The Jewish Voice From Germany website displays the story about the discovery of a letter saying Adolf Hitler wanted to protect Ernst Hess, a Jew who briefly was Hitler's commander during World War I.
Adolf Hitler personally intervened to protect a Jewish man who had been his commanding officer during World War I, according to a letter unearthed by the Jewish Voice from Germany newspaper.
The letter, written in Aug. 27, 1940, by Heinrich Himmler, head of the Nazis' feared paramilitary SS, said Ernst Hess, a judge, should be spared persecution or deportation and receive “relief and protection as per the Fuhrer's wishes.”
Historian Susanne Mauss discovered the letter.
"It was a wonderful chance find," she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Friday. "There had always been rumors, but this was the first written reference to a protection by Hitler."
The letter was found in official archives containing files that the Nazi secret police, or Gestapo, kept on Jewish lawyers and judges. Mauss said its authenticity is corroborated by other documents, including one owned by Hess' surviving daughter, Ursula Hess, 86.
Hess, a decorated World War I hero who briefly commanded Hitler's company in Flanders, worked as a judge until Nazi racial laws forced him to resign in 1936. The same year he was beaten up by Nazi thugs outside his house, the paper said.
Hitler had ordered the genocide of all Europe’s Jews. His orders led to the deaths of 6 million Jews.
In a petition to Hitler at that time, Hess wrote: "For us it is a kind of spiritual death to now be branded as Jews and exposed to general contempt."
Hess and his family moved for a time to a German-speaking area of northern Italy but were then forced to return to Germany, where he discovered Hitler's protection order had been revoked.
He spent the rest of World War II doing slave labor but he escaped death partly thanks to the fact that his wife was a gentile. Hess' sister died in the Auschwitz death camp, but his mother managed to escape to Switzerland.
Hess remained in Germany after the war, becoming head of the Federal Railway Authority based in Frankfurt. He died in 1983.
Ursula Hess, still living in Germany, told the paper in an interview that her father had benefited from a chance encounter with another World War I comrade, Fritz Wiedemann. He became Hitler's adjutant and used his influence to win concessions for Hess, she was quoted as saying.
Ursula Hess also recalled her father saying that as a young corporal in World War I, Hitler had no friends in their regiment and had kept himself very much to himself.
The paper's publisher, Rafael Seligmann, said that whether Hitler had helped protect Hess or not didn't change the Nazi leader's genocidal record.
"History won't need to be rewritten because of this," he said.
This article includes reporting by Reuters, The Associated Press and msnbc.com's Jim Gold. Follow him on Facebook here.
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