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Diary found in Lewiston key to tracing Nazi roots

WILMINGTON, Del. – The hate that dripped from Alfred Rosenberg’s black pen seemed lost to history until Thursday, when federal agents here unveiled 400 missing pages of the senior Nazi aide’s diary, which they mysteriously found in Lewiston, N.Y. – of all places.

Authorities and officials of the U.S. Holocaust Museum wouldn’t say who had the diary, though the Reuters news agency reported that it was Herbert Richardson, who runs a small academic publishing house in Lewiston.

What they would say, though, was that key Nazi documents keep showing up in Western New York and that the most important one so far was Rosenberg’s diary, which lays bare the Nazi racist philosophy in all its ugliness.

Now yellowed and fragile, Rosenberg’s diary shows him advocating “a clear program to remove [the Jewish] race from Europe.”

For his part in that program, which claimed 6 million lives, Rosenberg was hanged after being convicted of crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg trials.

Historians have wanted to know more about him ever since, and finally they will get that chance.

“It is the unvarnished account of a Nazi leader: his thoughts, his philosophies, his interactions with other Nazi leaders,” John Morton, director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said of the diary.

“Reading Rosenberg’s diary is to stare into the mind of a dark soul, a man untroubled by the isolation and violent extermination of Jews and others deemed ‘undesirable,’ a man consumed with visions of racial and ethnic superiority.”

That’s for sure.

Rosenberg was a Nazi before Adolf Hitler was a Nazi, joining the party in 1919. And while Hitler quickly came to outrank him, Rosenberg was the twisted philosopher who laid out the theories that Hitler turned into mass murder.

Most notoriously of all, Rosenberg concocted the racial “ladder” that put Aryans at the top and Jews and blacks at the bottom.

That philosophy came through clearly in translated excerpts from the Rosenberg diary, including one in which he boasted about a Nazi-led gathering that was “the first time in European history that 10 European nations were represented at an anti-Jewish conference with the clear program to remove this race from Europe.”

In another passage, he responded to reports that the Soviet Union had plans to ship 400,000 German prisoners to Siberia by saying: “Germany will punish the Jews of Central Europe for this.”

And he inexplicably implies that the British share the Nazis’ hatred of blacks, saying the Brits were “angry about the negroes from the USA as they squeeze out the English during the Olympic Games.”

That’s just the beginning of what scholars are likely to learn from the Rosenberg diary, which covers his life and the inner workings of the Nazi party between 1936 and 1944.

“Standing here today, we still don’t know the full significance of the document,” Morton said. “There simply hasn’t been the time to study it in depth.”

Historians at the Holocaust Museum hope, though, that it sheds light on the important role Rosenberg played throughout Nazi history.

After his philosophizing days were done, Rosenberg went on to be the Third Reich minister in charge of the occupied Eastern territories – and the extermination of Jews there.

Beyond that, he engineered a plan to steal art and other valuables from Jews from all across Europe, an effort so diabolically successful that the loot would have filled a 1.5 million railroad cars, said Henry Mayer, senior advisor on archives at the Holocaust Museum.

Mayer spun a twisted tale of the diary’s recovery that stretched all the way back to the mid-1990s. At the time, Holocaust Museum officials were working to bring the papers of Robert M.W. Kempner, one of the Nuremberg prosecutors, to the museum for study.

Those papers later disappeared from the late Kempner’s home in Landsdowne, Pa. – only to turn up in 1999 at Richardson’s publishing house in Lewiston.

Authorities said at the time that Richardson had persuaded Kempner’s aging legal secretary to have Kempner’s legal papers shipped to Lewiston, but that Richardson had relented and agreed to turn the documents over to the Holocaust Museum.

In 2001, Mayer said, “another 200 to 250 feet” of Kempner’s papers turned up in a storage locker in Amherst, and Mayer coyly said a “former academic” living in Lewiston was responsible for putting them there. [Now the head of Edward Mellen Press, Richardson was fired from a tenured professorship at St. Michael’s College in Toronto, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported in a recent profile.]

Later, on a visit to Western New York, Mayer heard some stunning news from the sister of Kempner’s late legal secretary: She had given Rosenberg’s diary to “a friend” for safekeeping.

Meyer said that with the help of a private investigator and the Lewiston police, federal authorities found the diary at the Lewiston home of that “friend.”

Richardson rejected an interview request from The Buffalo News earlier this week, and federal authorities steadfastly refused to discuss him, saying their investigation into the matter is continuing.

“There’s no comment on Mr. Richardson,” Morton said.

Instead, federal officials and Mayer tried to keep their focus Thursday on the Rosenberg diary.

“Although it is a reminder of a dark time, the Rosenberg diary is important to our understanding of history,” said Charles M. Overby III, U.S. attorney for Delaware, whose office includes investigators who specialize in such historical finds and who got a tip about the diary. “Our hope is that it will provide valuable insight to historians.”

For Mayer, though, the discovery of the diary is both a historical and a personal revelation. After all, he’s been involved in trying to find it for 17 years.

Speaking at the press conference where the diary was revealed, Mayer said: “After 17 years, it was quite something to hold it in my hand.”