As the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Cantor Andrea Rae Markowicz had a personal stake in spending a recent Monday evening glimpsing ominous diary passages penned by a close confidant of Adolf Hitler.
“This is part of my family’s narrative, and a part of all our lives,” said Markowicz, cantor at Am Shalom in Glencoe, which this week hosted the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum presentation, “Inside the Mind of a Nazi Perpetrator: The Search for the Rosenberg Diary.”
“The turn out for the lecture tonight was incredible…we had to add more chairs,” said Markowicz, an Evanston resident. “Clearly people are still interested in learning more about the Holocaust and are still searching for answers to the question, ‘how can people do this?'”
Indeed, museum officials said they are in a race against time to rescue the evidence of the Holocaust — archives, documents, photographs, videos, and artifacts — to preserve its history and to ensure its lessons are conveyed to future generations.
“This is a great opportunity to show what we’re doing on a daily basis,” said Juergen Matthaeus, director of the applied research scholars at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., who also shared his research on the diary earlier in the day at Mesirow Auditorium in Chicago.
“We were really excited to see what this diary adds to what we already know about the Holocaust, and how it complicates it,” Matthaeus said.
Matthaeus said the museum’s determined search for Alfred Rosenberg’s handwritten diary took more than a decade, and ultimately led to the acquisition of more than 400 pages of loose-leaf paper covering the years 1936 through 1944, when the diarist was responsible for looting valuables in lands occupied by the Nazis, as well as orchestrating Nazi rule of conquered Soviet territories.
According to the museum’s website, in early 2013, agents with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security Investigations located Rosenberg’s diary with an individual in upstate New York.
The diary was later seized by special agents, and as a piece of evidence gathered for the Nuremberg trials, the diary actually belongs to the U.S. government, which has deposited it with the museum, officials said.
While Rosenberg’s writings offer another valuable opportunity for researchers to examine the politics of Nazi leaders, as well as the mindset and behaviors of Holocaust perpetrators, Matthaeus said the actual intent of the diary is difficult to decipher.
“We know Rosenberg was a member of Hitler’s inner circle, but he often evades writing about anything concrete…he was very comfortable with a certain vagueness,” Matthaeus said. “Now, when you take the diary and piece it together with other documentary puzzles, you get the idea that Rosenberg was someone who was not only an ideologue, but also a pragmatist who knew how to convert his ideas into practice.”
After World War II, Rosenberg was tried at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. He was found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to death in 1946, Matthaeus said.
Rosenberg’s diary is not only a critical, albeit painful, archival document depicting the philosophy of one of Hitler’s elite entourage, it also serves as another piece of evidence that can be used by educators working on genocide prevention efforts in countries including Rwanda and Sudan, officials said.
“I think even for those whose lives have never been directly touched by the Holocaust, it is important to come to terms with the past,” said Elana Stern, the museum’s Midwest outreach manager.
“The museum’s educational programs are so important, especially now, when oral testimonies from survivors will not be with us in the decades to come,” Stern said.
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