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Professor Unearths Nazi Germany’s Secrets

Seated in a small corner office inside the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum, Richard Breitman sifts through piles of paper—photocopies of private journals and decades old official government documents. The history professor is completing the manuscript of his latest book.

“Sometimes I feel like a detective, scouring through thousands of files, attempting to uncover Nazi secrets,” says Breitman. Through his research in the National Archives, Breitman has revealed important features of Nazi Germany. He discovered the identity of a mysterious anti-Nazi German industrialist—Eduard Schulte—who leaked early information about the Holocaust to the West.

In 1999, Breitman was appointed director of historical research for a small government agency Congress established to help carry out the 1998 Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act. He and three other historians have helped declassify more than eight million pages of documents over the last seven years. He recalls, “It was an incredible feeling—walking into stacks at the National Archives and retrieving documents that had been denied to me before.”

 

Sharing Knowledge with Students

Breitman shares his expert knowledge of the nation’s richest historical archives with graduate students. “Many of my students have used the area’s extraordinary historical repositories, and the primary sources they house, to do research and publish their own discoveries. It’s gratifying to know that I have been able to help point them in the right direction.”