Chronologically, Poland was Hitler's next victim and by rights should have yielded up some more gold, but the German occupiers found the Bank of Poland almost empty. As the German military forces threatened Warsaw, the chief personnel of the Bank of Poland (Bank Polski) had abandoned the city taking with them some $64 million worth of the Polish gold reserve. Traveling by train and truck south and east through Rumania, Turkey and Lebanon, the Polish ban staff finally arrived in France in late October 1939, where they were granted office space and storage vaults in the Bank of France in Paris and here continued to conduct businees, such as it was.
After the German invasion of the Low Countries and france began in May of 1940, however, the Polish government in exile informed the French government that it intended to trasport their gold reserve to Canada and the United States. The Polish note, dated May 22d, resulted in a verbal agreement between the Bank of Poland and the Bank of France whereby the French Almiralty was to be entrusted to convey the gold on a French warship to the United States. One of the Polish Bank directors, Stefan Michaslki, accompanied the gold when it was put aboard the French cruiser Victor Schoelcher in the harbor of Lorient. The ship's destination was Martinique, but with the French collapse imminent the orders were changed at the last minute to the French West African port of Dakar.
In the meantinme, the Germans found that while the Polish gold still appeared elusive -in fact, they were not even sure yet where it was- they had secured the gold reserves of the Bank of Danzing. In August 1939 the Bank of Danzing had about $4,000,000 worth of gold which Poland considered to be theirs, for the return of which Poland would make a postwar claim.
France did indeed send the Belgian gold abroad to their West African colony just as they had some of their own gold and the Polish gold. When France surrendered, however, the inescapable conclusion was that by virtue of the Naxi occupation of these states all of the gold would soon be returned to the Germans as war booty.
For a brief time after the French surrender the Germans were not certain about just what happened to the gold in question and no one appeared eager to enlighten them. The conspiracy of silence began to unravel after the Belgian king, Leopold III, requested his German captors to return Belgium's gold from France, for he thought it to be still located there. It was almost three weeks after the Franch-German armistice had been signed before the chief of the German economic delegation, Johannes Hemmen, conferred with General Charles Huntzinger, chairman of the French armistice commission, about the gold [...] Hemmen wanted to know exactly how much gold bullion and coin the Bank of France possessed, where it was located and in what amounts, and how much belonged to those states now under German occupation. [...] Huntzinger's answer, almost four weeks later, briefly outlined the facts. [...] Whether Huntzinger, soon to become Vichy's minister for war, was ignorant of some of the details, such as the fact that both Belgian and Polish gold was under French control in West Africa, is not entirely clear. it is likely that he did have some knowledge of these matters and simply decided that it was not neccesary to tell Hemmen everything; however, this cannot be determined from his answer.
The Germans did have reasons to worrry about the safety of the gold, and they were well aware of this fact. In anticipation of a British attack, Hemmen notified French authorities that they would be held accountable for any gold loss and advised that the treasure be moved away from the coast immediately. In an emergency he promised to aid the Franch with some German aircraft. A few days later -it was mid-September- Yves Breart de Boisanger, the French head of the economic delegation to the Armistice Commission and also governor of the Bank of France, assured Hemmen that he was equally concerned about the gold's safety and that every precaution was being taken to protect it. In fact, he wrote, the gold was already being moved some distance inland and Vichy had assigned additional guard units for more security. On September 20th Hemmen received a second message informing him that the gold had been secreted at Kayes, some four hundred kilometers east of Dakar, and there was every confidence that it was out of reach of the British. This turned out to be not a minute too soon for three days later a combined Anglo-French force arrived off Dakar prepared to invade the city.
As a rewar for having demonstrated their loyalties, Vichy now suggested to Hemmen that if the Belgian gold was returned as planned, then France should receive that amount on credit for what they had already advanced Belgium: "As for the Polish gold, the Bank of France took the position that since its advances to the Polish government in exile exceeded the amount of Polish gold, the Bank of France mus regard this gold as their own". [...] As for the Polish gold, Hemmen was more blunt and rejected outright any claim as having no basis whatsoever for "the Polish government in exile was no longer entitled, after the collapse of the Polish state, to dispose of the gold."
In December 1940 Hemmen informed de Boisanger that it was the German viewpoint that the Bank of Poland still existed as a legal entity. Since there was no succesor bank he was requesting that France return the gold and other valuables that belonged to the Polish bank. He assured de Boisanger that at least two signatures from Polish bank officers on the directorate in 1939 would support the request. De Boisanger did not deny the fact the Polish gold was in West Africa, nor that it belonged to the Bank of Poland, but he did ask consideration for the positiion that France was in after having guaranteed the payment of specific debts against the Polish state. De Boisanger pointed out that the gold was the only asset of that state that Vichy controlled. He also questioned Hemmen's assertion that the Bank of Poland still existed in Warsaw, pointing out the obvious fact that the directorate had fled with the gold in September 1939. He admitted that there was no successor ban, but referred to the creation of a Polish note ban in Krakow that was using Reichsmarks and not god as backing for its issue. As for the promised signatures of former Polish bank officers from 1939, de Boisanger was doubtful that this could be managed. He admitted the Hemmen might find one or tow former bank employees who would provide signatures, but not members of the directorate, for they had long since departed Warsaw. He did not see how either Vichy or the Bank of France could accept such substitutes on a matter of this importance.
Certainly, de Boisanger reasoned, France had no obligation toward the Russo-German creation that had been Poland, and any future diplomatic recognition would have to await the establishment of proper borders and a peace treate. Then, he concluded, the question of returning Polish gold would be considered.
It might be asked why the Germans simply did not demand the gold under threat of reprisal, but certain factors had to be considered. Despite foreign propaganda about Nazi tactics, the Germans were determined to pursue their own brand of legality even if it meant the loss of the Polish gold. Of even greater importance for the moment was to continue to receive the full cooperation of the Vichy government and prevent serious occupation problems. Thus the question of returning the Polish gold was still sought within the de Boisanger-Hemmen framework, at least for the time being. In a more gentle but still persistent vein Hemmen reminded de Boisanger taht neither of them wanted the gold to fall into enemy hands, and it was becoming clear that to continue to defend it in Africa was a perilous course. It was obvious, he continued, that the logical course was to bring the gold back to Europe. Reluctantly de Boisanger agreed, but suggested that the Belgian operation be completed first.
This occurred at the end of May 1941, when Germany was poised for an invasion of the Soviet Union. Hitler's Operation Barbarossa would soon send German armies deep into Russia, radically altering the Polish situation. Nazi occupation of the remainder of the former Polish state brough renewed pressures upon Vichy to recognize what was left of the Bank of Poland in Warsaw as the legal owner of the gold in Africa.
Finally, in the summer of 1942, an exasperated Hemmen proposed that France move a commesurate quantity of their gold still in Africa to Clermont-Ferrand as a guarantee until the U.S. court case involving Polish gold was concluded. The Vichy government agreed but with the stipulation that the transfer did not constitute a recognition of Germany's demand for the Polish gold. Confident that there was still time to make the transfer the Germans hastily made arrangements to provide the necessary planes from the Luftwaffe to fly sixty-five tons of gold out of Africa to Fance. Time had run out, however, for it was already October and the British Eight Army was pressing Rommel's Afrika Korps at El Alamein on the eve of a massive Anglo-American landing in North Africa. Soon all French and German communications to Dakar and points east would be severed.
When the Allies armies landed in Africa, the indefatigable protector of Polish gold, Stefan Michalski, manager of the Bank of Poland, immediately contacted Rober Murphy, the personal representative of President Roosevelt, who was now in North Africa and requested that the Polish gold be shipped to America. He had already located it and had negotiated an agreement with the French Committee of Liberation to release it to him. Murphy's reaction was favorable and Michalski was informed that as soon as he decide on what basis the gold should be imported into the United States -either to sell or deposit- an American naval vessel would be provided at Polish expense. Ironically, as soon as the Polish gold was depostied with the U.S. Federal Reserver Bank, the Polish ambassador in Washington, Jan Ciechanowski, told the American State Department that the Bank of Poland suit against the Bank of France in New York had been halted.
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