‘History isn’t black and white’: Guestbook sheds light on senior Nazi’s Zionist link
A recently uncovered signature in a guestbook has shed new light on a Nazi's visit to Jerusalem in 1933, and Israel's National Library is highlighting the find for Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The visit, illustrated through Leopold von Mildenstein's signature in the guestbook, is further testimony to the Nazis' evolving ideas about how to deal with what they called the "Jewish problem", historians say.
The eventual result was the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust, and Israel held its annual commemoration of the victims on Thursday.
Mildenstein in 1933 was touring what was then British Mandatory Palestine along with a German Jewish friend, Kurt Tuchler, and their wives.
It was part of his efforts to facilitate the solution to Germany's "Jewish problem" by relocating them to their historic homeland.
Mildenstein would eventually become head of the SS department dealing with Jews.
While Mildenstein's visit and relationship with Tuchler has been well-documented, including in the 2011 film "The Flat", his signature -- and participation in a Jewish cultural open house -- were yet unknown.
"It was -- wow," Stefan Litt, the archivist responsible for German collections at the Israel National Library, said of the moment he came across Mildenstein's name in the guestbook several months ago.
Speaking with AFP on Wednesday, Litt said he then sought more information in the diary of host Moshe Yaakov Ben-Gavriel, a prolific writer and fervent Zionist whose home the Nazi visited.
'Unsure what to think'
The Zionist movement advocated the founding of a Jewish state in Jews' biblical-era homeland, which occurred with the creation of Israel in 1948.
Ben-Gavriel was "unsure what to think" about the presence of a senior member of the German ruling party that upon rising to power in 1933 began expelling Jews from public life, Litt said.
While some guests left, others remained and conversed with Mildenstein, who "was very excited about the building going on in the land, even attempting to say a few words in Hebrew and generally trying to act in a cultured manner," Ben-Gavriel wrote.
Mildenstein continued to advocate the relocation of Jews to Mandatory Palestine up to 1936, when he was replaced as the SS pointman for Jewish issues by the infamous Adolf Eichmann, who eventually helped orchestrate the mass-murder of Jews as the "final solution".
The efforts of Mildenstein -- who left the SS but remained a Nazi -- and the Zionist movement oddly shared an interest though obviously for different reasons, according to an expert.
The Nazis "were interested in what they called distancing the Jews -- by emigration", said Moshe Zimmerman, professor emeritus of history at Jerusalem's Hebrew University.
"And the emigration with which they could collaborate with the greatest ease was Zionist emigration."
The fundamental change came with the 1939 outbreak of the war and the Nazi's occupation of eastern European countries and their Jewish populations.
"They then needed to find a larger-scale 'solution'," he said.
"Up to the war, the 'solution to the Jewish problem' applied to Germany's Jews. After the war (began) they needed to think of 'solutions' for Jews from other places too," Zimmerman said.
Mildenstein's signature and his relationship with Tuchler remains a "terrific story which shows that never, actually, history is black and white", said Litt, the archivist.
"There's a lot of grey in-between."