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Nazi gold (German: Raubgold, "stolen gold") is the gold transferred by Nazi Germany to overseas banks during World War II. The regime executed a policy of looting the assets of its victims to finance the war, collecting the looted assets in central depositories. The occasional transfer of gold in return for currency took place in collusion with many individual collaborative institutions. The precise identities of those institutions, as well as the exact extent of the transactions, remain unclear.
The present whereabouts of Nazi gold that disappeared into European banking institutions in 1945 has been the subject of several books, conspiracy theories, and a civil suit brought in January 2000 against the Vatican Bank, the Franciscan Order, and other defendants.
The draining of Germany's gold and foreign exchange reserves inhibited the acquisition of materiel, and the Nazi economy, focused on militarisation, could not afford to deplete the means to procure foreign machinery and parts. Nonetheless, towards the end of the 1930s, Germany's foreign reserves were unsustainably low. By 1939, Germany had defaulted upon its foreign loans and most of its trade relied upon command economy barter.
However, this tendency towards autarkic conservation of foreign reserves concealed a trend of expanding official reserves, which occurred through looting assets from annexed Austria, occupied Czechoslovakia, and Nazi-governed Danzig. It is believed that these three sources boosted German official gold reserves by US $71m between 1937 and 1939. To mask the acquisition, the Reichsbank understated its official reserves in 1939 by $40m relative to the Bank of England's estimates.
During the war, Nazi Germany continued the practice on a much larger scale. Germany expropriated some $550m in gold from foreign governments, including $223m from Belgium and $193m from the Netherlands. These figures do not include gold and other instruments stolen from private citizens or companies. The total value of all assets stolen by Nazi Germany remains uncertain.
A growing source of precious metal came from Nazi concentration camps and death camps, where all property was taken from the victims, and included personal effects such as wedding rings, pocket watches, cigarette cases, jewellery and gold teeth. (All other substantial property, such as houses, paintings, shares, and bonds, were stolen from the victims before they entered the camps.) The gold was collected at the camps and sent to the Reichsbank under the false-name Max Heiliger accounts for melting down for bullion.
Much of the gold bullion was stored in abandoned mines in Germany, such as the Merkers mine, where it was found by US soldiers towards the end of the war in 1945. Other resources such as the personal possessions of the victims of Nazi persecution, were found in the concentration camps on liberation.
The present whereabouts of the Nazi gold that disappeared into European banking institutions in 1945 has been the subject of several books, conspiracy theories, and a civil suit brought in January 2000 in California against the Vatican Bank, the Franciscan Order and other defendants. The suit against the Vatican Bank did not claim that the gold was then in its possession and has since been dismissed.
The Swiss National Bank, the largest gold distribution centre in continental Europe before the war, was the logical venue through which Nazi Germany could dispose of its gold. During the war, the SNB received $440m in gold from Nazi sources, of which $316m is estimated to have been looted.
On October 21, 1946, the U.S. State Department received a Top Secret report from US Treasury Agent Emerson Bigelow. The report, released by the U.S. government finally in 1997, established that Bigelow received reliable information on the matter from the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) or CIC intelligence officials of the US Army. The document, referred to as the "Bigelow Report", was declassified on December 31, 1996, and released in 1997.
The report asserted that in 1945, the Vatican had confiscated 350 million Swiss francs in Nazi gold for "safekeeping," of which 150 million Swiss francs had been impounded by British authorities at the Austro-Swiss border. The report also stated that the balance of the gold was held in one of the Vatican’s numbered Swiss bank accounts. Intelligence reports, which corroborated the Bigelow Report, also suggested that more than 200 million Swiss francs, a sum largely in gold coins, were eventually transferred to Vatican City or to the Institute for Works of Religion (aka the Vatican Bank), with the assistance of Roman Catholic clergy and the Franciscan Order.
During the war, Portugal, with neutral status, was one of the centres of tungsten production and sold to both Allied and Axis powers. Tungsten is a critical metal for armaments, especially for armour-piercing bullets and shells. Much of the Axis tungsten was purchased with Nazi gold bullion, which was looted from the countries they had invaded as well as their dead victims. It is estimated that nearly 100 tons of Nazi gold were laundered through Swiss banks, with only four tons being returned at the end of the war.
During the war, Portugal was the second largest recipient of Nazi gold, after Switzerland; this came through the sale of tungsten, with the German armaments industry nearly entirely dependent on the supplies from Portugal. Initially the Nazi trade with Portugal was in hard currency, but in 1941 the central Bank of Portugal established that much of this was counterfeit and Portuguese leader António de Oliveira Salazar demanded all further payments in gold. Presumably the counterfeit currency were the infamous banknotes produced by Sachsenhausen concentration camp victims in Operation Bernhard.