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The Nazi hunger for Europe's Gold.

Updated on November 22, 2013

Perhaps in part due to the Weimar Republics enforced financial burden of paying reparations to the allies after the First World War, and the general global depression of the late 1920s. Hitler's Germany found itself with very little in the way of treasury assets to work with. The weakness of Germany's Gold and foreign exchange reserves was a major stumbling block to the militaristic aims of the Nazi regime. Nazi Germany was able to secure loans and bartered with some of its more affluent neighbours, and through this could re-equip some of its military to modern levels in complete defiance to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles (1919).

The Nazi regimes priority was to rebuild for the War which the Nazi party knew was the only way for them to complete their stated desire of reclaiming its Germanic lands. Germany wanted its old prestige and power back from before the World War and wanted rid of the stain and humiliation of the peace treaty. The entire economy and state was on a War footing from the moment the Nazi party gained control of the Reichstag in the early 1930's.


Nazi controlled Europe 1942
Nazi controlled Europe 1942

By the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Germany had defaulted upon its foreign loans and most of its trade relied upon its ability of its economy and officials to barter. Germany's foreign reserves were drained by 1938 and much of the Western world saw trade with Hitler's Germany as economically unsound. The Nazi quest for Gold started with the union with Austria and the annexation of the Sudetenland (Czech Republic) experts believe that the Nazi's acquired approximately $70,000,000 from the occupied territories own reserves. The Gold would have been used to increase the rate of German armament production and the Nazi economy would benefit from increased productivity. The looted Gold would have ended up as legitimate Gold in other countries treasury.

From the start of the Second World War the Nazi war machine crushed all non aligned states throughout Europe. Soon the Germans had economic control of France, Belgium, Poland, Romania, Holland, Latvia, Denmark, Norway and Greece. The Nazi's took ownership of the assets of these States and transported anything of worth back to the Reich. During the war, Nazi Germany may have stolen around $550 million in Gold from foreign governments, including $220 million from Belgium and $195 million from the Netherlands.

These figures do not include Gold and other items of value stolen from private citizens or companies.The level of theft from individual persons can only be estimated and still subject to argument even now over 60 years later. At the end of the War many of the individuals who lost assets were not able to claim them back from a defeated and bankrupt Germany.

Much of the Gold the Nazi's took off individuals was also taken from victims of the Holocaust, with rings, watches and lockets taken from the inmates when they were admitted to the camps.The camp workers were instructed to remove Gold teeth after they met their end in the gas chambers. It is probable that a lot of this reclaimed Gold was transferred to other countries institutions to provide currency for Nazi purchases with neutral governments.

Switzerland was heavily utilized by the Nazi regime for this type of transaction. Switzerland was used as it was under a lot of pressure by the Germany high command, so Switzerland would offer more favourable terms to the Axis powers.The Swiss National Bank, which was the largest Gold distribution centre in Europe before the war, was the perfect for the Nazi regime to dispose of its Gold. It is estimated that the Swiss National Bank, received $500 million in Gold from Nazi sources, of which $300 million is estimated to have been looted from private citizens, companies or other banks.

The collapse of the Nazi regime in Germany was to start the mystery of what happened to all the at the Nazi Gold in Switzerland's banking centres. It is likely a lot of the Gold was absorbed into the European financial institutions at the end of the war. It has been alleged that numerous European institutions such as the Vatican Bank had taken some of the Nazi gold for safe keeping. The main problem was that a lot of the victims could not claim their assets as they were ever dead or all proof of their ownership was long gone. The Bigelow Report set up after the war and declassified in the late 1990s suggested that the Vatican had confiscated 350 million Swiss francs in Nazi gold to keep it safe at the end of the conflict. Of the Vatican held gold some 150,000,000 Swiss francs had been impounded by British armed forces on the Austro-Swiss border The report also stated that the balance of the gold was possibly held in one of the Vatican’s numbered Swiss bank accounts. Switzerland has some of the tightest confidentiality agreements when it comes to questions regarding their banking code. 

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Gold came from many dark sources.
Gold came from many dark sources. | Source

In 1995 the World Jewish Congress , a group with very strong political connections in the United States, began negotiations on behalf of various other Jewish groups with the Swiss banks and the Swiss government over dormant Jewish war bank accounts. The Jewish lobby group entered a lawsuit in Brooklyn, New York. The action was based on the grievances of Holocaust survivors and their heirs against the Swiss banks policies during and after the Second world war. They alleged the banks deliberately made things difficult for the survivors to access these accounts because of requirements such as death certificates (usually non-existent for Holocaust victims), along with the attitude and deliberate efforts of some Swiss banks to retain the wealth indefinitely. The action also makes claims on the possessions that the banks harboured and held for the Nazi's, knowing they were stolen. They also suggested the then Swiss government did little to help Jewish refugee's admission into Switzerland despite knowing the Nazi racial policies. The plaintiffs of this action were unique as it included all Holocaust victims, not just the Jewish victims.

The case brought by the World Jewish Congress led to international friction between the United States and Switzerland. Such was the feeling in the United States, boycotts of Swiss companies and products were threatened across several US states. The statement that Switzerland assisted the Nazis beyond what was necessary for a neutral country, galvanized the Swiss public opinion, they were  against any settlement. The banks' position was that the settlement demands were  out of proportion to the value of unclaimed assets. The Swiss government's position was that negotiations relating to laundering of assets looted by the Nazis were settled on during previous talks and agreements with the Allied governments and could not be reopened as nothing new could be brought to light. 

The WJC rejected initial offers from the banks and demanded payment of $1.8 billion to settle the lawsuit.  The banks stated the levels of unclaimed accounts from the era did not even hit a quarter of that figure. A compromise was reached between the disputed parties this resulted in a settlement of $1.25 billion in August 1998. Although the Swiss government declined to take part in the settlement. It decided instead to start a 300 million franc Special Fund for Holocaust Victims and their heirs with the Swiss National Bank. It also created an independent panel of international scholars known as the Bergier Commission to study the relationship between wartime Switzerland and the Nazi regime.


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