After waiting more than a week to see a substantive report on these issues in the mainstream press, I found (as usual) only glancing coverage -- I doubt that few reporters read past the executive summary, if that. Because part of our charter is to report "the news you're missing," AND because this story touches upon issues of government disclosure, I've decided to present it. An afterword provides additional information about this report.]
As more information
becomes available on the whereabouts of gold and other
loot taken from Jewish prisoners during the Holocaust, most eyes have
focused on Swiss banks as a repository for billions that could belong to
survivors and their families. But eyewitness accounts of the liberation of
Buchenwald suggest that people may find Jewish gold closer to home -- perhaps
in the United States' federal reserve.
A handful of survivors have come forward to tell a story of a quarry in Buchenwald where loot was stashed. And, they say, after liberation, U.S. Army trucks cleared out the quarry of its contents. Along with the recent news that about $60 million in Nazi gold remains in the U.S. and England, the question arises: could Jewish gold be among that $60 million?
Ripstein of Las Vegas was a Jewish prisoner at Buchenwald in central
Germany. He remembers April 11, 1945, well. On that day, he and his younger
brother, Bernard, were liberated by the U.S. Army. He was almost 18 and
close to death.
"I was happy to be alive," says Ripstein, recalling his liberation. "I'm happy today because this is 52 years later and I'm still alive. I'm very thankful."
The 761st Tank Battalion, part of General Patton's Third Army, was the first African-American Army unit trained to fight in armor. Their exploits, duly noted in history books, included breaking through the gates at Buchenwald. Other Army units had the responsibility of cleaning up the camps.
Ripstein (who asked to use his un-Americanized name to protect his privacy) remembers the cleanup at Buchenwald as a chaotic time. "There was no order," he says. "You could take anything you wanted," adding that both soldier and prisoner took advantage of this "window of opportunity," which lasted about a week.
During this time, a rumor spread around the camp: a gravel quarry adjacent to Buchenwald had caught the attention of the American soldiers. Ripstein says he heard a German guard had disclosed to the Americans that there was loot in the quarry.
"My brother and I went near the quarry and saw the U.S. Army, surrounded by military police with machine guns, digging and taking out crates upon crates upon crates of stuff," Ripstein recalls.
The cleanup units quickly sealed off the quarry from the rest of the camp, Ripstein says, forcing curious onlookers to watch from the perimeter.
"People were saying there was gold in [the quarry] from the beginning," concurs Hyman Kalickstein, a childhood friend of the Ripstein brothers and also a survivor of Buchenwald. "It was common knowledge. We saw the American Army come in and carry away these valuables. We knew gold had a value then but we didn't complain. We were just happy to get more food."
on the perimeter of the quarry, the survivors of Buchenwald, like
Kalickstein and the Ripstein brothers, looked on for days as the American
army trucks went into the quarry empty and came out loaded.
"Occasionally, a G.I. broke open a crate and helped himself to whatever was there," Jacques Ripstein says, adding that he saw soldiers line their arms with wristwatches pulled from the crates.
When the military police left, he says other children in the camp went down to the quarry and came back with diamonds and rings found loose in the gravel.
Bernard Judd, who only met Ripstein recently, was also at Buchenwald then, and he was 25 years old at the time. He recalls watching U.S. Army trucks coming and going out of the quarry from his window in the barracks. It was his understanding that the loot in the quarry had been taken from prisoners as they arrived from Auschwitz. Judd says he didn't want to go to the quarry, but, he says, his older brother Emil did make his way there. Emil returned with a watch, which he gave to Bernard. "It was a cheap watch, but I was glad to have it," says Judd. "I was happy to get more food, too."
Emil, who is now 80 years old and ill, could not be reached for comment.
The media blitz surrounding the recent discovery of Nazi gold deposited in Swiss banks has attracted attention worldwide.
Such figures as New York Senator Alfonse D' Amato and Edgar M. Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and chairman of the Seagrams Company Ltd., have launched major investigations into the Swiss banks and their transactions with the Third Reich. More than $4 billion worth of gold belonging to Holocaust victims and their families may reside in Swiss banks.
Bronfman has become the official spokesman for Holocaust restitution. In an appearance last February at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, Bronfman spoke of his efforts to ensure that no one "profit from the ashes of the Holocaust."
[On Tuesday, May 7, the Clinton administration released a 200-page report charging that the Swiss failed to return hundreds of millions of dollars in assets confiscated from Nazi Germany, primarily taken from Holocaust victims and European banks. The report also admits that the United States' "lack of attention" in 1946 contributed to the problem.]
Rabbi Marvin Hier, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, is a close observer of the events in Switzerland. Hier has been calling for the release of the minutes of the Tripartite Gold Commission (TGC) meetings. Established in 1946, the commission (made up of France, Britain and the United States) was responsible for distributing German gold confiscated by the Allies to nations claiming they were plundered by the Nazis.
"The minutes of those meetings are shrouded in secrecy," Hier says from his L.A. office. "There are a lot of skeletons buried there." He added that the minutes of those meetings can only be released through a joint agreement of the member nations. So far, he says his requests to the Clinton administration have remained unanswered.
However, the WJC, citing recently declassified documents, says there is Nazi gold still held by the United States and England. According to a document released in February by the Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs and the U.S. Department of State, there is "a total of 5.6 metric tons of monetary gold (worth about $60 million)" in TGC accounts at the U.S. Federal Reserve and the Bank of England. According to the document, this remaining gold "represents the sum of money that was withheld from claimant countries. It is not 'residual' or 'leftover.'"
amount of gold the commission distributed to claimant nations
was $340 million, the majority found by the Allies in a potassium mine in
Merkers, Germany. Of the $241 million worth of gold discovered in the mine,
Hier says it has yet to be determined how much of it was dental fillings
from Holocaust victims.
Judah Nadich is rabbi emeritus at the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York. In World War II, he served in the U.S. Army as senior American Jewish chaplain, the first rabbi ordered to the European theater of war.
Nadich spent four years in the war, part of that time as an adviser on Jewish affairs to General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Nadich returned to America as a lieutenant colonel in 1945. His book, Eisenhower and the Jews, was published in 1953.
In a telephone interview from his office in New York, Rabbi Nadich explains the role of the Army during the war, specifically the civilian branch, known as the G-5.
"The G-5 planned what would happen when the U.S. took over an enemy country, plus what would happen when the war was finally over," he says.
When asked about the redistribution of material wealth discovered in the camps, Nadich says he doubts any was found, considering the Jews were stripped of all belongings before entering the camps.
"The Army did not contemplate finding any material goods inside the camps. This is the first time I've ever heard of material goods being taken away from the camps," he says in response to Ripstein's account.
Responding to a written request, the National Archives in Washington, D.C., wrote, "[We] have not found any documents which define a [U.S. policy regarding materials found during the liberation of concentration camps]. The files [we] searched concerning the camp liberations and the disposition of German assets made it clear that such finds were not anticipated."
The letter explains how in the spring of 1945 the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended that "material which could be linked to possible war crimes (gold fillings from prisoners, etc.) be reported to U.S. and United Nations war crimes investigators for their inspection."
No record of any loot recovered from Buchenwald is available, although the TGC's minutes might shed some light on the issue.
"When I first came into prison, a 'Jewish forced labor camp' is what they called it," says Jacques Ripstein, recalling his years of imprisonment. "We wore civilian clothes with Jewish stars. Then [the labor camp] was changed and everybody got a number. This became Auschwitz."
At Auschwitz, Jacques, 15, and his brother Bernard, 13, would lose their family, including a mother and a sister, to the gas chambers. Their father was reportedly shot in the streets of their native Poland.
A march from Auschwitz would lead the orphaned brothers and their friend, Hyman Kalickstein, to another camp where they stayed a month. They were then transported on open freight train to Buchenwald.
After a deadly winter, the spring of '45 brought with it word of liberation. In March, Patton had crossed the Rhine River and was rapidly advancing across Germany.
When the U.S. battalions finally reached Buchenwald, thousands were dead. The rest, like the Ripsteins and Kalickstein, were half-starved and nearly dead.
"It was unbelievable," Bernard Ripstein says about the liberation. "We never thought we were going to get out."
Ripstein was interviewed by Steven Spielberg's SHOAH Visual History
Foundation in Los Angeles. During his testimony, he recounted what he had
witnessed as a prisoner at Buchenwald, with the exception of the American
Army's activities in the quarry. "I didn't think it was important at the
time," he says.
When news of Nazi gold in Switzerland began circulating recently, he says he felt compelled to tell what he, his brother, Kalickstein and Judd saw from the perimeter of the quarry during those days.
After hearing his father's story, Ripstein's son, a lawyer in L.A., sent his father a copy of the Sunday Los Angeles Times. Inside was an interview with a Holocaust survivor from Auschwitz discussing his claims filed against several Swiss banks. Accompanying the article was a seemingly unrelated photograph of thousands of wedding rings found by the U.S. Army at Buchenwald.
Looking at the photo of the rings, Ripstein says his first question was: "What happened to them?" Bernard Judd says he, too, has often wondered what happened to the crates removed from the quarry.
"I really couldn't say what happened to all that loot," says Ripstein. "As the saying goes, 'to the victor go the spoils.' [But] there should be a public acknowledgment by the U.S. of what happened to all of it."
[Afterword: According to the preliminary State Dept. report, the TGC records remain classified. The introduction to the report states, in part: "... Some victim gold was sent to Switzerland and other neutral countries, and whether it was also included in the TGC Gold Pool. This was the Pool into which looted central bank gold was placed for redistribution by the TGC to the governments from which it was stolen during the War. This study concludes that both occurred.
The Reichsbank or its agents smelted gold taken from concentration camp internees, persecutees and other civilians, and turned it into ingots. There is clear evidence that these ingots were incorporated into Germany's official gold reserves, along with the gold confiscated from central banks of the countries the Third Reich occupied.
Although there is no evidence that Switzerland or other neutral countries knowingly accepted victim gold, the study provides clear evidence on the basis of the pattern and practice of Reichsbank gold smelting, the co-mingling of monetary and non-monetary gold, gold transfers and an analysis of a shipment of looted Dutch gold that at least a small portion of the gold that entered Switzerland and Italy included non-monetary gold from individual civilians in occupied countries and from concentration camp victims or others killed before they even reached the camps.
It is also clear that some victim gold "tainted" the Gold Pool. There was great confusion and disagreement between the Allies and within the U.S. government over the definition of "monetary gold" (destined for the Gold Pool) and "non-monetary gold" (to be used for resettlement of stateless victims).
In the end, the U.S. decided on a definition that was based on appearance rather than origin. As a result, gold taken by the Nazis from civilians in occupied countries and from individual victims of the Nazis in concentration camps and elsewhere was swept into the Gold Pool.]
Albion Monitor May 18, 1997 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor)
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