A June 26 front-page article described how an original copy of "Mein Kampf" and a signed copy of the "Nuremberg Laws" finally will be available on public exhibition after being hidden in the basement of a California museum for 54 years. What I found startling is why these historic documents were hidden from scholars as well as the public for so many years. Apparently Gen. George Patton took possession of these documents in 1945 during the invasion of Germany and treated them as his private property, later giving them to a friend and neighbor in California.
Ms. Waxman reported that "the soldiers presented the Nuremberg documents to Patton as a gift." Even so, is it legally and morally permissible for a member of the armed forces, even a highly decorated general, to take unique historic documents and do with them as he pleases? I can understand a soldier considering himself entitled to some wartime souvenir, such as an abandoned enemy helmet or weapon. But can he keep any work of art or historic document that the enemy has left behind?
How many other treasure troves are hidden away in the basements of high-ranking members of the armed forces or of other persons or organizations to whom they have given property to which they were not entitled?
Sharon Waxman's front-page story concerning the discovery of the infamous "Nuremberg Laws" in the Huntington Library in Pasadena, Calif., needs some revision. I was special agent in charge of the 203rd Counter-Intelligence Corps (CIC) detachment, assigned to III Corps, a part of Gen. Patton's Third Army. While working on an assignment in Regensburg, we apprehended a mid-level Nazi official who informed us of the location of an important document, known as the "Nuremberg Decrees" stored in the vault of a bank in the town of Eischstatt.
The document had been given to the mayor of Nuremberg for safekeeping. He passed it on to the security chief of the Waffen SS, who was instructed to deliver it to Hans Ruch, an official of the Finance Ministry, who selected the Eischstatt bank vault. I asked my prisoner how he knew all of this. Dr. Ruch, he said, was his uncle who lived on a farm near Eischstatt.
With Dr. Ruch's help, CIC agents J. Maxell Pickens of Bessemer, Ala., and Military Intelligence interpreter Frank J. Perls of Los Angeles and I located two bank officials who could open the vault. In a box we found an envelope sealed with red swastika embossments. I extracted the documents slowly, and there was Adolf Hitler's and three other signatures, dooming Jews to the nightmare of the Holocaust. To document the event, I took photos with my Minox spy camera, and I have a shot of Frank Perls and me holding the documents, taken in the vault.
I reported our find to the III Corps intelligence chief, Col. B. I Homer, who didn't seem to attach much importance to the find but nevertheless instructed me to report it to the SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force) document people, who were collecting evidence for the expected trial of war criminals. I was told to turn over the documents to Gen. Patton's intelligence chief for delivery to SHAEF. It is evident that Gen. Patton never sent them on to Paris but retained them as a personal souvenir that made its way into the Huntington Library, as The Post reported.