As Germany was invading the Soviet Union in June of 1941, the wife of Heinrich Himmler, who was the chief of the Nazi Gestapo and the SS and also one of the primary orchestrators of the Holocaust, sent him a message: “There is a can of caviar in the ice box. Take it.”
At another time, Himmler’s wife, Margarete, received a note from her husband that read: “I am off to Auschwitz. Kisses, Your Heini.”
According to a special report by The New York Times, excerpts have been released from a private collection of hundreds of the Himmlers’ personal letters, diaries and photographs. These excerpts were published for the first time two weeks ago by the Israeli publication Yediot Aharonot as well as the German newspaper Die Welt.
Michael Hollmann, president of the German federal Archives, told Die Welt that he believes that the documents are authentic, although their exact origins have yet to be clarified, and the letters exist only as photo negatives, according to the website DW.DE.
According to the Times, a team of researchers and writers at Germany’s Die Welt have been studying the documents since 2011, a detail the Times attributes to the German newspaper’s website. The newspaper described the collection, currently housed in Israel, as “the largest and most significant find of private documents of a leading Nazi criminal.”
Die Welt wrote that the newly released documents “do not change the overall picture of the Nazi reign of terror,” but that they do add numerous details about Himmler’s personality and his daily life. Die Welt said “signs of Himmler’s immeasurable anti-Semitism and his obsessiveness” were clear and apparent in the letters dating as early as 1927.
Avner Shalev, chairman of the directorate of Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, said in a telephone interview that the collection was “of great historical significance” because it touched on one of the central questions that researchers of the Holocaust grapple with: how human beings could have carried out such an extreme ideology and persuaded so many people to follow them. “These were not monsters; they were human beings, however twisted,” Shalev told the Times in reference to the Nazi leaders, adding that the letters and diaries “might shed light for researchers dealing with this open question.”
According to the Times, the archive was hidden right in Tel Aviv for decades. Chaim Rosenthal, an Israeli artist and collector, told reporters at a 1982 New York-based news conference that he had bought the collection that year from a former adjutant to Gen. Karl Wolff. Wolff was Himmler’s liaison officer with Hitler as well as a commander in the SS — the Nazi special police — in Italy. Rosenthal, who was once a consul for cultural affairs at the Israel Consulate in New York, said he had paid $40,000 for the letters, which he said the adjutant had stolen from General Wolff’s estate.
Other accounts of how Rosenthal acquired the collection have been reported as well: Israeli news media has claimed that another account is that Rosenthal bought the letters at a Brussels flea market. Still other accounts state that two American soldiers picked up hundreds of letters and documents from Himmler’s home in Bavaria after the war, according to the Times.
And still, DW.DE reports that “US soldiers allegedly took the documents from Himmler's home on Tegernsee after the war ended in 1945. When and how they found their way to Chaim Rosenthal in Israel remains unclear.”
Rosenthal, who died in 2012, reportedly kept the collection in his apartment in Tel Aviv. The Times reported that the collection was sold several years ago to the father of an Israel-based documentary filmmaker, Vanessa Lapa, and is now kept in a bank vault in Tel Aviv.