Did Swiss, Spanish, others purchase looted Nazi gold

WASHINGTON — An exhaustive analysis of wartime documents shows that Nazi Germany sold about $700 million worth of looted gold to Switzerland and other self-declared neutral nations during World War II, according to a World Jewish Congress internal memorandum.

Most of that gold, worth about $7 billion at today's prices, found buyers in Switzerland, followed by Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Turkey.

Less than 10 percent was returned after the war, the memorandum said.

The WJC estimate, which officials believe will stand up as the investigation into wartime financial transactions continues, stems from an 18-month examination of British and American documents found at the U.S. National Archives.

The documents have been made available to the Justice Department, one of 11 government agencies now working under the direction of Undersecretary of Commerce Stuart Eizenstat to complete a report on Switzerland's wartime dealings with Nazi Germany.

The report was originally scheduled to be released this week, but has been delayed until next month.

According to the WJC analysis, Switzerland received about $425 million in gold looted from Holocaust victims and European central banks during Nazi Germany's march across Europe. Switzerland laundered $100 million of that total for the Nazis, while returning about $58 million to the Allies as part of a postwar agreement, according to the documents.

The memo said Portugal received about $139 million in looted gold, returning between $5 million and $6 million after the war; Spain received as much as $100 million, returning $100,000; Sweden received $23 million, returning $8 million; and Turkey received about $10 million, returning $1 million.

Meanwhile, Swiss records of wartime gold movements released last week by the Swiss National Bank showed that Romania and Slovakia also bought looted gold from Hitler's Germany.

The WJC analysis also estimates that Nazi holdings included about $60 million worth of nonmonetary gold confiscated from Holocaust victims on their way to death camps. The gold, melted down into ingots by the German Reichsbank, represented as much as 10 percent of Germany's total looted hoard, according to the WJC.

It remains extremely difficult to trace the origins of gold bullion, but the WJC arrived at the $60 million figure based on an inventory analysis of Reichsbank gold reserves conducted by American forces in 1945.

Those familiar with the Eizenstat report, meanwhile, say Switzerland can expect it to contain stinging criticism of its wartime role that will put the imprimatur of the U.S. government behind allegations put forth by Jewish groups and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse D'Amato (R-N.Y.) over the course of the last year.

Addressing the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on Tuesday, Eizenstat did not give specifics of the report, but said that it would be a "historian's" document, not a "political report."

He characterized it as "objective, fair and searching."

He also said it would be "exacting" with regard to the U.S. role as well.

"We can't shine the spotlight of history on other countries if we don't do the same" on the United States, said Eizenstat.

He said the 200-page document that will be released next month is only an interim report, while officials gain access to documents in other countries. He said it would include references to 14 million pages of documents.

Meanwhile, Swiss banks this week pledged an extra 20 million Swiss francs — $13.7 million — for a Holocaust memorial fund.

Switzerland's three largest banks infused the fund with an initial 100-million-franc donation, or about $70 million, last month. The Swiss National Bank matched the sum, and Swiss industry groups have also chipped in.

The latest contributions from other Swiss banks bring the total sum of the fund to 285 million francs, or about $195 million.