This report addresses a vital but relatively neglected dimension of the history of the Second World War and its aftermath, one that became the focus of intense political, diplomatic and media attention over the last year. It is a study of the past with implications for the future.
The report documents one of the greatest thefts by a government in history: the confiscation by Nazi Germany of an estimated $580 million of central bank gold-- around $5.6 billion in today's values--along with indeterminate amounts in other assets during World War 11. These goods were stolen from governments and civilians in the countries Germany overran and from Jewish and non-Jewish victims of the Nazis alike, including Jews murdered in extermination camps, from whom everything was taken down to the gold fillings of their teeth.
Our mandate from the President in preparing this report was to describe, to the fullest extent possible, U.S. and Allied efforts to recover and restore this gold and other assets stolen by Nazi Germany, and to use other German assets for the reconstruction of postwar Europe. It also touches on the initially valiant, but ultimately inadequate, steps taken by the United States and the Allies to make assets available for assistance to stateless victims of Nazi atrocities.
It is in the context of this mandate that the report catalogues the role of neutral countries, whose acceptance of the stolen gold in exchange for critically important goods and raw materials helped sustain the Nazi regime and prolong its war effort. This role continued, despite several warnings by the Allies, even long past the time when these countries had any legitimate reason to fear German invasion.
Among the neutral countries, Switzerland receives the most attention in the report. We have no desire to single out a country that is a robust democracy, a generous contributor to humanitarian efforts, and a valued partner of the United States today. But Switzerland figures prominently in any history of the fate of Nazi gold and other assets during and after World War II because the Swiss were the principal bankers and financial brokers for the Nazis, handling vast sums of gold and hard currency.
Prepared by the chief Historian of the State Department, Dr. William Slany, the study is the product of an extraordinary seven-month effort on the part of eleven U.S. Government agencies, which I coordinated at President Clinton's request. All involved have worked tirelessly in beginning the process of reviewing 15 million pages of documentation in the National Archives. This represents the largest such effort ever undertaken using the Archives' records, and it has required the declassification and transfer of more documents at one time--between 800,000 and one million pages--than ever before in the history of that repository. Those documents are now available to researchers for the first time.
Nevertheless, this study is preliminary and therefore incomplete. Not every U.S. document related to looted Nazi assets could be located and analyzed in the very short time we had to conduct and complete the study. As we progressed, additional documents were constantly found. While we were compelled to rely mostly on U.S. documents, we are well aware that not until the documents of other countries are examined can a more complete picture be drawn.
This is a report by historians. It is a search for facts from the past. It seeks neither to defend nor offend any nation; it endeavors to shade no hard realities, obfuscate no issue. It focuses on the role of the U.S. Government and touches on the roles of countries who are now among our closest friends and allies--from our wartime Allies to the then-neutral countries Argentina, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey (which Joined the Allied effort just before the end of the War).
The picture which emerges from these pages, particularly of the neutral nations, is often harsh and unflattering. Many profited handsomely from their economic cooperation with Nazi Germany, while the Allied nations were sacrificing blood and treasure to fight one of the most powerful forces of evil in the annals of history. At the same time, our team knew that if we were going to shine the bright light of history on other nations, we also had to took carefully at America's role, and the study does so.
Why the sudden surge of interest in these tragic events of five decades ago? There are a variety of explanations. The end of the Cold War gave us the chance to examine issues long pushed to the background. Some previously unavailable documents have been declassified, and made publicly available. As Holocaust survivors come to the end of their lives, they have an urgent desire to ensure that long-suppressed facts come to light and to see a greater degree of justice to assuage, however slightly, their sufferings. And a younger generation seeks a deeper understanding of one of the most profound events of the twentieth century as we enter the twenty-first.
But the most compelling reason is the extraordinary leadership and vision of a few people who have put this issue on the world's agenda: the leadership of the World Jewish Congress, Edgar Bronfman, Israel Singer and Elan Steinberg; a bipartisan group in the U.S. Congress, in particular, the early, tenacious and important role of Senator Alfonse D'Amato of New York; and President Bill Clinton, who has insisted on our establishing and publishing the facts. These leaders have stirred our conscience and stiffened our resolve to achieve justice. particularly for the surviving victims of the Holocaust and Nazi oppression.
Source: The United States State Department
This document is in the public domain.
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A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
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College of Education, University of South Florida © 2005.