Story by Dana Garrett for CNN, June 7, 2011:
A signed letter by Adolf Hitler, which contains what is believed to be the earliest written expression of his views on Jews and anti-Semitism, was unveiled at a press conference in New York on Tuesday by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Rabbi Marvin Hier said the letter, written in 1919, is “one of the most important documents in the entire history of the Third Reich.”
Wearing white gloves to protect the fragile, yellowing document, Hier, founder and dean of the Wiesenthal Center, pointed out what he considered to be the most significant phrase in the four-page, typed letter – the words “Entfernung der Juden,” German for “removal of Jews” – which Hitler wrote must be the government’s “final goal.”
“In 1919 he wrote this. Twenty-two years later he implemented it as Chancellor of the Third Reich,” Hier said. “He removed the Jews altogether.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization, purchased the letter from a private dealer for $150,000 and will put it on permanent display in July at the center’s Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.
Hitler was a 30-year-old veteran of World War I when he wrote the letter on September 16, 1919. At the time, he was working for the propaganda unit of the German army, Hier said. It was Hitler’s supervisor, Capt. Karl Mayr, who assigned him the task of articulating the army’s position on the Jews for Adolf Gemlich, who was an army spy. (At about the time he wrote the letter, he also attended a meeting of the German Workers’ Party to find out more about them, at Mayr’s request. Later, it would be the National Socialist Workers’ Party, and Hitler would be its chairman.)
The letter, which was written on a German army typewriter, is addressed to Gemlich. It was authenticated in 1988, according to the Wiesenthal Center.
In the letter’s English translation provided by the Wiesenthal Center, Hitler identifies Judaism as a race, not a religion, that has been preserved “through a thousands years of inbreeding” and is only concerned with “the pursuit of money and power.”
“The result of which is that a non-German race lives among us with its feelings, thoughts and aspirations, while having all the same rights as we do,” Hitler wrote.
He warned against anti-Semitism “born of purely emotional ground,” which he wrote would only lead to pogroms – referencing the organized mob attacks that targeted Jews in Russia and, later, Germany. Hitler’s letter makes clear he had a larger objective in mind. “The final goal must be the removal of Jews,” he wrote. “To accomplish these goals, only a government of national power is capable and never a government of national weakness.”
Hier said the letter was found in 1945 in the Nazi Archives near Nuremberg by an American soldier, William F. Ziegler, and sold to an historical documents dealer.
It has remained in private hands since then. Hier said a dealer offered him the letter in 1988, but then sold it to another collector before the Wiesenthal Center could verify its authenticity.
When it was offered a second time, Hier said there was no hesitation.
“We knew immediately that the Gemlich letter is absolutely historic. There is nothing like it in the world,” he said.
Hier said an unsigned “office copy” of the letter exists in Munich, which scholars have known about, but that the copy now in the hands of the Wiesenthal Center is the only signed copy. It has never been publicly displayed.
Hier said the letter is significant in large part is because there is no known signed order by Hitler for the extermination of the Jews. Instead, it was the No.2 man in the Reich, Hermann Goering, who gave the order in July 1941 to Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the Nazis’ security apparatus, to carry out “the final solution of the Jewish question.”
“This is the first document and only document of its kind that deals with the Jews exclusively and postulates the solution,” Hier said of the Hitler letter.
Whether Hitler had in mind concentration camps and mass extermination at the time is not a question that can be answered by this document, Hier said. “But I can tell you that Hitler in 1919 said we don’t want any Jews in the country that I live, and I don’t want them removed by corner pogroms. I need them removed by a legal system where the government legally removes them,” Hier said. “That is unprecedented.” he added.
Hier said he hopes the letter, which will be part of an interactive display in Los Angeles, will be used to teach students young and old about demagogues and the consequences of taking them lightly.
He said if people had taken bets in 1919,” they all would have bet this is a lot of nonsense, nothing would happen like this. And 22 years later, it happened exactly as he wrote it.,” he said.