A Jewish human rights organization has acquired a letter written by Adolph Hitler that shows he was targeting Jews for removal from Germany long before he came to power. An official of the Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles says the letter shows that inflammatory rhetoric cannot be ignored.
The letter was written in 1919, when Hitler was just 30 years old and attached to a propaganda unit of the German army responsible for the political education of demobilized soldiers.
Germany was regrouping after its bitter defeat in the First World War.
Hitler's superior, Captain Karl Mayr, was asked to assess the role of the Jews in German society, and he assigned the task to Hitler.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says the letter gives a clear picture of Hitler's early thinking about the Jewish people. “...It’s the traditional rantings that Jews are responsible for all evil, but the part of this letter that is unbelievable is that he has a paragraph that says, so what do you do about it? And so he says, I don’t want an emotional anti-Semitism, which would be like unleashing pogroms against Jews. What we need is an intellectual anti-Semitism. We need a ruthless government to carry it out. The final policy should be the complete removal of the Jews.”
Rabbi Hier says 20 years later, Hitler was in a position to carry out what he wrote, and in a far more brutal way than outlined in the letter. The Nazi government systematically killed more than six million Jews in what came to be known as the Holocaust.
The Wiesenthal Center first learned of the letter in 1988, after Hitler's signature had been authenticated. But there was one question: how did a low-ranking soldier have access to a typewriter when they were expensive. Center officials say as more information emerged, including about Hitler’s role in the propaganda unit, it became clear that the letter was authentic.
By then, it had been sold to a private collector. When it came on the market again this year, the center raised $150,000 to buy it.
Rabbi Hier says the document puts to rest the idea that Hitler absorbed anti-Semitic ideas from fellow Nazis. It shows instead that the Nazi leader’s self-described racial strategy was at the center of his thinking early on.
“One of the first things he did when he became chancellor of the Third Reich, he kicked Jews out of society, took away their rights, their citizenship, didn’t allow them to marry Germans, and step by step moved toward the conclusion which took place with the Wannsee Conference when they planned the extermination of the entire Jewish people. So it’s a fascinating document that we now make available to the public,” Hier said.
Hier says the letter contains a lesson - that people must speak out against demagogues or pay a terrible price later on.
“It tells us how dangerous it is for society to conclude that just because somebody’s a nobody, and looks like a ranting raving lunatic or a demagogue, there’s a tendency in society to say this is just wild rhetoric.... The classic case of a demagogue that implemented it is Adolph Hitler. He was a nobody when he wrote this letter, but we have to say that when he had the opportunity, he implemented very part of this letter. And this is a warning to future generations,” Hier said.
The letter goes on display at the Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance sometime in August. The interactive exhibit will show the letter in the context of events - as they unfolded - in Hitler's Third Reich.
There's a postscript to this story. Karl Mayr, the German officer who asked Hitler to write the letter about Germany's Jews, became an opponent of Hitler. After Hitler rose to power, Mayr fled to France. In 1941, after the Germans invaded France, he published an unsigned English-language article, in an American publication, rejecting Hitler's policies. He was arrested and later died in the infamous Buchenwald concentration camp.