Monetary and Non-Monetary Gold
The U.S. Army and the Discovery, Accountability, and Security of German Monetary Gold
When the American armies entered Germany in the spring of 1945, they discovered large amounts of gold hidden by the Germans, particularly at the Merkers salt mines, where the Reichsbank had shipped about 400 million Reichsmarks in gold in an effort to hide it from the Allies closing in on Berlin. The gold had been looted from central banks in German-occupied countries, individual civilians and victims of Nazi persecution. By that summer much of it was stored in the Reichsbank building in Frankfurt in the custody of the Foreign Exchange Depository (FED), a section of the Office of Military Government United States (OMGUS) of the American occupation force in Germany. Between 1945 and 1948 the FED collected, guarded, inventoried, and distributed to various countries nearly $300 million in gold bullion and gold coins ($2.9 billion today). The FED worked with Allied governments, occupation authorities, and the Tripartite Gold Commission in inventorying this collection (consistent with official definitions of monetary and non-monetary gold) and making distributions as agreed.
Discovery and Disposition of Non-Monetary Gold From the Victims of Nazi Persecution
Within months after the occupation of Germany by Allied troops, U.S. military authorities learned that the German Reichsbank had incorporated gold looted from the occupied nations of Europe into its gold reserve, as well as some gold (including jewelry, watches and even smelted dental gold) that the Nazi SS stripped from Jews and other persecutees. An elaborate Reichsbank program of converting the gold and valuables of camp victims into official German accounts was known to American authorities after the war. The Reichsbank established the "Melmer" account, named for SS-Hauptsturmfuehrer Bruno Melmer, into which the SS deposited looted gold and other assets confiscated from Holocaust victims and other civilians. Whatever might be the total amount of victim gold in the German gold reserve, the scale of the SS plundering of camp victims was made clear by the amount of SS gold and other valuables uncovered by the U.S. Army at the Merkers mine in 1945. Some of the victim gold in the Reichsbank gold reserves came from persecutees killed in concentration camps or elsewhere, while some was taken by the Nazis from other civilians. There is clear evidence that gold looted by the Nazis from individuals and camp victims was systematically received, classified, sold, pawned, deposited, or converted and smelted by the Reichsbank into gold ingots and sent to the Reichsbank monetary gold reserve along with gold looted elsewhere in Europe. The smelted SS gold was indistinguishable in appearance from gold bullion stolen from central banks across Nazi-occupied Europe.
Some of this victim gold has been traced as part of German wartime gold sales to Switzerland and Italy. An analysis of one Prussian Mint smelting of looted Dutch guilders in 1943 notes that 37,000 fine grams of gold from the SS loot were added to that particular smelting. Of the bars that resulted from this smelting, 83 percent were traded to the Swiss National Bank, the rest to Italy. Thus, it is clear that the bullion traded to Switzerland and other neutral countries included some of this victim gold. At the same time, there is no evidence that the Swiss or other neutrals knowingly accepted victim gold. According to captured German records, packages of jewelry identified in documents as coming from Jewish victims were sent by diplomatic pouch to the German Legation in Bern for pickup by German agents, who then traded the jewelry for industrial diamonds and currency critical to the German war effort.
It is also clear that victim gold entered the postwar Gold Pool organized by the Tripartite Gold Commission. Caches of smelted victim gold, including gold teeth, jewelry and Jewish religious items--along with gold coins taken from individuals--were recovered at the Merkers mine and elsewhere in Germany. This study provides no evidence that American officials ever assayed (analyzed chemically) the gold bars to be added to the Pool, despite a 1946 dispatch from U.S. diplomat Livingston Merchant raising the issue. Instead, they allowed appearance rather than origin to define gold as monetary when in fact some of it was derived from gold valuables taken from concentration camp victims and other civilians. In deciding to include gold coins and bars without mint markings, there is no doubt that the U.S. Government consciously contributed gold and coins at Merkers belonging to concentration camp victims and other civilians to the TGC Gold Pool.
The amount of victim gold misdirected into the Gold Pool and subsequently distributed by the TGC to claimant countries has not been quantified. Nor can it be established from our study how much victim gold was seized by the Nazis, how much entered the German gold reserve and was used in wartime transactions, or later fell into Allied hands. It was likely that a relatively small proportion of the total gold looted from central banks and recovered by the Allies after the War was victim gold, but that scarcely lessens the sense of a final grim indignity added to the toll of Nazi barbarity. Paradoxically and poignantly, the hasty measures taken by the U.S. and its Allies to distinguish between monetary gold supposedly taken from central banks, and non-monetary gold supposedly taken from individuals, were motivated in part by a decision by the Paris Reparations Conference in January 1946 to ensure that non-monetary gold would be used to provide immediate assistance to Jews and other stateless refugees.
Source: The United States State Department
This document is in the public domain.
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A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
Produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology,
College of Education, University of South Florida © 2005.