In 1998, the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust was contacted by someone who, among the personal belongings of a family member who had died, found Heinrich Himmler’s personal copy of Volume II of Adolf Hitler’s manifesto Mein Kampf. Kept hidden for more than fifty years, the book was stored along with instructions for family members that it be donated to an educational institution and studied by scholars. It must be kept, the instructions said, out of the hands of Nazi sympathizers.
Originally published in two volumes, the first in 1925 and the second at the end of 1926, Mein Kampf is a treatise written by Adolf Hitler. Hitler began Mein Kampf while imprisoned for high treason following his failed coup attempt in Munich in November 1923. The book outlines his base ideology, stressing Germany’s alleged need to “purify itself racially” and to conquer Lebensraum, or “living space,” in central and eastern Europe. Both volumes are marked by relentless antisemitism, with “the Jew” identified as a secret international force responsible for all of Germany’s ills.
Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945) was the leader of the dreaded Schutzstaffel, better known as the SS, from 1929 until 1945. Himmler read these copies of Mein Kampf in 1926 and 1927. In 1927, Himmler became Deputy Chief of the SS. Two years later, he was named Reichsführer (Reich Leader) of the SS, setting him up to become the second most powerful man in the Third Reich once the Nazis took power in 1933. As Reichsführer of the SS, Himmler helped to design and organize the ideological and bureaucratic infrastructure that enforced Nazism. Himmler was responsible for conceiving and overseeing implementation of the “Final Solution,” the Nazi plan to murder the Jews of Europe.
Years earlier, as he read his copy of Mein Kampf, Himmler highlighted numerous passages and wrote comments in the margins. Among the statements he underlined is a passage in which Hitler claims that the gassing of 12,000 – 15,000 “traitorous” Jews might have saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Germans in World War I. Many more passages are annotated. His notes include: “the possibility of racial purification is at hand.”
Found in Himmler’s Copy of Volume II
On the final page of Himmler’s Volume II is a handwritten affirmation by Himmler’s father Gebhard Himmler. He wrote: “Read to the end with fervid interest and sincere admiration of this man. 2 June 1932.” Based on this note, the senior Himmler approved of the path and party that his son would come to lead and orchestrate.
In addition to Himmler’s notes and his father’s affirmation, there were other items found in the book. First, there was a page cut from the Munich newspaper Die Rost, dated February 21, 1932, presenting 26 variations of the”hakenkreuz” swastika symbol for public consideration. The page is marked in pencil with notes that appear to be evaluative. A single page ripped from an unknown German book was also found between some pages, as well as a calling card belonging to Himmler’s wife, which read ‘Frau Marga Himmler, Munchen.’
The Girl in the Red Coat: A Donation Request
When the Museum was contacted in 1998 with a request to discuss the donation of Himmler’s copy of Mein Kampf Volume II, the potential donor had a request: that the donation credit would, instead of noting the donor’s name, instead pay tribute to the “… girl in the red coat, a nameless, faceless child who is a representative for all those who died, and those who survived the Holocaust.”
“The girl in the red coat” refers to the witness testimony of Dr. Martin Foldi at the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. During the trial, Dr. Foldi described his transport from Hungary to Auschwitz in 1944 with his wife, son, and daughter. Upon arriving at Auschwitz, a Nazi guard signaled for Foldi to go right; his wife, son and daughter were sent to the left.
Foldi had recently bought a red coat for his daughter, who was 2½ years old. A few moments after being separated from his family, Foldi could no longer see his wife or son in the distance. But as he testified in the Eichmann trial, he could see “that little red dot getting smaller and smaller – this is how my family disappeared from my life.”
The credit line request was granted, and the donation proceeded with the credit line: Anonymous donation in special honor of “the girl in the red coat.”
The Museum put out a press release in 1998, when Volume II was donated to the Permanent Collection. One objective of the press release was to find out if Himmler’s copy of Mein Kampf Volume I was out there. And if it was, to similarly get the book into an educational institution or museum collection, as the donor family of Volume II realized was essential. Unfortunately, the press release did not turn up any leads on Volume I.
Then, in 2006, the Collections and Exhibitions department learned that Himmler’s copy of Volume I was owned by someone whose family member had taken it when they were part of a military group tasked with securing Himmler’s house at the end of World War II. The family had considered selling the book and brought it to a local bookseller to have it appraised. The bookseller did a search and found the 1998 press release about Volume II. Luckily, this led the family to donate Volume I to the Museum so that both volumes could be studied together.
The credit line for Volume I doesn’t name the donor either, but instead reads: In honor of a US infantry officer who helped conscience triumph over Nazism.
The Holocaust: What Hate Can Do
Both volumes of Himmler’s annotated copy of Mein Kampf will be on view in the Museum’s new exhibition, The Holocaust: What Hate Can Do. This expansive and timely presentation of Holocaust history told through personal stories, objects, photos, and film will include a room on the rise of the Nazi party and detail conditions for Jews in Nazi Germany.
Further Reading: Richard Breitman, “Mein Kampf and the Himmler Family: Two Generations React to Hitler’s Ideas,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies 13, no. 1: (1999): 90-97.