The diary of high-ranking Nazi Party ideologue Alfred Rosenberg, missing since it was used as evidence in the Nuremberg Trials, has been found in western New York. The 400 loose-leaf pages were written from 1936 through 1944. During the pre-war years he was, among other things, the head of the Nazi party’s foreign affairs department and during the war years he was in charge of looting cultural property all over Europe and, after the invasion of the Soviet Union, he served as Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories.
Rosenberg was one of the first members of the Nazi Party, beating even Adolph Hitler who joined nine months after him in October 1919. After the failure of the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, Hitler, in prison for treason, appointed Rosenberg temporary leader of the party during his absence. He was editor of the Nazi paper Völkischer Beobachter and a profound anti-Semite and Aryan supremacist who expounded his racist and pagan philosophy in his best-selling but rarely read 1930 book, The Myth of the Twentieth Century. He was influential in the development of key Nazi ideas like Lebensraum (“living room,” or Germany’s need to stretch its legs all over Europe using the local population as a footstool) and the persecution and mass-murder of European Jews. As Reich Minister, he was directly involved in deportation of civilians in his territories to forced labor camps and in the deportation of Jews to death camps.
The papers were seized by Allied troops in August of 1945 and relayed to the U.S. Army’s Records Subsection of the Documents Unit of the War Crimes Branch. Rosenberg was also captured after the war and was tried for conspiracy to commit aggressive warfare, crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was convicted of all four charges and was hanged on October 16th, 1946. When asked if he had any last words, Rosenberg was reportedly the only executed Nazi war criminal to decline, replying simply “No.”
Some time after the trial, the diary disappeared. Authorities believe it was taken by Dr. Robert Kempner, the deputy chief counsel at the Nuremberg Trials and chief prosecutor of the Ministries Trial, the 11th of the 12 Nuremberg trials. As chief prosecutor, he had access to all Nazi documents even though he wasn’t personally involved in the prosecution of Rosenberg. Kempner was a German lawyer who fled to the United States during the war. When the trials were over, he returned to the US and lived in Pennsylvania. He was given permission by the Office of the Chief of Counsel of War Crimes to keep some of the unclassified documents for his personal study and without oversight he helped himself to a great many papers, including apparently the Rosenberg diary.
Kempner died in 1993 and in 1997, his heirs told the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum they wanted to donate his papers. Museum staff documented the collection at that time and the diary was not there. After a two-year dispute with the estate, museum experts returned to document the collection again and found things missing. Papers continued to disappear and reappear for the next few years, but the diary was not among them.
The museum kept looking, though, and in November of 2012, an art security specialist working with the museum contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents with new information about the Rosenberg Diary. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s and HSI worked together on the case, ultimately serving a search warrant in April of this year and seizing the long-lost documents.
The authorities are not releasing any names or exact locations, but the scuttlebutt is that the diary wound up with Kempner’s former secretary after his death. She lived in western New York.
“Thanks to the tireless investigative work of HSI special agents, and years of perseverance by both the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the long-lost Rosenberg Diary has been recovered, not in Germany but in the United States,” said Director Morton. “This important record of the crimes of the Third Reich and the Holocaust is now preserved for all to see, study and learn from. The work of combating the international theft of cultural heritage is a key part of our work, and no matter how long these items may appear to be lost to history, that hard but important work will continue.”
“This seizure is the result of the joint efforts of this office and Homeland Security Investigations,” said U.S. Attorney Oberly. “The discovery and return of this long-lost, important historical document to the government of the United States is a significant achievement. Although it is a reminder of a dark time, the Rosenberg Diary is important to our understanding of history. Our hope is that it will provide valuable insight to historians.”
“The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is thrilled to have recovered the diary of Alfred Rosenberg, a leading Nazi ideologue,” said U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Director Sara J. Bloomfield. “As we build the collection of record on the Holocaust, having material that documents the actions of both perpetrators and victims is crucial to helping scholars understand how and why the Holocaust happened. The story of this diary demonstrates how much material remains to be collected and why rescuing this evidence is such an important museum priority.”