Scrapbookpages Blog

February 1, 2014

“to the victor belongs the spoils” even if you have to steal gold from an ally that helped to win the war

Filed under: Germany, movies, World War II — Tags: , , , , , — furtherglory @ 9:58 am

In doing some research about The Monuments Men, in preparation for seeing a new movie by the same name, I learned that the art treasures and the gold bullion, stored in the Merkers salt mine in Germany, was supposed to go to the Soviet Union, because it was located in the occupation zone that had been promised to the Russians.

German  gold was hidden in the  Merkers salt mine

German gold and art treasures were hidden in the Merkers salt mine

When General Patton heard about the gold in the Merkers mine, he claimed it for the USA and then notified General (“God, I hate the Germans”) Eisenhower.

The following quote, about the gold, is from this website: http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1999/spring/nazi-gold-merkers-mine-treasure.html

Nazi Gold: The Merkers Mine Treasure

By Greg Bradsher

Late on the evening of March 22, 1945, elements of Lt. Gen. George Patton’s Third Army crossed the Rhine, and soon thereafter his whole army crossed the river and drove into the heart of Germany. Advancing northeast from Frankfurt, elements of the Third Army cut into the future Soviet Zone and advanced on Gotha. Just before noon on April 4, the village of Merkers fell to the Third Battalion of the 358th Infantry Regiment, Ninetieth Infantry Division, Third Army. During that day and the next the Ninetieth Infantry Division, with its command post at Keiselbach, consolidated its holdings in the Merkers area.(1)

During April 4 and 5 [1945], displaced persons in the vicinity interrogated by the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) personnel of the Ninetieth Infantry Division mentioned a recent movement of German Reichsbank gold from Berlin to the Wintershal AG’s Kaiseroda potassium mine at Merkers. In all of these instances they quoted rumors, but none stated their own knowledge that gold was present in the mine. But just before noon on April 5, a member of Military Intelligence Team 404-G, attached to the 358th Infantry Regiment, who was in Bad Salzungen, about six miles from Merkers, interviewed French displaced persons who had worked in the mine at Merkers. They told him they had heard that gold had been stored in the mine. The information was passed on to the G-2 (intelligence section) of the Ninetieth Infantry Division, and orders were issued prohibiting all civilians from circulating in the area of the mine.(2)

You can read about Gotha on my website at http://www.scrapbookpages.com/EasternGermany/Gotha/

Note the date [April 4, 1945] that the Merkers mine was discovered by the Americans, after “displaced persons” told them about the gold.

"displaced persons" who have come back to the Ohrdruf camp

“displaced persons” who came back to the Ohrdruf camp after the Americans arrived

What is a “displaced person”?  This term refers to a former prisoner in a concentration camp, or a Nazi labor camp, who must find his way home because the Nazis have abandoned the camp where he was a prisoner.  The Nazis had abandoned the Ohrdruf  sub-camp of Buchenwald on April 4, 1945, and had marched most the prisoners to the Buchenwald camp, except for a few who were too sick to walk, or a few who had escaped from the march.

How does one justify stealing “the spoils of war” from an ally [the Soviet Union], who has helped to defeat your enemy?  I know — let’s go to visit Ohrdruf, and make a big deal out of the bodies of prisoners who had died of typhus. Let’s “build another page of the necessary evidence as to the brutality of the Germans” as General Patton wrote to General Eisenhower. Let’s take a photo of the dead bodies that were burned at Ohrdruf, and claim that the Germans had burned prisoners alive. Let’s build a museum in Washington, DC  and hang a photo of the burned bodies in front of the museum door.

Eisenhower views burned bodies at Ohrdruf

Eisenhower views burned bodies at Ohrdruf

This quote is also from the article written by Greg Bradsher:

[Col. Bernard D.] Bernstein, that evening, drove to Patton’s headquarters. Patton told Bernstein that he was very glad Eisenhower was taking responsibility for the gold. Bernstein told him that he wanted to move the Merkers treasure to Frankfurt as quickly as possible and that under the Big Three arrangements at Yalta, the Merkers part of Germany would be taken over by the Russians after the war and that they certainly needed to get the treasure out of the area before the Russians got there. Astounded at what Bernstein told him, not knowing about the postwar arrangements, Patton said he would do everything possible to facilitate Bernstein’s mission.(39)

On April 11 Bernstein returned to Merkers, and that morning, after arranging with Mason for setting up a command post at the mine building for the G-5 officers, he and Rave made an inspection of the art treasures. Later that day Lt. George Stout [one of the Monuments Men], USNR, MFAA Officer, G-5, Twelfth Army Group, and the SHAEF MFAA chief, British Lt. Col. Geoffrey Webb, reported for duty, with the expectation that they would handle the art matters. After Posey’s earlier visit to Merkers, he had notified Webb of the treasure and recommended Stout, former chief of conservation at Harvard’s Fogg Museum and considered America’s greatest expert on the techniques of packing and transporting, be sent to the mine to provide technical guidance. Webb and Stout arrived at Merkers only to find that they needed Bernstein’s permission to see the art. Bernstein showed them his letter from Gay authorizing him to decide who went into the mine and the need for Eddy’s permission for Allied personnel to inspect the mine. Bernstein agreed to let Stout view the works of art, but he denied Webb access.(40)  [George Stout is played by George Clooney in the movie The Monuments Men.]

[…]
Bernstein and Bartlett arrived at the 357th Infantry Regiment Command Post in Merkers at 5 p.m. on April 10. Accompanied by Mason, they went on a tour of the mine to see the vault containing the gold, currency, and art treasure. That evening Bernstein interviewed Veick and Reimer about the gold, currency, and other valuables, as well as any records relating to the gold. Veick provided detailed information about the transportation of the Reichsbank treasure to Merkers and the currency transactions during March and the first days of April. He said he did not know that much about the gold, but Thoms did; “He knows all,” Veick said. Reimer told Bernstein that “the records of the sale of the gold are with Thoms.”(38)

Bernstein, that evening, drove to Patton’s headquarters. Patton told Bernstein that he was very glad Eisenhower was taking responsibility for the gold. Bernstein told him that he wanted to move the Merkers treasure to Frankfurt as quickly as possible and that under the Big Three arrangements at Yalta, the Merkers part of Germany would be taken over by the Russians after the war and that they certainly needed to get the treasure out of the area before the Russians got there. Astounded at what Bernstein told him, not knowing about the postwar arrangements, Patton said he would do everything possible to facilitate Bernstein’s mission.(39)

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