Robert “Bob” Wolfe: Captured German Records Expert

For over 30 years Robert “Bob” Wolfe was the senior archivist for the captured German records at the National Archives seized during World War II.

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Robert Wolfe speaks about “Some Specialized Captured Records and Their Uses,” at the Conference on Captured German and Related Records in the National Archive theater, 11/12/1968. (National Archives Identifier 23855721)

Now the Robert Wolfe Collection is available through the National Archives Library Information Center. After Wolfe passed away in 2014, his family donated his collection of works on World War II, postwar Germany, and European history to the National Archives. To make arrangements to see the collection, send an email to alic@nara.gov.

Wolfe was born on March 2, 1921, in Burlington, Vermont, to Jewish immigrant parents from Lithuania. He earned a B.A. in history from the University of Vermont in 1942 and started graduate studies at Columbia University before leaving for World War II. He served in the U.S. Army in both Europe and the Pacific and earned a Purple Heart. After the war, he served as an official in the U.S. military government of Germany from 1945 to 1948.

When he returned to the United States, he went back to Columbia to earn his M.A. in 1955, then began working as a member of the American Historical Association’s team to microfilm captured German records at the World War II Records Center in Alexandria, Virginia (the former U.S. Naval Torpedo Station).  

The National Archives hired Wolfe in 1961 on a temporary basis to review and describe Berlin Document Center microfilm. The following year the Archives hired him permanently, this time as a subject matter expert on the Captured German Records.

Thus began his long and industrious career at the National Archives as the go-to guy on Holocaust, Nazi-era, and postwar military government records for a generation of historians.

Captured German and Related Records Conference
In 1968 Wolfe organized a conference on Captured German and Related Records. He edited the papers and proceedings into a book, Captured German and Related Records: A National Archives Conference, published in 1974. (Records of the National Archives)

In addition to helping countless researchers he assisted Israeli prosecutors in the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann who was convicted in the early 1960s. Wolfe also helped the Office of Special Investigations of the U.S. Department of Justice and Canadian, Australian, and British authorities prosecute former Nazis and Nazi collaborators who entered those countries.

After he retired from the National Archives in 1995, he worked as an adviser to Chairman Elie Wiesel at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and in 2001 he began working for the Nazi War Criminal Records Interagency Working Group (IWG). While there, he helped review millions of pages of newly declassified records on Nazi war criminals and crimes and co-authored the IWG’s final report, U.S. Intelligence and the Nazis, in 2004.

Press Conference on RElease of Previously Classified Material, by (IWG) Nazi War Crimes & Japanese Imperial Government Records Inter Agency Working Group
Robert Wolfe speaks at the Interagency Working Group (IWG) Press Conference on the release of previously classified material concerning Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records, 5/13/2004. (National Archives Identifier 66785354)

Robert Wolfe died on December 9, 2014, in Alexandria, Virginia, at age 93.

To learn more about Robert Wolfe read his chronology of the Captured Records Staff.

To learn more about foreign records seized read Sonia Kahn’s blog series in Pieces of History.

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