Documents shedding light on Nazi Germany's plunder of Jewish and other European riches during World War II were opened to researchers for the first time Thursday at the Harry S. Truman Library.
The opening of the documents of Bernard Bernstein was timed to coincide with celebrations Thursday of Israel's 50th anniversary.Bernstein was assigned by then-Gen. Dwight Eisenhower to identify the economic riches of Nazi Germany and identify the mountains of gold, jewelry, currency and art the Germans stole from Jews and others.
The 22,000 pages of Bernstein papers are expected to attract the interest of researchers. A group of Swiss bank officials is planning to look at the documents next week, a library spokesman said.
Evidence compiled by Bernstein was used by prosecutors to convict Nazi war criminals at trials in Nuremberg. Later, he helped draft policies meant to prevent Germany from ever again posing a military threat to Europe.
Also opened by the library for study were papers of Kansas City lawyer A.J. Granoff and U.S. State Department official Charles F. Knox Jr. that shed light on the establishment of Israel and the early history of the country.
The Bernstein papers fill 28 boxes. Inside are letters, reports, news articles and other materials. Bernstein died in New York in 1990, and his papers were recently received by the Truman Library, archivists said.
New attention is being focused on Nazi robbery of Jewish and European assets as the century draws to a close and Holocaust survivors become fewer. Switzerland and other countries have been accused of being slow to return stolen gold and bank deposits to Holocaust sur-vi-vors after the war.
At a conference in London in December, U.S. officials and others calculated Nazi theft of gold from occupied nations and victims of the Holocaust would currently be worth about $6 billion.
One document in the Bernstein papers, dated May 8, 1945, was a report he received about a stash of gold and art found in a salt mine at Merkers, Germany, at the end of the war.
The German Reichsbank "appears to have acted as the personal agent of (SS Chief Heinrich) Himm-ler in converting SS loot into orthodox financial assets," the report said. The bank used a handful of false names, known only to about a dozen people, to process the stolen gold.
The stolen gold at Merkers was substantial. "This loot consisted of 189 containers (suitcases, boxes, etc.) and 18 bags. . . . Case 71, for example, contained 1,536 bracelets of gold, silver and lacquer. There were 2,656 gold watch cases listed in one box. There were coins and currency totaling 650,300 Polish zloty in a suitcase. A box with a shipping tag dated 15 Sept. 1944 listed 600 pieces of table silver. Silver dental work weighing nearly 22 lbs. were in one suitcase."
One witness, a Nazi charged with safeguarding the stolen riches, said, "The first time we brought coins and gold which took four days to unload. The second shipment was unloaded in about two days."
Several documents reported that the Swiss were reluctant to return assets in their control to Holocaust survivors.
A letter dated April 3, 1946, written to an official of the World Jewish Congress by a man who accompanied Bernstein to talks with the Swiss, states, "I see where both the Allied governments and we will have considerable difficulty in prying anything loose from the Swiss."