Pausing only to put down my pipe, I made my way hotfoot to Kew, and the Public Record Office. With barely concealed excitement, I requested T236/6136. Eventually it arrived, in the usual buff Treasury folder. What was within, though, was far from usual. In there was one of the most curious stories of the entire war; all right, all right, I'll get on with it. The file revealed that on 8 August 1950, a mysterious paragraph appeared on page seven of the Washington Evening Star. It read: 'Legal action is now under way for disposing of a secret dollars 42m bank account maintained since 1939 in the United Kingdom by Adolf Hitler.'
The US State Department asked the US Embassy in London to inquire further. The embassy asked the Treasury to investigate. Mr S E Wigmore at the Treasury wrote to Mr F C Wells of the Administration of Enemy Property Department, saying: 'We are not disposed to treat this matter very seriously but I should welcome your comments before we reply to the Americans.'
Mr Wells's reply was clear: 'It can be said at once with assurance that no such account in Hitler's name exists.' He went on to doubt that such a large sum would lie undetected by the Government.
Mr Wigmore, obviously an actualite economist, then wrote to the Americans: 'Your letter raised our hopes considerably, and we all set to in an effort to find this cash. Alas, we have not been successful]'
So, the trail is dead. Or is it? How could they be so sure, Mr Wells and Mr Wigmore? Pauline Hedges, of the British Bankers Association, thinks there is every possibility that such a bank account could exist, but doubts it could be traced.
She points out that there is no central record of bank accounts. Moreover, banks are under a duty of confidentiality not to reveal details of customers' accounts.
There is a duty of disclosure in the public interest, but as Ms Hedges says, 'it is unlikely but not impossible' that there is a completely innocent A Hitler whose privacy should not be invaded.
She advises that bank managers everywhere, from Frinton to Formby, should examine their accounts and, if necessary, take legal advice from their superiors. The nation waits. Two final questions in this puzzling affair: to whom would the money belong, and was Adolf canny enough to put it in a high earning deposit account?
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