Rosenberg diaries may shed new light on history of Nazi Germany

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Rosenberg diaries may shed new light on history of Nazi Germany

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History’s account of the Third Reich and the extermination of millions of Jews in the Holocaust may have to undergo some late revisions upon the surfacing in America of 400 pages of the long-lost diaries of Alfred Rosenberg, a close confidant of Adolf Hitler and an architect of the Nazi genocide dubbed “The Final Solution.” After years of no luck, researchers finally tracked the papers down to a home near Buffalo in New York. They were formally unveiled by the US government in conjunction with the Washington-based US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Wilmington, Delaware, on Thursday.

“The documentation is of considerable importance for the study of the Nazi era, including the history of the Holocaust,” according to an assessment, prepared by the Holocaust Memorial Museum. “A cursory content analysis indicates that the material sheds new light on a number of important issues relating to the Third Reich’s policy. The diary will be an important source of information to historians that compliments, and in part contradicts, already known documentation.”

How the writings of Rosenberg, a Nazi Reich minister who was convicted at Nuremberg and hanged in 1946, might contradict what historians believe to be true is unclear. A US government official stressed that the museum’s analysis remains preliminary. But the diary does include details about tensions within the German high-command – in particular the crisis caused by the flight of Rudolf Hess to Britain in 1941 and the looting of art throughout Europe, according to the preliminary analysis.

The diary offers a loose collection of Rosenberg’s recollections from spring 1936 to winter 1944, according to the museum’s analysis. Most entries are written in Rosenberg’s looping cursive, some on paper torn from a ledger book and others on the back of official Nazi stationary, the analysis said. “The story of this diary demonstrates how much material remains to be collected and why rescuing this evidence is such an important museum priority,” said Sarah Bloomfield, director of the National Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Rosenberg was an early and powerful Nazi ideologue, particularly on racial issues. He directed the Nazi party’s foreign affairs department and edited the Nazi newspaper. Several of his memos to Hitler were cited as evidence during the post-war Nuremberg trials. He was also privy to much of the planning and conduct of World War II and the occupation of Soviet territory. Rosenberg also directed the systematic Nazi looting of Jewish art, cultural and religious property throughout Europe. The Nazi unit created to seize such artifacts was called Task Force Reichsleiter Rosenberg.

A Nuremberg prosecutor, Robert Kempner, was long suspected by US officials of smuggling the diary back to the United States. Born in Germany, Kempner had fled to America in the 1930s to escape the Nazis, only to return for post-war trials. He is credited with helping reveal the existence of the Wannsee Protocol, the 1942 conference during which Nazi officials met to coordinate the genocide against the Jews, which they termed “The Final Solution.”

Kempner cited a few Rosenberg diary excerpts in his memoir, and in 1956 a German historian published entries from 1939 and 1940. But the bulk of the diary never surfaced. When Kempner died in 1993 at age 93, legal disputes about his papers raged for nearly a decade between his children, his former secretary, a local debris removal contractor and the Holocaust museum. The children agreed to give their father’s papers to the Holocaust museum, but when officials arrived to retrieve them from his home in 1999, they discovered that many thousands of pages were missing.

After the 1999 incident, the FBI opened a criminal investigation into the missing documents. No charges were filed in the case. But the Holocaust museum has gone on to recover more than 150,000 documents, including a trove held by Kempner’s former secretary, who by then had moved into the New York state home of an academic named Herbert Richardson. The Rosenberg diaries, however, remained missing. They remained so until November 2012 when the US Attorney’s office in Delaware and Department of Homeland Security special agents got a tip from an art security specialist working with the Holocaust Museum. Early this year they tried to locate the missing diary pages. They tracked the diary to Richardson, who was living near Buffalo.

Photo Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-2005-0168 / Heinrich Hoffmann / CC-BY-SA