Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher.
This past spring knowing my colleague Sylvia Naylor was doing archival descriptive work on the exhibits used at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, I showed her one of the more interesting files, USA Exhibit 787. Sylvia did indeed find it interesting. This exhibit consisted of charred fragments of German stenographic notes (see example of a page). I had first run across them while doing research on Adolf Hitler’s stenographers and their records.
Hitler, in September 1942, decided in to have his own record of what took place at the military conferences in order to have proof on his side of what he had ordered. He ordered that stenographers be employed to take notes of what took place at the conferences. He intended these notes to serve as the basic material for a history of World War II and a reference aid for his own use. Thus would be formed the Stenographic Service at the Fuehrer’s Headquarters.
Two stenographers were present at the conferences and other meetings at any one time and rotated duty as pairs. Their only task was to take down verbatim shorthand notes of the discussions, recovering every word on both sides of steno pads (measuring 8 x 6 inches) which was spoken. Afterwards the stenographers dictated their stenographic notes to typists brought in from the Nazi Party Headquarters. The transcriptions for long conferences would run from 100 to 150 pages.
The typists furnished a final transcript made with two carbon copies. The designated “Fuehrer copy” and the two sets of original shorthand notes were collected and periodically taken to Berlin for storage in a basement vault of the Reich Chancellery. Of the two other copies of the transcripts, one was given to Hitler’s Military Historian, Maj. Gen. Walter Scherff, to be used in writing the history of the war. The other was kept as a working copy in a safe at Hitler respective headquarters, available to him for reference in case of questions.
Late during the evening on April 20, 1945, with Allied armies approaching Berlin from all directions, Hitler ordered that all but two of the stenographers proceed to Berchtesgaden and evacuate their original notes and his copy of the transcriptions which was kept in the basement of the Reichs Chancellery. At this point they had accumulated at least 100,000 pages of single-sided text. At 5am on April 21 six of the stenographers and their records flew out of Berlin with their transcripts and notes. Later that day they stored their records in an air-raid shelter behind the Berghof, Hitler’s home in the Obersalzberg of the Bavarian Alps near Berchtesgaden, and took up residence at Berchtesgaden, believing that Hitler would soon follow. On the evening of April 22, the two remaining stenographers flew from Berlin to Berchestgaden, being ordered to take the records of the last 48 hours to their colleagues in Bavaria, so that-as Hitler expressly stated-the transcripts would be preserved for history. They landed near Munich sometime after 4am on April 23. They then drove to Berchtesgaden to join their colleagues, where the notes of April 21 and 22 were transcribed.
While the stenographers were in Berchtesgaden at the end of April the end came for Hitler and his Third Reich, and with the coming of the end the destruction documents began in earnest. The copy of the transcripts that at been at the various Fuehrer Headquarters was transferred to Berlin in January 1945 and placed in the vault of the Reich Chancellery. It was supposedly burned there immediately after the stenographers, with their shorthand notes and Fuehrer copy of the transcripts, traveled south during the night of April 21.
Toward the end of April Hitler’s Military Historian, who had traveled to Bavaria with his copy of the transcribed stenographic notes, came to Berchtesgaden, and raised the question with the stenographers of what should be done with the transcripts in light of the impending defeat and occupation by American forces. He thought it best to destroy everything. Despite some of the stenographers objecting the decision was made to destroy the transcripts and stenographic notes.
The destruction occurred on one of the first days of May, shortly before the American occupation of Berchtesgaden. Two stenographers were present for identification purposes. In a wooded valley near the village of Hintersee, about seven miles to the southwest of Berchtesgaden, the transcripts and stenographic notes were placed in a large hole in the ground, some twenty feet in diameter and three or four feet deep, and hastily set on fire. Soon thereafter Hitler’s Military Historian burned his copy of the transcripts.
On May 5 elements of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne and of the 7th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Division entered Berchtesgaden. As soon as Berchtesgaden was secured T/3 George Allen, with the counterintelligence corps, 101st Airborne Division, proceeded there to open the Division (Military Intelligence Service) Counter-Intelligence office. On May 7 two of the stenographers reported to local American military government administration offices, identified themselves and offered to share their knowledge. They were sent to see Allen. Allen learned from one of them about the role of the stenographers at Hitler’s headquarters. During the interrogation Counter-Intelligence Corps (CIC) Special Agent Eric Albrecht, who had been sent to the 101st Airborne on detached service, arrived and listened to the stenographers’ stories.
The following day, May 8, seven of the stenographers met with Allen and Albrecht. For the next two days Albrecht and Allen talked to the stenographers, as much as they could, in between their other work. They found the stenographers had collectively sat in on every conference Hitler had held with his High Command from September 1942 to April 22, 1945, and learned the details of their work and of their departing Berlin and arriving in Berchtesgaden. Allen and Albrecht learned from one of the stenographers that one set of the transcripts and shorthand notes had been brought from Berlin to Berchtesgaden in April, in anticipation of the possibility that the government might be transferred to the Alpine Redoubt for the last stand, and that the records had been burned by SS troops near the village of Hintersee. Allen picked up a driver and went out with three of the stenographers to visit the place and determine more fully what had happened.
Image is from Stenographic transcription in the Headquarters of the Fuehrer, Discussion on the Situation of January 27, 1945, Exhibit USA 787, Filed March 20, 1946, Prosecution Exhibits, USA, United States Exhibits, 1933-1946, Office of the Chief of Counsel for the Prosecution of Axis Criminality, National Archives Collection of WWII War Crimes Records, Record Group 238.