Hunt for Nazi treasure begins at National Archives in D.C. Newly released data offer fresh clues on stolen gold

March 30, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON — A headline in the March 30 edition of The Sun gave an incorrect location for the National Archives. The facility abuts the University of Maryland-College Park campus.

The Sun regrets the error.

WASHINGTON -- For the past year -- singly, in pairs and in larger groups -- people have been searching in an unlikely place for traces of gold and other treasures looted by the Nazis: the National Archives of the United States.

In that period, perhaps 100 private and government researchers have picked up the paper trail, many of the clues involving the Swiss role in World War II.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

They have skimmed or studied uncounted millions of documents that have lain untouched in the half-century since the war ended.

Some of the documents had not been seen because, until recently, they were classified as secret.

In other cases, people simply had not known they were there or could not find them in a paper mountain so huge that it was reckoned not in pages but in cubic feet.

Some of the newly released material provides stark evidence of what has long been known, such as a report obtained from an informer at the Mauthausen concentration camp on May 9, 1945, a day after the formal German surrender was announced.

The report, filed by the Office of Strategic Services, then the principal American intelligence agency, cites a meticulous secret record that about 6.8 pounds of gold had been removed from the teeth of 528 bodies.

Most of the victims were Jews who had been killed by the Nazis the previous March, just weeks before the war's end.

Some of that gold, the report indicated, had been intended for reuse as tooth fillings for "members of the Waffen SS and their families." But much of it is known to have been melted down and deposited in Swiss banks.

That dental gold is a symbolic pebble in a mountain of life savings, artworks and other assets that a dwindling number of concentration camp survivors and their descendants are trying to obtain an accounting of from Switzerland's government and secretive banks.

Some of it was stolen by Nazis and deposited in Switzerland for their personal use or for the Nazi war machine.

Some was deposited by Jews and others before they were sent off to concentration camps, in the vain hope that it would be safe in a country whose wartime role is now being questioned.

In October, President Clinton appointed Stuart Eizenstat, the undersecretary of commerce for international trade, to head an 11-agency review of the material in the archives. Preliminary findings are expected soon.

"I think there will be historically important revelations," Eizenstat said in an interview.

"Hundreds of documents will be declassified for the first time," he said, adding that although other documents to be cited in the review had been declassified some time ago, "nobody looked at them before to put a coherent picture together."

"In addition to the narrative," he said of the forthcoming report, "we will release 200 or more of the most revealing documents."

Pub Date: 3/30/97

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