The Nuremberg Laws: From Nuremberg to the National Archives

Today’s post is by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland.

For the 1935 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, Nazi German’s Chancellor Adolf Hitler called for the convening of the Reichstag in the city on September 15, the concluding Sunday, in order to pass a Reich Flag Law, making the Swastika the national symbol.

The Congress opened on September 10 with Mayor Willi Liebel presenting Hitler with a faithful reproduction of a historic imperial ceremonial sword of the first German Empire. Liebel would always have something for Hitler at the opening day of each Party Congress.

With increasing calls for anti-Semitic legislation during the Congress, Hitler felt the pressure to act; he was probably also thinking about the February 1936 Winter Olympics to be held in Germany and realized he had a limited opportunity to act against the Jews.

So, on September 13, Hitler told Reich Minister of the Interior Wilhelm Frick that he wanted another law, one to deal with “Blood Protection.” German legal expert Wilhelm Stuckart, already in Nuremberg, was called upon to draft the law. Another legal expert Bernhard Loesener, who still was in Berlin, was called to immediately come to Nuremberg to assist Stuckart. Loesener flew to Nuremberg on the morning of September 14. All day they worked on drafting a Blood Law. They finished their work at midnight. Then they were informed Hitler wanted a Citizenship Law. They worked at a hotel bar all night drafting that law.

These laws, along with the Flag law, were adopted unanimously by the Reichstag on the night of September 15 and the next day published in the Reich Law Gazette. These three laws were the Nuremberg Laws. Two of the laws provided that the Minister of Interior and the Deputy to the Fuehrer (Rudolph Hess) work out implementing regulations, that is, defining who a Jew was, for legal purposes, and subsequently to be subject to persecution.

At some point in the days following before the Congress ended, the laws were signed and were sent to the Reich Archives in Potsdam.

For some unknown reason, perhaps because Liebel always gave him something or perhaps because the important implementing regulations to the Nuremberg Laws were adopted in November, thus settling the Jewish issue, Hitler in November 1935, instructed that the Nuremberg Laws be sent by the Reich Archives to Nuremberg. In December 1935 they were.

Based on the carbon copies of the 1937 correspondence, contained with the Nuremberg Laws that the US National Archives received, in 1937 the Reich Chancellery indicated that Hitler was concerned about the over-exhibiting of the various Laws, not just the Nuremberg Laws, and that in the future copies could be made available. At some point, probably in 1937, copies of this correspondence, along with copies of the Nuremberg Laws were sent to Liebel for exhibit purposes.

Liebel must have kept the original and copy in his office until in 1943 when he became concerned about the increasing number of British Royal Air Force Bomber Command raids on Nuremberg, the sixth having been conducted on the night of August 10-11, 1943. So early in October he turned the material over to bank directors for safekeeping.

In June 1944 the Allies landed in France and on July 20, 1944 Count Claus von Stauffenberg unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Hitler and paid for his effort with his life. After the assassination attempt Reichsführer of the Schutzstaffel (SS) Heinrich Himmler ordered that all property of the would-be assassins be confiscated. The Stauffenbergs owned a great deal of property in the Nuremberg area. As Himmler’s highest SS representative in the area Lt. Gen. Benno Martin, who was also the Police President of Nuremberg, was ordered to seize the Stuaffenberg property. Martin, always looking to the way the political winds were blowing, could not help but foresee the inevitable end of the Third Reich. So, instead of tossing all the Stauffenbergs in concentration camps, Martin had them confined in local jails in their hometowns. He seized the family jewels and stored them in local banks to await the day when Allied armies would capture the towns and the Stauffenbergs could reclaim their fortune. He had one of his deputies take and store the most valuable of the jewels. They were placed in bank vault at Ansbach, 30 miles southeast of Nuremberg.

In Europe in the spring of 1945 the war was coming to an end. Among the last major cities captured was that of Nuremberg. The Allied Bomber command pounded the city during mid-March and again on April 5.

And the ground forces moved on Nuremberg. While General George S. Patton’s Third Army was moving eastward, and north of Nuremberg, the Seventh Army was heading straight towards Nuremberg. On April 6, the 10th Armored Division’s Combat Command A, then attached to the Seventh Army, rolled into Crailsheim, some 50 miles southwest of Nuremberg.

With the Americans 25 miles southwest of Ansbach, Benno Martin had his aide take the Stauffenberg jewels from a safe in one bank and deliver them to him. On April 12, Martin typed up a memorandum explaining the jewels and plans to take them to Eichstaett, an hour’s drive south of Nuremberg, where he planned to have them placed in a bank vault.

On April 12, Liebel gave Martin the Nuremberg Laws. Martin annotated his memorandum with the note that the Nuremberg Laws were included with the jewelry and took the items to a safe deposit box in Eichstaett. Then Martin headed back to Nuremberg and on April 14 raced to get away from the approaching American forces.

On April 16, the Seventh Army’s 3rd and 45th Infantry divisions approached Nuremberg in an envelopment maneuver. By April 19 these American forces had pushed to the ancient stone walls of the old city, where German troops clearly planned a last stand. On April 20, Hitler’s birthday, elements of the two infantry divisions entered the city and after hard fighting effectively secured the town. Mayor Liebel would commit suicide.

On April 22 both the Third and Seventh Armies swung southward and southeastward towards the Alps. The 342nd Infantry Regiment of the 86th Infantry Division, on April 25, meeting little resistance, captured Eichstaett.

Several days later a three-man team of 203rd Detachment of the Counter-Intelligence Corps (CIC) arrived in Eichstaett. They were Martin Dannenberg, Frank Perls and Maxwell Pickens. They had learned that there were important government documents in a bank’s vault. They obtained keys to the bank’s vault and there they found the original Nuremberg Laws, a copy of the Laws, and various pieces of correspondence, all inside a sealed envelope embossed with Nazi wax seals. Also, in the vault was a box wrapped in brown paper, containing the Stauffenberg family jewels. None of the team touched the jewels and they wrote up a signed, witnessed statement, that the jewels were replaced in the vault.

The CIC agents then took the documents to General Patton’s headquarters where they were eventually given to him.

In violation of various directives dealing with captured German government documents issued by the Combined Chiefs of Staff and Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and Omar Bradley, Patton took the Nuremberg material home with him in June 1945 and deposited it with the Huntington Library, near Pasadena, California, for safekeeping.

General Patton presenting the Nuremberg Laws to the Huntington Library, 6/11/1945. (NAID 128215405).

Patton returned to Germany and died in an automobile accident. The Huntington Library quietly kept the materials hidden away until 1999 when the Nuremberg Laws were loaned to the newly-opened Skirball Center in Los Angeles.

After communications between the Executive Director of the Huntington Library and David Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States, the Nuremberg Laws and associated paperwork were donated to the National Archives in August 2010. The digitized images of the laws and related paperwork can be viewed in the National Archives Catalog at: Nuremberg Laws, 1933 – 1945 (National Archives ID 18501106).

This is a 4-minute video about the laws and their trip from Nuremberg to the National Archives: Nuremberg Laws at the National Archives, US National Archives, YouTube (Aug. 23, 2010)

This is a 28-minute video filmed at the National Archives about the Nuremberg Laws: American Artifacts: Third Reich Nuremberg Laws, C-SPAN (Archivist Greg Bradsher talks about the 1935 Nuremberg Laws).

For a short essay on the subject matter of this blog see my article: “Nuremberg Laws: Archives Receives Original Nazi Documents That ‘Legalized’ Persecution of Jews,” Prologue, Vol. 42 No. 4 (Winter 2010).

Also see “The Nuremberg Laws” written by the Archivist of the United States David Ferriero,