Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Saving the Ludwig von Mises papers

Steve Mariotti at the Huffington Post has an article on Saving the Ludwig von Mises Papers: How the Holocaust Museum Helped Uncover a Nazi Treasure Trove in Moscow.

What is well known about Mises is that he narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo after the Nazis occupied Vienna in March 1938. Mises had to leave his apartment so quickly that he had to leave behind this manuscripts, articles, university lectures and extensive correspondence. These were taken by the Gestapo and its was believed for many years that they had been destroyed. But economist Richard Ebeling found the long-lost papers in a secret Moscow archive in 1996. How did they get from Austria to Russia?

Mariotti explains,
During World War II, the Nazis stored literally tons of art, musical scores, manuscripts and other intellectual property on boxcars. According to Ebeling, 24 boxcars packed with documents were moved to Bohemia in western Czechoslovakia. When Bohemia was "liberated" by the Soviets in 1945, soldiers who came across the boxcars contacted Stalin's secret service.

The agents quickly grasped the incredible value of what they'd found and informed Stalin, who ordered the boxcars brought to Moscow. Over "20 million pages of captured documents, from 20 Nazi-occupied countries" were stored in a nondescript building called the Center for the Preservation of Historical Documentary Collections that Stalin had built on the outskirts of town. For decades, only the KGB and Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs had access to this top-secret archive, which included papers by Mises, Albert Einstein and Immanuel Kant -- even original scores by Wolfgang Mozart.

After hearing rumors that Mises's papers might have survived the war, Ebeling made inquiries at the Holocaust Museum in D.C. The museum researchers found no mention of Mises in their database, but on a hunch Ebeling asked if there could possibly be anything related to Mises in Moscow.

Museum staff member Karl Modek came over to talk to Ebeling. Modek was looking into a Soviet archive of documents that had recently been declassified, and had just received an index of the archive. In the index, Ebeling and Modek found the name "Ludwig Mises," with "Fund #623" printed next to it.

Thrilled by this discovery, Ebeling returned to Hillsdale College, where he was Ludwig von Mises Professor of Economics, and raised funds from the school to travel to Moscow to explore mysterious Fund #623.

At the Center for the Preservation of Historical Documentary Collections, Ebeling and his Russian-born wife, Anna, found Fund #623. It contained over 10,000 pages that took them 10 days to go through and photocopy. They wore out the Center's copier!

The papers prove, Ebeling says, that "Ludwig von Mises was one of the most important free-market economists and philosophers of freedom in our time."
It does seem somewhat ironic that fascists and communists should so carefully preserve the papers of Mises!

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