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Europe: Documents Reveal Sweden's Ties To Nazi Gold

  • Anthony Georgieff

Copenhagen, 27 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - Sweden has joined Switzerland in a process of demystifying financial dealings with Nazi Germany by releasing documents casting doubt on positions of neutrality during the Second World War.

Midway through World War II, both countries, with the full knowledge of their governments and central bank directors, ignored warnings from the Allies about the nature of the gold and other assets they were buying from Germany and continued the trade until the end of the war. As late as 1944, the Swedish National Bank ordered its Swiss financial partners to melt gold bars so they could be stamped with a Swedish insignia to conceal their origin.

These gold bars did not originate only in precious metal expropriated from Jews. In many instances, they had a much more macabre history: they were melted gold teeth, wedding rings and golden glass frames taken from Jews at Auschwitz and other death camps.

Swiss historian Christoph Graf says Switzerland and Sweden were "very much in the same boat" when it came to financial dealings with Nazi Germany, only "the proportions were different."

In fact, documents released recently show that immediately after the war, Switzerland and Sweden had confidential talks to "compare notes" so as not to contradict each other in the face of war-crimes tribunals and possible banking investigations by the Allies.

According to historians, the "dirty trade" encompassed three areas:

The freezing of pre-war accounts held by Jews. By 1940, Sweden outlawed the opening of accounts for non-residents and many Jews mainly from neighbouring countries, including the three Baltic Republic, found they didn't have access to their money.

The purchase of gold that was clearly stolen.

Functioning as a fiscal safe haven for Nazis.

It has been no secret that the wartime Social Democratic government in Sweden -- Sweden has been ruled by the Social Democrats since the 1930s but for the short-lived conservative government of Carl Bildt in the early 1990s -- traded with Hitler's Germany and that Swedish steel manufacturers provided metal for Germany's war industry. Nominally, the country was neutral, and unlike neighbors Norway and Denmark, it was not occupied by Germany. Throughout the war, Stockholm did not turn away Jewish refugees. For example, almost all of Denmark's Jews were transported by Danish fishermen and resistance activists to safety across the sound to Malmoe.

According to documents recently cited in Swedish reports, the family of Raoul Wallenberg, the wartime Swedish diplomat in Budapest who saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Jews and later died in Russia, is revealed to have participated in the trade of Nazi Germany's wartime gold. The documents suggest the Wallenberg family was sympathetic to the Germans and thought they would win the war.

In 1944, after Raoul Wallenberg had already helped many Jewish families in Hungary, another senior member of the clan, Jacob Wallenberg, attempted to sell state bonds for Nazi gold. However, the Wallenberg family never succeeded in buying the gold. Sweden's National Bank denied the family's request, because, by then it suspected the gold had been stolen.

It is unclear precisely how much gold Sweden had obtained during the war. Estimates vary from "at least" 20,000 kilos to about 34,000 kilos. In the early 1950s, some gold was sent back to its rightful owners. But declassified archives now show that "many tons" of gold are still unaccounted for.