SAN MARINO, Calif. (AP) — The Nuremberg Laws, the documents that took away Jews’ rights to German citizenship and laid the groundwork for the execution of 6 million people during the Holocaust, were turned over to the National Archives on Wednesday.
The Huntington, a sprawling complex of libraries, museums and botanical gardens located in the rolling hills of this wealthy Los Angeles suburb, has had charge of the original papers since Gen. George Patton quietly deposited them there at the end of World War II.
Patton, who disobeyed orders by taking the papers out of the Germany, grew up in San Marino and was friends with the family of Henry Huntington, the California railroad baron who carved The Huntington out of the grounds of his estate.
U.S. Archivist David Ferriero said he hopes to put the papers on display in Washington, D.C., by Sept. 15, the 75th anniversary of their signing by Adolf Hitler.
The Huntington turned over two sets of the laws, each four pages long and signed. They are the only ones known to exist. One set, which appeared to be in mint condition, was displayed at a news conference where they were formally handed over.
“The National Archives is the country’s leading research library,” Huntington President Steve S. Koblik told reporters. “We were very proud to be able to hand over the documents in pristine condition.”
The papers, which among other things rescinded the citizenship of German Jews and forbid them to marry non-Jews, are the only original pieces of Nuremberg war crimes trial evidence missing from the Archives’ collection, said National Archives spokeswoman Susan Cooper.
Holocaust scholars have described them as priceless, saying they provide an outline of the beginnings of a movement that led to the Nazi genocide.
Although the laws didn’t directly call for the execution of Jews, they laid the groundwork for that, several scholars said, by marginalizing a group of people, turning them into second-class citizens.
“It’s important to our understanding of genocide that genocide is always a process,” said Stephen Smith, executive director of the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation Institute, which documents evidence of the Holocaust.
“That was not an order to murder the Jews, it was an order to exclude them from participation in society,” Smith said of the Nuremberg Laws. “Once you start excluding a group for whatever reason you are on the path to the ultimate exclusion.”
The papers were given to Patton by U.S. soldiers who found them in a German bank vault. He should have passed them on to investigators compiling evidence to be used during Nazi war crimes trials held in Nuremberg after the war, said Greg Bradsher, director of the Holocaust records section of the National Archives. Instead, prosecutors used photocopies.
“But it certainly would have been more dramatic and effective to have confronted the defendants with the originals,” Bradsher said.
Patton, a notorious war souvenir hunter, also brought back Nazi helmets and daggers and a pristine copy of Hitler’s autobiography “Mein Kaumpf.” He donated the latter to The Huntington in memory of his father, but Koblik said Patton never specified what to do with the Nuremberg Laws.
“He said when he returned he would decide,” Koblik said. Months later, in December 1945, he died of injuries suffered in a traffic accident.
The Huntington kept the papers in a bombproof vault for decades before lending them to Los Angeles’ Skirball Cultural Center in 1999. The center, whose mission is to promote Jewish culture and heritage, returned them last year, and Huntington officials decided to pass them on to the National Archives.
The Huntington, known for such treasures as its priceless Gutenberg Bible and early editions of the works of Shakespeare and Chaucer, never put the papers on display.
“For us to keep the Nuremberg Laws made little sense,” Koblik said. “We do not collect on 20th century Germany.”