Four Pages That Decreed Six Million Deaths
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
Seventy-five years ago, Adolf Hitler and his henchmen handed down the Nuremberg Laws: a series of measures that codified anti-Semitism in Germany and laid the path to the death camps where six million Jews were killed. The legal copies of those laws came into Allied hands at the close of World War II, and General George Patton spirited them - illegally, as it happens - out of Germany and turned them over to the Huntington Library in his hometown of San Marino, California. Now the papers are bound for Washington, D.C. and a new home in the National Archives.
Steven Koblik is the president of the Huntington Library and he joins us from his office.
Thanks so much for being with us.
Dr. STEVEN KOBLIK (President, The Huntington Library): You're welcome.
SIMON: Well, whats on these pages - these pieces of - four typewritten pages, I understand?
Dr. KOBLIK: There are three different laws that were promulgated. One, a Law of the Blood; another, a Law of the Flag; and there was a third law about citizenship. Forgetting about the Law of the Flag, which is the putting of a swastika onto the flag, but the other two laws are the really important ones. And what those two laws did was they segregated Germans of Jewish extraction from the rest of the citizenship.
When Hitler came to power in January of 1933, he immediately began his anti-Semitic policies. But he did this often through administrative action or sometimes there would be paramilitary activity with one of the Nazi groups, like the Storm Troopers. But the legal exclusion of German Jews from normal life in Germany took a lot longer. And 1935, the Nuremberg Laws were really an important step in isolating the Jews.
If you're going to really persecute a group of people, you need to define them.
SIMON: And how did General Patton get them?
Dr. KOBLIK: General Patton was a souvenir hunter. And in every campaign he tried to collect souvenirs, because he had hopes and ambitions of building a museum. And so he sent out his intelligence officers to find souvenirs. They happened in a town of Eisenstaedt to come to a vault, and they were looking in the vault and they saw these materials. So they were taken out of the vault and given to Patton's staff. And then Pattons staff officers presented these documents for his - as a souvenir, they presented them to Patton.
SIMON: The Nuremberg Laws are of course very well known. And it's not as if there's been a mystery about what was in them until now.
Dr. KOBLIK: Thats exactly right. And from my perspective, as a Holocaust scholar, one of the things thats very difficult for most people who are interested in the Holocaust but dont do scholarship on it is that when the decisions were taken to start the Final Solution - which ended up killing over six million Jews in Europe - there is almost no documentation of that decision, specifically that there's a Hitler signature on it.
I mean here we know that Hitler drove this policy, and yet if you look at the -so far, anyway - the documentation in 1941, which is when most scholars believed these decisions were taken, we have no specific connection to Hitler.
These documents, the Nuremberg Laws, have Hitler's signature. And for me, thats important because it clearly ties him with this policy of persecution of the Jews.
SIMON: My gosh, whats it like to see Adolf Hitler's signature right in front of your face?
Dr. KOBLIK: It's a reminder. Studying the Holocaust is an emotional rollercoaster ride because you run into documents that just are deeply disturbing and that you have to kind of stop, take a breath, sometimes wait a day or a week before you go back to that kind of material - because it's so wrenching.
My attitude, of course, to Hitler has I guess I would call hardened over 40 years of studying Nazi Germany. So for me, looking at the document is a confirmation. And the frustration of not being able to find a similar kind of document putting Hitler's signature next to the policy to exterminate the Jews, there's a kind of satisfaction that I can feel, that at least in these documents of the Nuremberg Laws there's a Hitler signature.
SIMON: Steven Koblik, president of the Huntington Library in San Marino, California.
Steve, thank you so much.
Dr. KOBLIK: You're welcome.