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Posted Monday, August 17, 1998


From The Times, London, August 3, 1998

Bank admits guilt over Jewish gold


DEUTSCHE Bank has become the latest German company to accept a measure of guilt for its conduct during the Second World War by expressing "deep regret" about its role in taking tainted Nazi gold. An unusual statement by Germany's largest commercial bank conceded "moral and ethical responsibility for the darkest chapter of its history". The bank was responding to the report of an independent historical commission which said Deutsche Bank might well have known that gold bought from Hitler's central bank, the Reichsbank, was taken from death camp victims.

The historians calculate that Deutsche bought 4,446kg (9,780lb) of gold, which may have included some delivered in sealed sacks by Bruno Melmer, an SS officer, to the Reichsbank in Berlin from deposits in Auschwitz. This included gold smelted from tooth fillings of camp inmates, from wedding rings and other jewellery.

The Deutsche Bank statement accepted moral responsibility but did not mention legal or financial obligations. "The bank regrets most deeply the injustice that took place ... as has always been stressed, Deutsche Bank fully acknowledges its moral and ethical responsibility for the darkest chapter of its history."

The omission was significant because Holocaust survivors have filed an £11 million lawsuit in New York against Deutsche and Dresdner banks. They have both rejected the claim, saying independent historians were not able to show that bank directors knew the origin of the gold. But the five historians who are investigating Deutsche's archives - they have been drawn from Israel, United States, Britain and Germany - say such prior knowledge cannot now be ruled out.

It is difficult to pin down the banks precisely because key files relating to the so-called Melmer gold disappeared from Bundesbank archives. According to an investigation conducted jointly by the Bundesbank and the Federal Archives in Koblenz, the 26 missing Melmer files seem to have been available until 1976.


In that year, or shortly afterwards, they were almost certainly pulped, along with thousand of other dossiers of the Nazi era.

The federal archivists said this week that it was "intolerable and unforgivable that documents so closely associated with National Socialist crimes could have been split up and then allowed to disappear".

The investigators excluded the possibility of a cover-up, as "the historical significance of the files could not be properly established at the time".

However, Hersch Fischler, a freelance historical investigator, said yesterday that there should still be exchanges of correspondence on the missing gold files buried in the German Finance Ministry.

"If the files really were destroyed it could not have happened without the knowledge of the United States," Herr Fischler said.

The US was involved in the handover of gold files in 1948 from the Reichsbank to the Bank of German States - the forerunner of the Bundesbank. The inventory at the time registered "26 folders re Melmer deposits".

The United States, in other words, was fully aware that evidence on concentration camp gold was sitting in the Bundesbank archives. To press home a case against German commercial banks active during the war, one would have to dig deeper into the central bank archives and into the company records of Degussa, which smelted gold during the Nazi era.

The statement yesterday by Deutsche was essentially an attempt to limit damage. The Swiss - under threat of sanctions unless they offer more than £364 million to Holocaust survivors - are keen for Jewish lobbyists to switch their attention to Germany which is, after all, at the hub of the Nazi gold affair.

Sensing both trouble and lawsuits in the United States, many German companies have been hiring independent historians to assess their wartime past.

Companies coming clean include Degussa, the precious metals trader, various banks including Dresdner, once dubbed the "SS Bank", as well as Volkswagen and Daimler, which were among the many to employ slave labour.

Our opinion

WE WONDER whom they mean by "independent historians"? We have not been consulted. The only really independent minds in Germany, like Günter Deckert or Udo Walendy, are currently in jail for that very reason -- having really independent minds.


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