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Collection given to Penrose tells extraordinary family story

Friday, June 19, 2009

Plot to assassinate Hitler, Nuremburg trials, Albert Einstein, much more

DENVER— Andrea Sears-Van Nest donated her family’s archival collection to the University of Denver Penrose Library, a collection that includes documents of the plot to assassinate Hitler as shown in the movie “Valkyrie,” letters between her father and Albert Einstein and documents from the Nuremburg trials. The collection, appraised at $25,000, is housed in the Department of Special Collections and Archives at Penrose.

The family’s story is revealed through documentation uncovered when Sears-Van Nest’s mother, Vera Sears, passed away in March of 2008. Prior to that, Andrea Sears-Van Nest had some idea, but knew no details of the role her parents played in this pivotal time in world history. When she found boxes of photographs, newspaper clippings, journals and letters, they revealed much she did not know.

“My husband and I were sitting here with mouths open; it was just so tremendous,” Sears-Van Nest says. “My father died when I was so young and my mother was mum about everything.”

Edwin Sears, a law professor at the University of Denver, was secretary to Albert Einstein at the University of Berlin from 1927 to 1929. He studied law at the University of Berlin, where he met his wife Vera. The two married just before it became illegal for Vera, who was gentile, to marry Edwin, who was Jewish. The two lived in Berlin while Edwin Sears completed his law degree and then became a professor of law at the University of Berlin. In 1939, he was forced to leave because he refused to sign a pledge of loyalty to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party.

The collection includes documents from the Reich Director describing the assassination plot of Hitler by Colonel Graf von Stauffenberg and others, as depicted in the movie “Valkyrie.” Other documents include letters between Sears and Einstein who had already come to the United States. Letters show that while Einstein wanted to help the Sears, he could not financially sponsor another family. However, he put the Sears in touch with an attorney in New York who did sponsor the family’s move to the U.S. The collection also includes documents from the Nuremburg trials. Edwin Sears was also drafted into the army to help prosecute war criminals.

“I’m sure my father did not want to go back because he knew how hard it was going to be,” she says. “When he returned to Germany he searched for friends, but so many had been killed by the Nazis.

“But I want people to know that it was this country that said we will not go out and kill the Nazis,” Sears-Van Nest says. “We will follow the rules of the law and make an attempt, even if it is not perfect, to bring criminals to justice. People need to remember that today as we decide how to treat prisoners of war.”

Edwin Sears was a professor of law at the University of Denver from 1943 until 1951. He oversaw his own law firm until his death in 1964. Vera Sears was a professional dancer. She studied with Martha Wilcox at the University of Denver and was asked by Wilcox to teach at the Lamont School of Music. Vera Sears became the director of the Children’s Dance Theatre at Lamont. She lived to be 95, passing away last year.

“I encourage people my age to talk and discuss their parents’ history with them,” Sears-Van Nest says. “Be curious and take pride in it.”

The bulk of the collection is already housed at the University of Denver Penrose Library. All of the collection will be turned over in time.

“Penrose Library is very grateful to have received this extraordinary collection, which fits very well with our strengths,” says Nancy Allen, dean of Penrose Library. “Her father’s collection will support research across campus, such as that associated with DU’s Holocaust Awareness Institute and the Korbel School of International Relations.

This Institute, housed within the University of Denver’s Center for Judaic Studies, is the leading institution in the region for the promotion of education about the Holocaust. The Korbel School of International Relations is ranked among the nation’s best for Professional Masters Programs.

“Vera Sear’s collection will help enhance the Carson-Brierly Dance Library collection, which is one of only 14 nationally recognized resources of American dance,” Allen says. “Penrose Library is delighted to receive in-kind donations of materials that have a research value for the DU community and the research community at large.”


The University of Denver (, the oldest private university in the Rocky Mountain region, enrolls approximately 11,409 students in its undergraduate and graduate programs. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Denver as a Research University with high research activity.

Contact: Kristal Griffith
Phone: (303) 871-4117

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