New ministers keep their promises

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The Independent Online
Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday announced that Britain was ready to host an international conference on Nazi gold.

In one of his first steps in his new post, he acted quickly to fulfil a pledge made to Jewish organisations who have lobbied for joint international action to settle the affair.

He also strongly hinted that the remaining war-time gold, due to be returned to governments whose reserves were looted by the Nazis, could go instead to victims of the Holocaust.

The pool was likely to have included personal gold from Jewish victims of Nazism, such as that found in the teeth of concentration camp victims, a new report from the Foreign Office admitted yesterday.

Jewish organisations have long claimed that the Allies failed to distinguish between personal gold, where efforts should have been made to return it to individuals, and that which belonged to governments.

They hailed yesterday's report as further proof that the pounds 46m of gold still held in the Bank of England and in the American Federal Reserve should go to make amends for that failure.

Mr Cook made clear his intention to resolve quickly the question of the remaining gold, which has been held under the Tripartite Gold Commission of America, France and Britain since the end of the war. He said there had rightly been international concern about the fate of the gold looted by the Nazis, and that: "One of the responsibilities of those living now is to ensure that the truth is known about that dark period in Europe's past."

Unveiling the Foreign Office report into what happened to gold found in the British sections of Germany, he said it was clear that some gold taken from individual victims of Nazism may have found its way into the pool.

"This strengthens the case for looking imaginatively for ways of compensating the victims or their direct descendants."

A spokeswoman for the Holocaust Educational Trust said it welcomed the report. "It says there were errors made and that it was understandable. We've never said anything other than that. We now need to look at ways to correct it."

It was widely known that the Germans had melted down gold looted from individuals, but the report shows this was effectively ignored for practical reasons. However, the Bank of England has advised the Foreign Office that it would have been possible to detect large amounts of dental gold if tests had been carried out.

The report highlights the problems, faced by officials working in Germany, caused by inadequate definitions of what was monetary gold - broadly bars and coins - and non-monetary gold - that taken from victims.