It's thought to be one of the world's largest privately owned Holocaust archives: half-a-million items assembled over the decades by a man trained as a chemist. How it came to be is a fascinating tale recounted by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency roughly one year after the Mazal Holocaust Collection found its current home at the University of Colorado Boulder. Harry Mazal's family came to Mexico City from Turkey before WWII began, and he explained in a 2009 podcast that after his retirement 20 years prior he settled in San Antonio, where "I bought my first computer and learned how to go online to the famous bulletin boards." It's there that Mazal, born to Jewish parents who weren't particularly religious, encountered Holocaust deniers. Dumbfounded by their stance, "I started buying books and reading them ... and responding to these idiot bulletin boards."
The self-described "compulsive" Mazal amassed aerial photos of the camps, Nuremberg trial transcripts, and Nazi newspapers, ultimately constructing a 3,000-square-foot home addition to store it all in. But as JTA explains, two 2011 events shook up the collection, thought to be worth $1.5 million: Mazal died that August at the age of 74, putting the archive in the hands of his family. Seven months prior, in January, a collection volunteer named Mansal Denton was arrested for stealing 17,000 pages of documents. Denton was sentenced to 8 years in prison last June, but JTA sees the theft as "[underscoring] the need to find a proper home for the collection"—a home his daughter settled on after meeting David Shneer, who directs the university's Program in Jewish Studies. A sad footnote: My San Antonio reported on a suit filed against Denton by Mazal's widow in late 2011 that noted Mazal "spent his final months in anguish" over the theft. (Read more Holocaust stories.)