The story of the Nazis’ international bank robberies.
After World War I, Germany was subject to huge reparations to the Allied victors. High unemployment, inflation and fierce anger over the nation’s defeat generated political and social strife that fueled Hitler’s rise to power. As former Time editor and reporter Taber (In Search of Bacchus: Wanderings in the Wonderful World of Wine Tourism, 2009, etc.) shows in this crisp, well-documented history, lust for gold was integral to Hitler’s military ambitions. In 1933, the Germans had six army divisions, a skeleton air force and only one heavy naval cruiser; by 1939, after raiding Austria and Czechoslovakia, the Nazis had built up their military might to 51 army divisions, including four tank units with 6,000 tanks; 21 air squadrons and 7,000 planes; four battleships, 22 destroyers and four submarines. The nation had also trained and equipped 1.25 million soldiers. Before the invasion of Austria in March 1938, Germany had about $149 million in gold, most in hidden assets. By the end of the war, the Nazis’ stores totaled almost $600 million. Once Hitler’s rampage began, European nations rushed to safeguard their gold stores by sending bullion abroad, much of it to the United States. By early 1940, the U.S. harbored more than 60 percent of the world’s gold. Taber recounts the tense, often frenetic process of secreting these hordes on trains, trucks and boats, sometimes only yards away from the invading Nazis. Some countries, like Norway, succeeded in saving their gold; most did not. Taber emphasizes that “the German war machine would have ground to a halt long before May 1945” without cooperation from Romania, Portugal, Spain, Turkey and Sweden for materiel, and especially from Swiss bankers, who eagerly sold the Nazis Swiss francs with which to pay for vital war products.
A chilling tale vividly told.