Archive amassed by Germany’s Nazis sheds light on Masonic history

Curators combing through a vast historic archive of Freemasonry in Europe amassed by the Nazis in their wartime anti-Masonic purge say they believe there are still secrets to be unearthed.

A book bearing a stamp (bottom R) of the National Socialist regime
A book bearing a stamp (bottom R) of the National Socialist regime on display during an exhibition of a historic archive of Freemasonry in Europe amassed by the Nazis at the Poznan University Library in Poznan. (Photo by JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP)

From insight into women’s Masonic lodges to the musical scores used in closed ceremonies, the trove — housed in an old university library in western Poland — has already shed light on a little known history.

But more work remains to be done to fully examine all the 80,000 items that date from the 17th century to the pre-World War II period.

“It is one of the biggest Masonic archives in Europe,” said curator Iuliana Grazynska, who has just started working on dozens of boxes of papers within it that have not yet been properly categorised.

“It still holds mysteries,” she told AFP, of the collection which curators began going through decades ago and is held at the UAM library in the city of Poznan.

Initially tolerated by the Nazis, Freemasons became the subject of regime conspiracy theories in the 1930s, seen as liberal intellectuals whose secretive circles could become centres of opposition.

A square (bottom) and a compass, symbols of Freemasonry, are displayed on a book

A square (bottom) and a compass, symbols of Freemasonry, are displayed on a book during the exhibition, which brings together around 80,000 items ranging from the 17th century to the first years of the 20th centuries. (Photo by JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP)

Lodges were broken up and their members imprisoned and killed both in Germany and elsewhere as Nazi troops advanced during WWII.

The collection was put together under the orders of top Nazi henchman and SS chief Heinrich Himmler and is composed of many smaller archives from European Masonic lodges that were seized by the Nazis.

It is seen by researchers as a precious repository of the history of the day-to-day activities of lodges across Europe, ranging from the menus for celebrations to educational texts.

‘Mine of information’
Fine prints, copies of speeches and membership lists of Masonic lodges in Germany and beyond feature in the archive. Some documents still bear Nazi stamps.

“The Nazis hated the Freemasons,” Andrzej Karpowicz, who managed the collection for three decades, told AFP.

Swords of the Freemasons on display at the exhibition. (Photo by JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP)

Nazi ideology, he said, was inherently “anti-Masonic” because of its anti-intellectual, anti-elite tendencies.

The library puts some select items on show, including the first edition of the earliest Masonic constitution written in 1723, six years after the first lodge was created in England.

“It’s one of our proudest possessions,” Grazynska said.

The oldest documents in the collection are prints from the 17th century relating to the Rosicrucians — an esoteric spiritual movement seen as a precursor to the Freemasons whose symbol was a crucifix with a rose at its centre.

During the war, as Allied bombing intensified, the collection was moved from Germany for safekeeping and broken up into three parts — two were taken to what is now Poland and one to the Czech Republic.

Masonic collars are seen next to book shelves at the Poznan University Library in western Poland.

Masonic collars are seen next to book shelves at the Poznan University Library in western Poland. (Photo by JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP)

The section left in the town of Slawa Slaska in Poland was seized by Polish authorities in 1945, while the others were taken by the Red Army.

In 1959, the Polish Masonic collection was formally established as an archive and curators began studying it — at that time, Freemasonry was banned in the country under Communism.

The collection is open to researchers and other visitors, who have included representatives of German Masonic lodges wanting to recover their pre-war history.

It is “a mine of information in which you can dig at will,” said Karpowicz.


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101-year-old former Nazi guard pleads innocent in German trial

A 101-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard on Monday once again denied being complicit in war crimes during the Holocaust as his trial drew to a close in Germany.

101-year-old former Nazi guard pleads innocent in German trial

Josef S., the oldest person so far to face trial over Nazi crimes during World War II, is accused of involvement in the murders of 3,518 prisoners at the Sachsenhausen camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, between 1942 and 1945.

The pensioner, who now lives in Brandenburg state, has pleaded innocent throughout the trial, saying he did “absolutely nothing” and was not aware of the gruesome crimes being carried out at the camp.

“I don’t know why I am here,” he said again at the close of the proceedings, his voice wavering.

Dressed in a grey shirt and pyjama bottoms and sitting in a wheelchair, the man insisted he had had nothing to do with the atrocities and was “telling the truth”.

READ ALSO: Ex-Nazi death camp secretary who fled trial to face court in Germany

Prosecutors say he “knowingly and willingly” participated in the crimes as a guard at the camp and are seeking to punish him with five years behind bars.

But his lawyer, Stefan Waterkamp, said that since there were no photographs of him wearing an SS uniform, the case was based on “hints” of his possible involvement.

“As early as 1973, investigators had information about him but did not pursue him. At the time, witnesses could have been heard but now they are all dead or no longer able to speak,” Waterkamp said.

Former Nazi guard

The 101-year-old former Nazi guard covers his face at the Neuruppin courthouse. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

It would be a mistake for the court to try to “make up for the mistakes of a previous generation of judges”, the lawyer said.

Antoine Grumbach, 80, whose father died in Sachsenhausen, told AFP that the man “does not want to remember”, calling it “a form of defence”.

The trial was not just about “putting a centenarian in prison”, he said. It had also produced evidence that Sachsenhausen was an “experimental extermination camp”.

“All the cruellest methods were invented there and then exported,” Grumbach said.

READ ALSO: Trials of aging Nazis a ‘reminder for the present’, says German prosecutor