Nazi gold (German: Raubgold, "stolen gold") is the rumored gold allegedly transferred by Nazi Germany to overseas banks during World War II. The regime is believed to have 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 failed civil suit brought in January 2000 against the Vatican Bank, the Franciscan Order, and other defendants.
he 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 allegedly stolen by Nazi Germany remains uncertain.
Advancing north from Frankfurt, the US 3rd Army cut into the future Soviet zone when it occupied the western tip of Thuringia. On 4 April, the 90th Infantry Division took Merkers, a few kilometres inside the border in Thuringia. On the morning of the 6th, two military policemen, Pfc. Clyde Harmon and Pfc. Anthony Kline, enforcing the customary orders against civilian circulation during an evening curfew, stopped two women on a road outside Merkers. Since both were French displaced persons (DPs), with one of them pregnant attempting to find a doctor, the military policemen (MP) decided to bring them back to Pfc. Richard C. Mootz. Luckily for Mootz, he and the women had something in common: they could all speak German. While getting to know them better and escorting them back into the town, they passed the entrance to the Kaiseroda salt mine in Merkers. The two women told Mootz that the mine contained gold stored by the Germans, along with other treasures. Once back in his unit, he attempted to tell his three other comrades, but they weren't interested in listening. So he called other military personnel. By noon, the story had passed on up to the chief of staff and the division's G-5 officer, Lt. Col. William A. Russell, who, in a few hours, had the news confirmed by other DPs and by a British sergeant who had been employed in the mine as a prisoner of war and had helped unload the gold. Russell also turned up an assistant director of the National Galleries in Berlin who admitted he was in Merkers to care for paintings stored in the mine.
The next day was Sunday. In the morning, while Colonel Bernard D. Bernstein, Deputy Chief, Financial Branch, G-5, SHAEF, read about the find in the Stars and Stripes's Paris edition,90th Infantry Division engineers blasted a hole in the vault wall to reveal on the other side a room 23 meters (75 ft) wide and 46 meters (150 ft) deep. They found 3,682 bags and cartons of Germany currency, 80 bags of foreign currency, 8,307 gold bars, 55 boxes of gold bullion, 3,326 bags of gold coins, 63 bags of silver, one bag of platinum bars, eight bags of gold rings and 207 bags and containers of Nazi loot that included valuable artwork.
On Sunday afternoon, Bernstein, after verifying to the fullest the newspaper story with Lt. Col. R. Tupper Barrett, Chief, Financial Branch, G-5, 12th Army Group, flew to SHAEF Forward at Rheims where he spent the night, it being too late by then to fly into Germany. At noon on Monday, he arrived at General George S. Patton's Third Army Headquarters with instructions from Eisenhower to check the contents of the mine and arrange to have the treasure taken away. While he was there, orders arrived for him to locate a depository farther back in the SHAEF zone and supervise the moving. [Under the Big Three arrangements, this part of Germany containing Merkers would be taken over by the Soviets for military government control after the fighting ended. Bernstein and Barrett spent Tuesday looking for a site and finally settled on the Reichsbank building in Frankfurt.
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 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" (oftentimes as the Bigelow dispatch, or Bigelow memo) 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 FranciscanOrder.
Such claims, however, are denied by the Vatican Bank. "There is no basis in reality to the [Bigelow] report", said Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls, as reported in Time magazine.
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 Portugalestablished 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.