First things first: Anyone who is interested in history, especially the history of the ideas behind Adolph Hitler, is going to amazed by the twists and turns that unfold in the new Los Angeles Times "Column One" feature about the search for the lost diary of Nazi intellectual Alfred Rosenberg. This is one amazing ride, with the son of a Holocaust survivor acting as a kind of quiet, peaceful, but highly motivated Indiana Jones on the quest to find the Great White Whale of Holocaust studies.
Here is how reporter Richard Simon begins this riveting tale, which has a Washington, D.C., dateline:
Henry Mayer had long heard of the lost Nazi diary.
Mayer helped maintain the vast collection of artifacts at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and knew the diary had been kept by Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazi Party's chief ideologue and a confidant of Adolf Hitler.
The diary was found in the final days of World War II, hidden behind a false wall in a Bavarian castle. Excerpts were introduced into evidence at the Nuremberg war crimes trials.
Then the 425-page diary disappeared. Half a century later, Mayer, the son of a Holocaust survivor, made it his mission to find it.
Simple and to the point. The problem is that the Mayer and other historians kept finding more and more Rosenberg papers -- including materials that surprised them -- yet the diary continued to elude them. It's kind of like a ghost.
The key to the story is tied up in that simple phrase at the top of the story, that Rosenberg was the "Nazi Party's chief ideologue." Yes, that includes the fine-tuning of the hellish racial, scientific and religious formula that led to the Holocaust. As the story notes:
Mayer and others long hoped to secure the diary because of the prominent role Rosenberg played in the Nazi hierarchy.
"It was Rosenberg, the intellectual high priest of the 'master race,' who provided the doctrine of hatred which gave the impetus for the annihilation of Jewry," Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, the chief U.S. prosecutor at Nuremberg, said at the tribunal.
Rosenberg was hanged on Oct. 16, 1946, at age 53.
Yes, the story delivers on the details of the eventual recovery. In this case, there is no need to whisper "Spoilers," to quote the famous scholar Dr. River Song. However, I believe that there is a major hole in the story at that point.
Eventually, with the help of an ex-FBI agent, the moment comes:
The first page he saw was dated April 2, 1941 -- Rosenberg's account of Hitler telling him "your great hour has come." ... The diary, covering 1936 through 1944, includes Rosenberg's accounts of meetings with "der Führer," describes fighting among Hitler's inner circle and reveals the depths of Rosenberg's anti-Semitism.
Rosenberg served as Reich minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories, and in a March 28, 1941, entry called the opening of the Institute for Study of the Jewish Question a success "with the clear program to remove this race from Europe. And now this perception of a historic necessity is backed up by power."
He boasted that the "Jewish art treasures" his staff had confiscated were "without a doubt magnificent," with a value estimated at 1 billion reichsmarks, or about $250 million. "I will show them soon to the Führer."
OK, is it just me or is there anyone else who wanted -- painful though they may be to read -- a paragraph or two of material that offered insights, almost certainly religious and pseudo-scientific in nature, into the "depths of Rosenberg's anti-Semitism"?
Anything? Maybe a quote or two even, translated from the German? Surely after all of the fascinating details about the hunt, readers get to learn one or two things about the contents of this hellish volume?
After all, we are dealing with ink-on-paper evil, the thoughts and ideas behind of the great human and theological mysteries of the 20th Century. The story is clear about that evil angle:
The diary is not on public display, but digital scans are posted on the museum's website. There is no English translation yet.
The diary describes a great evil, Mayer said, and perhaps will instruct future generations about where evil can lead. "That is why we diligently search for these irrefutable proofs, sometimes for a very long time," he said. "It's about justice for all of the victims."
A classic ghost, if there ever was one.