The whereabouts of the laws, typed on four sheets of ordinary white paper and signed by Hitler himself, had been known only to a handful of curators at the Huntington Library in San Marino. They received them as a gift from General George Patton, a San Marino native, at the end of the Second World War.
Although the gift was originally kept quiet to avoid unwelcome curiosity, it seems their long concealment from public view was more a matter of library bureaucracy than any deliberate intent. Robert Skotheim, the Huntington's director, said they were not shown because they did not fit into the library's main focus, which is British and American history up to the 19th century.
What made him change his mind, he said, was the opening of the Skirball Cultural Center, a new museum in Los Angeles focussing on the American Jewish experience. The text of the laws, along with a deluxe edition of Hitler's Mein Kampf inscribed by General Patton, will be loaned to the Skirball indefinitely and put on public display starting this Tuesday.
Holocaust experts reacted with mixed feelings to the announcement, happy that the original Nuremberg Laws would at last be available for inspection but perplexed that it had taken so long. "I wonder why they didn't give them away or lend them out years ago," said Saul Friedlander, a historian of the Nazi era at the University of California in Los Angeles. "They have such importance for the community of victims and give more completeness to events that recede with time."
The laws, drafted by the 1935 Nazi party rally in Nuremberg, relegated Jews to secondary status, banning marriage and sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews.
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