Hitler’s Political Testament, Personal Will, and Marriage Certificate: From the Bunker in Berlin to National Archives in Washington, D.C. {Part III: The Documents Journey from Germany to Washington}

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher and is the third post in a four-part series.

The National Archives and Records Administration plans to display Adolf Hitler’s Political Testament, Personal Will, and Marriage Certificate (National Archives Identifier 6883511) in the exhibit “Making Their Mark” beginning March 21, 2014. This series of blogs traces the aforementioned documents from the time of their creation to first being exhibited at the National Archives in 1946.

On January 3, 1946, Brig. Gen. Edwin L. Sibert, G-2, United States Forces European Theater (USFET) telephoned Lt. Col. Harold H. May, Intelligence Chief, Office of G-2, Third U. S. Army, regarding whether or not they had made any publication of the recently discovered Hitler documents. May answered that there was only the general release that the papers had been given. Sibert said that the British had been making statements to the effect they had the documents at one time and would soon make publication of them. May informed Sibert that this may be true and also that they may have found out their contents from Zander who was in possession of them. He further informed Sibert that the British had been looking for these papers for some time. Sibert was wondering what had happened to the original translations of these documents, and was informed that they were at the Executive Branch, G-2, Third Army. Sibert requested that they be made as secret as possible, with reference to the contents.

On January 2 Foreign Service Officer J. D. Beam wrote Ambassador Robert Murphy, U. S. Political Adviser for Germany, that Colonel S. Frederick Gronich (the Officer in Charge of the Documents Control Center at Frankfurt) brought to him that day copies of Hitler’s will and marriage license. Beam observed that they were highly interesting documents and seemed altogether authentic. He indicated that G-2 was sending the original documents to Washington where they may be deposited with the Library of Congress. This action was being taken, he noted, to forestall any demands from other countries for custody of the documents.  He reported that photostatic copies had been made and that Murphy’s office was to be furnished with two, one of which would be sent on immediately to the State Department.  On January 4 Murphy cabled the State Department that it would have seen the translation of Hitler’s political will which was released by the British and transmitted by the Associated Press from a copy which the British apparently had in their possession for several weeks. He then proceeded to provide the circumstances of the capture of the will and other documents as related to his office by G-2 USFET.  Murphy added that Zander was last reported to be in custody in Munich and that G-2 accepted the authenticity of the documents.  He indicated that with his concurrence, the original documents were being forwarded shortly to the War Department for possible later custody by the Library of Congress and that it was understood that photostatic copies would be given to other interested Allied nations and that he was to receive a copy which would be sent to the State Department.

In a dispatch sent to the State Department on January 8, Beam included a copy of a report received by G-2 USFET regarding the circumstances attending the discovery of Hitler’s political testament and other documents which were found with Zander. In addition to the report the dispatch included information about the intended destination of the documents and the existence of other copies. Beam reported that it was understood that the original documents were on their way to the War Department and may be later delivered to the Library of Congress. He also added that from a conversation with Mr. Steel (Chief of the Political Division of the British delegation on the Control Council) it was gathered that there were probably three signed originals of Hitler’s wills, including the one found in Bavaria when Zander was captured. The British discovered the other two copies, one which was apparently sent by Martin Bormann to Admiral Karl Doenitz, just before the fall of Berlin by special courier which never arrived. The dispatch enclosed translations and photostats of letters of transmittal, marriage license, private will, and personal testament, and 1st Lt. Allen Fial (303rd Counter Intelligence Corps Detachment) December 28 memorandum. Beam surmised, that the documents captured by the United States authorities in Bavaria contained the single original of Hitler’s marriage certificate.

Another letter tracking the whereabouts of the Hitler’s documents was sent on January 11 by Colonel Edward M. Fickett , Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, Third U.S. Army to the Office of the U.S. Chief of Counsel, International Military Tribunal, at Nuremberg. This dispatch included a complete set of photocopies of documents and photographs discovered by the 303rd CIC Detachment, Third U.S. Army, on December 28, 1945. Fickett indicated that he did not know where the originals were, but he believed that they had already been forwarded to the War Department “for transmission to the Library of Congress.” He also indicated that Zander was presently in Third U.S. Army custody.

The British also had their concerns about the Hitler documents. The British Embassy in Washington on January 9, 1946, prepared an aide memorie (later sent by First Secretary Donald Maclean) for the State Department stating that while the complete texts of Hitler’s political and personal testaments had been published in the press, the Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Ernest Bevin, felt that the less public notice the documents received in Germany or elsewhere the better, and that the British Government intended to avoid any mention of the documents whatever in its propaganda to Germany or Austria. The Embassy then raised the question of the disposal of the original documents, two sets of which were in British hands and one set in American hands, stating that

“It is possible that these might in time become objects of great sentimental and political value to many Germanys. Mr. Bevin is considering whether it would not be wise to destroy these sets. This could be done at any time but meanwhile he intends that the British sets should be removed from Germany and safely interred in the British official archives…Mr. Bevin hopes that the State Department will take similar steps and will also agree that the number of microfilm copies should be very strictly limited as well. Even facsimiles might become objects of veneration and these could be multiplied in Germany if a single facsimile copy got into the wrong hands.”

Within a short time of receiving the British aide memorie Dean Acheson, the Acting Secretary of State, informed Murphy of the British government’s intended plans for the Hitler documents. While the State Department, Acheson wrote, was not impressed by the British argument in view of publication of texts, he asked Murphy whether photostatic copies mentioned in his January 4 cable had actually been given to other interested allied nations and whether the original set had been forwarded to the War Department.

On January 22 Beam wrote Colonel W. D. Hohenthal, Chief Intelligence Branch, Office of the Director of Political Affairs, Office of Military Government (U.S.) from Frankfurt that Hitler’s political and personal testaments in United States hands had been dispatched to the War Department, that copies had been furnished to the British and French, and that arrangements were made to provide photostats to news representatives.

On January 24 Murphy wrote the Secretary of State, passing on information in Beam’s report regarding the Hitler documents. Murphy reported that the United States Army recovery included the only originals of Hitler’s marriage certificate and Bormann’s letter of transmittal to Doenitz, indicating that this set was the one intended for despatch to Doenitz by special courier.  The British find, he added, included a memorandum by Goebbels and a letter from a German General in Berlin. He reported that photostatic copies of the above documents were being exchanged with the British to complete respective sets and that G-2 had not yet received an interrogation report on Zander.

Bormann’s Letter of Transmittal

With the above information the State Department crafted a memorandum regarding the British aide memoire of January 9.  In it the State Department acknowledged receiving the British Embassy’s aide memoire regarding the disposition of the original texts and microfilm copies of Hitler’s political and personal testaments. The memorandum indicated that the State Department agreed with the British Foreign Office “that the less public notice the documents receive in Germany or outside the better” and that it had no present intention of mentioning these documents in broadcasts to or in press releases for Germany. The State Department indicated that it had been informed by its political representative in Germany that the original signed texts of the documents which were in US hands had been transmitted to the War Department and that Murphy reported that the US military authorities arranged to furnish copies of these documents to the British, Russian and French military officials, and also to give photostatic copies to representatives of the American press. Concluding, the memorandum stated that:

“The Department recognizes that it would be undesirable to have facsimiles of these documents distributed throughout Germany. It should be possible to prevent such distribution during the period of Allied control over publications, publishing establishments and printing presses in Germany, in view of the release of photostatic copies that has already taken place, the Department does not see what steps could be taken at this time to prevent facsimiles from falling into German hands at some future date.”

On January 25 Colonel Richard L. Hopkins, Deputy Chief, Military Intelligence Service (MIS), drafted a communication for the Chief, MIS to the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, Maj. Gen. Clayton Bissell in which photostatic copies of Hitler’s marriage certificate, personal will, political testament and allied papers were attached.  Bissell was informed that MIS had possession of the original documents which had been evacuated from Germany and the documents were recovered by CIC personnel as a result of information furnished by a British Counterintelligence Officer, Major Trevor-Roper.  It was recommended to him that the following action be authorized: a protective folder, suitable for presentation be made which will accommodate both the original documents and translations thereof; the documents be forwarded to the Chief of Staff for presentation to the President with the recommendation that the President permit the documents to be placed in a public display in the Library of Congress; and photostatic copies of the documents be passed to the State Department for presentation to the Allied Governments of Russia, France, and Great Britain.

That same day, Brig. Gen. John Weckerling, the Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, drafted a response for Bissell that indicated approval for making the protective folder and indicating that that the transmittal to foreign governments be done on the Secretary of War to Secretary of State level. MIS was requested to prepare a letter from the Chief of Staff to the President which would be handled by the Liaison Officer to the White House if MIS’s proposals regarding the President were approved.

It would be another month before MIS responded, in a letter drafted by Colonel Hopkins for the Chief of MIS. The Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2 was informed that in accordance with instructions, a letter from the Chief of Staff to the President had been drafted for transmittal of the personal documents of Hitler. The State Department, he was informed, had been contacted through the Washington Liaison Branch to determine how many photostatic copies of the documents were required for their purposes and for forwarding to Allied Governments.  However, no reply had been received. MIS indicated that negative photostats of the documents had been retained by their office and it recommend an attached Summary Sheet to the Chief of Staff be signed and dispatched. A handwritten note indicated that it was rewritten and carried to the Office of the Chief of Staff on February 27.

Colonel Hopkins on February 28 sent Lt. Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, the new Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, the originals of Hitler’s certificate of marriage, will and testament, together with Bormann’s letter of transmittal to Doenitz. Hopkins informed Vandenberg that the documents had been appropriately mounted in a protective binder together with translations of the documents. He suggested that the significance of the papers was such that they be presented to the President with the suggestion that the documents be forwarded to the Library of Congress or other appropriate agency for preservation and suitable public display. He attached a draft letter to the President and requested Vandenberg to approve his recommendation. Later that day, according to a pencil notation on the retained copy, the documents were hand carried to the Office of the Chief of Staff.

But action was not taken immediately. Eisenhower decided that before sending the material to the President, it should be authenticated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

 Bibliographic information will be furnished in the fourth part of this series of blogs.