Nazi Gold & The United States
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, there have been several reports about treasures looted by the Russians. Numerous paintings taken from Germany are in the possession of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. Next to no one knows that the United States had its own program of plunder. The program was directed by army officer Gordon Gilkey. Gilkey must have been a busy man in post war Germany, as attested by the fact that approximately 11,000 paintings from Germany are stored in permanent retention in the Pentagon. The most valuable of those paintings are stored in the vault at the U.S. Center of Military History.
The list of official looters ranged from government officials to private individuals. Herbert Hoover’s famed global tour to relieve hunger in the post war was a cover for a private mission to loot to his content. His staff plundered thousands of items for the Hoover War Library at Stanford University. One item pillaged was Josef Göbbels’s 7,000 page typed diary. Doubleday reached an agreement with Hoover to publish the diary partially for the sum of $400,000, which could have served better use in feeding the children of war torn countries. The original diary is still in possession of Hoover’s library. Additionally, Hoover pillaged a large collection of papers and items belonging to Heinrich Himmler and the Nazi Party. No doubt Hoover saw to the removal of any incriminating files in Germany and Japan, such as those that would have revealed his collaboration with top Nazis during the 1940 election.
While it would be unreasonable not to expect some looting by a few GI’s in the face of such enormous temptations, control over looting was hampered by the swift rotation of troops out of Germany after the war’s end. Nevertheless, it appears certain that there was an organized effort to sabotage the recovery and return of the treasures to their rightful owners.
The pillage was not contained to just the enlisted men. The example of the looting of the Braunes Haus in Munich will show that officers were not only guilty of looting, but also aided the looting by enlisted men. The three building complex was honeycombed with tunnels. The 1269th Combat Engineer Battalion was assigned to the T Force and charged with guarding the complex. The tunnels were full of looted items consisting of silverware, valuable paintings, party records, and other valuables. Various other units were also assigned to guard the complex. Pvt. Polski and Pvt. Fraser entered the complex and discovered several enlisted men and officers pocketing silverware as souvenirs. The guards didn’t seem to mind. Polski joined in picking out a set of silverware with the initials of AH and the swastika on each piece. Fraser picked out an 80-piece set of silverware. The two returned to their headquarters and showed the booty to their commanding officer, Captain McKee. After carefully wrapping their booty in packages the privates had the captain label the packages "Censored by Captain McKee." Polski mailed his booty home to St Paul, Minnesota, Fraser also mailed his loot home. Such looting continued unabated until the Property Control Officer ordered the complex ringed with barb wire and guards on June 10.
The treasures of all the top Nazi officials were looted to some degree. Göring’s vast art collection was hidden in several locations. It was simply too vast to have it all transported to a final cache. Some of it was buried at Carinhall, Göring’s palatial estate and hunting lodge, when the Russians advance threatened to overrun the area. The remainder was transported by train to Veldenstein, Göring’s castle. As the Allies approached Veldenstein on April 7, 1945 Göring once again ordered the treasured to be moved by rail to Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s retreat in the Bavarian Alps and the center of the redoubt area. There Göring was able to commandeer four trains. The ease with which Göring was able to find four trains available to him in the final days of the war was largely due to the incredible and surreal situation surrounding the redoubt area. During the final days of the war, 14,000 freight cars arrived in the area. Many were loaded with supplies and equipment for the Nazis final stand in the Alps. Others were simply loaded with treasures collected by top officials. Wounded soldiers lucky enough to find a horse and cart filled the roads, while other wounded soldiers laid at the roadside, unable to find transportation to a hospital, dying an agonizing death in the mud and snow. In an effort to keep some of Göring’s treasure out of Allied hands five freight cars laden with treasure were sent to nearby Unterstein as the Allies closed in. The remainder of the treasure, which wasn't safely stored away, was left sitting on the rail cars. There town people looted everything they could find.
The 101st Airborne division liberated the area and soon was aware that they had stumbled across Göring’s art collection. After locating a hidden side room in the underground command post, the entrance was blown open to Aladdin’s Cave. Soldiers did not hesitate to take part of the treasure. One soldier found Göring’s guest book from Carinhall. The book contained many signatures of distinguished guest, including that of Herbert Hoover.
One of Göring’s Field Marshall batons was taken by General Patch. Upon his death it was placed in the West Point Military Museum. Lieutenant Eckberg took Göring’s second baton along with other items and mailed them to his mother in Chicago. Eckberg remained in Germany. His mother sold a gold medallion to a jeweller, who then placed an ad. The US Customs read the ad and recovered the medallion, the baton, and the other items the lieutenant had mailed home. Many other personal items were pillaged by soldiers, such as Göring’s dagger and sword. However, Lieutenant Colonel Willard White was probably the most prolific looter at the Berchtesgaden. He helped himself to a large collection of Hitler’s silverware and crystal items, mailing them home to his wife, the sister of Ladybird Johnson.
Another avid looter was Lieutenant Colonel William Brown. Brown’s unit was assigned to the city and county of Weimar, Buchenwald, and the city of Apolda. Brown’s collecting soon led to his questioning on June 27, 1945. His response to the statement that all property found or confiscated in enemy country belonged to the US government follows.
Well, I am sure that I didn’t know that because the general impression at that time was that whatever people picked up that was immediately after the combat phase whatever people picked up they were entitled to. You know as well as I do that there’s been a good deal of that going on, and there has been a good deal of picking up stuff abandoned by all troops. Anything of that kind that I was engaged in there was done with the idea that whatever things of that sort were found where their was no claimant whatever belonged to the finder. To what extent may I ask off the record well, weren’t they, if they were found without any claimant? If you find the stuff lying abandoned, doesn’t that belong to you?
Brown was not honest in his response. Many of the items he seized were taken from claimants, such as his looting of stamps from the post office. The post office was later ordered closed by Brown. After returning to the United States, Brown later ran for the governor of Virginia on the Republican ticket.
The best known case of looting by American personnel was the theft of the Hesse Crown Jewels. The primary instigator of the theft was Captain Kathleen Nash. Nash, Major David Watson and Colonel Jack Durant, Nash’s lover, found a fresh patch of concrete in the cellar as they were exploring the castle. They chipped through the concrete and found zinc lined boxes full of jewels. The trio removed the jewels from the tiaras, bracelets, etc and sold them in Switzerland. In late 1945, the trio returned to the United States. In addition to the jewels and gold, the trio had looted silverware, books, and hundreds of other items. In January 1946, the jewels were reported missing by a member of the Hesse family. The Army’s Criminal Intelligence Division determined the extent of the theft and soon arrested the trio. Durant married Nash so she would not be allowed to testify against him. Watson was sentenced to three years in prison but was released after four months. His family owned a large West Coast grocery store chain that apparently had connections to people in power. Durant was sentenced to fifteen years and released after six years. Nash however, was described as a difficult prisoner and served her entire sentence of five years. About one half of the jewels had been mailed to Nash’s sister.
Nazi gold and treasures continue to be discovered. Recently, the Roman Catholic shrine of Fatima in Portugal confirmed it held Nazi gold bars in the mid 1980s. The Nazi insignia was found on four bars after the shrine requested a Portuguese bank to melt the bars. The bars were sold between 1982 and 1986 to finance construction work. A 1976 bank statement shows the shrine held four Nazi gold bars totalling fifty kilos. It is unknown if the shrine held more.
Another Nazi treasure surfaced in 1990. The treasure consisted of medieval works of art, including gold and silver crucifixes, rock crystal flasks, a beautiful silver receptacle called a reliquary for keeping and displaying sacred relics which was inlaid with precious stones and enamels, a liturgical ivory comb, various priceless gifts belonging to the warlords, who ruled the old states of Germany in the 9th and 10th Centuries, and---perhaps the most priceless of all---a beautifully illustrated 9th Century version of the four gospels in a gold and silver binding encrusted with gold and jewels. The treasure was discovered at the end of the war in an unused mine tunnel at Quedlinburg, a few miles south of Magdeburg in eastern Germany. The treasure was discovered by U. S. Army lieutenant Joe T. Meador, who along with three other units were assigned to guard it. Meador however, had other ideas. He quietly removed the items piece by piece and mailed them home. The army launched an inquiry, which quickly ended when the area was assigned to East Germany. After Meador died in 1980, rumors quickly spread of an impending find of a remarkable medieval artwork. In 1990, the four gospels surfaced along with a 1513 manuscript valued at $500,000. Further investigation around Meador’s hometown of Whitewright, Texas, turned up the remainder of the horde.
In 1997, a vault was opened in Sao Paulo, Brazil, containing more than $4 million worth of looted property. The vault contained cash, gold bars, and jewelry. The vault was held in the name of Albert Blume, a German who came to Brazil before the Second World War. Blume allegedly acted as a banker for escaping Nazis.
In 2001, U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill handed over a dozen drawings to the president of the Bremen Museum. Custom agents had seized the painting four years earlier. The drawings were among 1,500 art works the Bremen Museum moved into a castle outside Berlin in 1943 for safekeeping. Soviet troops had seized them. They first surfaced in 1993 in Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic. The drawings were stolen in Azerbaijan. Four years after the July 1993 theft, a Japanese businessman, Masatsugu Koga, approached the German embassy in Tokyo, offering to sell eight of the Bremen drawings for $12 million. By September 1997, Koga's negotiations with the museum had moved to New York City. A custom agent working undercover joined the museum negotiator in meeting Koga. Koga was arrested, but died before he could be sentenced.
It would take volumes to list all of the various Nazi treasures that have been uncovered since the end of the war. Undoubtedly more treasures will be located in the future. With the fall of the Soviet Union, more Nazi treasures will surface in Russia and the other republics of the old union.
The question of victim compensation is still hotly debated. Stuart Eizenstat, appointed by President Clinton, brought many of the lawsuits to a fruitful conclusion. However, much controversy still remains as victims sneer at the pitiful settlements for their time in concentration camps and forced labor camps. The Eizenstat study reached five major conclusions on the question of Nazi gold listed below.
1. Much of the gold passed through Swiss banks and then into other countries. The conversion of the Nazi gold into Swiss francs was the primary means by which the Nazis purchased war material from neutral countries.
2. The trade with the neutral countries allowed the Nazis to prolong the war.
3. The Reichbanks knowingly incorporated into its gold reserves looted monetary gold from the national banks of other countries. This was a primary means in which the Nazis financed their aggression.
4. Gold from the victims of the concentration camps was mixed with monetary gold and found its way into the neutral trading parties of the Nazis.
5. The complete recovery of the looted gold was hampered by the indifference on the part of neutral nations and conflicting priorities and inaction on the part of the Allies.
One is urged not to take the Eizenstat report as the final word on Nazi gold; other studies are in progress. General Motors has commissioned one such study. However, in the eyes of this writer the General Motors study has been compromised already by the selection of the lead investigator, author Henry Ashby Turner. Turner was the author of a book that was extremely apologetic to big business in aiding Hitler to power.
While the Gold Rush teams did an admiral job in locating the Nazi treasures, in the first few days following the end of the war the program soon became beleaguered with ineptness and corruption. In the case of Nazi gold, there is no direct evidence of a systematic plan to sabotage the recovery of the Nazi treasures. However, there is strong evidence that Allen Dulles aided the Nazis in transporting and concealing their looted treasures in other countries. In the case of the Golden Lily there is ample evidence that the recovery and return of the gold looted by the Japanese was systematically sabotaged by high level intelligence officers, Herbert Hoover, and elites from Wall Street.
It is equally certain that the recovery of Nazi gold from the neutral countries was compromised at almost every step by the objectives of the State Department and the military. From the latest information from Argentina, it seems certain that Perons had an enormous sum of Nazi gold at their disposal. Powerful figures within the Republican Party and business community pushed the United States into the precise trap the Nazis had planned for a comeback---to instigate a war between the Untied States and the Soviet Union. The shooting had hardly stopped before the pro-fascist element within the United States who had opposed the war under the banner of isolation were raging war hawks, calling for a war against the Soviets.
Justice for the victims would be sacrificed, further recovery of the Nazi gold from the neutrals would be stopped, and all resources would be employed in fighting the red menace to protect the same damn corporations that built Hitler’s war machine. The Nazi treasures squirreled away in neutral countries would be used to rebuild Germany as a bulkhead against the Soviets. Was the World Commerce Corporation, a short-lived corporation the funnel that poured the gold looted by the Nazis back into Germany?
The one definitive fact concerning Nazi gold is that much remains to be learned. Perhaps the full story may never be learned. However, without the full release of all documents from this era by not only the Untied States and Britain, but also by all parties involved, including the Vatican, the fate of the missing Nazi gold will remain clouded in a fog of mystery and intrigue.