BOSTON, JUNE 17 -- Fred A. Leuchter Jr., a self-styled expert in the machinery of death who parlayed his reputation as a builder of killing equipment into a second career as a proponent of "Holocaust revisionism," has admitted that he is not an engineer.
Made in a consent decree filed with a Massachusetts court last week, his admission should deal a blow to the movement holding that the Nazi extermination of 6 million Jews and others during World War II was a hoax or an exaggeration, according to experts in the field.
Leuchter, 48, of suburban Malden, was to face trial later this month on charges of practicing engineering without a license, a violation of Massachusetts law. But on June 11, he signed a consent agreement with the board that licenses engineers.
In it, Leuchter acknowledged that, "I am not and have never been registered as a professional engineer" and that he nevertheless had represented himself as an engineer in dealings with various states that use the death penalty and to which he supplied equipment or advice.
The agreement also requires Leuchter to stop disseminating reports in which he purports to be an engineer, most significantly a document known as the "Leuchter Report."
That report, widely circulated by revisionists, asserts that gas chambers at Nazi concentration camps in Auschwitz, Birkenau and Majdanek could not have been used for mass killings because they were not big enough nor well ventilated or sealed. The assertion is based largely on chemical analysis of materials scraped surreptitiously from walls of those chambers by Leuchter during a visit to Poland in February 1988.
Sally Greenberg, an attorney with the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith in Boston, which was instrumental in bringing Leuchter to the attention of Massachusetts authorities, welcomed the settlement.
"It's a blow to Holocaust revisionism because he has been the guru of the revisionists," she said. "Now, he has as much as admitted that he is not qualified as an engineer to comment on the 'myth' of the Holocaust. It's essentially an admission that he's the charlatan and phony that we always knew he was."
Leuchter, a slight, bespectacled man whose father was a prison guard, has made a specialty of devising, selling and installing equipment for carrying out executions, including an injection device. As a result, he has been the subject of many profiles in the national news media, none of which delved into his involvement with groups that deny the Holocaust.
After signing the consent agreement, Leuchter issued a one-page statement. "There is no finding nor has there been any admission of guilt on the part of Leuchter," it said, adding that he plans to prepare immediately to seek an engineering license.
"Mr. Leuchter and his defense counsel will not make any further statements regarding the legal resolution of the case," it said. Leuchter did not return telephone calls. Nor did his attorney, Kirk Lyons of Houston, whose practice includes defending white supremacists and Ku Klux Klan members.
David Wyman, a historian who wrote a 1984 study of American reaction to the Holocaust, said stripping Leuchter's "engineering" credentials could be important because the scientific aura surrounding his report could have lent credibility to the revisionist movement, which he called a mask for antisemitism.
"American society has advanced to the point that we don't accept bigotry openly," said Wyman, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. "That means antisemites have had to retreat, to dress it up in a more palatable fashion, pretend it's scholarship."
Michael Bernbaum, project director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, said discrediting Leuchter's expertise was important, but that to a "fringe group" of virulent antisemites it would make no difference whether Leuchter had an engineering license.
"The revisionists are the equivalent of a flat-Earth society," he said. "The Holocaust is one of the most thoroughly documented events in history. The perpetrators have never denied it."
Deborah Lipstadt, a Los Angeles author who is writing a book on the Holocaust revision movement in the United States, said Leuchter was being cited increasingly in revisionist circles as a scientific authority whose report "proved" that Nazi death camps never operated as survivors have said.
"The fact that he claimed to be an engineer was central to the whole issue," Lipstadt said. "He's not just your local kook. He was their scientific cover. In that sense, he is a substantial figure."
The revisionist movement is a loose grouping of people who question the Holocaust for a variety of reasons, from admiration for Nazis to antisemitism and opposition to Israel. An influential hub of revisionist thinking is the Institute for Historical Review in Torrance, Calif., which has publicized Leuchter's work.