08 April, 2012

08 April 1945


438th AAA AW BN
APO 230 % Postmaster, N.Y.
8 April, 1945
Paris Sunday Morning

Wilma, darling –

It’s a fine day here today and we’re going to take a regular tour around the city after lunch. Up to now we’ve just been going here and there and seeing what we’ve wanted. Yesterday we went around to do a bit of shopping – but believe me – c’est formidable! In the evening we went to the night club area – in the Montmartre Section – the area is Pigalle and obviously is known to all Americans as pig alley. We got into a club known as the Tabarin – known for its floor show – which was good. But everything in Paris is on the racket basis – and beats London – six different ways.

But the 3 of us are having a swell time and the Army really knows what it’s doing when it makes these trips available. We’re tired and yet relaxed. The change is good. Going to eat now, sweetheart. Will write tomorrow. Love to the folks – and for now –

All my everlasting love –

Except for the straight-edged pictures,
the following photos were taken by Greg
on 7-8 April 1945 during his Paris leave.

Paris - Air View of the Isle of the City - April 1945

Paris - Tower Eiffel - April 1945

Paris - Eiffel Tower - April 1945

Paris - Ecole de Guerre - or French War College
Marks on Columns - Result of Brief Fight on Day of Liberation
April 1945

Paris - Fountain - Place de la Concorde - April 1945

Paris - Cathedral - Notre Dame - April 1945

Paris - Royal Residence - April 1945

Paris - Looking from Louvre Station
Down to Place D'Opera - April 1945

Paris - Folies Bergere - April 1945
"Like everyone else, I had to go see it, too"

Paris - Major Glenn Miller Band at the Olympia - April 1945
"GIs wondering if they'll go in.
Miller missing - but band retains name."

Paris - "Fashion Show (I didn't go in)." - April 1945

Paris - Montmartre - Ticket for Club Tabarin - April 1945


about The Merkers Mine Treasure

The following has been extracted from the National Archives "Prologue Magazine" web site:
Just before noon on April 4, the village of Merkers fell to the 3rd Battalion of the 358th Infantry Regiment, 90th Infantry Division, Third Army. During April 4 and 5, displaced persons in the vicinity interrogated by the Counter Intelligence Corps personnel mentioned rumors of a recent movement of German Reichsbank gold from Berlin to the Wintershal AG's Kaiseroda potassium mine at Merkers.

Early the next morning, two military policemen guarding the road entering Keiselbach from Merkers saw two women approaching and promptly stopped them. While they were being driven back into Merkers, their driver saw the Kaiseroda mine and asked the women what sort of a mine it was. They said it was the mine in which the German gold reserve and valuable artworks had been deposited several weeks before. On 6 April Lieutenant Colonel William A. Russell, the 90th Infantry Division's Civilian Affairs officer, proceeded to the mine and was told that the works of art stored in the mine were cared for by Dr. Paul Ortwin Rave, curator of the German State Museum and assistant director of the National Galleries, both in Berlin. Russell questioned Rave as well as Werner Veick, the head cashier of the Reichsbank's Foreign Notes Department who was also at the mine.  Veick indicated that the gold in the mine constituted the entire reserve of the Reichsbank in Berlin.

With this evidence, Russell requested that the 712th Tank Battalion be ordered to proceed to Merkers to guard the entrances to the mine. Elements of the 90th Division Military Police were also deployed about the entrances, and arrangements were made for generation of power and electricity at the mine so that the shafts could be entered for examination the next morning. When it was learned that there were at least five possible entrances to the mine, the 90th Infantry Division's commanding general called the 357th Infantry Regiment and ordered that its First Battalion proceed to Merkers to relieve the 90th Division Military Police and reinforce the 712th Tank Battalion. Word was passed on to the Corps Commander, Major General Manton S. Eddy, who immediately called Patton and informed him of the capture of the German gold reserves at Merkers. Patton, who had been burned on so many rumors, told him not to mention the capture of the gold until they definitely confirmed it.

Throughout most of the war, the bulk of the German gold reserves had been held at the Reichsbank in Berlin. In 1943, late 1944 and early 1945, as American bombing of Berlin increased and the Allies pushed toward the city, some of the gold reserve and a large quantity of Reichmarks were dispersed from Berlin to branch banks in central and southern Germany. On 3 February 1945, 937 B-17 bombers of the Eighth Air Force dropped nearly twenty-three hundred tons of bombs on Berlin, causing the near demolition of the Reichsbank, including its presses for printing currency. On 11 February most of the gold reserves, including gold brought back from the branch banks to Berlin for shipment to Merkers, currency reserves totaling a billion Reichsmarks bundled in one thousand bags, and a considerable quantity of foreign currency, were transported by rail to Merkers. Once the train reached Merkers, the treasure was unloaded and placed in a special vault area in the mine designated Room No. 8.

The Schutzstaffeln's (SS) Office for Economy and Administration, which operated the concentration camps, also wanted their loot held by the Reichsbank to be sent to Merkers for safekeeping. From 26 August 1942, until 27 January 1945, the SS made seventy-six deliveries to the Reichsbank of property seized from concentration camp victims. Gold jewelry was sold abroad; gold of some fineness was sold either to the Prussian Mint or to Degussa, a large German industrial firm that engaged in the refinement of precious metals. Much of the miscellaneous jewelry was sold through the Berlin Municipal Pawn Shop. By early 1945, much of the loot had been processed, but a significant amount still remained with the Reichsbank. The confiscated property on hand in March 1945 consisted of all kinds of gold and silver items ranging from dental work to cigarette cases, diamonds, gold and silver coins, foreign currencies, and gold and silver bars. The gold and silver bars were placed in 18 bags, and the remainder of the loot was placed in 189 suitcases, trunks, and boxes and, along with other items, were sent by rail to Merkers on 18 March. Additionally, between 20 March and 31 March the Germans transported one-fourth of the major holdings of fourteen of the principal Prussian state museums to Merkers.

At 10 a.m. on 7 April, Russell, the assistant division commander, and two other 90th Infantry Division officers, Signal Corps photographers, Rave, and German mining officials entered the mine. The elevator took them to the bottom of the main shaft twenty-one hundred feet beneath the surface. In the main haulage way, stacked against the walls, they found 550 bags of Reichsmarks. Moving down the tunnel, the Americans found the main vault to be blocked by a brick wall three feet thick, enclosing a portion of the mine at least one hundred feet wide with a large bank-type steel safe door, complete with combination lock and timing mechanism with a heavy steel door set in the middle of it. Attempts to open the steel vault door were unsuccessful and arrangements were made for blasting an entrance in the vault the following morning.

Early on 8 April 1945 Earnest, Russell, a public affairs officer, photographers, reporters, and elements of the 282d Engineer Combat Battalion entered the mine. The engineers, using a half-stick of dynamite, blasted an entrance though the masonry wall. The Americans entered the vault, so-called Room No. 8, which was approximately 75 feet wide by 150 feet long with a 12-foot-high ceiling, well lighted but not ventilated. Tram railway tracks ran down the center of the cavern. On either side of the tracks, stretching to the back of the cavern, were more than seven thousand bags, stacked knee-high, laid out in twenty rows with approximately two and a half feet between rows. All of the bags and containers were marked, and the gold bags were sealed. Baled currency was found stacked along one side of the vault along with gold balances and other Reichsbank equipment. At the back of the cavern, occupying an area twenty by thirty feet, were 18 bags and 189 suitcases, trunks, and boxes. Each container bore a packing slip showing the contents. It was all SS loot.

Merkers Mine - Bags of Gold - April 1945

In order to examine the contents, some of the seals on the bags were broken, and a partial inventory was made. The inventory indicated that there were 8,198 bars of gold bullion; 55 boxes of crated gold bullion; hundreds of bags of gold items; over 1,300 bags of gold Reichsmarks, British gold pounds, and French gold francs; 711 bags of American twenty-dollar gold pieces; hundreds of bags of gold and silver coins; hundreds of bags of foreign currency; 9 bags of valuable coins; 2,380 bags and 1,300 boxes of Reichsmarks (2.76 billion Reichsmarks); 20 silver bars; 40 bags containing silver bars; 63 boxes and 55 bags of silver plate; 1 bag containing six platinum bars; and 110 bags from various countries.

While the treasure was being reviewed on 8 April, in other tunnels Americans found an enormous cache of artworks. Late that day, Captain Robert Posey, a Museum, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) officer, and Major Perera, G-5, Third Army, arrived to inspect the artworks and the gold and currency. On 8 April Patton learned that in addition to the paper money found the day before, his soldiers had found a significant quantity of gold, and he also learned that the press had found out about the Merkers mine and had published stories about the capture of the gold. Patton called General Omar N. Bradley, commander of the U.S. Twelfth Army Group, and told him that owing to the amount of the seizure and the fact that it had been made public, he believed it was now a political question and requested that Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), commanded by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, be asked to send somebody to take it over.

Merkers Mine - Manet's Wintergarden - April 1945

The person who would take over the Merkers operation was Colonel Bernard D. Bernstein, deputy chief, Financial Branch, G-5 Division of SHAEF. Late on the morning of April 8, Bernstein, at SHAEF headquarters at Versailles, read a front-page story in the Paris edition of the New York Herald Tribune about the discovery of the gold and other treasures at Merkers. On the evening of 10 April, Bernstein drove to Patton's headquarters. Patton told Bernstein that he was very glad Eisenhower was taking responsibility for the gold. Bernstein told him that he wanted to move the Merkers treasure to Frankfurt as quickly as possible and that under the Big Three arrangements at Yalta, the Merkers part of Germany would be taken over by the Russians after the war and that they certainly needed to get the treasure out of the area before the Russians got there. Astounded at what Bernstein told him, not knowing about the postwar arrangements, Patton said he would do everything possible to facilitate Bernstein's mission.

Bernard Bernstein
(30 November 1908 - 6 February 1990)

On the morning, 12 April, Bernstein was at the mine very early to ensure everything was prepared for a visit by Eddy, Patton, Bradley and Eisenhower and members of their staffs. Bernstein met them at the mine entrance, took the generals and several German officials into the mine, and they descended by elevator. As the jittery elevator descended with ever-accelerating speed down the pitch-black shaft, with a German operating the elevator, Bernstein was concerned about their safety. So was Patton. Looking at the single cable, Patton said if the cable snapped "promotions in the United States Army would be considerably stimulated." General Eisenhower said "OK George, that's enough. No more cracks until we are above ground again."

The generals entered Room No. 8 and looked around in awe at the captured gold. They then inspected the SS loot. Eisenhower was moved by the experience. "Crammed into suitcases and trunks and other containers was a great amount of gold and silver plate and ornament obviously looted from private dwellings throughout Europe" he wrote. "All the articles," he noted, "had been flattened by hammer blows, obviously to save storage space, and then merely thrown into the receptacle, apparently pending an opportunity to melt them down into gold or silver bars." Later Patton would write that he saw "a number of suitcases filled with jewelry, such as silver and gold cigarette cases, wrist-watch cases, spoons, forks, vases, gold-filled teeth, false teeth, etc." acquired by "bandit methods." Eisenhower was very interested in learning what was in the mine. Bernstein informed the generals that some of the treasure had come from victims in the concentration camps; how the treasure had come to be shipped there; and estimates as to its value. He also told them he was planning to take an inventory of everything and to move the treasures to Frankfurt. Eisenhower and the other generals concurred with Bernstein's plans.

Eddy, Patton, Bradley and Eisenhower
Inspect a Suitcase of SS Loot
Merkers Mine - April 1945

Bernstein also showed the generals the art treasures, plates the Reichsbank used for the printing of the Reichsmark currency, and the currency itself. While they were looking at the latter, a German official said that they were the last reserves in Germany and were badly needed to pay the German army. "I doubt," Bradley interjected, "the German Army will be meeting payrolls much longer." Near the end of the inspection, Bradley said to Patton, "If these were the old free-booting days when a soldier kept his loot you'd be the richest man in the world." Patton just grinned. With that said, the one-hour inspection concluded, and the party, which had included newspapermen and Signal Corps photographers taking numerous photos of the inspection, returned to the surface.

Bradley, Patton and Eisenhower Inspect Artworks
Merkers Mine - April 1945

Between 14 and 17 April, the findings in the Merkers mine were moved to Frankfurt. On April 18 Bernstein sent a detailed report of the activities that had taken place during the preceding two weeks. He concluded by observing that "the Germans hid their assets in mines and other secret places in Germany, presumably with the intent of maintaining a source of financing of pro-Nazi activity." "Many of these caches," he continued, "have not yet been uncovered and should be ferreted out as soon as operations permit." He observed that it was "necessary that some procedure be established for analyzing and utilizing the property and records found in the Merkers area and those uncovered in the future." "Intelligence reports," he wrote, "indicate that just as the Germans secreted assets and valuable property within Germany, they also made elaborate arrangements for secreting assets in neutral and other nations of the world." "Every step should be taken," he urged, "in Germany to obtain information of the assets secreted both inside and outside Germany so that these assets cannot be used to perpetuate Nazism or contribute to the rebuilding of Nazi influence."

Despite a lack of great interest, Bernstein, with a small reconnaissance party in Jeeps, left Frankfurt on April 19 in search of more loot. During the next two weeks his teams covered nineteen hundred miles, checking Reichsbanks all over American occupied Germany and following up every lead regarding the whereabouts of gold. Of all the places visited by the reconnaissance parties, only three actually yielded recoveries of the so-called Reichsbank gold in the amount of $3 million. During May and June American soldiers found Reichsbank gold valued at about $11 million. Altogether the Americans had recovered 98.6 percent of the $255.96 million worth of gold shown on the closing balances of the Precious Metals Department of the Berlin Reichsbank.

In mid-August experts from the United States Treasury Department and the Bank of England completed the job of weighing and appraising the gold, gold coin, and silver bars that had been captured. The total value of the gold found in Germany was placed at $262,213,000. Also weighed and appraised was $270,469 worth of silver, as well as a ton of platinum. Eight bags of rare gold coins had not been appraised, nor had the SS loot.

During the summer of 1945, Allied currencies found at Merkers and elsewhere by the Americans were returned to various countries, and the process of restituting the artworks found at Merkers and elsewhere in the former German Reich began. The gold found at Merkers was eventually turned over to the Tripartite Commission for the Restitution of Monetary Gold (TGC) for distribution to countries whose central-bank gold had been stolen by the Nazis. The TGC began the process of getting the gold returned to most countries as quickly as possible. However, cold war factors resulted in some of the gold not being restituted until 1996.

The accomplishments of recovering, moving, and managing the Merkers treasure by Colonel Bernstein and his colleagues may or may not have shortened the war. But they did block the Nazi leaders from further use of their looted gold and property of victims of their persecution. Their actions also ensured that the central banks of Europe would recover at least some of the gold the Nazis had seized and that some funds would be available for restitution to individuals. At an international Nazi Gold conference held in 1997, several countries agreed to relinquish their claims to their share of the remaining 5.5 metric tons (worth about sixty million dollars) still held by the TGC and donate it to a Nazi Persecution Relief Fund to help survivors of the Holocaust. Almost all of the claimant nations similarly agreed to such a policy during the course of 1998. Early in September 1998, in a ceremony held in Paris, the TGC announced its task was completed and went out of business. Thus, the Merkers story ends on a noble, selfless, just, and moral note, as upwards of fifteen countries were willing to forego receiving gold stolen from their nations by the Nazis and allow it to be used as compensation for victims of Nazi persecution.

Two videos follow. The first is a Discovery Channel review of the Merkers Mine. The second is original footage of the mine from 1945.

1 comment:

  1. I came across your blog looking for a WW2 picture of the Folies Bergere. I wonder if I can use a copy of the one you have posted in a private history for my Grandparents? Thanks in advance for your reply, -K