The Foreign Secretary yesterday opened the London conference investigating Nazi gold by pledging pounds 1m from the British Government to a new international fund. The United States offered $4m, with a further $21m to follow.
But there was a less than enthusiastic response from some of the 15 countries which stood to benefit from pounds 40m of gold remaining from a Second World War settlement.
Argentina and Luxembourg both announced that they would be contributing to the fund, although it is not yet known how much they will give.
Mr Cook had proposed that the five-and-a-half tons of gold destined to be returned to countries whose national reserves were plundered by the Germans should be donated instead to the new fund, designed to make payments to victims of the Nazis and their families.
But France, which is owed 2.2 tons, the largest part of the remaining gold, indicated that it was unlikely to hand over its portion to the fund, although it would be considering whether to give it to France's 600,000 Jews instead.
In addition, the Netherlands pointed out in private sessions that only 50 per cent of the gold stolen by the Germans from its national reserve had been returned since the end of the war. Its delegates said they would decide what to do with their share after listening to papers presented at the conference.
However Lord Janner, chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust and the man who first suggested the conference, said he was surprised that the French did not follow the British and American lead.
The three nations are together the administrators of the gold which was recaptured from the Germans in 1945 and which has been redistributed under the auspices of the Tripartite Gold Commission.
Lord Janner said that not only France, but all of 42 nations at the conference should contribute to the fund. But he found the French position clearly unacceptable.
"It would be unworthy for the great French people to keep everything for themselves, and give nothing for example, for the benefit of Eastern European survivors in dire need."
Yet Abraham Hirchson, who chairs the Israeli Knesset's committee on the restitution of Jewish property, said what was important was the investigation - not the money.
"I don't like the fund because I like the truth," he said.
"What I would like is to know everything that is in the archives then give us back what belongs to us. But don't give us any foundation."
Amid pleas from Jewish organisations, Switzerland and the US that archives should be opened and made available to researchers world-wide, Britain and France came under pressure yesterday to release the Tripartite Gold Commission files, which are expected to detail what the Allies knew of the provenance of the gold captured from the Germans at the end of the war.
But a spokesman for the Foreign Office said it believed the appropriate time for TGC files to be released was when its work was completed. That was expected soon, he added.
The conference aims to investigate what happened to gold stolen by Germany during the Second World War and what happened to it after the war ended. It is examining what compensation has been made so far to individuals who lost their family fortunes in the Holocaust and whether further compensation should be made.
Opening the three-day meeting, Robin Cook said the jigsaw might never be complete, but a clearer picture of what happened to looted gold and other assets was being built.
He said: "We have two duties to the victims of the Nazis. To those who are still alive, we must ensure that the unbearable tragedy of living through the Holocaust is not compounded by an old age marked by the fear and sadness of poverty. We must let them know that the international community is not indifferent to their plight.
"To those who died, we have a different duty -to document the facts, to gather the evidence, to locate the truth. The duty we owe them is to remember."Reuse content