The long-lost diary of a senior Nazi German war criminal emerged from the shadows Thursday, with experts saying it could shed new light on the Holocaust.
The Rosenberg Diary, kept by Alfred Rosenberg, whose racist theories underpinned Nazi Germany's annihilation of six million Jews, had been missing since the Nuremberg war crimes trials ended in 1946. Rosenberg was a confidante of Adolf Hitler.
"Having material that documents the actions of both perpetrators and victims is crucial to helping scholars understand how and why the Holocaust happened," said Sara Bloomfield, head of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
"The story of this diary demonstrates how much material remains to be collected and why rescuing this evidence is such an important Museum priority," said Bloomfield in a statement.
Excerpts from the 400-page diary, a loose leaf mix of typed and handwritten papers in German, were shown to reporters in Delaware's capital Wilmington, starting point of a federal investigation leading to their recovery.
"It was quite something, holding it in my hands," Henry Mayer, the Holocaust Memorial Museum' senior adviser on archives, who has spent 17 years tracking down the diary, told reporters.
The diary is to be turned over to the Holocaust Memorial Museum and opened to historians, after a legal forfeiture procedure winds its way through the Delaware courts and affirms that the diary is US government property.
The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, which spearheaded the diary's recovery, said it was first taken in the late 1940s by a Nuremberg prosecutor, Robert Kempner, "contrary to law and proper procedure."
Kempner, a German-Jewish lawyer who escaped to the United States during World War II and settled in Pennsylvania, held on to the diary, which covers a 10-year period from 1934, until his death in 1993, ICE said.
Some early pages, used at the Nuremberg trials, have been in the possession of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in original and copied form.
But the vast bulk of the diary remained missing until November 2012 when the US Attorney's office in Delaware and Homeland Security special agents got a tip from an art security specialist working with the museum.
At a press conference at ICE offices in Wilmington, Mayer said the diary was finally traced to the home of a "former academic" outside Buffalo, New York who apparently received them from one of Kempner's assistants.
ICE director John Morton, whose agency specializes in recovering stolen cultural artifacts, refused to say if any charges might be laid in connection with the case, besides stating than an investigation is ongoing.
"These 400 pages are a window into the dark soul of one of the great wrongs of human history," Morton said.
In his role as the Nazis' chief racial theorist, Rosenberg was instrumental in developing and promoting the notion of a German "master race" superior to other Europeans and, above all, to non-Europeans and Jews.
Born in 1893 into an ethnic German family in what is today Estonia, Rosenberg, who loathed Christianity and "degenerate" modern art, doubled as Hitler's point man in occupied eastern Europe and Russia throughout the war.
He was also tasked by Hitler to oversee the systematic plundering of countless works of art throughout occupied Europe, many of which remain missing to this day.
Captured by Allied troops at the end of the 1939-45 war, Rosenberg was convicted at Nuremberg of war crimes, crimes against humanity, initiating and waging wars of aggression, and conspiracy to commit crimes against peace.
He was executed with several other convicted Nazi leaders – Hermann Goering having cheated the hangman by committing suicide in his jail cell the night before – on October 16, 1946. He was 53.