Archives to reveal where Nazis hid looted gold

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SECRET GOVERNMENT papers to be unveiled tomorrow could finally reveal the sources of gold looted by the Nazis and recovered at the end of the Second World War.

In a ceremony concluding half a century of negotiations over the fate of the gold, the Tripartite (Allies) Gold Commission (TGC) set up to handle the loot will be wound up.

And TGC archives, which Jewish campaigners argue could hold the key to tracing gold stolen from victims of the Holocaust, will be opened for the first time.

The TGC was founded to restore the wealth to countries whose national reserves were plundered by the Germans. But Jewish organisations believe that some of the gold was the personal assets of those who perished in the death camps. It may even have included gold taken from Holocaust victims' teeth.

Janice Lopatkin, director of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said they were convinced some "victim gold" had been given to countries by the TGC, but without the TGC files they were unable to establish how much. "We don't know if these archives hide any uncomfortable secrets, or if delay [in releasing them] was just international bureaucracy. Either way, the release is symbolically important. We have already arranged to research further," she said.

Research by the trust has led to a "belated international recognition that victim gold had been misused", she said. Although the gold returned to governments was done so under international agreements, proof that some of it came from Holocaust victims might put moral pressure on countries to pay compensation.

The refusal of the British, French and Americans, who together form the TGC, to release the files until the commission's work was completed, provoked a bitter dispute at the Nazi gold conference in London last December. But the TGC members argued that releasing them might have caused friction between claimant governments and delayed completion of the commission's work.

At the time of the conference, pounds 48m of gold - about 5.5 tons of the original 337 tons - remained in the Bank of England for the TGC to return to countries including France and the Netherlands. Many subsequently agreed to give it up to needy Holocaust survivors.

Now only pounds 500,000 in gold and pounds 33,000 currency is left - owed to the former Yugoslavia. Its return signals the end of the commission's work.

A closure ceremony at the French foreign office tomorrow will be attended by representatives of the British, French and US governments, including the US under-secretary of state, Stuart Eizenstat. A British Foreign Office spokesman said the Government welcomed the opportunity for "transparency" provided by opening the files.