pelt makes two errors. First, crematory building (Krema) II is not at Auschwitz, but rather at Birkenau. Second, Krema II is not comprised of one room of 2500 square feet, but rather of many rooms. The "one room" to which van Pelt refers is in one of the two large underground areas attached to the crematory building, which are designated on every known contemporaneous drawing and blueprint as a morgue [Leichenkeller], which may explain why Morris and van Pelt did not show them on screen.

If we assume that 2500 persons were packed into this space (that is, one person per square foot, which is extremely tight), there would have been 200 mass gassings in the 623 days Krema II was in operation (March 15, 1943, through November 27, 1944), or a minimum of roughly one mass gassing every three days in this one building alone. (Looser packing of victims would require even more frequent gassings.) In support of his belief in this fantastic level of homicidal activity, van Pelt offers four pieces of evidence: a letter requesting "gas detectors" for the crematory building, a letter referring to heating and ventilation in the alleged gas chambers, a letter referring to an order for a gas-tight door with a peep hole, and a letter in which the word Vergasungskeller (carburetion cellar) is underlined in red pencil. Although he mentions them elsewhere in the film as being readily available, van Pelt does not show any devices for introducing Zyklon-B into the alleged gas chambers. He also goes on record to say, "Every year, remains of human beings are found. Bones, teeth. The earth doesn't rest." He does not, however, produce any for the film, nor inform the viewer where these remains are located.

Van Pelt's first document, and thus presumably the strongest evidence in support of his claim that there were hundreds of thousands of gassing victims, is a telegram dated February 26, 1943, to the Topf company in Erfurt from SS Untersturmführer (second lieutenant) Pollok, "Send immediately ten gas detectors [Gasprüfer]. Invoice us later."

Van Pelt assumes that any mention of gas detectors implies the existence of a gas chamber in which they would be used. However, even one of van Pelt's collaborators, French anti-revisionist Jean-Claude Pressac, allowed that there might be a non-sinister use for these gas detectors. Without showing what type of gas detectors these were, and how and where they were used, this document is useless. (See Arthur R. Butz. "Gas Detectors in Auschwitz Crematory II," Sept.-Oct. 1997 Journal, pp. 24-30.)

Van Pelt's second document is a letter dated March 6, 1943, from camp architect SS Hauptsturmführer (captain) Karl Bischoff, who van Pelt believes was the person responsible for deciding to convert the morgue in Birkenau crematory building II into a homicidal gas chamber. Regarding Kremas II and III, Bischoff writes:

In accordance with your suggestion, Cellar I should be preheated. At the same time we would ask you to send an additional quotation for the modification of the air extraction installation in the undressing room.

Van Pelt's thinking is no doubt along the lines of Pressac, who believes that there is no need for a heater in a morgue, and that the ventilation system mentioned would be able to clear away residual gasses after a mass execution. However, heating a morgue would be highly desirable to prevent freezing during the winter, and the modified ventilation system alluded to has no more than the capacity normally specified for morgues in Germany at that time, and van Pelt fails to tell the viewer that it was never installed. The mention of a preheater and ventilation system prove the existence of a homicidal gas chamber only if one first assumes the existence of such a gas chamber. (See Carlo Mattogno, "The Crematories of Auschwitz: A Critique of Jean-Claude Pressac," Nov.-Dec. 1994 Journal, pp. 34-42.)

Van Pelt's third piece of evidence against Leuchter is a letter dated March 31, 1943, also from Bischoff, that states in part:

Three gas tight doors have been completed. We remind you of an additional order for the gas door from Krematorium III. This must be made with a spy-hole, with double 8 millimeter glass. This order is particularly urgent.

Morris illustrates this point by zooming in on the peep hole on the outside of a metal gas-tight door. Remarkably, however, the zoom "continues" through the peephole using special effects, and the viewer finds himself inside the alleged gas chamber at the Auschwitz main camp, not Krema III at Birkenau. Not only has it now been authoritatively acknowledged (even by van Pelt) that the alleged gas chamber at the Auschwitz main camp is not in its original state, contrary to claims made for many years, but additionally none of the alleged gas chambers at Auschwitz or Birkenau has such a door. Therefore, in order to prove van Pelt's point, Morris (who traveled to Auschwitz and Birkenau during the making of this film) invents a gas chamber with a gas-tight door. Because Van Pelt neglects to tell us anything about this door, it may well have been for a delousing chamber, like the air-tight door on display at the US Holocaust Museum, or for an air raid shelter, as has been proposed by Samuel Crowell. (See "Wartime Germany's Anti-Gas Air Raid Shelters: A Refutation of Pressac's 'Criminal Traces'," July-August 1999 Journal, pp. 7-30.)

Van Pelt's penultimate piece of evidence to refute Leuchter is a single underlined word, used once in one German wartime document. Van Pelt interprets it as a reference to mass gassings of Jews:

There was a code. The Germans had a coded language. You never talk about extermination, you always talk about "special action," or "special treatment." There was a very clear policy; words like gas chamber would not be used. The letter of Bischoff of the 29th of January [1943], is a kind of exception in this, because it is a letter which is written by a person who manages the whole operation, and who himself had established a policy that you would never use the word "gas chamber." Somebody in the architecture office underlined the word Vergasungskeller, literally "gassing basement," and put on top a note: "SS Untersturmführer [second lieutenant] Kirschneck" exclamation mark. Which means, Kirschneck should be informed about this slip. And it doesn't occur after that. The Nazis were the first Holocaust deniers. Because they denied to themselves that it's happening.

It is worth noting that van Pelt has pulled this one word out of a document without quoting the document in full. This is unfortunate because the two sentences to which he refers tell us a great deal. These sentences read:

The formwork for the reinforced concrete ceiling of the mortuary cellar [Leichenkeller] could not yet be removed on account of the frost. This is, however, unimportant, as the Vergasungskeller [gassing cellar] can be used for this purpose ...

Here is confirmation that preheating might well be needed in an underground morgue in an area of bitterly cold winters. As for the word itself, even if Vergasungskeller could be interpreted to mean "gassing basement" (the German word for gas chamber is gaskammer), this definition raises more questions than it answers. There are no other documents, including blueprints, that make reference to a Vergasungskeller, which means that 1) no one knows for certain what is meant by this term, and 2) no one knows where it was located. Van Pelt concludes that this term refers to an unspecified room somewhere in the crematory building explicitly designated for mass executions, rather than asking if perhaps this "slip" by the very person who supposedly forbade the use of this word simply is nothing more than the use of the wrong terminology in referring to some other location, which would also explain why the term was never used again, and why the "gassing basement" does not appear on the drawings for the crematory building. (See Arthur R. Butz, "The Nagging 'Gassing Cellar' Problem," July-August 1997 Journal, pp. 20-23.) One wonders if van Pelt believes that more than a million persons were gassed to death at Auschwitz and Birkenau on the basis of these paltry items.

Van Pelt offers nothing even approaching a scientific test, let alone a thorough forensic investigation of the weapon of the crime -- the Nazi gas chamber -- despite having better resources and complete access to premises believed by van Pelt to have been the site of at least 200 mass homicidal gassings. According to the credits at the end of the film, there were more than two dozen other persons in the Morris entourage who could have helped van Pelt take samples and measurements. (Morris has stated elsewhere that he took a crew of 50 to Poland.) Van Pelt claims to have spared no expense in retracing Leuchter's steps, and was intimately familiar with the methodology used. Throughout the section on Auschwitz, there are numerous cinematic recreations of samples being chipped away with a hammer and chisel.

Yet, with all of these resources, with all the access, with all the time, with all the personnel, with all the knowledge about Leuchter's supposed errors, van Pelt (and Morris) failed to collect samples of their own for James Roth to test (putting his newly-acquired 20/20 hindsight to good use). Instead, van Pelt attacks Leuchter as an ignoramus and a sacrilegious fool for desecrating what van Pelt calls the "holy of holies": Auschwitz. This is not a scientist or dispassionate researcher talking, this is a True Believer wrestling with a heretic.

Van Pelt gets so carried away with his polemics against Leuchter that he makes an astonishing statement:

Leuchter has said a number of times that the place was untouched. I mean, you just open your eyes, you realize that this is utter nonsense.... Where are all the bricks of the crematoria?... I think I know where they are. The real places to sample are the farmhouses to the west of the crematoria, the farmhouses where people are living, children are playing, dogs are barking.

While van Pelt is saying this, the camera shows him walking along a low brick wall amid the ruins of a crematory building at Birkenau, and then cuts to brick homes apparently nearby. Many of the crematory building bricks may have been taken elsewhere, and Germar Rudolf established that the foundation walls now visible at the former locations of crematory buildings IV and V were built after the war. Even so, there still remain concrete, bricks and mortar at the alleged gas chamber room of crematory building II, much of which has been protected from the elements by the collapsed roof. As for the bricks from the other crematory buildings, Van Pelt suggests he might know where they are, criticizing Leuchter in passing for not testing them (thus implicitly acknowledging that Leuchter's fundamental approach was correct), and still he doesn't call for a chemical test of the building materials used in the alleged gas chambers.

Roth

Several reviewers of "Mr. Death" have written that James Roth single-handedly demolishes Leuchter's findings. This is based on the fact that the chemical analysis portion of the Leuchter Report was done by Roth's company, and on the mistaken assumption that the Report deals only (or primarily) with chemical testing for cyanide residues in the alleged gas chambers. Clearly, none of these reviewers has compared Roth's critical remarks in "Mr. Death" against statements he made under oath in 1988 in Toronto. For example, in the film Roth states:

You have to look at what happens to cyanide when it reacts with a wall. Where does it go? How far does it go? Cyanide is a surface reaction, it's probably not going to penetrate more than 10 microns. A human hair is 100 microns in diameter.

On the stand in Toronto, however, Roth was shown a color photograph of the blue staining on the wall of hydrogen cyanide (HCN) Delousing Facility No. 1 at Birkenau, from which Leuchter had taken his "control" sample. He indicated that the color was what is commonly referred to as "Prussian blue" (also known as ferric ferro cyanide), formed by the interaction of hydrogen cyanide with iron molecules found in the bricks. The reaction is most efficient in warm, moist environments, resulting in a very stable compound. Roth testified that Prussian blue could penetrate any porous surface, with the depth of penetration dependent on factors such as the porosity of material and available moisture.

Does crushing the samples dilute them to the point of meaninglessness? In Toronto, Roth told the court, "In other words, we're looking at an analysis of a large sample in which we took a sub sample."

In the film, Roth does not tell us how he determined that the standard operating procedure he cited in his testimony before the Court in 1988 was so flawed that it can cause a disastrous level of dilution in samples.

But only in some samples. On the witness stand in Toronto, Roth stated that all the samples he had tested for iron content contained essentially the same levels, and that the reactivity of the iron in each sample to HCN was similar. The control sample from the delousing chamber tested in excess of 1000 milligrams of cyanide per kilogram of sample. The next two highest samples, from alleged homicidal gas chambers, tested at 6.7 milligrams and 7.9 milligrams of cyanide per kilogram of sample, that is, less than one percent of the control sample. Roth testified that if each "gas chamber" sample had been subjected repeatedly to HCN, Prussian blue should have formed.

Roth now would have us believe that dilution from crushing the samples somehow occurred only in the 30 brick, mortar, and concrete samples taken from the alleged gassing facilities, while the one sample that was not diluted was the control sample from the delousing facility. Clearly, the odds against this happening by chance are astronomical.

It is also worth pointing out that paint on the wall typically does not penetrate to the timbers behind the wall, and that Roth knows (or should know, from photos of the delousing chamber at Birkenau) that the blue staining can in some instances penetrate completely through walls constructed of the type of brick used at Birkenau. Even in cases where blue staining is not visible, Roth testified in Toronto, "Chemically, you can see a lot more than what you visually see." Perhaps in the film Roth is actually referring to the crushing power of the Jewish lobby, an object lesson which has for him turned Leuchter's samples meaningless.

Not True to his Art

Reviewers of "Mr. Death" have picked up on Morris' description that the film is a look at human hubris. This is accurate as far as it goes, but the hubris is not Leuchter's, but Morris'.

Like so many before him, Morris is a victim of the hubris of believing that he had not been lied to about the Holocaust, and that he knows the facts better than Leuchter, or any other skeptic. In front of the camera, however, far from coming off as some kind of nut, Fred Leuchter ably enunciated the revisionist position simply and persuasively in a way that Morris' editing could not mitigate. Initially unaware of what had taken on, Morris was caught off-guard by the logic, common sense, and verifiability of Leuchter's findings, and created a film that was too dangerous to release. Rather than admit to being flummoxed, however, he attempted to salvage his pride and protect the extermination myth at Leuchter's expense. The resulting film is neither as powerful nor as thought-provoking as it started out to be. "Mr. Death" will not change many minds, let alone provide the spark that at long last ignites a dispassionate look at Holocaust extermination claims.

Still, it is a step forward for historical awareness that forensic testing of the alleged gas chambers at Auschwitz is the subject of a feature-length film, dozens of articles and film reviews. As if that is not enough, anyone with the price of a movie ticket can see and hear the quiet, unassuming man who helped cause a revolution in Holocaust historiography: Fred Leuchter.


From The Journal of Historical Review, September/December 1999 (Vol. 18, No. 5/6), page 62.