A letter typed and signed by Adolf Hitler in 1919, and thought to be his first written comments calling for the annihilation of the Jews, is now on display at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. The document, known as the Gemlich letter, was purchased by the Simon Wiesenthal Center for $150,000 and revealed to the public this past June.
Hitler was a soldier in the German army when he wrote the letter. After being wounded during World War I, he was assigned to a propaganda unit in Munich run by Karl Mayr. Mayr asked Hitler to write a response to one Adolf Gemlich’s request for a clarification on the army’s position on “the Jewish question.”
This first piece of written anti-Semitism by Hitler is believed to have established him as a radical rightist, helping him gain a political following and credibility as someone who could overthrow the Weimar Republic. The letter was found by American soldiers at the end of WWII in a Nazi Party archive in Nuremberg. It was held in private hands until its recent purchase by the Wiesenthal Center. Historians consider it the most important Holocaust document to date.
The key line of the letter is: “Its [the stripping of Jews of their rights] final aim, however, must be the uncompromising removal of the Jews altogether.” Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Wiesenthal Center, was quoted as saying that the letter is a warning about the dangers of dismissing people who may seem like a “nobody” or a “crazy.” Hier warned, “What Hitler said in 1919 sounded crazy too, but he did it and implemented it, and 6 million Jews paid with their lives.”
The price of acquiring the document was worth it, to Hier’s mind. It “set[s] the gold standard about man’s inhumanity to man,” he said.