Today’s post comes from Sonia Kahn in the National Archives History Office. It is part one of a series on the history behind some of the seized foreign records housed at the National Archives.
When you think of the holdings at the National Archives, it’s likely that three prominent documents immediately come to mind. After the Charters of Freedom, you might think of the census records or maybe the naturalization records held here. Perhaps even the service records of military men and women from the many wars America has fought come to mind.
It is hardly a shock that the National Archives should hold any of these records seeing as it is the repository for U.S. Federal Government documents.
What may surprise you, and what certainly surprised me as a student of modern European history, was when “Eva Braun’s diary” was casually slipped into a list of holdings mentioned during my orientation to the National Archives at College Park, Maryland. That modest mention was the first I had heard of the National Archives housing anything but American documents, and sparked an interest to learn more about the foreign treasures we house.
Record Group (RG) 242, officially designated “National Archives Collection of Foreign Records Seized,” is aptly named. The collection, comprised of more than 680 unique series, is home to governmental, and a few personal, records from abroad.
The vast majority of the records that make up Record Group 242 are known as the Captured German Records, which, again, are as the name states.
During and after World War II, American troops seized countless pages of German documents for intelligence purposes, and later to use as incriminating evidence to prosecute important figures of the National Socialist Party in the wake of the war.
Although many of the records in the collection are German, other foreign records in RG 242 come from Fascist Italy, the Soviet Union, the Japanese Empire, and North Korea, among other countries.
While the documents of RG 242 were seized in the 1940s and later, that is not to say that their content derives exclusively from the war and postwar era.
Several of the series of captured German documents, such as the records of the German Foreign Ministry, extend back much farther, including documents of the interwar period.
Some of the records concern content that dates back as far as the 18th century!
Though I have chosen to survey RG 242 because the records seized in the midst of the Second World War in particular happen to interest me, not all the foreign records the National Archives holds are accounted for in that record group.
RG 242 is home to records appropriated during or after World War II, but the National Archives holds seized documents from as far back as the mid-19th century within its collection of Confederate Records. Not to mention the Philippine Insurrection Records from just around the turn of the century, or the much smaller collection of captured German records from the First World War that have also wound up in the stacks at the National Archives.
It should be noted that the vast majority of the records that compose RG 242 are now microfilmed copies of the originals, which have been returned to their respective nations of origin. However, I do not believe that their nature as duplicates detracts from the stories behind these records. The return of the documents to their homelands is just one more arc in the stories I plan to explore within these documents that unwittingly have found a second home at the National Archives.