Original version of Hitler’s Nuremberg laws transferred from vault in Californian library to National Archives in Washington
General George Patton
They are just four typewritten pages and one notorious signature. But the hastily written Nuremberg laws stripped German Jews of their citizenship, and laid the ground for the murder of millions of people within a decade.
Yet when the remaining Nazi leadership went on trial after the war, that original version of the Nuremberg laws was missing from the mass of documentary evidence of the persecution and extermination of Jews presented to the international court.
Forty-five years later it was revealed that the documents had been filched by General George Patton and then hidden away in the vault of a California library.
Today the four pages, signed by Hitler and stripping Jews of German citizenship, barring their marriage to those defined as Aryan and ultimately defining those consigned to the extermination camps, were reunited with other papers used at the war crimes trials now kept at the US National Archives in Washington.
Patton was notorious for defying orders as his army charged across Europe even while he was a stickler for discipline among his troops. In the waning days of the war a detachment of the US army’s counter-intelligence corps discovered the papers in Eichstätt, Bavaria. Patton appropriated them in breach of orders against looting and the collecting of souvenirs and for Nazi documents to be handed over to war crimes investigators.
Shortly before his death in 1945 Patton quietly gave the papers to the Huntington library in California, which holds a priceless Gutenberg Bible and early editions of Shakespeare and Chaucer. Patton grew up near the library and his father worked for its founder, Henry Huntington, a railway baron.
Apparently embarrassed at receiving the historic and chilling documents over which neither Patton nor the library could claim legal ownership, the Huntington stuck them in a reinforced vault.
“We were aware that General Patton, who had received the documents from his staff as a gift and deposited them at the Huntington, had not paid attention in his souvenir hunting to the orders of his commander in chief,” the library’s president, Steve Koblik, told the Associated Press. “Had General Patton not taken these documents, they would have been part of the collection the government was putting together in order to prepare for the Nuremberg trials.”
The laws, drafted at the Nazi party’s 1935 Nuremberg rally, were the first legal step to identifying and defining who was German and who was Jewish given the large number of secular and highly assimilated Jews in Germany. Germans were those who had four grandparents with “German or kindred blood”. Jews were defined as descended from three or four grandparents who were Jewish. Anyone in between was defined as Mischling or crossbreed.
Among other restrictions, the laws forbade Jews to fly the Nazi or German flags but did permit them “to display the Jewish colours”.
“The exercise of this right is protected by the state,” the laws said.
Although viewed today as the first legal step to broader persecution and eventually genocide, the Nuremberg laws were not entirely alien to older Germans. Until 1870 Jews in the evolving Prussian-led confederation that would become Germany were not recognised as citizens, and had their rights restricted no matter how many generations their families had lived there for.
• This article was amended on 27 August 2010. The original said that until 1870 Jews “in Germany” were not recognised as citizens. This has been corrected.
Chris McGreal in Washington
Wednesday 25 August 2010 19.44 BST
Source: The Guardian