The German Foreign Ministry Archive

Today’s post comes from Sonia Kahn in the National Archives History Office. It is part six of a series on the history behind some of the seized foreign records housed at the National Archives.

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Document signed by the head of Paul Schmidt, Interpreter to the German Foreign Ministry, May 13, 1942. (Top Secret Files of the Reich Foreign Minister’s Secretariat, Records of the German Foreign Office Received by the Department of State, National Archives Collection of Foreign Records Seized)

During and immediately following World War II, Allied governments aggressively sought Nazi diplomatic papers. The Allies would use these documents not only to better understand and explain German war aims but also as proof of German infiltration into foreign countries, which was later prosecuted as a war crime.

When British and American troops captured nearly the entire German Foreign Ministry Archives in April 1945, they had reason to celebrate.

The good news was tempered with the discovery that the documents mostly covered the years 1867-1940. There were few post-1940 records, which was a disappointment, particularly for intelligence reasons. In time, though, the Allies found some of the more contemporary documents.

In mid-1943 German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop had made copies of some of the most essential records of the Reich Foreign Minister’s Secretariat. The duplicates included correspondence between Hitler and Mussolini as well as notes that had been taken during meetings between Hitler, Ribbentrop, and foreign diplomats.

While the duplicated records were being moved, an aide to the Nazi in charge of microfilming secretly buried several boxes of microfilmed records against orders. In May of 1945, the aide disclosed the location of the documents to a British team.

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On Exhibit: The Patriot Act

Today’s post comes from Andrew Grafton in the National Archives History Office

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New York, NY, Sept. 14, 2001 — New York City firefighters and emergency personnel conduct response operations at Ground Zero following the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. (National Archives Identifier 24476901)

October 2001, Washington, DC.

The United States has recently been attacked by terrorists intent on killing American citizens and striking a blow against U.S. morale in the fight against terror. Millions are afraid that a further attack is imminent. The public is adamant that the federal government take action.

Out of this environment of fear, and a desire for increased national security, the Patriot Act was born.

In the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States and the September–October 2001 anthrax mail scare, public apprehension about the potential for further threats was at an all-time high.

As a result of these concerns, Congress proposed several bills to strengthen the power of federal law enforcement to preemptively apprehend terror plots. The ultimate goal was to ensure that terror threats like those on 9/11 would be detected by federal law enforcement agencies. Continue reading

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The Personal Files of Benito Mussolini

Today’s post comes from Sonia Kahn in the National Archives History Office. It is part five of a series on the history of some of the seized foreign records housed at the National Archives.

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Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in Munich, Germany, June 1941. (National Archives Identifier 540151)

Unlike the very systematic seizure and filming of German records, the acquisition of many of the Italian records that made their way to the National Archives was purely by chance.

The personal papers of Benito Mussolini, also sometimes called the Handbag Files, are a prime example.

Known as Il Duce, Mussolini was the head of the Italian National Fascist Party. He served as Prime Minister from 1922 until July 1943, when his extreme unpopularity led King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy to dismiss and arrest him. Just months later, on October 13, the Italian state switched its alliance and formally declared war on Germany.

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Breaking Ground: From Market Stalls to the National Archives Building

Today’s post comes from Sonia Kahn in the National Archives History Office.

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Aerial view of the Federal Triangle area of Washington, DC, 6/15/1936 (National Archives Identifier 7820637)

Today the National Archives Building is a recognizable edifice on Pennsylvania Avenue, but it has not always stood on that site in the nation’s capital.

Eighty-five years ago, ground was broken to begin construction on the structure that would house our nation’s records.

A week before the official ground-breaking, the contract for excavation was awarded to Jarboe and Houghton, a firm from Mechanicsville, Maryland. They were given 60 days to complete excavation, beginning on September 5 when a groundbreaking ceremony would take place.

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On Exhibit: An Act to establish the NMAAHC

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National Museum of African American History and Culture, 2016. (Photo by Alan Karchmer, courtesy of Smithsonian Institution)

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) officially opens on September 24, 2016, on the National Mall.

It is the 19th and newest Smithsonian Institution museum and is devoted to documenting African American life, history, and culture.

The museum was established by a December 16, 2003, act of Congress, but efforts to create a national museum dedicated to African American history and culture dates to the early 20th century.

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The German Naval Archives: Tambach

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The wreckage at Lunebach, Germany, ca. March 1945. (National Archives Identifier 535977)

Today’s post comes from Sonia Kahn in the National Archives History Office. It is part four of a series on the history of some of the seized foreign records housed at the National Archives.

Imagining Germany in April 1945 conjures up images of destruction and despair as the war in Europe drew to a close and the Nazi war machine gasped its final breaths.

That April, Allied troops seized documents of the German Naval Archives, also known as the Tambach documents, named after Tambach Castle in northern Bavaria, where they were captured.

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Evidence Exposed a Crumbling Klan: KKK v. John F. Strayer et. al.

Today’s post comes from Grace DiAgostino, an archives technician in Research Services at the National Archives at Philadelphia.

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Women of the Ku Klux Klan on parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC, 1928. (Records of the U.S. Information Agency, National Archives)

The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) is one of the most infamous hate groups in American history.

Founded in the aftermath of the Civil War as a social club, the KKK throughout the 19th and 20th centuries engaged in lynching, instigated riots, and hosted demonstrations.

Although commonly known for their use of extralegal methods, the KKK took a more orthodox approach in 1928 when they took five former members to court for falsely operating as a legitimate unit outside of the national organization.

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The Return of Captured Records from World War II

Today’s post comes from Sonia Kahn in the National Archives History Office. It is part three of a series on the history of some of the seized foreign records housed at the National Archives.

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Summary of recommendations for the disposition of document collections held by the Berlin Document Center. (National Archives Identifier 7431812)

Following World War II, German documents captured during the war were kept in the custody of the United States and Great Britain.

For more than five years after the war, Germany had no central government to receive the documents, and they therefore remained under the care, for the most part, of the U.S. Army.

The Allies created depositories to house the records and make them available to the military for intelligence gathering. The U.S. Army ran these document centers in Germany as late as 1948.

Soon after the war ended, the complicated process of returning German documents to their original owners began.

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The Seizure of European Records during World War II

Today’s post comes from Sonia Kahn in the National Archives History Office. It is part two of a series on the history behind some of the seized foreign records housed at the National Archives.

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The first U.S. Army men and equipment pour across the Remagen Bridge in Germany. In the foreground are two knocked-out Jeeps, 3/11/1945. (National Archives Identifier 531252)

The story of what would become the original documents to compose Record Group 242, Foreign Records Seized, begins in 1943 as war raged in Europe and across the Pacific.

Despite facing war on three separate continents, the War Department of the United States still found time to concern itself with records.

The War Department wanted to protect the many ancient and irreplaceable documents, monuments, and works of art that were located in the war zone.

With this in mind, the War Department adopted a policy of protecting culturally important landmarks and records—foreign archives included—as best they could without compromising military operations.

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The Gems of Record Group 242 – Foreign Records Seized

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.

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Eva Braun’s diary, ca. 1945. (National Archives Identifier 6921915)

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.

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