The Alfred Rosenberg Diary
The Museum is racing to rescue the evidence of the Holocaust—archives, documents, photographs, videos, and artifacts—to help us better understand this history and to bring its lessons to future generations.
Alfred Rosenberg’s diary is one such artifact that has surfaced after more than a decade of Museum efforts to find it. The roughly 400 pages of loose-leaf paper cover the years 1936 through 1944, when Rosenberg was responsible for looting valuables in lands occupied by the Nazis and planning Nazi rule of conquered Soviet territories. The discovery of the diary will undoubtedly give scholars new insight into the politics of Nazi leaders and fulfills a Museum commitment to uncover evidence from perpetrators of the Holocaust.
Robert M. W. Kempner
For almost 14 years, the Museum’s Robert M. W. Kempner Collection was incomplete. Kempner was a prominent German-Jewish jurist who opposed the Nazi Party’s rise to power. He lost his German citizenship in 1935 and in 1939 immigrated to the United States. After the war, he served as assistant US chief counsel during the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg and as a prosecutor at the subsequent Nuremberg proceeding known as the “Ministries Case.”
As a researcher and prosecutor, Kempner had an eye for incriminating documents. He is credited, for example, with identifying the Wannsee Protocol, which documents a meeting of high-ranking Nazi and German officials to discuss implementation of the “Final Solution.” Kempner eventually shared the Wannsee Protocol with other prosecutors, and it became a centerpiece of the evidence submitted in the Ministries Case.
As the Nuremberg trials drew to a close, Kempner received permission from the Office of the Chief of Counsel of War Crimes to retain unclassified documents “for purposes of writing, lecturing and study.” He returned home with an unknown number of documents in his possession.
For the rest of his career, Kempner practiced law in the United States and Germany, mostly representing Jewish clients in Nazi restitution cases. He wrote articles that cited documents kept in his personal library, which other scholars did not have access to. He died in 1993, and in 1997 his heirs informed the Museum of their intention to donate a large number of documents.
The Missing Diary
Museum staff first surveyed Kempner’s collection in August 1997 and made a detailed report of the documents they had been able to examine. After a dispute regarding the estate was resolved almost two years later, Museum staff returned to reassess the collection in July 1999. They discovered that many documents had been removed from Kempner’s home.
Some of the missing documents were located in 2001, when Kempner’s home was emptied and items were found that had not been there when the Museum took possession of the collection. Still more documents were located in 2003 in another private home.
None of these collections of documents included the diary of Alfred Rosenberg, an influential Nazi ideologue. The author of The Myth of the Twentieth Century (1930), which embodies a dichotomist worldview pitting the “Aryan” and Jewish “races” against each other, Rosenberg reached the apex of his political career when Hitler appointed him Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories in July 1941. During the war years, he operated the most successful Nazi organization involved in the looting of artworks, books, and archival materials in German-occupied Europe.
After the war, Rosenberg was found guilty by the International Military Tribunal on counts of conspiracy to commit aggressive warfare, crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. He was hanged on October 16, 1946.
It was well known in academic circles that Rosenberg had kept a diary. The US National Archives has sections of the original diary and copies of other sections. Excerpts have been published in German. In articles, Kempner quoted from parts of the diary that no one else had ever seen. However, the diary was not among any of the Kempner document caches that Museum staff had seen.
Following clues about its location, the Museum worked with the FBI, the Department of Justice, and later a private investigator to locate the diary. In early 2013, Homeland Security Investigations special agents found it at a private company in upstate New York and it was then transferred to the Department of Homeland Security office in Wilmington, Delaware.
In Wilmington, the Museum’s director of applied research scholars, Jürgen Matthäus, examined the diary and confirmed that it was the long-sought-after Rosenberg diary. The roughly 400 pages cover the years 1936 through 1944 and are in generally good condition. As a piece of evidence gathered for the Nuremberg trials, the diary belongs to the US government, which intends to deposit it with the Museum.
The Museum’s senior advisor on archives, Henry Mayer, said he feels a sense of fulfillment after years of searching for the diary. “To have it in safe hands, that is a great victory,” he said. As part of the Museum’s collections, the diary would be accessible to scholars and the public. While Museum scholars have yet to fully study its contents, Mayer said, “It does give details that one would never know about the politics within the top leadership of the Nazi party and the state.”