Nazi Gold : The Stolen Treasures Essay, Research Paper
Much of Europe was ravaged by Hitler’s troops during the early parts of World War II. Many smaller countries that were annexed by Germany’s war machine, including Austria, Czechoslovakia, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Italy, had no choice but to relinquish the gold stored within their vaults to Nazi Germany’s Central Bank (Smith 163). Once the Reichsbank, as it was called, had placed the insignia of Nazi Germany upon each piece of gold, it was either shipped off to be stored within the banks of numerous other nations, or was hidden deep within abandoned mines and caves (Smith 1). These other nations, either neutral or independent, were in constant fear of a Nazi invasion, so they reluctantly complied with Germany on the storage of the looted gold (Smith 1).
At first, Austria had not been considered a “looted” nation, as most European governments were under the opinion that the two nations were on the verge of merging (Smith 2). This was clearly shown when, in a 1940 American court case involving Austrian assets, it was mentioned that, “‘This change [the annexation] has occurred in a manner acceptable to our notions of international law; the Anschlu? has in no way been disavowed….’” (Smith 2) As no nation interfered with Germany’s takeover of Austria, the Nazi party was able to annex the Anschlu?, or Austria’s Central Bank, by March 17, 1938 (Smith 2).
By 1939, Hitler had already taken over much of Czechoslovakia, as a result of the Munich Agreements, signed in September of 1938 (Smith 4). Slowly, Czechoslovakia’s assets were “pulled in” by the Reichsbank, much of which was located in the Bohemian Discount bank and the Bohemian Union Bank. Soon, after Bohemia became a German protectorate, the Nazi party was able to delve into the large gold reserves of the Czechoslovakian National Bank, which was located in Prague (Smith 5).
Both Luxembourg and Belgium’s assets were indirectly liquidated by the Nazis when France surrendered to Germany in June of 1940 (Smith 11). When Luxembourg, Belgium, and a few smaller nations, such as Yugoslavia and Poland, were faced with the threat of a German invasion, they did the most sensible thing at the time; send their gold to France’s heavily guarded vaults (Smith 11). When Germany’s troops arrived in France, they hit the jackpot, so to speak. One of the first things they encountered was Luxembourg’s gold and assets, sitting pretty in the Marseilles branch of the Bank of France (Smith 11). It had obviously been waiting to be shipped out of the country and into the bank’s branches in Africa (Smith 11). When asked why they took Luxembourg’s property, the Reichsbank officials replied that, “‘…officials of the Sparkasse Luxembourg [Luxembourg’s Central Bank] did accept payment in Reichsmarks offered them [for the gold].’” (Smith 11) In other words, the Reichsbank considered its actions to be completely legal (Smith 11). Belgium, on the other hand, seemed much luckier. After France received the little country’s gold reserves, she immediately shipped them over to her West African colonies (Smith 11). Unfortunately, this did not stop Germany from bringing it all back to France. Yet, it took the Reichsbank many months to trace all of the gold hidden in numerous other countries by France (Smith 12).
It seems that Italy lost its gold to the Reichsbank through Germany’s treachery and deceit (Smith 25). In September of 1943, German forces formed a transport to carry Italy’s gold and assets to Milan, where Mussolini’s Fascist republic had been created and established (Smith 25). The gold was later moved to La Fortezza, a fortified citadel in Italy, in December of 1943 (Smith 25). At this point, Azzolini, the governor of the Banca d’Italia, or the Bank of Italy, was sure that the gold had been given to the Germans for the sole reason of safekeeping. Germany remembers otherwise; the Nazis claimed to have negotiated with the Italian bank as to the purpose of the gold (Smith 25). In their own words, “‘…the German government was to take the gold of the Banca d’Italia as Italy’s ‘contribution’ to the war on the eastern front.’” (Smith 25) The gold was later moved to a final destination where Hitler could put it to “good use”: Berlin (Smith 25).
Many nations in the course of the war had unwittingly considered sending their assets to France’s Central Bank, which was known as one of the safest and strongest banks in Europe, at the time (Smith 11). Unfortunately, this theory was shattered when France surrendered to Germany in June of 1940. The Reichsbank was able to withdraw (from the bank) numerous accounts that belonged to a few of Europe’s nations (Smith 11). The neutral countries that aided Germany, at the time, including Sweden, Spain, Portugal, and Switzerland, all associated with the Reichsbank for an important reason; they had all felt that Germany would eventually win. As the war progressed, though, they began to realize that the Nazis were fighting a losing battle (Smith 48). Yet, to this day, it is still being speculated that many of these neutrals still have not turned over all of Germany’s stolen assets (Whittle, Current 1).
Most of the neutrals throughout Europe were in great fear of Germany’s power and influence. Most were small, insignificant countries that Germany had no problem controlling or occupying (Smith 48). But some, such as Spain, Turkey, and Sweden, played major parts in the war. Neither Great Britain nor the United States came to an agreement on the methods needed to be used to apply pressure on certain neutrals, such as Spain (Smith 48). The British were quite afraid that the United States’ harsh economic measures against Spain might anger the nation into joining an alliance with Germany (Smith 48). This would compromise Gibraltar, a British interest (Smith 48). Portugal, on the other hand, had powerful economic ties with Britain, which helped influence Doctor Antonio Salazar, ruler of Portugal, into granting the Allies the use of bases located within the Azores mountain chain (Smith 48). This did not mean that Portugal was below dealing with Germany. By the end of the war, over 950 bars of gold, bearing the Reichsbank insignia, were found in Portugal’s banks (Smith 49).
Turkey was the one neutral that probably played the least important role in the management of Germany’s funds (Smith 49). Turkey was similar to Portugal in many ways, including the fact that they were both quite important geographically (Smith 49). At first, the Turks only dealt with the British, but later aided the Americans as well. This did not stop them from trading with Germany either (Smith 49). Money was the only thing that mattered to Turkey, at the time (Smith 49).
Sweden’s banks, on the other hand, played a very important role in the storage of German loot (Smith 49). Of all the neutrals, Sweden seemed to be the only one who actually understood that its independence remained only as long as it helped Germany (Smith 49). Sweden knew it would have to make sacrifices to retain their neutrality. Nothing the Allies said or did could force Sweden to stop dealing with Nazi Germany (Smith 49). Still, by the summer of 1944, the Swedish support of Hitler’s regime began to fade (Smith 49). Unfortunately, economic relations between Sweden and Germany did not end until December of that year (Smith 50).
Finally, Switzerland was the most important neutral in Hitler’s map of supporters (Smith 50). The independent nation was also the most difficult for the Allies to deal with (Smith 50). As one American said, “‘If the Swedes were stubborn, the Swiss were the cube of stubbornness.’” (Smith 50) Though Switzerland seemed like a frail, pathetic nation, it was a crucial part in Hitler’s plans. The Swiss felt that Germany would be the one strong country that would control most of Europe with their superior military and excellent strategies. They thought that as long as they helped Germany, Hitler would in turn protect Switzerland’s claim to neutrality (Smith 50). Switzerland held a refuge from Hitler’s Gestapo for numerous Jews…yet over 24, 500 of the 300, 000 Jews that ran to the Swiss were turned away (Math?na 2).
Switzerland, of all the neutrals, held most of Germany’s assets within their high-security banking accounts (Whittle, Current 2). Numerous Allied nations, including Britain and the United States, grew discontented with Switzerland’s actions, which is why they tried to punish the neutral country’s government by imposing sanctions after the war (Whittle, Current 3). It was hard work convincing them, but in the end, the Swiss surrendered most of the stolen assets by April of 1945 (Smith 50). On May 25, 1946, the Washington Accord was first opened between the Allied nations and Switzerland (Whittle, Current 3). After Switzerland signed the document, its government had to give over $58 million in gold to the Allied forces (Whittle, Current 3). Even before Switzerland’s agreement to turn the gold over, efforts were made to find hidden Nazi treasures. The United States government started to worry more about Germany’s attempts to hide their Nazi assets in other countries within Europe (Bradsher 2). It was rumored that Germany was simply stockpiling its gold for personal use, as well as to rebuild itself after the war (Bradsher 2). Early, in 1944, the Departments of State and the Treasury and the Foreign Economic Administration started a project, code named the “Safehaven Program,” or “Safehaven” for short, which was designed to trace and recover hidden Nazi assets (Bradsher 2).
During World War II, Hitler’s army captured and imprisoned hundreds of Jews within concentration camps (Smith 45). These Jews had to turn over any gold, valuables, or jewelry, to their captors before being moved to the camps (Smith 45). Though many tried to resist, Germany was still able to confiscate a great amount of Jewish treasures. Whatever could be melted down was, and anything else was replaced for monetary credits (Smith 36). This was an easy way to remove any evidence of the gold being stolen (Smith 35).
Today, many Holocaust survivors and their heirs are still clamoring for justice and total compensation for all that they lost. Their valuables, unfortunately, were melted down, making it almost impossible to trace any of it down (Whittle, Swiss 6). Even so, many reports and investigations are under way, and soon, with any luck, all the lost treasures will eventually be tracked down (Whittle, Current 1).
The latest major reports on the topic of Nazi gold were presented to the Untied States Congress in 1996 and 1998 (Whittle, Current 2). The first report, known as the Eizenstat Report, was headed by Stuart Eizenstat, the Under Secretary of Commerce (of the United States). His report presented detailed information about the role of Swiss banks during and after World War II (Whittle, Swiss 4). The Eizenstat Report took over seven months to complete. Historians, archivists, and numerous experts all conducted this study, which was finally edited by Doctor William Slany (Whittle, Swiss 4). The second report was known as the Bergier Commission Report, and was released by the Swiss government on May 25, 1998 (Whittle, Current 2). The Bergier Commission was an independent faction that studied the trail of Nazi gold through Europe (Whittle, Current 2). The Bergier Commission mainly searched and documented Switzerland’s historical papers. The Report helped bring to light numerous dealings between Switzerland and Germany during World War II (Whittle, Current 2). It seemed that the Swiss police forces had stolen over two billion pounds from Jewish and Slavic refugees (Math?na 2). It also showed that by the end of the war, Belgium had lost the largest amount of money ($223, 200, 000) and Switzerland had taken more than $378, 000, 000 of Germany’s war loot (which totaled to over $621, 847, 038), most of which has already been recovered (Smith 163). There were a few earlier commissions as well. One of most well-known ones was the Tripartite Commission (“Text Summary” par. 12).
In September 1946, the United States, United Kingdom, and France created the Tripartite Gold Commission for the Restitution of Monetary Gold was launched after the establishment of the Paris Agreement in January of that year (“Text Summary” par. 12). The Paris Agreement, created at the November-December 1945 Paris Reparations Conference, simply stated that the Allied countries each received an equal share of Germany’s reparations, while the US, UK, and France received the largest portions (“Text Summary” par. 18). The Tripartite Commission, which used the same principle, took all of Germany’s war loot and Nazi gold and pooled it (“Text Summary” par. 12). From this pool, each country involved took what they had lost during the war. The Commission helped recover much of what was lost (“Text Summary” par. 12).
There are still numerous banks throughout the world that are still hiding Nazi gold within their secret vaults. Why would anyone want to keep Hitler’s “blood money” any longer? World War II occurred over fifty years ago. Not only is the Nazi gold worth a lot more today, it can be melted down and sold on the black market. That is why some countries do not wish to return the gold. Some still fear of an oncoming war…with Hitler’s loot, they will be able to protect themselves from their enemies…or so they think. Millions upon millions of people died protecting their valuables and treasures, but all to no avail. Thankfully, many more reports and commissions are being created to help solve the mysteries that shroud the war loot. In time, all of the treasures will be found, and the legacy of Nazi crimes will finally end.
This report deals with how Nazi Germany’s Reichsbank stole Europe’s gold during World War II to help rebuild Germany and fortify its army.