Long-lost diary of Nazi Alfred Rosenberg turned over to Holocaust Museum


The diary kept by Alfred Rosenberg, a confidant of Adolf Hitler whose racist theories underpinned Nazi Germany's annihilation of 6 million Jews, had been missing since the Nuremberg war crimes trials ended in 1946. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)
December 17, 2013

Alfred Rosenberg joined the Nazis before Adolf Hitler did. He later served as the party’s interim leader. He wrote a virulent, best-selling book about the “Aryan” struggle against Jews.

He formed a Nazi task force, named for himself, that looted European art treasures by the train load. And in July 1941, Hitler put him in charge of territories falling to the German invasion of the Soviet Union.

“Rosenberg,” Hitler told him, according to Rosenberg’s diary, “your great hour has come.”

On Tuesday the Nazi theorist’s 425-page, handwritten diary, which vanished after the war, was transferred by federal authorities to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which had been searching for it for years.

The diary was seized in the spring by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from a scholar near Buffalo, who apparently obtained it from an aide to the deceased military prosecutor who took it home after the war.

A long-lost diary kept by a top aide to Adolf Hitler, and a key piece of evidence during the Nuremberg trials, was handed over to the U.S. Holocaust Museum. (Reuters)

Rosenberg was tried as a war criminal and hanged in 1946. He was 53.

Scholars had been eager to see what this longtime Nazi from Hitler’s inner circle had to say in the missing journal. But details of the Nazis’ grand plans for genocide and brutal domination are absent from the pages.

“Rosenberg obsessed a lot about the Jews — just not in his diary,” said Jurgen Matthaus, director of applied research at the museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies.

“He saw no reason to elaborate on fundamental Nazi goals, as he regarded them as self-evident,” Matthaus said at the museum transfer ceremony.

Rosenberg does occasionally raise the issue of Jews. On March 28, 1941, he referred to the opening conference of his brainchild, the Institute for Research into the Jewish Question.

“I regard the conference as a success,” Rosenberg wrote. “It is, after all, for the first time in European history, that ten European nations [were] represented at an anti-Jewish conference with a clear program to remove this race from Europe.

“And now this perception of a historic necessity is backed up by force.”

The area that came under Rosenberg’s control after the invasion of the Soviet Union “was the first to witness the systematic execution of Jewish men, followed within weeks by the murder of women and children,” Matthaus said.

“By the end of 1941, between 500,000 to 800,000 Jews behind the Eastern Front had been annihilated,” he said.

But little of this is mentioned in Rosenberg’s diary, which, for the period from 1941 to 1942, is “riddled with holes,” Matthaus said.

“If you are looking for shattering revelations about the Nazi era, you’re not going to find them,” he said.

“His diary often seems muted, if not silent, on crucial topics and important events, including the persecution of Jews,” Matthaus said.

“There’s a lot of surprising material,” he said, but “this is not the smoking gun. This is not the silver bullet. This is more a piece of a huge puzzle with many pieces that all need to be brought together.”

Penned in black ink, in neat handwriting, the diary covers various power struggles within the party. Matthaus said it’s more of a political diary than a personal one.

Indeed, in one early entry, Rosenberg writes that he has no talent for keeping a diary and plans to stick to summaries, and some entries seem like mere minutes of meetings.

“He’s not a thinker,” Matthaus said. “He’s an ideologue. . . . Pure Nazism, in his mind, is the plan Germany should follow into the future.”

There is little mention of his family, although near the end of the war he laments the destruction of his house in Berlin. He muses on damaged books he has retrieved from his shattered library, including one by the poet Ranier Maria Rilke.

Rosenberg was a native of what is today Estonia. His mother was Estonian, and his father was of German ancestry, according to the museum. Although his name seems Jewish, Matthaus said a Nazi investigation found that he was of Baltic-German and Estonian background.

He was a dapper-looking and influential man, but was elbowed aside later in World War II by tougher Nazi henchmen, such as Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Goebbels and Martin Bormann, Matthaus said.

“He gets kind of phased out,” Matthaus said. “You see his disillusionment, his frustration.” At one point, Rosenberg notes that he hasn’t been able to brief Hitler personally in eight months.

But he remained a convinced Nazi until his hanging on Oct. 16, 1946.

The diary, which covers the period from 1936 through 1944, has been digitized, and all 425 pages and a transcript in German are on the museum’s Web site. No English translation is available, the museum said.

The diary was taken by Allied forces in 1945 in preparation for the Nuremberg war crimes trials. It wound up in the hands of a German American war crimes prosecutor, Robert M.W. Kempner, who “contrary to law and proper procedure,” took it home with him after the war, the museum said.

Kempner lived in Lansdowne, Pa., outside Philadelphia, and died in 1993. After that, the authorities and the museum followed a long, convoluted legal trail that went from Kempner's home to that of the New York scholar who had the diary in the end.

Sara J. Bloomfield, director of the museum, said Tuesday: “This historical document, from another continent in another century, is now, we think, in its proper home.”

Charles Lane, Anne Midgette and Catherine Paganini contributed to this report.

Mike is a general assignment reporter who also covers Washington institutions and historical topics.
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