Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher.
The National Archives of the United Kingdom has many interesting record series titles. One of my favorites is “Mussolini’s personal files (the ‘Handbag’ files).” This series consists of the papers that Mussolini was carrying in two handbags when he was captured in April 1945. Likewise, the National Archives and Records Administration has series of records with interesting titles. One such one is “Ciano Papers: Rose Garden,” which is found in the National Archives Collection of Foreign Records Seized, Record Group 242.
The story begins in 1940, when twenty-one year old Frau Hildegard Beetz went to work as interpreter and translator of Italian at both the Rome and Berlin offices of Amt VI (External Police Intelligence, SD) of the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA). In September 1943 she was chosen to become an agent and was assigned as secretary to Count Galeazzo Ciano, Benito Mussolini’s son-in-law and Foreign Minister of Fascist Italy, 1936-1943, then under house arrest in Italy. She was given instructions to report his activities to Amt VI. Ciano was subsequently sent to a prison in Verona, tried for treason, and executed by Mussolini’s newly established fascist government on January 11, 1944. Ciano had kept a diary and supporting papers that served as an annex to the diary. The supporting papers, dated from 1938 to 1943, contained documents relating to relations between Mussolini and Ciano with German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop; correspondence between Mussolini and Adolf Hitler; notes of conversations of Ciano and Mussolini with Hitler; correspondence between Ciano and Mussolini; and, documents relating to Italian-British relations and German-British relations. Some Nazi leaders desperately wanted both the diary and supporting papers, believing they would contain information useful to them as well as information discrediting Ribbentrop.
Edda Ciano, however, Galeazzo’s widow, escaped into Switzerland with the diary, where almost a year later Office of Strategic Services Bern Station Chief Allen W. Dulles filmed the diary for the United States government. But the original supporting papers were acquired in Rome by the Germans in January 1944 and were subsequently flown to Berlin. Beetz, upon returning to Germany in October 1944, was assigned the task of translating the supporting papers into German. Although working under security precautions, she managed to make an extra carbon copy of the German translation.
When Hitler ordered the destruction of the originals and translations of Ciano’s supporting papers in April 1945, Beetz buried the extra copy in her rose garden. In June 1945, when questioned by American counterintelligence officers, she led them to the rose garden, where the supporting papers were recovered. The documents were then transferred to the 12th Army Group Document Center and were subsequently transferred to the German Military Documents Section, Departmental Records Branch, Department of the Army. In January 1947, Howard M. Smyth, then the head of the Mediterranean Section, Historical Office of the War Department (later redesignated Office of the Chief of Military History (OCMH), Department of the Army), learned of them, and he borrowed them for official use.
When Smyth acquired the papers, they consisted of a couple of bundles of loose sheets of carbon copies in German without an index or table of contents. He arranged the papers in chronological order and numbered the pages with a stamping machine. He then prepared an index or table of contents of the papers initially sent to him, which comprised some 490 pages. In the Historical Office, Smyth and his colleagues wondered what to call the collection. Having learned that it was dug up out of a rose garden, they dubbed it the “Ciano Papers: Rose Garden.” This was the designation usually used in the citations to this material in the Historical Office. Having put the materials in shape for their use, the office then received a bunch of additional sheets. The integration of this additional material required a re-numbering of the pages and the preparation of a revised index that showed that the collection had grown to 223 documents, numbering 749 pages.
In the spring of 1947 arrangements were made to lend the documents to the State Department and to have them microfilmed. The microfilm is contained on Roll No. 4597 in the series of films made by the German War Documents Project, Microfilm Publication T-120. The microfilm is complete and gives the 223 documents that eventually constituted the documents in the series. The documents remained in the OCMH until they were transferred to the National Archives in January 1969. An English translation of Ciano’s diary, made in 1945, is contained in File L-230, Judge Advocate General Law Library, 1944-1949, War Crimes Branch, Records of the Judge Advocate General, Record Group 153. For more information about the “Rose Garden Papers,” Frau Beetz, and Count and Edda Ciano see Smyth’s essay “The Ciano Papers: Rose Garden,” that was published by Central Intelligence Agency’s Center for the Study of Intelligence.
Papers of Count Galeazzo Ciano, (Ciano Papers: Rose Garden, National Archives ID: 7269255). Record Group 242: National Archives Collection of Foreign Records Seized.
Digitized images of the interregation record of Hildegaard Beetz is available at NARA’s partner site, Fold3.