Economics

Mises Papers Recovered

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A treasure trove of 20th-century economic and libertarian history, long thought destroyed by the Nazis, has been recently recovered and brought–on microfilm, at least–to the United States.

Ludwig von Mises, linchpin of the 20th-century free market Austrian economic tradition and author of such classics of 20th-century political and economic liberalism as Socialism and Human Action, left his papers and correspondence behind in his native Vienna when he went to teach in Switzerland in 1934. When the Nazis occupied Austria in March 1938, they went to arrest Mises but instead found only his documents. Mises and his wife, who ended up in the United States after the war, assumed the Nazis destroyed the papers.

They didn't. They merely shipped them to a storage house of stolen documents in Czechoslovakia, which was occupied by the Soviet army at the war's end. The Soviets moved the documents to Moscow, where the KGB carefully organized and catalogued them. While researching a forthcoming biography of Mises, Richard Ebeling of Hillsdale College in Michigan discovered their continued existence at Moscow's Center for Historical and Documental Collections. "This is an incredibly exciting find," Ebeling says. "It's a very significant period of Mises's life, records of which we thought were lost."

Ebeling visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington last July to inquire about Gestapo files on Mises. The museum didn't have any, but a researcher there had a list of historical archives in Moscow related to the war, and he showed Ebeling an entry for archival papers on Ludwig von Mises.

The documents date back to Mises's army service during World War I and include both sides of his correspondences. They also contain lecture notes and course outlines of his teachings at the University of Vienna and his private seminars, attended by such later giants of economics and political philosophy as Nobel laureate F.A. Hayek and Lionel Robbins, head of the London School of Economics in the 1930s.

Ebeling photocopied or microfilmed almost all of the 10,000 items in Moscow. They are now being archived and translated by Hillsdale, to whom Mises left what papers he still had when he died. Appropriately, Hillsdale is one of the rare U.S. colleges that accept no government money, including scholarship money from government sources.

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