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US troops confiscating Foreign Office files, Schloss Meisdorf, 19 April 1945

Finding the files

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Shortly before the end of the war, American soldiers seized Foreign Office files which had been put into external storage. At this point, many of the documents detailing the crimes committed by the Nazis had already been destroyed. There were 30 copies of the Wannsee protocol, but as yet only one single copy had been found. It was discovered by American soldiers in a file together with 300 other pieces of evidence including other plans for  repressing and murdering German and European Jews.

After the protocol was found, it took some time before its relevance was realised . The protocol was first submitted as evidence in 1947 in the so-called ‘Ministries Trial’, introduced by Robert Kempner, chief prosecutor for the USA.

Kempner was an avowed opponent of National Socialism. Until 1933, he had been a lawyer in the Prussian Ministry of the Interior. After the Nazis came to power, he was soon removed from the civil service – also due to his family’s Jewish background. Kempner first fled to Italy and later to the USA. From 1943, he was a member of the United Nations Commission for the Investigation of War Crimes, collecting evidence on allegations of war crimes. Kempner was one of many German-Jewish emigrants supporting the fight against the Nazi regime. In the post-war years, many of them played a major role in rebuilding democracy in Germany, and in investigating and punishing Nazi crimes.

You can hear more about and from Robert Kempner at the audio station to your right.