Yad Vashem Says Will House Newly Discovered Himmler Letters

Collection of letters, diaries and photos to be cataloged, scanned and displayed at Holocaust museum, archives director tells Haaretz.

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

The director of archives at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial authority is hopeful that the authority will soon receive the private papers of SS chief Heinrich Himmler, which have been kept until now in a private bank vault in Tel Aviv. There are contradictory versions as to how the collection of letters, diaries and photos belonging to Himmler and his family found their way to Israel.

Dr. Haim Gertner, director of Yad Vashem's archives in Jerusalem, told Haaretz that “in recent years, Yad Vashem has been in contact with the present owner of the collection, Vanessa Lapa, and her father. She plans eventually to give the collection to Yad Vashem – we hope soon,” said Gertner.

The collection includes 700 personal letters exchanged by Himmler and his wife between 1927 and 1945, the year when he committed suicide; diaries written by his wife and their daughter; rare family photos; financial reports; recipes, etc.

The existence of the collection was known some 30 years ago, but it made the headlines again recently due to a series of articles in the German newspaper Die Welt, in which excerpts were quoted. The documents constitute a personal record of the private and intimate life of Himmler, whom is described by Yad Vashem scholars as “the moving force behind the destruction of the ghettoes and the implementation of the Final Solution," and as the man responsible for expulsions and mass murders that took place in occupied Europe.

The source of the collection is not entirely clear, and there are several contradictory versions as to the circumstances of its arrival in Israel after Himmler's death. Whatever the case, the photos and documents apparently fell into the hands of Tel Aviv resident Chaim Rosenthal. A few years ago Rosenthal’s son sold it to Belgium diamond dealer named David Lapa, who gave it to his daughter Vanessa. She has used the materials as the basis for a documentary film – named "Der Anständige" ("The Decent One"), due to be screened next month at the Berlin International Film Festival.

“For us," says Gertner, who has been in touch with Vanessa Lapa, "the story is something of a mystery. We have only some of the information. It’s hard to know what exactly happened to the material and how it ended up here. It’s still difficult to know which version is true and whether we really have all the data” related to the collection. “Nor am I certain that the present owner has all the information. We hope that the moment we receive the collection at Yad Vashem, we will have a better idea of its origins,” he added.

Gertner said that "documentation of this type has turned up in many places throughout the years, and the our first question was always whether the material is original. In this case, several experts from Germany examined the collection and determined that it’s original.”

One of the experts with whom Gertner spoke was president of the Deutsches Bundesarchiv (the German Federal Archive), who determined that the material is indeed authentic. “To date we have seen only part of the material, only samples. Our impression is that this is original material,” the Yad Vashem archivist said.

Yad Vashem preserves and displays documents relating to many Nazi officials. One such manuscript is the diary of Adolf Eichmann, written while he was imprisoned in Israel. Another item kept at the Holocaust memorial authority is a guest book kept by Rudolf Höss, who was commandant of Auschwitz extermination camp.

“It’s horrifying to read this,” said Gertner. “On page after page, you read there what his guests were doing that day. How they enjoyed horseback riding at his home, from which the crematorium was visible."

After the Himmler collection arrives at Yad Vashem, he added, experts "will examine its condition and determine whether it is in need of preservation. In the final analysis it was in private hands, so there’s no way of knowing its [physical] condition, although we believe – from the little we have seen – that it is reasonable, but still requires certain preservation measures.”

Later the material will be cataloged and then scanned, before being displayed to the general public at Yad Vashem.

“Our objective," the archivist summed up, "is to collect documentation but also to make it accessible, so that scholars and the general public will be able to use it. Certainly in this case – of such rare, interesting and important documentation.”

Photograph of Heinrich Himmler shaking hands with Adolf Hitler at the Topography of Terror documentation center and museum in Berlin. Credit: Archive
SS chief Heinrich Himmler Credit: Bunds Archive

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