German newspaper publishes top Nazi's letters

One black-and white photo shows Heinrich Himmler on an idyllic family outing, holding his wife's hand while his blond, pigtailed daughter is picking flowers. Others show the SS Nazi leader feeding a little fawn or taking a bath at Lake Tegernsee near his home in Bavaria.

The family-friendly, intimate scenes are part of a previously unseen collection of photos, recipe books and about 700 letters and notes believed to be written by Himmler, one of the Nazis most responsible for the Holocaust.

Excerpts from the collection appeared in seven full pages of the German paper Welt am Sonntag on Sunday.  They contain large-sized images of Himmler surrounded by his family and excerpts from his love letters to wife Marga, calling her "my sweet, beloved little woman."

The newspaper said the material is part of an eight-part series it plans to publish.

Welt said it was approached three years ago by Israeli film director Vanessa Lapa, whose family had the documents in its possession. Welt said the documents' authenticity has been independently verified by historians.

The paper said two U.S. Army soldiers found the trove right at the end of the war in May 1945, inside a safe in Himmler's home in Bavaria.

Decades later, in the 1980s, the papers surfaced in Israel in the hands of Holocaust survivor Chaim Rosenthal. Welt says it is not clear how he obtained the papers.  Rosenthal kept them until 2007, when he sold the documents to Vanessa Lapa's father, who then gave them to his daughter.

Lapa will debut a documentary she directed on the Himmler files at next month's Berlin International Film Festival.

Almost 70 years after the end of the Third Reich, the documents provide an unprecedented glimpse into the private life of Himmler and evidence of his radical anti-Semitism.

Himmler's hatred of Jews was shared by his wife. In their correspondence, they both often refer to Jews in derogatory terms and in a letter from June 21, 1928, Himmler writes to Marga: "Don't be upset about those Jews, good, good wife, if only I could help you."

Ten years later, Marga writes in a diary entry on Nov. 14, 1938, "Those Jews, when will that pack finally leave us so that we can enjoy our lives again," according to Sunday's Welt.

In the midst of World War II, when many Germans spent their nights at shelters hiding from the bomb raids of the Allied forces, the letters show the privileged life of the Nazis' top families.

Welt quotes from letters saying that Himmler was sending his family chocolate and cheese while the rest of the population was barely surviving on allotted food stamps. In May 1942, Himmler brought his wife and daughter from the Netherlands "fruit, vegetables and 150 tulips ... striped, jagged, two-colored, one color -- such that you can't see here."

The writings also trace Himmler's career from the early beginnings and rise of the Nazis in the 1920s, all the way to the genocide of Europe's Jews in the 1940s.

Himmler does not explicitly write about the atrocities of World War II. But small letter fragments and quotes reveal his involvement -- often shocking in the banality of its evilness -- as when he writes to his wife "I'm going to Auschwitz, kisses, yours Heini."

Before going on an inspection tour of various death camps in occupied Poland, where he wanted to watch the gassing of hundreds of Jews firsthand, Himmler wrote on July 15, 1942, to his wife. "In the next days, I will be in Lublin, Zamosch, Auschwitz, Lemberg and then at a new accommodation," he said. "I'm curious if and how it will work out with (talking on) the phone. ... Have good days with our daughter. Lots of love and kisses. Yours Pappi."

Haim Gertner, the director of the Yad Vashem Archives Division in Israel, which houses one of the biggest collections on documents about the Holocaust, praised the release of the documents.

"The collection is important because the question of how the Holocaust was humanly possible is still in the air since the end of the war," he said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from Jerusalem.

He said even the private writings of a leading figure in the Nazi hierarchy would not allow anyone to fully understand how human beings were capable of conducting the Holocaust.

But, Gertner said, "The private writings with his family enable us to compare between someone who lives a seemingly normal life in private, while at the same time he is a leading mass murderer in public life."

Himmler committed suicide on May 23, 1945, in Lueneburg, Germany, after he was captured by British forces.