Today’s post comes from Sonia Kahn in the National Archives History Office. It is the seventh and final of our series on the history of some of the seized foreign records housed at the National Archives.
One of the most complex and fascinating histories about foreign records at the National Archvies has been saved for last: the story behind the Papers of Count Galeazzo Ciano, sometimes intriguingly referred to as the Ciano Rose Garden Papers.
Ciano had both personal and formal ties to fascist leader Benito Mussolini. He was married to Mussolini’s eldest legitimate daughter, Edda, in 1930, and he served as the Italian Foreign Minister from 1936 to 1943.
During his term as Foreign Minister, Ciano kept a diary, and along with it a set of accompanying papers to which he frequently referred in the journal entries.
The diary and set of supporting papers survived a convoluted and perilous journey after Ciano betrayed his father-in-law.
Ciano helped oust Mussolini from power in the summer of 1943, hoping to secure a more powerful position for himself. Instead, when the new Prime Minister, Pietro Badoglio, came to power, the new government went after Ciano, forcing him and his family to flee to perceived safety in Germany.
Ciano sought help from Heinrich Himmler and Ernst Kaltenbrunner, two senior Nazi officials, to reach a more permanent asylum in Argentina. He was hoping to trade his diary and supporting papers to the two Nazis, insisting that the documents held information that could discredit Nazi foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, whom the two strongly disliked.
The plan never came to fruition as word reached the Führer himself. Hitler had Ciano returned to Italy under arrest to face his father-in-law’s ire.
On his return journey, Ciano was followed by a German secret service spy, Frau Beetz, who was tasked with acquiring the Ciano’s documents. She and Ciano became friends, however, and in the end, Frau Beetz helped revive the plan to exchange Ciano’s diary for his freedom.
In January 1944, the escape and exchange plans began. Edda Ciano first sent Italian Air Force lieutenant, Emilio Pucci (the future fashion designer), to meet German General Harster to hand over the supporting documents.
General Harster, in turn, sent the records to Berlin. Just as the second phase of the exchange was about to go through, Hitler once more got wind of the plan and furiously announced that anyone who attempted to free Ciano from his impending death sentence would meet the same fate.
In the meantime, Edda Ciano waited at the rendezvous point for her husband, who never appeared. Realizing the plan had failed, Edda renewed her efforts, hoping to threaten Hitler and her father into releasing her husband by announcing plans to publish Ciano’s diary.
With five of the seven volumes of Ciano’s diary strapped to her waist, she made the trek from Italy into neutral Switzerland. Despite the attempt to save him, Ciano died by firing squad on January 14, 1944, as punishment for betraying Mussolini.
Later that year, widow Edda Ciano met with future CIA Director Allen W. Dulles, who had Ciano’s diary microfilmed for intelligence use by the United States. The supporting papers however, did not find their way into American possession until the end of the war.
With the supporting documents still in Berlin, Frau Beetz was called back to Germany and tasked with translating the very same documents she had played a role in obtaining. Despite being closely monitored, Beetz managed to make a copy of the translated documents without being discovered.
This was fortunate, for when Hitler ordered the destruction of the original Ciano records along with their German translations in April 1945, Beetz was able to bury the secret set of duplicates in her rose garden—hence the Rose Garden files.
Ultimately she revealed their location to the American Counterintelligence Corps when they collected her.
Following the war, Raymond Sontag, one of the American editors of the German War Documents Project, asked to borrow the supporting documents from the Department of Defense.
He had the documents microfilmed, and that microfilmed copy of the German translation of Ciano’s original Italian documentation wound up at the National Archives.
The National Archives may keep records documenting our national heritage, but on occasion it is worth stepping back and looking into the more intricate stories behind the documents that, woven together, forge our understanding of history.