American troops stole millions from Holocaust 'Gold Train'

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The Independent US

Lifting the veil on one of the least advertised and least edifying scandals of the Second World War, the US government has settled a complaint that American army officers requisitioned an entire train loaded with valuables seized by the Nazis from Jewish families in Hungary and then kept much of the contents for themselves.

Lifting the veil on one of the least advertised and least edifying scandals of the Second World War, the US government has settled a complaint that American army officers requisitioned an entire train loaded with valuables seized by the Nazis from Jewish families in Hungary and then kept much of the contents for themselves.

The US Justice Department confirmed that it will pay $25.5m (£13.3m) to the Hungarian Jewish community in America to make up for the confiscation of the contents of what has been dubbed the "Gold Train", which left Hungary on 30 March 1945 but - as the war ended - was seized by the US army. To be paid mostly to Jewish charitable causes, the money amounts to a "symbolic acknowledgement of an isolated and unfortunate chapter of the Americans' role in the Holocaust," said Gideon Taylor of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, a New York-based group that was involved in negotiating the settlement.

The sum may represent only a fraction of the true value of the contents of the train, made up of 29 box cars crammed with treasures handed over to the Nazis by hundreds of Hungarian Jews, many of whom died in concentration camps before the war's end. They included diamonds, art works, suitcases of gold dust, silverware, fine china, porcelain and religious artefacts.

When the Americans took control of the train it was on the understanding that they would keep its priceless contents in secure storage and arrange for their return, item by item, to the families, many of whom had receipts provided by the Nazis. That, however, is not what happened.

According to the complaint filed in the lawsuit, US army officers not only failed to secure the goods, most of which went into a warehouse in Salzburg, Austria, but turned a blind eye when US soldiers made off with many of the items. It was also alleged that the US government auctioned off remaining treasures in New York in 1947 to help cover some of the refugee costs at the end of the war.

The legal filings in the case offered startling snapshots of what transpired and of the shamelessness of some of the looting. It described, for instance, one US general making a virtual shopping list of valuables he wanted to take back home to America.

The unidentified general, the complaint said, asked for "chinaware and fine silverware sufficient for 45 people; water, highball, cocktail, champagne and liquor glasses sufficient for 90 people; 30 sets of table linens; and 60 sets of bedding". His request noted that "the general desires that all of the above listed items be of the very best quality and workmanship".

"Even now, it's difficult to reconcile my feelings about how the US handled this issue," commented Veronika Baum, a Hungarian Jew in New York whose father died in a camp. "On one hand, they helped end the Holocaust and gave me a chance to start over. On the other hand, they took the last reminders of my family away from me, at a time when I needed to remember my family the most."

The case only began to take shape in 1999 when details of the Gold Train emerged from a report into missing property commissioned by President Bill Clinton. Hundreds of documents discovered in the US and in Hungary supported stories that had long been traded among Hungarian Jews in America about the effective heist by US soldiers of treasures that were rightfully theirs.

The two sides agreed in December last year that they would settle the case. The monetary agreement was announced late on Friday by the judge overseeing the litigation, Patricia Seitz. The Gold Train scandal may be about to reveal some more of its secrets, meanwhile. As part of the agreement, the US government has also pledged to declassify all documents involved in the case and have them archived.

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