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Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred Leuchter Jr

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Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred Leuchter Jr.” is a brilliant portrayal which documents the absurdness of pseudo-science in “The Leuchter Report" (Holocaust Encyclopedia).  “That lingering sense of horror, of the enormity of Leuchter's error and the enormity of his inability to grasp the damage he's done, is what powers Mr. Death” (Philosophical Films). It would have been easy to make a straightforward documentary exposing Leuchter as a fraud, but Morris' film shift through competing versions of the truth, searching for clues to what makes people do what they do: Standard documentaries set out to establish facts.

Though one can witness how Leuchter spends time in the film defending his position; Morris correctly provides us with proof that his findings were wrong. Moreover, Morris has included an interview with the lab technician who analyzed Leuchter's samples (Roth). And without this proof, Mr. Death could easily have become a neo-Nazi propaganda film. Morris. In his work, challenges the very presumptions of the documentary in the film “Mr. Death” by incorporating multiple points of view and giving his works a “stylistic polish usually reserved for mainstream fiction films” (Philosophical Films). Though his ideas face series of multiple criticisms such as from Weber, who argues that; “Leuchter's motives in conducting his forensic investigation of the alleged wartime gas chambers in Poland were entirely professional.”

To proof him wrong, Morris’ film has largely shed more light on the controversial issue of Leuchter’s competence and credibility in his research. This argument, ‘Morris Shines a Light on Fred Leuchter,’ perhaps, may contain within itself a “… genuine core of insight and inspiration. Though Leuchter’s reputation led him to work on lethal injection machines, gas chambers, and job building a better gallows” (Mike Stone),  it is metaphorical to “hear him say that he had no expertise in any of these fields. It merely is the perception that he had expertise, which was more than enough to get him work.  The same perception also led him to Ernst Zündel” (William Halvorsen).

Besides, Robert-Jan Van Pelt further shows how “Leuchter is a victim of the myth of ‘Sherlock Holmes.’ A crime has been committed. You go to the site of the crime and with a magnifying glass you find a hair, or you find a speck of dust on the shoe. Leuchter thinks that’s the way reality can be reconstructed. But he is no Sherlock Holmes.” Leuchter, even at the end of the film, still believes that he is a kind of hero. Simply because he worked and improved on the execution chambers, it does not qualify him to work in Forensic Science, a subject completely new to him, “this kind of delusion is terrifying” (Robert Edison).

Another view from the film shows Leuchter working at Auschwitz-Birkenau. One sees, him taking samples from the walls of Krema I, and if you happen to pay close attention, you can conclude that a potentially valid criticism enlisted by chemist James Roth later in the film is thereby somewhat mitigated.  Questioning Weber’s misguiding claim that “Leuchter's qualifications as a technical expert and inventor, which he acquired in Boston University, are actually quite impressive.” This is exemplified by wrong procedure which Fred uses to collect his samples: that is, broadly over the surface, rather than by the depth of the surface.

To insure a fitting counterbalance to Fred Leuchter’s engineering approach, he introduces Mr. van Pelt who presumes that Fred Leuchter did not refer to any building plans or engineering plans before or during his visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. In an interview he says, “If he (Fred) had done so, he would have seen evidence for the gas ventilation equipment.” A claim that contradicts Weber’s argument that “Based on his own careful on-site examination of the alleged extermination gas chambers at Auschwitz, Birkenau and Majdanek, and on his years of experience as a chemist, Lindsey declared under oath: "I have come to the conclusion that no one was willfully or purposefully killed hydrogen cyanide gas in this manner” (Robert Edison).

Leuchter might as well have easily responded to van Pelt’s erroneous statements about lack of reference to building plans and gas ventilators. By challenging van Pelt on whether Krema I’s door reveals evidence of being designed to prevent gas leakage. But in consideration, there seems to be an unanticipated bomb-blast in terms of statements by James Roth. First, he specifies that on receiving the samples, he had no idea where Fred got them from. All he was told was that the test results were to be used in a court action trial. Secondly, ignorant of the basis of the tests, they were not conducted as effectively as they might. Thirdly, the samples were of various shapes and sizes and Roth had no idea which surfaces represented the exposed surfaces. Anything other than this would not be worth testing and indeed, misleading (Roger Ebert).

Leuchter faces prosecution from the State of Massachusetts for practicing engineering without a license, “dug” his own grave. Van Pelt weighs in one last time by stating Leuchter is a study in vanity that his main purpose was to be noticed. Irving says that Leuchter “had no idea what he was blundering into;” that “he came from nowhere and went back to nowhere.”

If the foregoing seems stilted and damning, Fred is given three points in the final sequence which recoup his image somewhat: first, he is allowed to state he is not an “anti-Semite” and bears no ill-will towards Jews in general but only those who expressed an intent to destroy him; second, Fred tells the camera he did everything he could to substantiate the existence of the gas chambers and yet was simply unable; lastly, Fred tells us a rather odd but humane tale about children allowed to visit the prison where his father worked and sit in the electric chair, there being a positive outcome which Fred applies to his own situation in the aftermath of his ordeal. Indeed, metaphorically at least, Fred was placed in the “hot seat” and given the jolt of his life and yet survived though his life was thereafter ruined. And that’s enough to teach any attention seeker.

Morris, in one of his many interviews on reviews of the film, further spells out more clarity on how challenging it is to interpret Leuchter’s research work, as he calls it “pernicious and false” he stated the following: "I have read a number of reviewers who have taken me to task for not declaring whether I believe Leuchter is a good person or evil person, […]. I beg to differ. The movie is absolutely clear that his ideas are pernicious and false. That is not up for discussion. What is up for discussion is that I wish to put the viewer in the same position for what I find myself in. It’s not to give you on a platter a received view but to force you into the mystery of what is in fact very disturbing and peculiar behavior” As one reviewer in the philosophical films talks about Morris comments on Leuchter’s poor oratory skills, “For quite a number of years in my film work, I searched for an idealess narrator, that who absolutely lack any perspective about himself, whatsoever. You've all heard about the examined life. Leuchter is an example of a life which has not been examined at all. That's right, the totally unexamined life.” Basically, his argument may contain some element of thought which over rides the Holocaust denial which has become one of the most important vehicles for contemporary anti-Semitism.

“Any examination on the walls of the gas chambers creates criticism that “it would have been virtually impossible to discover any cyanide at all using his method. Since tests conducted on ventilation grates immediately after the end of the war showed substantial amounts of cyanide” (Wikipedia). Therefore the irony rests on the credibility of Leuchter’s research because the chambers are thought to have been brought down by the Einsatzgruppe on abandoning Auschwitz. Furthermore, the facilities Leuchter examined were partially reconstructed and by scrapping the chambers he was ignorantly scraping “actually part of the original gas chamber.”

However, despite the above argument, modern historical studies and review of the film further contradict the issue of any form of Holocaust existence. Their posed argument rests on three points of view; one, that Germany never victimized to mass murder any Jews: that the Jews were killed by both the Nazis and their allies and that no gassing was ever used to kill Jews. The three forms of argument have today contributed much to the denial of the Holocaust existence, not only to Fred and Zündel, but also to a number of “sympathizers on various websites watering down the Jewish claims and “Mr. Death.”

At the close of the film we hear Morris ask Leuchter: “Have you ever thought that you might be wrong, or do you think that could make a mistake?” Leuchter responds, “… 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... I did everything possible to substantiate and prove the existence of the gas chambers and I was unable to.” Not surprising, Fred may have ran the wrong type of tests as a result he has been convinced ever that the Holocaust is a lie because he is completely satisfied with his means of collecting data, and takes comfort that his little experiment is all but infallible in his mind” (Cardinal Sinner).

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