The Dev­il’s Diary

  • Review
By – May 3, 2016

The two most influ­en­tial books that shaped the ide­ol­o­gy of Nazi Ger­many were Hitler’s Mein Kampf and The Myth of the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry by Alfred Rosen­berg, one of the most hat­ed men in the Nazi hier­ar­chy. Along with his pub­lished writ­ing, Rosen­berg kept a 500-page diary, which was smug­gled out of Ger­many along with hun­dreds of oth­er doc­u­ments by Robert Kemp­n­er, the for­mer Nurem­berg pros­e­cu­tor, to his home in Lands­downe, Pennsylvania.

Robert K. Wittman, the founder of the FBI’s Art Crime team and a nation­al expert on cul­tur­al prop­er­ty crime, and David Kin­ney, a Pulitzer Prize-win­ning reporter deliv­er a com­pli­cat­ed but riv­et­ing account of the Nazi war against the Jews as seen through the prism of Rosenberg’s diary, as well as a com­pre­hen­sive account of Rosenberg’s Ein­satzstab, an office respon­si­ble for the con­fis­ca­tion of more than 650,000 pieces of art and cul­tur­al arti­facts from Jews and oth­ers. The authors also pro­vide an unflat­ter­ing account of Kemp­n­er, bet­ter known as an oppo­nent of the Nazis, but who used his knowl­edge of the Nazi polit­i­cal sys­tem toward ruth­less self-promotion.

Kemp­n­er was a Jew­ish lawyer in Berlin in the 1920s, but his Ger­man cit­i­zen­ship was revoked by the Nazis in 1935. He was forced to emi­grate to Italy, where he ran a school for wealthy Ger­man Jew­ish chil­dren, but aban­doned them when Mus­soli­ni imple­ment­ed Nazi-like racial laws in 1938. Even­tu­al­ly Kemp­n­er migrat­ed to the Unit­ed States and sought a posi­tion at the FBI, where he tout­ed him­self as an expert on the Third Reich, Sub­se­quent­ly, Kemp­n­er served as an assis­tant coun­sel on behalf of the Unit­ed States dur­ing the Inter­na­tion­al Mil­i­tary Tri­bunal pros­e­cut­ing Her­mann Goer­ing and Wil­helm Frick.

Among the 23 major Nazi defen­dants at Nurem­berg was Alfred Rosen­berg, charged with war crimes. He was accused of wag­ing ide­o­log­i­cal war­fare against the Jews and the church­es, prepar­ing the Nazis with psy­cho­log­i­cal and polit­i­cal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for its wars of aggres­sion, and par­tic­i­pat­ing in war crimes and crimes against human­i­ty as Reich min­is­ter for the Occu­pied East­ern Ter­ri­to­ries. At his tri­al, the pros­e­cu­tor argued, that it will be seen that there was not a sin­gle basic tenet of the Nazi phi­los­o­phy which was not giv­en author­i­ta­tive expres­sion by Rosen­berg… .” Rosen­berg was found guilty and sen­tenced to death.

Although the book focus­es on the search for Rosenberg’s diary, it is also about Nazi mur­der against the Jews in East­ern Europe, Rosenberg’s tac­it con­sent to the Ger­man plan for starv­ing the Sovi­et Union, the recov­ery of stolen art, and the search for price­less doc­u­ments — includ­ing the Rosen­berg diary — in an excel­lent book that proves itself wel­come addi­tion to Holo­caust historiography.

Relat­ed Content:

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

Discussion Questions