US calls for veil of secrecy to be lifted

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The Independent Online
The US government has joined the growing international hunt for hidden Nazi gold. It is expected to demand that Swiss banks over-ride their strict rules of secrecy in the search for assets stolen from Holocaust victims.

Officials in the US State Department, US Treasury and the Department of Commerce confirmed yesterday that they began an investigation six months ago after the World Jewish Congress discovered that Swiss banks may have received more than $7bn (pounds 4.5bn) in stolen Jewish assets in World War Two.

Pressure is building in the US for a full accounting by Switzerland of its relationship with the Nazi government and its practice of accepting what were clearly stolen goods, according to secret US Intelligence documents obtained by the congress. "We know the Swiss have accounts which contain stolen Jewish property," Elan Steinberg, its executive director, said. "We don't know exactly who it belongs to but it clearly is not the Swiss banks."

The US government's investigation, assisted by the congress, is focusing on a secret fund that would be worth $2bn in today's money. The fund was established to help finance the resurrection of the Nazi party after the war. The US and the congress suspect that some money in that fund, stolen from Holocaust victims, may have been funnelled to prominent manufacturers such as Volkswagen, Leica, Zeiss and Krupp Steel. The congress is awaiting answers from all those companies in response to inquiries it made in June.

The congress found out about Swiss complicity in "cloaking" stolen Jewish assets after being given full access to the American national archive, which includes all US intelligence gathered on the matter during the war. One secret US document opened for the first time this week revealed that some of the gold discovered by the Allies in 1945 at a salt mine, totalling more than 800 ingots, was obtained from melting down the gold fillings of Holocaust victims.

"That fact alone is enough for us to push this inquiry until we have the full truth," Steinberg said.

Red Cross officials in Switzerland may also have been involved, he added.

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