Appendix A: The circle of friends

Close links between German industry and commerce and the Nazi party go back to 11 December 1931 when Walter Funk, later wartime president of the Reichsbank (German central bank) approached Baron Kurt von Schroeder to arrange for Hitler to meet potential supporters among German industrialists. Wilhelm Keppler, a small businessman, was given the job of calling together a group of capitalists who could advise Hitler on what to offer the industrialists in order to win their support. This became known as the Keppler Kreis (“Keppler Circle”), which later developed into the “Reichsfuhrer SS Circle of Friends” supervised by the SS and Gestapo boss Heinrich HimmIer.

Twenty days after the abortive attempt on Hitler’s life by von Stauffenberg on 20 July 1944, a meeting was held in great secrecy at the Hotel Maison Rouge in Strasbourg. Present were sixty-seven members of the “Circle of Friends” representing the most powerful industrial, political and commercial interests of the Nazi power structure. The meeting was the culmination of a years planning by Martin Bormann following the crushing of the German armies at Stalingrad. (The Strasbourg conference was documented in great detail and its files were discovered later by United States army counter-intelligence.) The conference chairman, Dr Scheid, declared: “Germany has already lost the battle for France. Henceforth German industry must prepare itself for the economic campaign which will follow the end of the war. All industrialists must strengthen their contacts and companies abroad, each on his own account and without drawing attention to himself. And that is not all. We must be ready to finance the Nazi party which is going to be driven underground for some time.”

After a lengthy discussion the conference agreed on a plan providing for the transfer to neutral or non-belligerent nations of a significant portion of the funds of the major companies of the Third Reich. It is estimated that at their disposal the Circle of Friends has some $800 million. It was also estimated, in 1973, that of the world’s total known gold reserves of 75,000 tons, some 93 tons were still in Nazi hands.

In 1946 the US Treasury Department published their report on the outcome of this conference: “German industrialists and Nazi leaders transferred part of their wealth abroad. Straw men in their service set up companies and opened secret bank accounts. … 750 companies were set up in this way throughout the world by Germans using Nazi funds: 112 in Spain, 58 in Portugal, 35 in Turkey, 98 in Argentina, 214 in Switzerland and 253 in various other countries.” An inventory discovered in 1945 among papers belonging to RHSA VI (Nazi foreign intelligence) showed cash paid out to leading Nazi agents including an amount of five million gold reichsmarks charged against Cash Office and signed for by Otto Skorzeny.