| || Nazis' 1935 Restrictions Come to Light in L.A. |
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 26, 1999; Page A1 Marriage between Jews and citizens of German or German-related blood are forbidden. Marriages which have been performed in spite of this law, even if they have been performed in a foreign country are void. Whoever acts against paragraph one will be punished with forced labor.
– Nuremberg Laws, paragraph one,
Sept. 15, 1935
For 54 years, a document of immense historical moment has been buried unknown and unseen in the inner vault of a small American museum.
Not even Holocaust scholars knew that the Nuremberg Laws the original Nazi code of racial discrimination against Jews that was drafted over a weekend in 1935, signed by Adolf Hitler and sealed with bright red swastikas have been hidden at the Huntington Library in Pasadena, Calif., since 1945, a gift from Gen. George S. Patton to a friend and neighbor.
Now a friendship between two scholars from two different worlds will result, finally, in the document's public display. Starting next week, the laws that helped set in motion the horrific machinery of the Holocaust will go on view at a Jewish cultural center in Los Angeles, along with a lavish edition of Hitler's political treatise, "Mein Kampf," that also belonged to Patton.
The announcement of the Huntington's permanent loan to the Skirball Cultural Center officially scheduled for Monday concludes a tale that reveals much about American cultural segregation and the rewards of unexpected friendship. For it is those human factors that lie at the heart of why the Huntington never exhibited or even publicly revealed the existence of these documents.
"When Patton presented the 'Mein Kampf,' he didn't have a problem with that being known. But when he brought the laws, he said something like, 'Here, put these in the vault,' " said David Zeidberg, director of the Huntington Library. The museum, on the grounds of what was once the 150-acre estate of railroad magnate Henry Huntington, houses his collection of British and American art and antiques, as well as a research library. "There is some statement from a trustee in the early '50s saying, 'We were told not to say anything.' "
There were no formal restrictions on showing the documents, but the Huntington did not know what to do with them. "When Patton made this presentation, not only was there no Skirball, there was no Holocaust Museum, no Yad Vashem [the Israeli Holocaust museum], there was no Israel," continued Zeidberg. "We could have made a special case for them, put them someplace that said, 'Oh, look at this.' But it would have been so totally out of context with Lord Ellesmere's Chaucer," a complete manuscript of "The Canterbury Tales." "That's the sort of thing the Huntington exhibits," he said. "We do not do German 20th-century history."
But the reasons the documents languished here involve more than just the nature of the Huntington's collection.
In April 1945 Patton was leading the Third U.S. Army through Europe, liberating Nazi-held territory. Troops from the 203rd CIC detachment in the III Corps went fighting their way through Eichstaett, near Nuremberg, in northern Bavaria. "They came to a stairway which they went down with grenades, in case there were Germans," wrote Patton in June 1945 to the museum. "There were no Germans. They found a vault, not open, and persuaded a German to open it for them. In it they found this thing. That was all that was in the vault."
The soldiers presented the Nuremberg documents to Patton as a gift, and on a trip home to Pasadena shortly thereafter, he donated them to the Huntington. The Huntington family had been next-door neighbors and close friends of the Pattons in stately, upper-class Pasadena. Patton had given the rare "Mein Kampf" captured near Weimar a massive, ceremonial edition weighing 35 pounds and measuring 21 inches by 16 inches to the museum in April 1945.
There the papers and the book remained, unused and unexhibited, as library directors and presidents succeeded one another, each apprised of the documents' presence in the archive, each doing nothing to display them or find them a more relevant home.
"It simply never occurred to me. Perhaps that was a lack of imagination on my part," said Robert Skotheim, president of the Huntington for 11 years. "I was told of them when I came to the Huntington. But I never looked at them."
"Every generation of librarians has known about them," said Zeidberg, the library director since 1996. "Like my predecessors I looked at them and I thought, 'That's interesting.' But it still didn't give them an appropriate context at the Huntington. . . . I saw them. I knew what they were. And then we moved on to business that was pertinent to the Huntington."
The papers would still be buried in the library vault if Skotheim had not been invited to tour a new Jewish cultural center on the west side of Los Angeles in April 1996. The Huntington president was moved by the exhibit on Jewish history at the new Skirball Cultural Center. As a friendship developed between Skotheim, a scholar of Scandinavian descent from northern Washington state, with Skirball President Uri Herscher, an Israeli-born rabbi, Skotheim secretly vowed to place the Patton documents there.
Strange as it may seem, it never occurred to Skotheim or, probably, any of his predecessors in Pasadena the very heart of Protestant, establishment Los Angeles to seek out someone from the west side of Los Angeles, home to a wealthy, politically active Jewish population, much less a Holocaust institution elsewhere in the world.
"It never occurred to me when the Holocaust Museum in Washington was created. But I have never visited the Holocaust Museum," Skotheim observed. Los Angeles also has a Holocaust memorial museum, visited by thousands of schoolchildren each year, called the Museum of Tolerance. "I have never visited it," Skotheim said.
For his part, Herscher knew little of the Huntington, and nothing of its president. "We were certainly disconnected," he said. "I've never been to Pasadena. It was not a place I frequented. I invited Bob Skotheim to my Passover seder I don't know if he'd ever been in a Jewish home.
"This was purely a coincidence," he continued. "The right time, the right place coincidence. If we hadn't assumed a respect for each other, if a friendship hadn't developed Bob said if there hadn't been a Skirball and me at its head, he wouldn't have found the context in which to place the documents."
But this coincidence didn't happen in a vacuum. Around the Western world there has been a surge in interest in the Holocaust. Not only have numerous institutions sprung up in recent years to commemorate the tragedy, but universities are quickly adding Holocaust courses, German scholars have begun to seriously delve into their painful past and the German government has finally started discussions on an official national memorial to the victims.
"There is something emerging that has been repressed, ignored and denied," said UCLA history professor Peter Loewenberg. "Now suddenly, in the nick of time, there's this huge interest, now. It's in the consciousness of the Western world that this thing happened, but it's taken 50 years. Maybe these documents coming to light is part of that picture."
The three Nuremberg Laws the first titled "Law for the Safeguard of German Blood and German Honor" were drafted at a police station over a frantic two-day weekend just ahead of a major Nazi party rally in 1935. They were completed overnight, on Sept. 14 and 15, signed by Hitler and a few Nazi officials and presented to the party meeting as law on Sunday morning. The laws stripped German Jews of their German citizenship, barred marriage and "extramarital sexual intercourse" between Jews and Germans, barred Jews from flying the German flag and from employing German domestic help.
It was a landmark, chilling moment in the official persecution of the Jews. The significance of the original document is that "it's an absolutely crucial, central foundation to all the later steps to exclude, marginalize and dehumanize the Jews. It removes the German Jews from the protections of citizenship," said Loewenberg. "It was what was necessary to carry on the later steps Kristallnacht in 1938 [a night of anti-Jewish rioting], deportation, and then the death camps. It became a matter of life and death whether you were Aryan or not."
The original Nuremberg Laws are especially rare for bearing the signature of Hitler, of which there are only a few in the public domain. The massive "Mein Kampf" bound in white leather with bronze clasps, embossed with a gold swastika and printed on handmade paper is thought to be one of a special edition of 100 copies published in the mid- to late 1920s, possibly used as a ceremonial copy for rallies. It bears the marks of fingers leafing through its pages, and is dedicated to Nazis who died in a failed putsch against the Weimar Republic in 1923. Skirball scholars do not know if any other copies survive.
Like the book, the documents bear witness to a world ruled by evil. The Huntington scholars rarely took them out.
But they finally did on a day in early March, when Uri Herscher and a few of his colleagues arrived at the museum, invited to discuss a secret matter regarding some World War II papers. Huntington archivist Mary Robertson brought them up to a second-floor office. She handed Herscher the "Mein Kampf." Startled, he fumbled, and dropped it. He began to cry. He rushed to the bathroom to wash his hands.
The cerebral Zeidberg had tears in his eyes, murmuring, "This is too creepy." The reticent Skotheim, who had never viewed the documents before, found himself unexpectedly emotional. "It was moving to all of us. It's the difference between knowing a thing exists, and looking at it, and seeing it in front of you," he said.
Herscher recalls, "To me, I was holding evil. It's important to me because 18 Herschers met their demise in concentration camps. For me to see with my own eyes, the original, not a copy, the evil becomes even more real. There's an emotional impact. It gives me nothing new intellectually, except that it's the real thing."
That moment sealed the decision to bring the documents to the Skirball, but also revealed a bond between the two men that neither had recognized before. In a letter to Herscher a few days after the meeting, Skotheim wrote: "We Norwegians are not very expressive. But I must confess my deep satisfaction at being in a position wherein I could make the transfer of documents happen. There is no doubt that the Holocaust is the governing event for our generation. It defined my scholarly preoccupations and shaped my view of the world.
"The Holocaust assaulted all of us, spiritually and intellectually, even though most of us were not attacked literally and physically. . . . Admiringly, Bob."