Nearly half of the gold looted by the Nazis from the Dutch central bank during the Second World War remains to this day in Switzerland, a reminder of the Alpine nation’s controversial role as a financial conduit for Hitler’s regime. About 61,000kg of Dutch war gold, currently value at about €2bn, is believed to be still in Swiss possession.
During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, 145,650kg of monetary gold and gold coins that Dutch citizens were forced to hand over to the central bank were transported to the Reichsbank in Berlin. After the war, the Tripartite Gold Commission (TGC), set up in 1946 by the US, France and the UK to return gold stolen by Germany, handed back about 71,820kg of gold to the Netherlands – less than half of the total. In 1998, the TGC made its final share-out and was dissolved.
Looting of Dutch gold
The story of the looting of Dutch gold and how it ended up in Switzerland is told in my ‘faction’ thriller Fout Goud (Guilty Gold). The book, which is currently only published in Dutch, combines historical facts with a fictional plot.
The Reichsbank sold about 80% of the gold it stole from occupied countries to Switzerland to obtain convertible Swiss francs to pay for imports needed by Germany’s war machine. Smaller amounts were sold to Sweden, Spain, Portugal and Turkey.
In December 1946, Switzerland and the US, acting on behalf of the TGC, signed the Washington Agreement. The Swiss, who denied any wrongdoing by buying gold from Germany during the war, agreed to hand over 52,000kg of gold to the commission for the ‘economic recovery of Europe’. The Agreement gave Switzerland a waiver for any future claims on gold it had bought from Nazi Germany.
A few years later it became clear that Switzerland had bought at least 336,300kg of gold from Germany during the war. Of the Dutch gold that was transported to Berlin, about 122,000kg ended up in Switzerland.
When the Dutch demanded their gold back, the Swiss refused to discuss the claim, citing the Washington Agreement. Despite arduous diplomatic and legal efforts in the 1950s and 60s the Swiss were adamant: returning any more gold was out of the question.
When the TGC was dissolved at a conference in London, the Netherlands stated that it maintained its claim against Switzerland. Two years later, the Dutch government endorsed the conclusions of a national war-gold commission that further efforts to recover the gold were futile.
Neither Parliament nor Dutch society was told about the decision silently to shelve claims on the stolen war gold that remained in Swiss vaults.
In 1996, publications in the UK stirred up the question of Jewish gold and dormant Jewish bank accounts in Switzerland. In the end, Swiss banks were forced to repay $1.25bn to Jewish victims. The Swiss government added $500m to the settlement, though it denied any wrongdoing. The value of the Jewish gold was much smaller than the stolen monetary gold.
In my fictional retelling of the looted Dutch gold, the main protagonist inherits 15 gold coins from his grandmother. He decides to find out what happened to the gold during the war.
His search takes him to underground shelters and bunkers in Berlin and to the salt mine in Merkers, where the American Third Army discovered the remains of the Reichsbank’s gold reserves in the final weeks of the war. The story ends with a spectacular attempt to recover a gold bar in Switzerland.
Fout Goud (Guilty Gold) was published in Dutch on February 20, 2014, and launched at the Dutch central bank, De Nederlandsche Bank.
Roel Janssen, OMFIF member of the Advisory Board, is a financial journalist at the NRC Handelsblad.