The Devil’s Diary: Alfred Rosenberg and the Stolen Secrets of the Third Reich by Robert K. Wittman and David Kinney

Most people know who Hitler was, but many do not know the man who gave Hitler some of his worst ideas. The “ideologue/philosopher” behind Hitler was Alfred Rosenberg, an Estonian who embraced the Aryan race myth. Robert K. Wittman and David Kinney have written a book, The Devil’s Diary, about Rosenberg and the search for his diary following its disappearance after World War II.

Here is a brief summary of the book:

A groundbreaking World War II narrative wrapped in a riveting detective story, The Devil’s Diary investigates the disappearance of a private diary penned by one of Adolf Hitler’s top aides—Alfred Rosenberg, his “chief philosopher”—and mines its long-hidden pages to deliver a fresh, eye-opening account of the Nazi rise to power and the genesis of the Holocaust.

An influential figure in Adolf Hitler’s early inner circle from the start, Alfred Rosenberg made his name spreading toxic ideas about the Jews throughout Germany. By the dawn of the Third Reich, he had published a bestselling masterwork that was a touchstone of Nazi thinking.

His diary was discovered hidden in a Bavarian castle at war’s end—five hundred pages providing a harrowing glimpse into the mind of a man whose ideas set the stage for the Holocaust. Prosecutors examined it during the Nuremberg war crimes trial, but after Rosenberg was convicted, sentenced, and executed, it mysteriously vanished.

New York Times bestselling author Robert K. Wittman, who as an FBI agent and then a private consultant specialized in recovering artifacts of historic significance, first learned of the diary in 2001, when the chief archivist for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum contacted him to say that someone was trying to sell it for upwards of a million dollars. The phone call sparked a decade-long hunt that took them on a twisting path involving a pair of octogenarian secretaries, an eccentric professor, and an opportunistic trash-picker. From the crusading Nuremberg prosecutor who smuggled the diary out of Germany to the man who finally turned it over, everyone had reasons for hiding the truth.

The book almost should be considered two separate books – one that covers the search and discovery of the diary and the other that chronicles Rosenberg – but both are melded together perfectly. The first part highlights Robert Kempner, a prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials who fled Nazi Germany before the war because of his Jewish heritage. The authors describe how Kempner took many primary documents, including Rosenberg’s diary, during the preparation for the trials.

The second part is about Rosenberg and his life in the Nazi Party. It covers everything from Rosenberg’s witness and participation in the Beer Hall Putsch to his supervision of the pillaging of European Jews’ (and others’) possessions, including priceless art.

The authors show how Rosenberg came to influence Hitler and the Nazi Party. Rosenberg’s demented ideas led to the persecution of the Jews and the Final Solution. It is disturbing in the extreme to read about the mind of demented individuals and how their hate led to the deaths of millions of people. Although Rosenberg was not solely to blame for the hate, he helped stoke the fires of hatred.

Despite Rosenberg’s early close relationship with Hitler, they did not always see things the same. The authors point out that Rosenberg was opposed to the poor treatment of the Ukrainians by the Germans – he was not opposed on moral reasons, but for the stress on the administration of the territory. This and other disagreements led to Rosenberg’s eventual easing out of the inner circle of Nazi leadership (which greatly disturbed him).

Another good point by the authors is their critique of Kempner. Although he helped prosecute the Nazi war criminals, the authors rightly criticize him and his actions. When escaping Europe, Kempner was more interested in saving his own life rather than the young students in his care. Also, he violated rules of handling evidence by taking it for his personal purposes – in the years after the trials, he published several books based on this material that he illegally kept.

The book is 435 pages with photographs at the beginning of each chapter. It has an extensive list of footnotes. The authors also have included in the appendix a list of historical figures mentioned in the book – very helpful.

A masterful book.


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