National Archives puts Nazi papers on public view
The Nuremberg Laws were turned over to the archives in August by The Huntington, a museum complex near Los Angeles, California, where they were quietly deposited by Gen. George Patton at the end of World War II. The papers will be on display in a separate gallery from the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence through Oct. 18.
Tony Platt, a historian who has studied the laws and currently is doing research in Berlin, said the laws offer lessons from what happened in Germany and from how the documents were hidden away in the United States for decades.
“They’re symbolically important because this was done in a public way and because Hitler actually signed these documents,” he said Wednesday.
Still, Nazi actions against the Jews began before the laws were signed in 1935 with earlier policies barring Jews from certain jobs and occupations.
Previously, the Nuremberg Laws had been displayed only in Los Angeles while on loan from The Huntington to the Skirball Cultural Center, which includes a Jewish history museum.
The handling of the original Nuremberg Laws has frustrated some scholars and the family of one of the soldiers who uncovered them in Germany. U.S. soldiers first found them in a German bank vault and gave them to Patton. At the end of World War II, Patton disobeyed orders by taking the papers out of Germany.
Patton, a known war souvenir collector, quietly left them at The Huntington without clear instructions, and he died in a car crash in Europe shortly afterward. Patton had been a friend of the family of Henry Huntington, the California railroad baron behind the museum complex on his estate.
The documents should have served as evidence in the Nazi war crimes trials, scholars have said.
“In many times during the trial, they would confront the defendants with original documents they had signed, and it was very dramatic,” said Greg Bradsher, a senior archivist who specializes in World War II history at the National Archives.
Without the original Nuremberg Laws, prosecutors used a copy published the day after the laws were passed. All the trial evidence eventually was sent to the archives in Washington.
“So in many respects, this is coming to us 63 years late,” Bradsher said.
The unveiling of the documents pleased the family of a Jewish soldier who was part of the group that originally found the papers in Germany. The soldier, Martin Dannenberg, told his family for years that he knew Nazi documents they had recovered were lost, according to his son, Richard Dannenberg of Owings Mills, Maryland.
“My father turned these documents over three days later to Patton’s office, as he was supposed to, and then apparently Patton just whisked them out of the country,” Richard Dannenberg said. He said his father “felt they should be in a national place where everyone can see them and understand what these led to, the horrors that occurred.”
Martin Dannenberg died in August, before the papers went on view in Washington.
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