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  • Safehaven: The Allied Pursuit of Nazi Assets Abroad
  • Richard Breitman
Martin Lorenz-Meyer, Safehaven: The Allied Pursuit of Nazi Assets Abroad. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2007. 384 pp. $49.95.

Operation Safehaven, a now largely forgotten Anglo-American program, was directed against a postwar German problem. As Nazi influence dissipated and Allied attitudes toward Germany changed substantially during the early Cold War, Safehaven focused on a search for German assets abroad and on efforts to persuade or force neutral countries to surrender these assets to the United States, Britain, and suitable humanitarian organizations.

Safehaven activities and records are exceedingly difficult to follow, and some records have been declassified only in very recent years. In this intensively researched book (using American, British, and German archives and a wide range of published literature), Martin Lorenz-Meyer convincingly shows that Safehaven was inevitably entangled with other policies, programs, and forces in the transition from war to peace: German reparations, integration of neutral countries and then West Germany into the postwar economic order, and restitution of stolen or “Aryanized” property.

The U.S. Treasury’s Foreign Funds Control Division and key Treasury officials were the prime sponsors of Safehaven. Some of the American discussions and debates about it were shaped by familiar polarities—Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau’s “plan” to reduce German industrial potential, and the State Department’s opposition to it. The wartime Foreign Economic Administration and even the Office of Strategic [End Page 164] Services (OSS), for its own reasons, also championed strong measures. General Dwight Eisenhower was sympathetic to the hawks. An interdepartmental committee in Washington never functioned adequately, and interagency relationships in key field stations such as Stockholm were little better.

At the Potsdam Conference, Safehaven programs became a critical part of a grand bargain whereby the Soviet Union gained approval of most of its reparations demands for the time being, including Germany’s external assets in the East. The Western powers contented themselves with shares of Germany’s external assets in Western Europe and the United States. Legal issues were smoothed over by making the Allied Control Council (ACC) the legal successor to the German government, a step that did not forestall West German objections after 1949. The failure and ultimate dissolution of the ACC during the Cold War did not change the bargain.

The long, slow process of negotiating with neutral countries was marked by different views of what was really German, different conceptions of what was appropriate behavior during the war, and different standards about international law. In the end, the Western allies received only a share of what they claimed, and neutral governments and private interests there earned some benefits. This description oversimplifies a much more complicated process that is covered by Lorenz-Meyer in painstaking detail with respect to Sweden and Switzerland.

Lorenz-Meyer is not unsympathetic to the State Department, which after Potsdam took the lead on Safehaven, pursued obvious targets, and, after interminable delays, obtained much of what it sought. Britain was far more concerned about resuming or stimulating its own foreign trade with the continent than about the efficiency of Safehaven collection, which it had never much liked.

Lorenz-Meyer presents an extensive cast of characters in many countries. He makes occasional slips, such as the spelling of Hermann Göring’s first name and the surname of the president of the Bank for International Settlements (which should be McKittrick). Some gaps also arise. Lorenz-Meyer covers the aggressive Safehaven efforts of U.S. Treasury official Josiah DuBois but neglects to mention DuBois’s role in the Treasury’s effort in late 1943 to show that the State Department had mishandled U.S. responses to the Holocaust. Another Treasury official, Iver Olsen, was a key participant in Safehaven activities in Stockholm and an advocate of a strong line there, but Lorenz-Meyer does not point out that Olsen was also representative of the American War Refugee Board in Sweden and a sponsor of Raoul Wallenberg’s humanitarian mission to Budapest in June 1944. (The busy Olsen also worked for OSS). These non-Safehaven activities of DuBois and Olsen involved serious clashes with State Department policies and probably helped...


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pp. 164-166
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