Exploring the Archives of the Third Reich: A Historian's Personal History
Thursday, October 30, 2003
In the summer of 1958, a young American scholar found himself in a converted torpedo factory in Alexandria, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC. In that improbable archive, among stacks of captured German military documents he had been examining, Gerhard Weinberg found something that helped set, for decades to come, the course of his professional life. Indeed, during the subsequent decades, Professor Weinberg emerged as the preeminent American historian of World War II.
Years earlier, he had read, in the memoirs of one of Hitler's secretaries, of a "secret" book about Nazi foreign policy. Later, in 1953, Hugh Trevor-Roper's edition Hitler's Table Talk (2000) made reference to this "unpublished work"--by no less than the Fuhrer himself. Weinberg resolved to find it- if in fact it still existed (or ever existed). The diligence and resourcefulness he had invested in his search finally paid off when he discovered, in some remote recess of that converted factory, a folder that had lain unopened for more than a decade. Weinberg found within that folder a 324-page typescript labeled "Draft of Mein Kampf." "The moment I looked at it, read the opening lines and the attached document on its confiscation," Weinberg recalls, "it became obvious to me that this was not a draft of Mein Kampf (1924). In fact, this was the book to which I had seen references." Combining the instincts and sleuthing powers of a detective with the erudition and uncompromising standards of an estimable historian, Weinberg confirmed the document's authenticity, and persevered--over the next 40 years--in convincing scholars of the text's importance, and publishers of the necessity that it be issued.
In his Athenaeum presentation, Dr. Weinberg describes the travails and triumphs of his life's work as a historian--including his endeavors involving the Nuremberg documents, the War Documentation Project, the American Historical Association microfilm project, the Berlin Document Center issues, and more recently, the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Law and its implementation. Weinberg, the William Rand Kenan, Jr. Professor of History (emeritus) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has authored numerous books, including the magisterial A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II (1994); a two-volume study entitled The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany; Transformation of a Continent: Europe in the Twentieth Century (1971); and edited the above-mentioned Hitler's Second Book: The Unpublished Sequel to Mein Kampf (2003).