With the white gloves of a very cautious curator, an official of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre yesterday laid before journalists in New York the flimsy pages of a letter allegedly typed and signed by Adolf Hitler in 1919 revealing his early vision of Germany achieving a "final goal" - the "removal of Jews".
The document is "absolutely historic", said Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder and director of the Wiesenthal Centre, a Jewish human-rights group that works to expose and confront anti-Semitism. "There is nothing like it in the world."
The organisation bought the four-page letter, the authenticity of which may yet be disputed, from a dealer for US$150,000 ($183,800) and will display it at its Tolerance Museum in Los Angeles.
Hitler, as a young soldier in 1919, already stood out among the ranks because of his anti-Semitic oratory. When his superior officer, Karl Mayr, received a request from another officer in the city of Ulm, Adolf Gemlich, asking for clarification of the German Army's position on Jews, he had Hitler write the letter by way of response.
Known among Nazi historians as the "Gemlich Letter", it was retrieved by a United States Army officer at the end of the war from a Nazi archive near Nuremberg and brought to the US, where it changed hands until its recent sale to the Wiesenthal Centre by a company that deals in historic memorabilia called Profiles in History.
Hier said nothing among his organisation's archive of 50,000 documents pertaining to Nazism and the Holocaust comes close to the Gemlich Letter in importance because it shows Hitler dabbling with ending Jewry so early.
"He implemented it as the Chancellor of the Third Reich - the removal of Jews altogether," he noted. What is "novel" about the letter, Hier added, was the contention made by the author that random attacks on Jews would not be enough.
According to a translation provided to reporters, Hitler said: "Anti-Semitism - born of purely emotional grounds - will find initial expression in the form of pogroms [mob attacks].
"The final goal must be the removal of Jews. To accomplish these goals, only a government of national power is capable."
Hier is convinced the letter is authentic. Other experts say the jury is still out. Another document with the same words is held by the Bavarian state archives in Munich. But the pages in Munich are not signed.
Othmar Ploeckinger, an expert on early Hitler documents, told the New York Times that "there are a lot of points that make me believe it could be the original", implying that the Munich version is the copy. He indicated that more work needed to be done, including a chemical analysis of the paper the letter is on.
Others are more dubious. "It has to have very good provenance," said Klaus Lankheit, deputy director of the archive at the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich. "From my experience, I would be very sceptical." Hier said it will become a vital teaching tool as a museum exhibit.
EXTRACT HINT OF THINGS TO COME
"Through a thousand years of inbreeding, frequently in cramped conditions, the Jew preserved his race and peculiarity better than the more numerous people among whom he lived. The result of which is that a non-German race lives among us with its own feeling, thoughts and aspirations, while having all the same rights as we do."