In May 1945, forces of the American Army seized a train in the town of Werfen, Austria containing valuables spirited out of Hungary by members of the pro-Nazi Hungarian government in an attempt to escape the advancing Soviet Army. This train – carrying gold, jewelry, art and other treasures confiscated from the Hungarian Jewish population – became known as the Gold Train.1 The story of the Gold Train provides both a comprehensive illustration of the questions that arose from the United States restitution policy and its implementation, and a mysterious example of one egregious failure to follow that policy.
The illustration is comprehensive in that it documents the consequences of the general policy decision to make restitution to governments and organizations rather than to individuals. In addition to the works of art, the Gold Train carried many other valuables – indeed, the whole gamut of moveable assets. The disposition of all of these assets was subject to this decision. (Top of Page)
The mystery of the Gold Train revolves around the fate of the works of art that fell into the hands of the American authorities when they captured the train in Austria. It is unique in that it describes an as yet unexplained departure from the general policy of returning cultural assets to the country of origin.
For complicated reasons, including Austrias ambiguous status as a Nazi-occupied country, the vast array of treasures stored in its mines and castles, and its proximity to the growing Soviet sphere of influence, the conduct of the American forces occupying Austria was less disciplined than that of the American forces occupying Germany. There is, for example, documentary evidence that American forces in Austria misappropriated so-called "unidentifiable" property of Hungarian Jews found on the Gold Train while refusing to allow leaders of the Hungarian Jewish community access to the Gold Train to identify the property. High-ranking American officials took assets from the Gold Train for their own personal use and assets from the train were sold through the Army Exchange. There is also evidence that assets from the Gold Train were stolen outright. (Top of Page)
In addition, although the general American policy required restitution of cultural property to the country of origin, more than 1,100 works of art belonging to Hungarian Jews were eventually transferred to the custody of the Austrian government. Despite the pleas of the Hungarian Jewish community to return the contents of the Gold Train to their rightful owners, American forces, under their general policy of ceding such items to the designated refugee organization, transferred carloads of non-cultural property from the Gold Train to the United Nations International Refugee Organization (IRO) for disposal.
In the end, the treasures of the Gold Train, as with other identifiable valuables belonging to Holocaust victims, were so dispersed that restitution of these treasures, except perhaps the collection of paintings transferred to Austria, is now virtually impossible. (Top of Page)
The United States policy on restitution of the assets on the Gold Train was determined in part by the political status of Austria, the country in which the assets were seized, and in part by the nature of the assets themselves.
In 1946, the United States signed two international agreements that bore directly on the disposition of the Gold Train assets: the Final Act of the Paris Reparation Conference and the Five-Power Agreement for Non-Repatriable Victims of Germany. These agreements laid the basis for the creation of the Preparatory Committee for the International Refugee Organization (PCIRO) and permitted the sale of non-monetary gold and other ownerless property for the benefit of non-repatriable refugees.
The United States followed a different policy towards works of art and other cultural property of either religious, artistic, documentary, scholastic, or historic value. In accordance with longstanding international agreements, the United States adhered to the principle of restitution of such national cultural heritage to the country of origin. Within this principle there were no limitations based on a nations status – as former enemy, military ally, or neutral. The United States determined that "[i]dentifiable looted works of art and cultural material will be restituted to the governments of the countries from which they were taken."2 (Top of Page)
Reflecting this decision, the United States extended restitution of cultural property encountered in Germany and Austria to Italy, Hungary, Romania and Finland by an order issued by the State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee (SWNCC) on March 4, 1946. Pursuant to this order, property had to be "restored to the government of the country from which it was taken or acquired in any way…."3 (Top of Page)
The story of the Gold Train was summarized in a poignantly written report by the Central Board of Jews in Hungary to the State Department, on July 28, 1947:
In April 1944, after the invasion of Hungary by the Germans, the Fascist Government of Hungary of those days issued a discriminatory decree against the Jewish population obliging them to deposit their gems, their golden jewels ornamented with gems, and generally all their valuables made of gold with the Authorities. This provision went so far, as to oblige Jewish individuals to deliver their wedding rings.
Accordingly the jewels and other valuables of 800,000 Hungarian Jews were seized by the Fascist Government.
On the approach of our liberators, the Nazi government of Szalasi had these valuables laden on a train consisting of 44 cars and had them abducted westward under military escort. This railway train was seized in May 1945 by the U.S. troops of occupation. This was the so-called 'Gold Train'. The wagons contained other valuables, too, besides the jewels e.g. oriental carpets silver, furs, etc....[T]he Hungarian military escort handed over the train pushed into the railway tunnel near Boeckstein intact apart from minor cases of theft and blackmail and without its doors having been forced open, to the American troops of occupation at the railway station of Werfen. 4
The Central Board also referred to various reports available on the Gold Train:
There is a report available on the jewels and golden valuables ordered by Commander Arpad Toldy to be laden on two lorries and carried to the French zone, where they were seized by the French troops.
According to these reports the following valuables were taken under control by the United States Military Authorities:
10 Cases with markings indicating contents of gold. Average weight of cases 45 kg.
1 case containing golden coins. Average weight 100 kg.
18 cases marked as containing golden jewels. Average weight
32 cases containing golden watches, weight varying from
30 to 60 kg.
The following amounts of foreign currencies were handed over in a closed trunk: $ 44, 600, Swiss Francs 52, 360, L 84, Palestinian L 10, Canadian Dollars 66, Swedish Kronen 5, Reichsmark 15, Pengo 260,484. This trunk contained a sealed package, containing brilliants.
1560 cases containing silver with different weights.
1 case of silver bricks
About 100 artistic pictures
About 3000 knotted Persian and Oriental carpets and some home- manufactured carpets sporadically, among them.
I cannot tell exactly the number of the cases. According to the reports received from the officials, there were also clothes, fur-coats, made of noble furs, stamp-collections, collections of laces. Cameras, gramophons [sic], silver-jewels, porcelains, pocket and wrist watches (about 8-10.000) laden into the wagons. The contents of two wagons were not assorted, they contained every sort of valuables mixed. 5 (Top of Page)
According to the Central Board, the following assets were transported into the French Zone where they were seized by French troops in St. Anton:
31 cases with markings of gold
2 cases containing golden coins
3 cases containing golden watches
8 cases of brilliants
2 cases containing selected pieces of brilliants and pearls.6
On July 27, 1948 Secretary of State George C. Marshall described his own understanding of the fate of the Gold Train in a cable sent to the U.S. Legation in Budapest:
Prior to their withdrawal from Hungary the Nazis had collected a considerable quantity of movable property belonging to Jewish victims of Nazi action. It is understood that this property belonged to Jewish victims in all parts of so-called Greater Hungary. It was removed by train to Austria, where, having been separated into two trains, it was found by American and French forces. 7
The U.S. forces removed the assets found on the Gold Train to storage facilities in Salzburg, Austria. The majority of the assets were stored in the Military Government Warehouse (also referred to as MG Warehouse or the Property Control Warehouse). The paintings from the Gold Train were stored elsewhere, according to undated notes from Ardelia Hall, the State Departments Advisor for Restitution issues. Halls notes detail the storage of the Gold Train paintings:
Train - Wurfen - stopped there in Wurfen [sic]. Mostly property Nazis looted from Jews. Paintings brought to Salzburg in storage in Karabinersaal in Residenz.8
The paintings stored in the Residenz were ignored and not inventoried until 1947, but the assets stored in the MG warehouse attracted the immediate attention of the American forces.
Marshalls July 1948 cable described the assumptions that lay behind U.S. treatment of the assets on the Gold Train:
American Forces having examined the portion of the Hungarian train in the American Zone of Austria, the U.S. Commander [General Mark Clark] determined that the contents therefore were unidentifiable as to owners and, in view of the territorial changes in Hungary, as to national origin; restitution to Hungary being therefore not feasible, it was determined, with the approval of this government, that the property in question would be given to the Intergovernmental Committee for Refugees [IGCR]. The basis for this action was the decision of this Government to apply to so-called non-monetary gold found in Austria the principle of Article 8 of the Paris Reparation Agreement of December 1945 and of the Power Agreement of June 1946 for the implementation of this provision.9
The U.S. Government and military authorities maintained that it was not possible to identify the ownership of the property on the Gold Train. The representatives of the Hungarian Jewish community and the Hungarian Government, however, vigorously protested otherwise. (Top of Page)
Leaders of the Hungarian Jewish community knew before the end of 1945 that United States troops had intercepted the Gold Train. On December 20, 1945, the Temporary Managing Committee of the Central Bureau of Hungarian Jews sent a letter acknowledging that fact to the U.S. Legation in Budapest. The Committee presented its version of the assets on the Gold Train:
In the country, all valuables in Jewish property - even golden wedding rings - have been collected by official persons before the Jews have been transported to gathering places in order to be deported. The valuables deposited by Jewish persons or by the authorities that have collected them have been loaded up, later in railway-cars and carried away in western direction, and, as the defeat of the German Army became evident, transported to Austria, after having been tithed several times.10
The Committee noted that some looting of the train had taken place in Austria, but said that "the remainders of these valuables, namely 24 railway cars loaded with gold, jewels, etc. were surrendered to the American troops in Austria."11 The Committee argued "as these valuables were considered, even in terms of the Nazi-decrees, as Jewish deposits, they never ceased to be the undoubted property of their original owners."12 (Top of Page)
The Temporary Managing Committee sought support for its proposal that a delegation of the Central Bureau of Hungarian Jews negotiate the "delivery of the above cited values [sic]" from American Headquarters.13 In making its case for restitution, the Temporary Managing Committee relied not only on the history of the ownership of the trains assets and Americas legal obligations to return them, but on a strong emotional appeal:
The Jews having been robbed also of everything else they possessed, all clothes, underwear, furniture, etc. it is not only their undoubted right to claim that the objects stored in the railway-cars under American Control, should be rendered to them, but their demand is justified from humane standpoint too. By recovering a part of the valuables lost, many of them could begin to rebuild their homes and their existence.14
The U.S. officials nevertheless ignored the Hungarian Jewish proposal to send a delegation to review the property. (Top of Page)
On January 2, 1946, H.F. Arthur-Schoenfeld, the U.S. Envoy to Hungary, informed the State Department of the letter from the Temporary Managing Committee and reported that: "in conversation, on December 27, 1945, with the gentlemen who presented the letter, I told them the matter seemed to be one for the Hungarian Foreign Office."15
In July 1946, Nikolaus Nyaradi, the Hungarian Minister of Finance, visited Berlin in an attempt to convince American authorities not to dispose of the property found on the Gold Train. Nyaradi informed the U.S. authorities that about 200,000 Jews remained in Hungary and that the Hungarian government, in cooperation with Jewish organizations, had formed the Jewish Rehabilitation Agency.16 This initiative of the Hungarian government did not, however, change the opinion of the American authorities.
By 1947, it was well known in the international community that the U.S. government was planning to sell certain contents of the Gold Train at public auction. The proceeds of the auction were to be used for the benefit of the IRO. The leadership of the Hungarian Jewish community tried many times to convince the Americans not to auction their property but to return it to its rightful owners.
Their attempts began with a telegram from the Central Board of Jews in Hungary to the Department of State on February 21, 1947:
Undersigned legal representative bodies of the Hungarian Jewry were informed with deep consternation of the fact that the United States Government is planning to transfer the value of so called Golden Train which forms the property of Hungarian Jewry to the Refugee Committee of the UNO [United Nations].17
Instead of transferring the objects to the IRO, the Central Board requested "emphatically" that the U.S. Government place the "valuables abducted with so-called Golden Train" at the disposal of the lawful representative bodies of Hungarian Jewry.18 (Top of Page)
A second letter, sent in February to the U.S. Legation by the Central Board of Jews in Hungary and the Autonomous Orthodox Israelitic Religious Bodies, again appealed on humanitarian grounds for the return of the Gold Train property:
Hungarian Jewry suffered immeasurable losses in human lives and property owing to Fascistic inhumanity. 600,000 Hungarian Jews lost their lives in Nazi concentration camps. The remaining valuables of the 200,000 Hungarian Jews, who survived, are on the ‘Train of Gold and we think that the greatest injustice would befall these people if they could not get back even their remaining few valuables after what they have been through.19
Hungarian Jewish leaders feared that an auction would create a bad precedent. They knew that some of the goods had been taken into the custody of French forces and worried that if the Americans auctioned the valuables found in Werfen, the French government would follow suit.20 Importantly, the letters emphasized that the property to be auctioned could be identified and traced to specific owners and heirs.21 The Central Board believed that the auction would violate U.S. restitution policy.
The United States ignored the pleas of the Hungarian Jewish community and eventually directed them to seek answers elsewhere. On May 19, 1947, the U.S. Legation to Hungary, in a reply to the Central Board, defended the decision to auction property from the Gold Train:
With the approval of the United States Government, the Commanding General, U.S. Forces, Austria, determined, that the property should be turned over the [sic] Intergovernmental Committee of Refugees for relief and rehabilitation of non-repatriable victims of German action. This means in practice, that ninety percent of proceeds will be disposed of by American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Palestine. This decision was based on the fact that it was impracticable to return individual items to the original owners or heirs and is believed to be in best interest of [the] class who were despoiled.22
If the Central Board of Jews in Hungary had retained any hope of appealing this decision, it was dispelled when Secretary Marshall cabled the U.S. Legation on May 19, 1947 that:
Nyaradi was informed of this decision on visit here and was told no disposition to reconsider. If representatives Central Board inquire, you should inform them accordingly. You may suggest that so far as their interests are involved they may wish to consult with the above two Jewish organizations.23
This notification to Nyaradi would have been the first notification to the Hungarians of the United States decision.24 On May 29, Secretary Marshall cabled the U.S. Legation in Budapest that "action not necessary until additional inquiries made."25 (Top of Page)
Despite the position articulated by the U.S. Legation, Hungarian Jews refused to give up. In a letter dated July 28, 1947, the Central Board informed the U.S. State Department that they had not heard from French authorities about the fate of the assets captured by the French troops in Austria. They again asked the Americans to change their decision.26
The Central Board continued to argue that at least a portion of the assets were identifiable:
A fraction of the deported Jews returned to Hungary - another fraction escaped at home - these lay a legitimate claim to the valuables they or their relatives were robbed of. So, where the possibility of identification exists beyond doubt and is proved, the owner reclaims his valuables rightfully on the basis of the principle of private property.27
It requested permission from American authorities for representatives of the Special Commission of the Hungarian Ministry of Finance on the Restitution of Jewish Property to visit and examine the stored valuables. The Hungarians hoped that such an examination would start the process of restitution to Hungary of identifiable property.28
Once again, the United States refused their request. In a telegram that suggests a difference of opinion between U.S. representatives in Budapest and State Department officials in Washington, the U.S. Legation questioned U.S. policy stating that "after further reflection," the Legation
ventures suggestion that our proposal to turn over identifiable Jewish property at Salzburg to IGCR might be inconsistent with our previous liberal policy for restitution of identifiable Hungarian displaced property and with the spirit of Articles 27 and 30 of the treaty [1947 Treaty of Peace with Hungary].29
Despite these misgivings and the repeated requests of the Hungarians for reconsideration, certain contents of the Gold Train were auctioned in New York by the PCIRO in July 1948. The Department of State wrote to the U.S. Legation in Budapest explaining the U.S. position:
The basis for this action was the decision of this Government to apply to so-called non-monetary gold found in Austria the principles of Article 8 of the Paris Repatriation Agreement of December 1945 and of the Five Power Agreement of June 1946 for the implementation of this provision.30
The letter informed the Legation that:
On May 29, 1948, the Hungarian Restitution Mission in Geneva wrote to the Preparatory Commission of the IRO requesting that the property in question be withheld from disposition and returned to Hungary, indicating in the same time that an official restitution claim therefore had been filed with American authorities in Austria on October 17, 1947, and had not been acted upon....PCIRO replied to the effect that it could not question the determination of unidentifiability which the U.S. military authorities had made concerning the gold train…31
The decision of General Mark Clark, the Commanding General of U.S. Forces in Austria (USFA) in 1945 as to the "unidentifiability" of the trains contents thus governed every subsequent decision on possible restitution of these assets to Hungary. When asked by the Hungarians, PCIRO officials said they could not revoke the Clarks initial determination of the nature of the objects ownership. (Top of Page)
1. Requisitions of the Gold Train Property
U.S. military personnel recognized from the beginning that the art and cultural property assets of the Gold Train were valuable and impressive and could be used in their offices and homes. On July 13, 1945, Major General Harry J. Collins, Commander of the 42nd ("Rainbow") Division in western Austria received objects of "furniture and furnishing…supplied by Office of Property Control, Land Salzburg."32 Collins was given property for his headquarters identified as "U.S. Government Property (from Hungarian Train, Military Government Warehouse)" including "different objects made of onyx, 5 rugs and 8 paintings."33
General Collins also requisitioned valuables from the Gold Train for his home. An August 28, 1945 memo from one of Collins aides to the Property Control Officer in Salzburg made the following demand:
1. The Commanding General directs that you give first priority to obtaining without delay the following listed household furnishing:
a) Chinaware (all types for formal banquet and other meals.) Sufficient for 45 people.
b) Silverware (Same qualifications as above and to include serving forks and spoons).
c) Glassware (To include water glasses, highball glasses, cocktail glasses, wine and champagne glasses, and liqueur glasses. Sufficient for formal banquet involving several kinds of wine for 90 people.)
d) Thirty (30) sets of table linens, each set to consist of one table cloth and 12 napkins.)
e) Sixty (60) sheets, sixty (60) pillow cases, and sixty (60) large bath towels.
The General desires that all of the above listed items be of the very best quality and workmanship available in the land of Salzburg. He specifically told me to say that he intended to hold you responsible for securing these items."34
The Property Control Officer responded to this request by taking these items from the MG warehouse in which the Gold Train properties had been stored. Subsequent requisitions by Collins for Gold Train property included 12 silver candlesticks and 11 carpets;35 two rugs to decorate his railroad car;36 and 13 rugs for decoration of his villa, Maria Theresien Schloss.37 (Top of Page)
Nor was General Collins the only military official who used the Gold Train property for personal use. A "List of Material Loaned from Property Control Warehouse" prepared by the Property Control Office indicates that numerous high-ranking officers of the American Forces in Austria appropriated Hungarian Jewish treasures found on the Gold Train for the decoration of their residences. For example, General Laude received china, silverware and linen for his Salzburg home; General Hume received 18 rugs, table and silverware, table linen and glassware; General Howard received nine rugs, one silver set and 12 silver plates to decorate his Vienna apartment; and Brigadier General Linden received 10 rugs for his quarters on the von Trapp Estate. 38
As more American military families settled in Austria, the Property Control Officer expressed his concerns to the Repatriation, Deliveries and Restitution Division (RD & R Division). On March 8, 1946 he reported: "The problem arrival of families of military personnel in Austria in the near future, it is believed, will place heavy demands on certain of the property in the warehouse,"39 because he believed that "General Collins was interested in providing proper quarters and house furnishing for families of the military;" and to that end, the procurement of "proper" materials, meant that, "quite probably demands might be made upon property in the warehouse."40
2. Sales and Liquidation of the Gold Train Property
Over time, Gold Train assets under U.S. custodianship in Austria also became
subject to appropriation for sale through Army Exchange stores. In early November 1945, a representative of the Office of the Army Exchange Service in Austria wrote to the Property Control Officer and the Legal Advisor of U.S. Allied Control for Austria (USACA) to request "that the merchandise now held in Salzburg in the custody of the Property Control Officer, USACA, from the WERFEN train be made available for purchase by the Army Exchange Service."41 To clarify the request, the Army Exchange specified "such merchandise is believed to consist of watches, alarm clocks, cameras, jewelry, etc., which would normally be sold through the PXs."42 The Army Exchange Service added that it would make payment for these items based "on agreed prices."43 The Legal Division concluded "it [property from the train] may therefore, in the opinion of this Division, be disposed of accordingly."44 On November 19, 1945 the Chief of the Legal Division added that "the property which is the subject of the request by the Army Exchange Office is, as disclosed by our file, either captured enemy property, or property of a perishable nature, or both."45 (Top of Page)
This first attempt to dispose of Gold Train Property through the Army Exchange did not, however, succeed. The Chief of the RD & R Division challenged the conclusion of the Legal Division on the grounds that the "goods apparently are not perishable and it is believed there may be claims from original Hungarian owners for identifiable private property."46
Nevertheless, one year later, virtually the same plan was approved. On November 18, 1946, the Property Control Officer in Salzburg recommended that the Property Control Branch sell "the Werfen Train rugs and furs which are located in the Property Control Warehouse."47 The Officer defended his recommendation saying that "the property will lose a great part of its value if it is not disposed of within the next two or three months." Because it represented an asset of several thousand dollars the Property Control Officer in Salzburg wanted it to "be immediately disposed of."48 (Top of Page)
On November 29, 1946 the Chief of RD & R Division concurred with the recommendation to go forward with the sales:
It is recommended by the Property Control Officer, Land Salzburg, and also by this Division that in order to realize the maximum value of the property that steps be taken at once to dispose of this property either on the Austrian open market, or by sale through the Army Exchange Service for dollar credits.49
The Army Exchange Service Procurement Division enthusiastically replied to this letter on December 22, 1946:
The Army Exchange Service is very much interested in the confiscated Hungarian property stored in Salzburg, which was inspected by this office…It was requested, from Army Exchange Service (AES) Headquarters Frankfurt, that permission to dispose of the property be obtained as soon as possible.50
While the rugs, furs and fine clothing, originally belonging to Hungarian Jews, were appropriated for sale through the Army Exchange, their other clothes were distributed more freely. On March 6, 1946 a Property Control Officer at the Headquarters of USFA in Vienna neatly outlined the distinction between treatment of the better goods and the more regular goods:
At present this office has stored at the Military Government Warehouse various items of clothing and linens, such as pants, coats, dresses, scarves, gloves, shoes, table linen, napkins, etc…Major Flaherty 42nd Division Chaplain has submitted to this office a request for all the clothing. He plans to distribute this clothing to needy DP-s…It is recommended that the mens and womens clothing be turned over to Major Flaherty, 42nd Division Chaplain for distribution to DP-s and that linens and finer quality clothes be retained in custody.51
3. Thefts of property from the Gold Train
In addition to requisitions by U.S. forces and sales through the Army Exchange, property on the Gold Train was also subject to outright theft. In one case, documented in October 1946, the Property Control Officer reported that two small suitcases of gold dust had disappeared from the MG warehouse. The Officer explained that "every apparent possibility for tracing the gold dust has been exhausted" and concluded that:
…some months ago Property Control Warehouse was burglarized by military guards. It is possible that the subject gold dust was stolen at that time. However, the inventory of the warehouse is still being checked.52
The numerous loans, sales, gifts and thefts of the property of the Gold Train hampered attempts to identify the ownership of the property. Further complicating matters, the property was repacked and the original containers and labels indicating country and names of owners were lost. (Top of Page)
General Clarks 1945 determination that the Gold Trains assets were unidentifiable as to owners and national origin and that restitution was therefore not feasible withstood challenges from the Hungarians, as well as from the U.S. Legation. In accordance with the Paris Conference and the Four Powers Agreement, the determination of "unidentifiability" opened the door for the transfer of Gold Train assets to the IRO for auction.
Ray C. Kramer, appointed in November of 1947 as the Chairman of the Advisory Liquidation Committee of the IRO, was responsible for the organization of the auction sales. The IRO also established a Merchandising Committee, which was charged with the preparation of two auctions. Mr. Kramer declared that:
the principal problem facing him and his committee was the manner in which the goods will be disposed. It was decided that for miscellaneous items, the auction was the best medium, and that the results of the June sales at Parke-Bernet will be watched with a view to setting the pattern for future sales all over the country.53
Crates with Jewish property labeled "unidentifiable as to ownership" started to arrive at Staten Island in the middle of December of 1947 with the initial sales to take place at the Parke-Bernet Galleries in New York in June 1948. The New York Times reported: "In the first [auction], June 16 to 18, jewelry and diamonds will be offered, while in the second, June 20 to 25, silver, glass, china, and gold objects will be put up for bids."54 The Parke-Bernet staff divided the jewelry into 400 catalogue lots, with three to four pieces in each lot. Items in the jewelry sale included a large miscellaneous collection of unset diamonds along with other precious stones, pearls, gold and jeweled watches, and numerous pieces of Victorian jewelry.55 A month before the sales, The New York Times wrote that:
neither Mr. Kramer, nor Leslie A. Hyam, the vice-president of Parke-Bernet…would venture an estimate on the total value of the war loot. Rough estimates of the total worth of valuables captured by the United States in Austria and Germany approximated $ 4,000,000. However what part of that property eventually will be brought into the United States, and what the potential market for it will be, is impossible to judge now.56
The exact content of the boxes shipped from Europe "were unknown until opened" at the warehouse in New York.57 The New York Times described the scene at the warehouse:
Laid out on tables were dozens of tinted and cut glass goblets and liqueur glasses, decorative porcelain vases, Bohemian cut sapphire blue and ruby glassware, Meissen, Dresden, Herend, Rosenthal, and Vienna porcelain statuettes and figure groups, eighteenth and nineteenth century Continental pewter flagons and tureens…an estimated 22 tons is on hand, marked and unmarked, used and unused, plain and ornate, consisting of every conceivable shape of platter, tureen, tray and dish, and great quantity of candlesticks, vases and dishes, single and sets."58
Press reports indicate that the auctions were successful. The New York Times reported that the June 22, 1948 sale exceeded expected revenues by 40 percent 60 and the weeks receipts totaled $152,850.61 The results were a triumph for Ray Kramer and the Advisory Liquidation Committee of the IRO who had designed the New York auction as an experiment to determine the best way to dispose of ownerless assets. (Top of Page)
James Rorimer, a Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFA & A) officer, was in Austria in 1945 when the Gold Train was found by the American troops in Werfen. 62 Later he remembered:
In Werfen and vicinity there were concentrations of German soldiers and ordnance equipment, including small arms and acres of broken-down trucks. On the railroad tracks were fifty-two box cars, twenty of them containing miscellaneous loot from Hungary. In an effort to keep this cargo from the Russians, who had been advancing rapidly in the east, forty-two Hungarian guards under compulsion from the Nazis accompanied a gruesome mixture of gold wedding rings (in cases too heavy for two men to lift), household furnishing, money, watches, diamonds, dress goods, building stone, carbon, boards, empty cans and rubbish, objects from the Museum in Gyor, and people. Arpad Toldy, who had accompanied the shipment from Hungary, escaped with the inventories of the contents of the train before it fell into American hands. We did not envy Major Laughlin, the executive officer of the 15th Regiment, 3rd Division, XV Corps, who with the Property Control officer would have to decide how to handle these carloads of problems. I recommended that the material of artistic value be sent to collecting points being established in Salzburg and Munich.63
For the next two years no attention was paid to Rorimers recommendation to send the items of artistic value to collecting points. Instead the paintings, without inventory, were placed in the MG Warehouse in Salzburg and forgotten.
In 1947, Evelyn Tucker, MFA & A representative in Austria, was informed about the existence of paintings in the MG Warehouse. On October 23, Tucker wrote in her monthly report:
Was informed in Salzburg that there are approximately 200 paintings from the Werfen Train loot which have been set aside and are presently stored in a small room in the upstairs of the MG Warehouse in Salzburg. I understand from the men in Salzburg handling this property that they have no instructions whatsoever concerning these paintings, and they seem to doubt that they will have.64
Before Tucker was able to visit Salzburg, the Chief of the RD&R Division issued an order for release of the paintings. On November 5, 1947, he wrote: "You are authorized to release to the custody and control of Miss Eve Tucker, MFA&A representative of this Division approximately two hundred (200) paintings presently stored in the Military Government Warehouse in Salzburg."65 Identification of the paintings was limited to physical location and one short phrase describing the paintings as being "allegedly of Hungarian origin."66
Between November 6 and November 11, 1947, Evelyn Tucker made her visit to Salzburg. Upon returning to Vienna she reported:
Paintings (allegedly Hungarian) in MG Warehouse. Went to the warehouse in company with Major Langer and Mr. Kennedy to inspect the paintings (which had been estimated at around 200), which were stored upstairs in the 'gold room.'67
In the MG warehouse Tucker found not 200, but 1,181 paintings, all of which were apparently of Hungarian origin. The 200 paintings mentioned in the November 5, 1947 instruction had not been found on the Gold Train but in the Castle Fischhorn, where the Nazis established a repository of artworks looted from Central Europe. In 1946 these paintings were removed from the Castle and combined with paintings from the Gold Train in the MG warehouse. (Top of Page)
The military authorities believed that none of the paintings was of significant value and treated them accordingly. Evelyn Tucker however, believed otherwise:
The idea that these paintings were worthless is fallacious - how this idea could have grown and been given any credence is unknown inasmuch as no inventory appears to exist and very few people seemed to know of their existence. Major Langer insisted when I first approached him on these paintings that there were no such paintings in the warehouse...yet when he dictated the receipt to his secretary the next day he added (not for inclusion in the receipt) value $10.00. I smiled and said "You will be surprised Major Langer when I tell you I found a little etching signed "Rembrandt 1639" and a van Ruysdael "Seascape"….By the time I left Salzburg we had inventoried about 300 paintings. While I do not profess to be an art expert, my opinion for what it is worth, is that as a whole the paintings are not by the best artists though many of them are very good.68
On January 5, 1949, the 1,181 paintings in the MG warehouse were transferred into the custody of the Federal Government of Austria pursuant to a document signed by the Chief of Property Control and Restitution Branch of the Headquarters of Zone Command Austria and by Joseph Reith, a minister of the Austrian Government.69 A January 1951 State Department document entitled: "Disposition of Art Objects and Scientific Works under USFA Control," explained the transfer:
It is believed that these works had been in the possession of middle-class Hungarians, many (but not all) of whom were dead. Some of the survivors continued to live in Hungary, while others had emigrated. The Austrian Monuments and Fine Arts Office agreed with the opinion that the artworks were impressive, primarily because of their number and not because of their known or possible individual value. There exist doubts here whether they would be of any significance to any future general exchange agreement of cultural objects among any nations concerned. In view of their origin and by virtue of the identity of most of the artists of the oil paintings, insofar as they are known from signatures, the objects should undoubtedly be considered Hungarian art. This would place them into the category of property, which is part of the cultural heritage of a nation and would ordinarily be returned to that nation. It is believed that it should be not returned by the U.S. to Hungary at this time in as much as this would be inconsistent with the action taken in January 1949 under which the U.S. transferred the matter of restitution claims affecting alleged Hungarian properties located in the U.S. Zone of Austria to the Austrian Government. Such transfer would further almost certainly produce strong objections on the part of the Austrian Government for the reason that Austria and its nationals have lost many assets of all types in Hungary by virtue of postwar Hungarian legislation and feel that they should be given the opportunity of strengthening their bargaining position in an expected general settlement between the two nations.70
In another document prepared on March 26, 1952 called "Confidential Security Information," and subtitled: "Hungarian Cultural Property in U.S. Custody," the State Departments Ardelia Hall wrote:
I would like to propose that all cultural property of Hungarian ownership will be held indefinitely for eventual return to the rightful owners and that this fact should be broadcast to Hungary.
Hungarian cultural property includes:
1) Hungarian library, under seizure by the Alien Property Custodian, stored at Columbia University;
2) The 1176 paintings from the Hungarian Gold Train now in U.S. control, stored in the Residenz Depot, Salzburg, Austria;
3) The Crown of St. Stephen and related objects.
I was informed by the last MFA&A officer in Austria that the names of the individual owners and addresses in Hungary were attached to the paintings. Should I find evidence of ownership of these 1176 paintings when I go to Salzburg, I would suggest that the detailed list of the objects and owners, painting by painting should be broadcast to Hungary with the statement that the property is held under trusteeship for eventual return to the owners"71
No such detailed list of paintings was ever sent to Budapest. The last mention of the paintings was in the report of a meeting on June 3, 1953, when Dr. Otto Demus, the Chairman of the Federal Monuments Office of Austria (Bundesdenkmalamt), visited Washington and met with Ardelia Hall and George Freimarck of the Department of State. The Memorandum of Conversation states that:
according to Dr. Demus and Miss Hall, there are two other ‘blocks of art objects whose ownership is either in doubt or not Austrian property. These are a collection of 'some 1500 paintings' which are presently housed in a mine near Bad Aussee and a collection of 967 paintings from the former Munich Collecting Point.72
In fact, there is no evidence that the United States government ever informed the Hungarians about the existence of the paintings.
1. The Exception
Only one fully documented case of restitution of paintings from the Gold Train exists. On September 20, 1945 trustees for Mrs. Joli Gergely initiated a claim with the U.S. Legation in Switzerland for the return of their clients property. They alleged that jewelry, linen, lace, clothes, silverware and paintings belonging to Mrs. Gergely had been loaded on the Gold Train. Her trustees explained that their client, a "non-aryan," left Hungary to escape persecution and took up residence in Switzerland some years before. Her husband remained in Hungary and died there.73 Nikolaus von Csillaghy, a friend of the Gergely family, took care of their property.
On February 8, 1946 Mrs. Gergelys trustees sent the American authorities a detailed list of their clients property and the results of their investigation:
Every piece of the luggage is the property of our customer, Mrs. Joli Gergely. The trunks were, however, marked outside as being the property of Mr. Nikolaus von Csillaghy, a friend of Mrs. Gergely, and who at the time attended to the transport of the luggage. The car 55438 containing the property of our client, has been unloaded at the goodstation in Salzburg-Lehen ("Heereszeugmagazin") on 24th of July 1945. Lieutenant Colonel Heller, an American subject, and his secretary Miss Schnee dealt with the matter. When submitting the inventory of the luggage, Mr. Von Csillaghy discussed the matter with Lieutenant Colonel Heller….Basing on this discussion it should be possible to proceed with the investigations about the property of our clients luggage.74
Although the Chief of RD & R Branch informed the Property Control Officer that "it is the opinion in this office that this property could be released to the individual concerned…,"75 the Property Control Officer replied that:
the property of Mrs. Joli Gergely which was taken into custody with the Werfen Train material is still in the possession of this office; however, the identification of the subject property will be most difficult. Officers who were formerly in charge of the Property Control Warehouse in Salzburg, believed that the material could not be identified and restituted. Therefore, in order to preserve clothing, linens, etc., such articles were removed from their original containers, treated with moth-repellent and placed in new boxes.76
Despite the confusion, on February 2, 1948 the Property Control and Restitution Section of the Headquarters of the Zone Command of Austria returned four paintings and one icon to Mrs. Joli Gergely and three paintings to Mr. Nikolaus von Csillaghy.77 Thus, only eight of the 27 works in the luggage of Von Csillaghy/Gergely, seized on the Gold Train by U.S. forces in 1945, were ever found and returned. (Top of Page)
This report on the disposition of the assets of the Hungarian Jewish community captured by the U.S. forces with the Gold Train highlights some of the shortcomings in the restitution efforts of the American forces in Austria. These shortcomings included the designation of victims assets as "unidentifiable" and their restitution as "impracticable" when that was not necessarily the case; the appropriation of victims assets by American officers for personal use; the sale of victims assets through the Army Exchange; the unresponsiveness of the American forces to efforts by the Hungarian government and the Hungarian Jewish community to reclaim their assets; and the transfer of Hungarian paintings to the Austrian government. Responsibility for these actions does not rest exclusively with the American forces in Austria; in most cases, high-ranking officials in Washington sanctioned their decisions, and in the case of non-cultural assets, these decisions legitimately implemented enunciated policy.
But what purposes were served by these policies and decisions? Only part of the explanation can lie in post-war politics. While documentation shows that the decision to treat Austria as Nazi-occupied from March 1938 motivated leaving valuables hostage in Austria to be used in war claim negotiations, this should never have applied to cultural property, especially that of Nazi victims. Nor does the move toward communist domination of Hungary provide a total explanation. Until 1948, when the Hungarian restitution mission was expelled from the U.S. Zones in Germany and Austria, Hungary was actually treated better than some countries on the free side of the Iron Curtain.78
In the end, there may be no single explanation of why the property of the Hungarian Jewish community was so readily dispersed. But the fact remains that the application of several policies to the various assets aboard the Gold Train assured that the property was never returned to its rightful owners.
There are other trains in the lore of restitution of assets to Hungary. There was a so-called "Silver Train," another "Gold Train" that carried gold from the Hungarian Central Bank, and an "Art Treasure Train," that bore paintings from the Hungarian National Gallery back to Budapest. But, none of these is the Gold Train found in Werfen. NARA, RG 59, Lot 62D-4, Box 28, Problem: External Restitution of Cultural Property, "Title 18, Change No. 1, 12 February 1947, Part I. Policy and Organization." NARA, RG 59, Lot 62D-4, Box 28, Problem: External Restitution of Cultural Property, "Extension of Restitution to Austria and Satellite Countries," March 4, 1946. NARA, RG 84, Papers of the U.S. Legation to Budapest, Box 4, Letter of the Central Board of Jews in Hungary to the Department of State, July 28, 1947. NARA, RG 84, Papers of the U.S. Legation to Budapest, Box 4, Letter of the Central Board of Jews in Hungary to the Department of State, July 28, 1947. NARA, RG 84, Papers of the U.S. Legation to Budapest, Box 4, Letter of the Central Board of Jews in Hungary to the Department of State, July 28, 1947. NARA, RG 84, POLAD- USCOA Records, Papers of the U.S. Legation to Austria, Box 106, Cable of General Marshall to the U.S. Legation to Budapest, July 27, 1948. NARA, RG 59, Box 61, not dated. NARA, RG 84, POLAD- USCOA Records, Papers of the U.S. Legation to Austria, Box 106, Cable of General Marshall to the U.S. Legation to Budapest, July 27, 1948. The IGCR was succeeded by the Preparatory Committee for the International Refugee Organization (PCIRO). NARA, RG 84, Papers of the U.S. Legation in Budapest, Box 65, Letter of the Temporary Managing Committee of Central Bureau of Hungarian Jews, December 20, 1945. NARA, RG 84, Papers of the U.S. Legation in Budapest, Box 65, Letter of the Temporary Managing Committee of Central Bureau of Hungarian Jews, December 20, 1945. NARA, RG 84, Papers of the U.S. Legation in Budapest, Box 65, Letter of the Temporary Managing Committee of Central Bureau of Hungarian Jews, December 20, 1945. NARA, RG 84, Box 103, File 840.1, Papers of U.S. Legation in Budapest. Letter of H.F. Arthur-Schoenfeld, the U.S. Envoy to Hungary to the Secretary of State, January 2, 1946. NARA, RG 84, Box 103, File 840.1, Papers of U.S. Legation in Budapest, Telegram # 43 from U.S. Polad, Berlin, July 7, 1946. NARA, RG 84, Papers of the U.S. Legation in Budapest, Box 4, Telegram of the Central Board of Jews in Hungary to the Department of State, February 21, 1947. NARA, RG 84, Papers of the U.S. Legation in Budapest, Box 4, Telegram of the Central Board of Jews in Hungary to the Department of State, February 21, 1947. NARA, RG 84, Papers of the U.S. Legation in Budapest, Box 4, Letter of the Central Board of Jews in Hungary and the Autonomous Orthodox Israelitic Religious Bodies in Hungary to the U.S. Legation in Budapest, February 26, 1947. NARA, RG 84, Box 4, Letter to the Department of State from the Central Board of Jews of Hungary, July 28, 1947. NARA, RG 84, Papers of the U.S. Legation in Budapest, Box 4, Letter of the Central Board of Jews in Hungary and the Autonomous Orthodox Israelitic Religious Bodies in Hungary to the U.S. Legation in Budapest, February 26, 1947. NARA, RG 84, Papers of the U.S. Legation in Budapest, Box 4, Robert S. Folson of U.S. Legation in Budapest to Central Board of Jews in Hungary, May 19, 1947. NARA, RG 84, Papers of the U.S. Legation in Budapest, Box 4, Cable of General Marshall, May 29, 1947. NARA, RG 84, Papers of the U.S. Legation in Budapest, Box 4, Letter of U.S. Legation to the Central Board of Jews in Hungary, May 19, 1947. NARA, RG 84, Papers of the U.S. Legation in Budapest, Box 4, Cable of General Marshall, May 29, 1947. NARA, RG 84, Box 4, Papers of the U.S. Legation in Budapest. Letter to the Department of State from the Central Board of Jews in Hungary, July 28, 1947. NARA, RG 84, Papers of the U.S. Legation in Budapest, Box 4, Letter to the Department of State from the Central Board of Jews in Hungary, July 28, 1947. NARA, RG 84, Papers of the U.S. Legation in Budapest, Box 4, Letter to the Department of State from the Central Board of Jews in Hungary, July 28, 1947. NARA, RG 84, Papers of the U.S. Legation in Budapest, Box 4, Telegram to the Department of State, October 23, 1947. NARA, RG 84, Papers of the U.S. Legation in Austria, Box 106, Letter of the Department of State to the U.S. Legation Budapest July 27, 1948. NARA, RG 84, Papers of the U.S. Legation in Austria, Box 106, Letter of the Department of State to the U.S. Legation Budapest July 27, 1948. NARA, RG 260, Box 77, USACA Records, RD & R Division, Property Control Branch, Subject: Inventory of Furniture and Furnishing (Maj. Gen. H. J. Collins, Military Governor, Land Salzburg) in Room 102-103 Courthouse, Supplied by Office of Property Control, Land Salzburg. July 31, 1945. NARA, RG 260, Box 77, USACA Records, RD & R Division, Property Control Branch, Subject: Inventory of Furniture and Furnishing (Maj. Gen. H. J. Collins, Military Governor, Land Salzburg) in Room 102-103 Courthouse, Supplied by Office of Property Control, Land Salzburg. July 31, 1945. NARA, RG 260, Box 77, USACA Records, RD & R Division, Property Control Branch, Memorandum to Lieutenant Colonel Homer K. Heller. August 28, 1945. NARA, RG 260, Box 77, USACA Records, RD & R Division, Property Control Branch, List of Objects Received from Lt. Col. Homer K. Heller from Werfen Train, for the use of Maj. General Harry J. Collins in his private dining Car. Not dated. NARA, RG 260, Box 77, USACA Records, RD & R Division, Property Control Branch, Subject: Inventory of Furniture and Furnishing (Maj. Gen. H. J. Collins, Military Governor, Land Salzburg) in Room 102-103 Courthouse, Supplied by Office of Property Control, Land Salzburg. July 31, 1945. NARA, RG 260, Box 77, USACA Records, RD & R Division, Property Control Branch, Rugs removed from Military Government Warehouse MAXGLAN, Salzburg by order of Maj. Gen. Harry J. Collins for use in his villa MARIA THERESIEN SCHLOSS. Not dated. NARA, RG 260, Box 77, USACA Records, RD & R Division, Property Control Branch, List of Material Loaned from Property Control Warehouse. Not dated. NARA, RG 260, Box 77, USACA Records, RD & R Division, Property Control Branch, Subject: Property of Werfen-Train in Military Government Warehouse. March 8, 1946. NARA, RG 260, Box 77, USACA Records, RD & R Division, Property Control Branch, Subject: Property of Werfen-Train in Military Government Warehouse. March 8, 1946. NARA, RG 260, Box 77, USACA Records, RD & R Division, Property Control Branch, Purchase of Merchandise, November 6, 1945. NARA, RG 260, Box 77, USACA Records, RD & R Division, Property Control Branch, Purchase of Merchandise, November 6, 1945. NARA, RG 260, Box 77, USACA Records, RD & R Division, Property Control Branch, Purchase of Merchandise, November 6, 1945. NARA, RG 260, Box 77, USACA Records, RD & R Division, Property Control Branch, Letter from Legal Division to RD&R Division Property Control Branch, November 14, 1945. NARA, RG 260, Box 77, USACA Records, RD & R Division, Property Control Branch, Letter from the Chief of Legal Division to RD&R Division Property Control Branch, November 19, 1945. NARA, RG 260, Box 77, USACA Records, RD & R Division, Property Control Branch, Letter from RD&R Division Property Control Branch to the Chief of Legal Division. December 8, 1945. NARA, RG 260, Box 77, USACA Records, RD & R Division, Property Control Branch, Subject: Werfen Train Rugs and Furs, November 18, 1946. NARA, RG 260, Box 77, USACA Records, RD & R Division, Property Control Branch, Subject: Werfen Train Rugs and Furs, November 18, 1946. NARA, RG 260, Box 77, USACA Records, RD & R Division, Property Control Branch, Storage Depreciation of Rugs and Furs Taken From Hungarian Loot Train. November 29, 1946. NARA, RG 260, Box 77, USACA Records, RD & R Division, Property Control Branch, Subject: Werfen Train Clothing, March 5, 1946. NARA, RG 260, Box 77, USACA Records, RD & R Division, Property Control Branch, Subject: Werfen Train Clothing, March 5, 1946. NARA, RG 260, Box 77, USACA Records, RD & R Division, Property Control Branch, Subject: Missing Property. October 2, 1946. "Vast Loot of Nazis Will Be Sold Here", NYT, 5/22/48 "Vast Loot of Nazis Will Be Sold Here", NYT, 5/22/48 "Sale of Loot Tops All Expectations", NYT, 06/23/48. "Vast Loot of Nazis Will Be Sold Here", NYT, 5/22/48 "Sale of Loot Tops All Expectations", NYT, 06/23/48. "Sale of Loot Tops All Expectations", NYT, 06/23/48. "Sale of Loot Tops All Expectations", NYT, 06/23/48. "Sale of Loot Tops All Expectations", NYT, 06/23/48. "Nazi Loot Brings $31,520," NYT, 06/25/48. The Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Office operated as a program of the War Department under the Civil Affairs Division. MFA&A Officers coordinated protection of European monuments and the safeguarding of art and cultural property. After the war the MFA&A Officers worked with the Military Governments of Germany and Austria on restitution matters. James J. Rorimer, Survival. The Salvage and Protection of Art in War (New York: Aberlard Press, 1950), pp. 155-56. NARA, RG 260, Box 160. USFA General Records, Field Report of Evelyn Tucker to Hq USFA-USCA RD&R Division Repatriation & Restitution Branch. October 23, 1947. NARA, RG 260, Box 158, USFA General Records, Subject: Paintings (allegedly Hungarian) Stored in M.G. Warehouse, Salzburg. November 5, 1947. NARA, RG 260, Box 158, USFA General Records, Subject: Paintings (allegedly Hungarian) Stored in M.G. Warehouse, Salzburg. November 5, 1947. NARA, RG 260, Box 160, USFA General Records, Field Report of Evelyn Tucker to Hq USFA-USCA RD&R Division Repatriation & Restitution Branch for the period November 6-11, 1947. NARA, RG 260, Box 160, USFA General Records, Field Report of Evelyn Tucker to Hq USFA-USCA RD&R Division Repatriation & Restitution Branch for the period November 6-11, 1947. NARA, RG 260, Box 100, USACA Records, Transfer Receipt from USFA to Austria, January 5, 1949. NARA, RG 59, Box 16, Disposition of Art Objects and Scientific Works under USFA Control. From Walter Dowling, the Deputy High Commissioner to the Department of State. 01.12. 1951. NARA, RG 59, Box 17, Confidential - Security Information. Hungarian Cultural Property in U.S. Government Custody, March 26, 1952. While the numbers differ, (Hall, 1176 paintings; Tucker 1181 paintings) both women are referring to the same group of Gold Train paintings. NARA, RG 59, Box 16, Department of State, Memorandum of Conversation. Subject: Identification and Restitution of Art Treasures Currently in Austria. Participants: Miss Ardelia Hall – ICS, Department, George Freimarck – WE/P, Department, Dr. Otto Demus – Chairman of Federal Monuments Office of Austria, June 3, 1953. NARA, RG 260, Box 99, USACA Records, USFA Reparation and Restitution Branch, Letter of Fides Union Fiduciary to the U.S. Legation in Bern. September 20, 1945. NARA, RG 260, Box 29, USACA Records, USFA Reparation and Restitution Branch, Letter of Fides Union Fiduciary to the Allied Military Government, Salzburg, February 8, 1946. NARA, RG 260, Box 99, USACA Records, USFA, RD & R Division, Property Control Branch, Subject: Personal Property and Werfen Train. October 3, 1946. NARA, RG 260, Box 99, USACA Records, USFA, RD & R Division, Property Control Branch, Subject: Personal Property and Werfen Train. October 18, 1946. NARA, RG 260, Box 99, USACA Records, USFA, Reparations and Restitution Branch, Restitution Receipt for Paintings Belonging to Nikolaus von Csillaghy and Joli Gergely, February 2, 1948. For example, paintings valued at $20 million from the so-called "Silver Train" were restituted to Hungary.