Devil's Diary: Alfred Rosenberg and the Stolen Secrets of the Third Reich

Dullness in devil's details


By Robert K Wittman andDavid Kinney

William Collins, £20

After the fiasco of the "Hitler Diaries", historians cannot be blamed for treating rediscovered journals of Nazi leaders with some suspicion. But there was no doubt about the authenticity of the diaries of Hitler's chief ideologue, Alfred Rosenberg, when they were found in 1945 by American troops in the vaults of a Bavarian castle, along with some 250 volumes of Rosenberg's correspondence, which would help convict him of war crimes at the Nuremberg Tribunal and go to the gallows shortly afterwards.

But mystery did surround what happened to them between 1949 and 2013, when they resurfaced in Pennsylvania. The fact was they had been appropriated by Robert Kempner, a Jewish lawyer who had fled his homeland of Germany in the 1930s but returned, by now an American citizen, to be a key figure in the Nuremberg prosecution team.

A single-minded, pugnacious character with an unorthodox love life, Kempner eventually went back to America with a huge hoard of Nazi documents, among them Rosenberg's diary. It has ended up at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, an appropriate home because Rosenberg, an obsessive antisemite, was one of the driving forces behind the campaign to exterminate European Jewry.

Rosenberg was born in Estonia in 1893 and moved to Munich at the end of the First World War. There, he met Hitler and they hit it off, two rootless losers in a ruined and chaotic country.

Rosenberg bought into the Nazi vision from the beginning and went to work for the party newspaper. An unattractive character even by Nazi standards, he was disliked and mocked by his party colleagues (because of his name he was even thought, wrongly, to be Jewish) but Hitler liked him for his tireless researching into Aryanism.

The result of his researches was an unreadable tome called The Myth of the Twentieth Century. Goering said the first chapter almost put him to sleep but it sold more than a million copies and was required reading for ambitious Nazis. When war came, Rosenberg was the key figure behind the ransacking of Jewish libraries, archives and private collections for anything that would, he hoped, aid continuing research into the "Jewish Question" long after the Jews had disappeared.

After Hitler invaded Russia, Rosenberg's mad theories were used to justify the slaughter of millions. He believed that the Jews were behind communism and the Russian Revolution, so they had to be got rid of to eliminate communism. Hitler made him minister for the occupied eastern territories, at which he was an abject failure but that didn't save him at Nuremberg.

The Devil's Diary is a bit of a mish-mash, partly a workmanlike biography of Rosenberg, partly the story of the hunt for his diaries (co-author Robert Wittman was instrumental in locating them), partly an account of Kempner's obsessive quest to bring Nazis to justice. But of the diaries themselves, we learn very little. The authors reproduce a few undramatic extracts here and there, leading one to speculate that perhaps there just isn't very much in them.

Goering may have been an astute judge of Rosenberg's literary abilities.

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