Arts Listings

Books: On the Trail of Hitler’s Nuremberg Laws

By Marty Schiffenbauer
Tuesday May 30, 2006

In June of 1945, General George S. Patton, Jr. returned from Germany to his native Southern California for a triumphant homecoming. Patton’s welcome included a parade and a movie star-studded celebration at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Never known to shy away from the limelight, he exulted in playing the war hero to the cheering crowds. 

Yet, despite his love of publicity, Patton was exceptionally discreet about one stop on his itinerary. On June 11, he paid a visit to the Huntington estate in San Marino and presented for safekeeping in the Huntington Library a packet of documents he had brought from Germany. 

The documents Patton gave to the library were originals of the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, bearing the signature of the Fuehrer himself, Adolf Hitler. The most infamous section of this Nazi legislation, named the “Blood Law,” prohibited marriage and sexual intercourse between Jews and “pure-blooded” Germans. Jews were further forbidden to employ in their household “pure-blooded” German females under the age of 45. 

The “Blood Law” may appear relatively mild compared to later Nazi atrocities. However, since it legally decreed Jews to be an inferior race, historians consider it a critical initial step on the hellish road to the Holocaust. 

Before the year was over, Patton was dead. Back in Germany, he was fatally injured in a freak auto accident, succumbing Dec. 21, 1945. Disregarding the obvious historical importance of the Nuremberg originals handed to them by Patton, the Huntington waited 54 years until they publicly divulged the existence of the documents in their possession. 

Why were the Nuremberg Laws secreted in the Huntington vaults for more than a half-century? Anthony M. Platt’s book, Bloodlines: Recovering Hitler’s Nuremberg Laws, from Patton’s Trophy to Public Memorial, published earlier this year, focuses on the quest for the answer to this question. 

I won’t spoil the book for prospective readers by giving that answer here. But I will reveal that the hunt by Tony Platt, a Sacramento State professor since 1977, and his co-researcher, Cecilia E. O’Leary, to unravel the Huntington-Nuremberg mystery is a fascinating account covering much unexpected ground. 

Describing the origins of the “Blood Law,” Platt reviews the disgraceful record of eugenic sterilization in California in the early 1900s. And he examines the close ties between California’s pre-WWII eugenics advocates and their German counterparts, who furnished the Nazis with the intellectual rationalization for their racial policies. 

Among the California eugenicists, Platt and O’Leary discovered, were quite a number of Huntington Foundation trustees, perhaps the most prominent being Nobel laureate and Caltech leader, Robert Millikan. Platt additionally provides evidence of George Patton’s extreme racist and, in particular, anti-Semitic views. 

Bloodlines also tells the story of the three American soldiers who located the Nuremberg originals in a small town German bank safe. And it details the saga of Henry Edwards Huntington , who, for all his faults, gave us as a legacy a magnificent library, museum and garden. 

There’s Platt’s personal tale as well. Raised in a secular Jewish home in Manchester, England, he felt his greatest kinship as an adult in the left activist community. And Platt, a controversial criminology professor at UC Berkeley in the early 1970s, notes that what prejudice he’s directly experienced in life was primarily related to his politics. Nonetheless, he discloses, in the process of researching and writing Bloodlines, surprising emotions connected to his own Jewish heritage surfaced. 

In 1999, when the Huntington finally informed the world they held originals of the Nuremberg Laws, they also announced they would entrust the documents on permanent loan to the Skirball Cultural Center. About four miles north of the Getty Center in Los Angeles, the Skirball has as its primary mission the recounting of the “Jewish people’s journey, culminating with their history in the United States.” Appropriately, the Nuremberg Laws are now there on display, as part of its core exhibit: “Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America.”  

Reading Tony Platt’s book, I promised myself I’d visit both the Huntington complex and the Skirball Center on my next trip down south. That trip recently took place. En route to the Huntington with a friend, I pulled off the freeway for a brief tour of Old Pasadena, the city’s historic district. 

When we returned to our rental car, to our dismay, a rear tire was totally flat. The cause soon became apparent. Weirdly, a huge nail was spiked straight through the tire’s inside wall. Visions of crazed Pasadena eugenicists fresh in my mind from Platt’s Bloodlines, I joked to my friend that some lunatic anti-Semite must have hammered the nail into our tire. 

“He spotted us together,” I told her, “and since I clearly look Jewish and you clearly do not, he decided to send me a little message.” 

Standing in front of the “Blood Law” the following day at the Skirball and staring at Hitler’s signature, my joke didn’t seem funny anymore. 




By Anthony M. Platt with Cecilia E. O’Leary 

Paradigm Publishers, 240 pages, $18.95 (paper; hardcover also available)