As Germany faced inevitable defeat in World War II, the Allies became concerned that the Nazis would attempt to hide their assets in neutral countries—Switzerland, Sweden, Portugal, Spain, and Turkey—in order to revive their cause in later years. To address this danger, the United States, along with Britain and France as reluctant partners, started the “Safehaven” program to probe questions of secret foreign bank accounts, the German wartime gold trade, and the actions of German companies abroad toward the end of the Nazi regime. Initiated by the Federal Economic Administration, Safehaven was soon integrated with U.S. plans, advocated by Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, to avert future German aggression. These proposals quickly fell out of favor, but the Morgenthau Plan’s suggestion to use all German assets as reparations remained attractive.
In this first detailed historical study of Safehaven in English, Martin Lorenz-Meyer focuses on policies of the Allies, revealing their disagreements about the program and addressing the historical roots of a problem that over decades the Cold War had successfully buried. Lorenz-Meyer shows how American administrative agencies were constantly at odds regarding Safehaven’s administration and how coordination of the program was further complicated by different assumptions held by the United States and Britain regarding its aims. Using Sweden as an example, he offers an investigation of the effects of Safehaven in the neutral countries, drawing comparisons with experiences of the program in Switzerland. His research discloses the sums involved and the neutral countries’ positions and also explores the complications posed by international law for any plan to expropriate German assets.
Over time, the neutral countries objected to uncompensated confiscations for a war in which they had not participated, and the United States gradually lost interest in infringing on German wealth because Germany was needed as a new ally. Lorenz-Meyer tells how Safehaven suffered from the discontinuation of wartime controls in a renewed climate of free trade. He also contends that the very problem that necessitated the program raised questions regarding the true neutrality of the countries involved.
Safehaven is a significant addition to the history of Third Reich and international relations, notably concerning American foreign policy. As America continues to face foreign-policy dilemmas regarding trade with enemies and issues of neutrality, Safehaven offers an illuminating case history that sheds new light on current affairs.