In a highly anticipated report on the fate of Nazi gold, U.S. government historians have concluded that much of the looted wealth was routed through Switzerland to pay other neutral nations for vital supplies that sustained Hitler's army in the last years of World War II.
The report, being issued Tuesday, also doubles the American estimate of how much gold was in a Nazi account that received deposits of wedding rings, teeth fillings and other personal possessions of Holocaust victims.But the report also spells out for the first time the crucial role that looted gold - from individual victims and from the central banks of countries invaded by Germany - played in securing a huge share of Nazi war needs purchased from Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Turkey.
A draft of the report obtained by The New York Times, sections of which were obtained from several agencies involved in its preparation, concludes that Portugal and Spain provided Germany with "almost 100 percent" of the essential minerals needed to produce "machine tools and armaments, especially armor-piercing shells." But the draft stops short of concluding that their help prolonged the war.
Even before the final 200-page report is published, it has set off arguments and debate both inside and outside the government. Jewish groups and others engaged in legal battles with the Swiss government and the country's three major banks say they are concerned that the State Department is trying to appease Switzerland by spreading the guilt for dealing in what has come to be known as Nazi gold.
U.S. diplomats have been trying for a year to defuse Swiss anger over a May 1997 report that, in graphic detail, described how Switzerland aided Hitler and stymied efforts to recover the Nazis' stolen gold after Germany's surrender.
While the new report repeatedly praises Switzerland for its efforts over the past year to confront its own history, Clinton administration officials say their main goal was to complete the historical record about how the looted gold was spent.
Drafts of the report suggest that as State Department officials fine-tuned their conclusions, there was considerable internal debate over how to deal with Switzerland. An early draft of the introduction prepared by Stuart Eizenstat, the undersecretary of state for economic affairs, referred to the Swiss as "courageous" for conducting a "searching national debate" about their country's wartime role.
The final version deletes the word "courageous."
That may prove an important deletion. Since the American report went to press, Switzerland's government-run central bank defiantly announced that it would not join negotiations to compensate Holocaust survivors for stolen gold deposited in its vaults - even though Switzerland's own historical commission, in a report last week, concluded that the Swiss National Bank knowingly accepted stolen gold from the Nazis worth billions in today's dollars.
While the report steers clear of saying so, that finding appears to increase enormously the potential liability of the Swiss National Bank in the current dispute about compensation for Holocaust survivors.