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Early anti-Semitic Hitler letter on display in LA

October 4, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
An anti-Semitic letter written by Adolf Hitler decades before the Holocaust is now on display at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. The letter is believed to be his first written rant calling for annihilation of Jewish people.

Holocaust survivors turned out Tuesday to get the first look at what's known as the "Gemlich Letter."

People in their 80s and 90s are some of the few Holocaust survivors who lived to see the letter, written and signed by Adolf Hitler in 1919, his earliest known reference to Jews.

"Six and a half years, I was in his hand. In just half a second, I was prepared to get killed like the other 6 million people," said Holocaust survivor Boris Abel.

Found by an American soldier in a Nazi Party archive near Nuremberg, the letter has been held by a private owner all these years. Tuesday it became part of a public display at the Museum of Tolerance after the Simon Wiesenthal Center acquired the document this year.

Historians call it the most important document of World War II to date. The four-page German letter is written and signed by Hitler to a fellow member of the "Enlightenment Commando."

"From 1919, already he planned to annihilate the Jews in the whole world. It's unbelievable," said Holocaust survivor William Harvey.

The museum also has translations of the letter. In English, the key phrase historians point out is: "Its final aim, however, must be the uncompromising removal of the Jews altogether."

"It teaches us that demagogues have to be taken seriously," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance. "You can't dismiss a person because he's a nobody or because it sounds like he's uttering something crazy. What Hitler said in 1919 sounded crazy too, but he did it and implemented it, and 6 million Jews paid with their lives."

It's a painful reminder of the power of hatred, and a rare glimpse into its roots.

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