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Simon Wiesenthal Center acquires Hitler letter

The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center announced this week that it has acquired a signed letter by Adolf Hitler advocating legal removal of Jews six years before the publication of “Mein Kampf.”

The center, a Jewish human rights organization, hailed the purchase of what it called “one of the most important documents in the history of the Third Reich.” The four-page letter, dated Sept. 16, 1919, encouraged a systematic anti-Semitic approach rather than an emotional one.

“Anti-semitism based on reason must lead to the systematic legal combating and removal of the rights of the Jew,” Hitler wrote. "… Its final aim, however, must be the uncompromising removal of the Jews altogether.”

The letter shows the early roots of Hitler’s anti-Semitism as well as underscoring the danger of demagogues and their rhetoric, said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the center. Hitler wrote the letter to a fellow member of the German army who had requested information about “the Jewish peril.”

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“In 1919 no one is saying that he was thinking of gassing the Jews; what he was thinking about was the legal removal of Jews from society,” Hier said. “Twenty-two years later he implemented everything that he wrote in that letter.”

The center had the opportunity in 1988 to buy the letter, which had always been in private collections. But while the center was trying to authenticate the document with historians, a private collector bought it, Hier said.

About a month ago, the center was approached about buying the letter for $150,000.

“It belongs in an institution that perpetuates the memory of the Holocaust,” Hier said, “to keep it alive for future generations and to see what one person can do. To show them how dangerous demagogues are.”

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The letter — along with an English translation and a typewriter — will go on permanent display sometime in July in the center’s Museum of Tolerance.

Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of modern Jewish and Holocaust studies at Emory University in Atlanta, said the letter’s historical significance lies in understanding where Hitler’s anti-Semitism originated.

“A letter like this is a piece of the puzzle. It’s important for helping us understand Adolf Hitler,” she said. “Is it the most important document in the history of the Holocaust? Absolutely not, but it is an important document.”

raja.abdulrahim@latimes.com

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