August 6, 2009
Anthony Platt

Full title: Bloodlines – Recovering Hitler’s Nuremberg Laws, from Patton’s Trophy to Public Memorial

The physical typescript of the Nuremberg Laws – from their discovery by two Jewish American soldiers in Eichstätt, Germany in 1945 to their first public exhibition in 1999 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles – is the focus of Anthony Platt’s riveting book, Bloodlines.

Platt, a professor emeritus at California State University, Sacramento, was on sabbatical with his partner and co-author Cecelia O’Leary doing research at the Huntington Library in 1999.

His curiosity was aroused by the controversy stirred by the Huntington’s announcement that it was loaning an original copy of the Nuremberg Laws to the new Skirball Cultural Center. Received by the library from Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., in June 1945, the documents had been in the Huntington’s vault in 54 years.

The Nuremberg Laws were enacted by the Reichstag and signed by Adolf Hitler in September 1935. They made the swastika the national symbol of Germany. They made Jews non-citizens in their own country. They prohibited marriage and sexuality between Germans and Jews and prohibited Jews from employing Germans younger than 45.

The Nuremberg Laws made anti-Semitism legal. It laid the foundations for the vast bureaucracy that carried 6 million Jews to the crematoria.

Patton said in a statement dictated at the Huntington in 1945 that the documents were captured in battle in March 1945. He claimed he was given the documents by Gen. Van Fleet, commander of the 90th Division in a public presentation honoring Patton in May 1945.

Platt found no evidence of such a presentation. What he did discover was Martin Dannenberg. Dannenberg had photographs of himself and another soldier in a bank vault holding the documents. He also had direct knowledge of how the documents moved from German hands to U.S. hands.

In 1945, Dannenberg was a special agent in charge with the 203d Counter-Intelligence Corps. He, Military Intelligence Interpreter Frank Perls and Agent Maxwell Pickens were led to the documents by an informant. They turned them over to Patton’s intelligence chief believing they would be forwarded to the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force document unit in Paris. There, documents were being prepared to put war criminals on trial.

Patton was a known anti-Semite. His taking of the Nuremberg Laws violated Allied policies about found enemy documents and other materials.

Perhaps this explains why Patton’s depositing of the documents at the Huntington was done with no fanfare.

He did not donate the documents to the Huntington. His death from a car accident six months later left the documents in limbo. Despite several requests by the Patton family that all papers related to Patton be given to the Library of Congress, the Huntington did not do so.

Platt and O’Reilly’s book is highly readable. It is a well-told, suspenseful story. The book leaves readers pondering the elitist views in our own country, how a document can shape our understanding of the past and the responsibilities of libraries and museums.

© Jeannette M. Hartman, 2009

  From Issue:10.07
Reviewed by: Jeannette M. Hartman
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