My name is William Slany, and I am the Historian of the Department of State. I direct a staff of 30 historians, editors, and declassification specialists together with a few senior Foreign Service advisers. Our principal responsibility, assigned by law, is the preparation of the official documentary record of the United States in the Department of State series Foreign Relations of the United States. We also prepare published historical studies and reference publications on the history of the State Department as well as classified policy supportive historical research studies for the principal officers of the Department. I have the good fortune to have been able to serve in my government career as an historian for 12 secretaries of state under 9 presidents. Never have I had such an opportunity to apply my skills and experience as an historian to so worthy, but difficult, a challenge as I have in the past seven months.
I directed and edited the preliminary interagency study US. and Allied Efforts to Recover and Restore Gold and Other Assets Stolen or Hidden by Germany During World War II. This 207-page report issued last week, together with the accompanying inventory of records at the National Archives and Records Administration and a selection of more than 200 important documents, is the result of more than 7 months of intensive research, analysis, and writing by nearly 30 historians, archivists, and experts representing 11 federal agencies. It was coordinated and edited by the State Department's Office of the Historian under the direction of Under Secretary Eizenstat. It is by far the largest interagency historical effort ever undertaken in the Executive Branch.
The report and the accompanying collection of documents examine American official policy on several major wartime and postwar issues; the historical record of which remains unfinished 50 years later:
This is a preliminary report--a provisional road map--through more than 15 million pages of documentation in the National Archives and Records Administration. It should be understood for what it sought to accomplish and cover and what fell outside its terms of reference. The report focuses on what U.S. officials knew about the actions of the neutrals during and after the war, when they found out about German actions or the actions of neutrals or non-belligerent nations, and what policies and courses of action the United States pursued, alone or in concert with its wartime Allies, to recover looted gold and other stolen assets from Germany or from the neutral and non-belligerent nations where they had been concealed or sold. The report is of necessity highly selective, summarizing large bodies of records in a paragraph or sentence while focusing in closely on a few particularly important negotiations. Above all, the report has sought to fully document each and every involvement by U.S. Presidents or Secretaries of State. Where time allowed, the responsibility for major policy pronouncements and negotiating decisions have been traced from high ranking officials to working level diplomats and other government officials in various agencies.
The report, therefore, is an account of the discussions within the U.S. Government and with its Allies, and the principal exchanges and negotiations with the neutral and non-belligerent nations. The narrative is placed in the broader context of American involvement in World War II and in the peace making efforts after the war. The overall conduct of the war, the broader scope of U.S. postwar policy, and the full range of diplomatic relations with the wartime neutrals is drawn upon only insofar as it was necessary to provide readers with a framework of understanding of the information being presented.
The research, selection of documents, and writing of the report proceeded simultaneously with parallel investigations by other researchers representing Congress, nongovernmental organizations, private legal inquiries, representatives of other countries, and the media. While the research objectives and results of these other groups and organizations have not always been the same as that presented here, cooperation among various research undertakings has materially assisted this report. The need to bring this project to a timely conclusion precluded a full comparison and collation with the research of other historians and investigative groups. Additional research and new analyses of existing research will undoubtedly result in a more complete record and a deeper understanding of the issues in the future.
In the best of circumstances, historians are cautious about labeling their research as complete and definitive. New sources and new ways of examining old sources constantly come to hand. In the case of this report, clearly identified as "preliminary," there are overwhelming reasons for acknowledging the tentativeness of the results. I am sure that other investigators and researchers will find at the National Archives new evidence and new lines of analysis. I am also confident that the archives of other governments will yield valuable new evidence on all of the issues raised in the report. My work on the report has been greatly facilitated by the cooperation of the British Foreign Office historian, and I have had useful meetings with historians and researchers from Switzerland, Spain, and Portugal. An international conference of historians might be a good first step toward unlocking the files of World War II of all nations whose policies are questioned in the report. In any case so broad, a subject requires an international airing.
The extent of knowledge of U.S. officials about the quantity of looted monetary gold, non-monetary gold including valuables stolen from the Holocaust victims, and the overall body of German external assets in the neutral nations are of critical importance in all aspects of this report. Every effort has been made to identify those key documents, estimates, analyses, and descriptions available to or used by American policy-makers and negotiators. The report cannot claim completeness on these matters. It has not been possible, in many cases, to confirm what particular estimates individual policy-makers and negotiators were relying upon at any given time. The report has generally avoided speculating on why particular officials used specific estimates of the amount of looted monetary gold and German external assets. More research on these matters may succeed in better understanding the motivations of responsible officials. Interviews and broader use of privately held papers may provide more answers. For its part, the report presents what I hope is a workable outline of important and consequential negotiations, but it leaves to further research the more complete understanding of the intentions and unspoken assumptions of the participants in the events described.
The account presented in the report is drawn from those official U.S. records available to American policy-makers at the time. The documentary source of all statements in the report are indicated in footnotes. All of the thousands of documents reviewed for this report and cited herein are unclassified. One central objective of this project was to identify the bodies of relevant records and to ensure their declassification and full accessibility to all interested persons. Total openness and complete availability of the record was the guarantee to the verifiability of our report and to the possibility of investigations by others, within or outside government, from the U.S. or from other countries.
The great majority of the documents have been available at the National Archives and Records Administration for the past 10 years. A crash declassification effort in December 1996 opened a final major body of nearly 1 million pages of relevant records, mostly from the Treasury Department, but also other important records from the CIA and the NSA.
Most of the State Department records have been publicly available for 20 years or more, and the official Department of State Foreign Relations volumes dealing with the events of 1941 to 1946 were prepared and published 20 to 25 years ago. I wish I could say that those of us who helped prepare those volumes clearly understood what we were documenting at the time. My participation in the preparation of the new report revealed to me how much broader a record should have been gathered in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Foreign Relations record of 25 years ago, confined generally to the records of the State Department, reflected far too narrow a story of American foreign policy because it lacked the critical records of the Treasury Department, the Defense Department, the Justice Department, and the intelligence agencies. Moreover, I have concluded that most of the documents reviewed by my colleagues and me for the report could have been released publicly 40 years ago. It might not have been necessary to prepare this report in 1997 if a more open systematic declassification program like the one established by the President in E.O. 12958 in April 1995 had been in effect soon after World War II, and if there already had been a Congressional mandate for the publication of the official foreign policy record in the Foreign Relations series as there has been since 1991.
I must emphasize that the report was the product of an unprecedented effort by historians, researchers, and others bent upon doing as thorough and quick a study as was reasonably possible. The report was prepared by a team in the Office of the Historian of the Department of State, with the close cooperation and extensive assistance of historians, archivists, and experts from 10 other agencies. Significant portions of this report were drawn from a separate study prepared for the Department of the Treasury on the basis of an intensive review of that agency's records. The History Staff of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of the Army Center for Military History, the Office of Special Investigations of the Department of Justice, and the Research Institute of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum each prepared separate special studies on important aspects of the issues. The section of the report on the Tripartite Gold Commission was prepared with assistance from the staff of the Federal Reserve. Documents and advice were provided by the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library. Advice and assistance were also provided by experts of the Department of Commerce, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Security Agency.
I cannot conclude without singling out the extraordinary assistance of the National
Archives. All of the research was directly dependent on the unfailing support, initiative, and
encouragement of the Archivist of the United States and the staff of the National Archives
and Records Administration. The project could not have been carried out without this vital
support. This interagency project coincided with an unprecedented demand on the National
Archives for access and assistance by Congressional and private research teams and
individuals seeking to understand the issues involved in "Nazi Gold." It is to the credit of the
National Archives staff that the needs of all researchers, government and private, domestic
and foreign, were met with unfailing courtesy and without disrupting any research schedules.
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