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London, April 12, 2000  


Key argument over gas chambers was based on discredited report

By Neil Tweedie

IT was Prof Lipstadt's claims about Irving's methods as a historian that formed the core of the defence case.

She claimed that he had falsified and manipulated the historical record for ideological purposes. Her lawyers advanced 19 instances in which Irving had distorted evidence to place Hitler in a more favourable light or to disprove the existence of the Holocaust.

Irving, said Lipstadt and Penguin, was also guilty of distortion by omission. In the case of Auschwitz, he failed to mention doubts surrounding the evidence he used to disprove the existence of gas chambers.

The bedrock of his claim that the gas chambers at Auschwitz did not exist and, by extension, that there were not any gas chambers at any camp, was the report by Fred Leuchter, a self-taught expert in execution techniques recruited in 1988 by lawyers acting for Ernst Zundel, a German national living in Canada who was being prosecuted for denying the Holocaust in his pamphlet Did Six Million Really Die?

Leuchter spent three days at Auschwitz-Birkenau and half a day at Majdanek, concluding that the buildings at Auschwitz described as gas chambers were no such thing. He said there was no provision for gas-tight doors, and the chambers were not properly sealed to prevent leakage. People depositing Zyklon B pellets into vents would themselves fall victim to cyanide poisoning. He said there were no vents to introduce the gas into the chambers or to clear it once the gassing was completed.

Irving seized upon Leuchter's report as "shattering in the significance of its discovery". But it was comprehensively demolished by the defence witness Robert van Pelt, Professor of Architecture[*] at Waterloo University in Canada. Van Pelt pointed out that Leuchter was neither a trained engineer nor forensic scientist. His evidence had been ruled inadmissible in the Zundel trial.

Leuchter's claim that there were no gas-tight doors was worthless given the evidence of SS officers who testified to their use. There was also documentary evidence of orders for gasketed doors and ventilation equipment, and Leuchter ignored testimony showing that gas masks were worn by guards administering Zyklon B.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Gray concluded: "No objective fair-minded historian would have serious cause to doubt that there were gas chambers at Auschwitz."

* Website comment: Prof Van Pelt admitted under Mr Irving's cross-examination (Day 9, pages 39 et seq.) that he had never qualified or registered as an architect, and that if he described himself as an architect in England or his native Holland he would be arrested. The defence lawyers paid him £109,000 for his testimony.

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