Nazi display at German Historical Museum 390.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch)
BERLIN - Many low-level tax inspectors in Germany's Nazi-era
finance ministry were oblivious to the Holocaust and dutifully tried to contact
murdered Jews whose wealth was being plundered by the ministry's top officials,
according to a new book.
Germans have publicly atoned for Nazi crimes in
a myriad of ways over six decades, providing scores of billions of dollars in
reparations to Holocaust victims, their descendants and the state of Israel. But
only recently have leading government ministries come clean on their own
particular Nazi past.
The finance ministry's role in assisting the Nazis
was long assumed as a fact but never examined in real detail until Berlin
historian Christine Kuller's book "Bureaucracy and Crime", which it
Her study shows how the Reichsfinanzministerium's top brass
played an active role in looting the wealth of German Jews who fled the 1933-45
Nazi regime or were sent to death camps.
"There are indications that
leading ministry officials knew about the connection (to the Holocaust) and also
took part at times in the planning," Kuller told Deutschlandfunk radio before
the book's formal presentation on Monday at the ministry.
wasn't the case for the broad mass of ordinary tax inspectors. There are
examples of where the tax inspectors tried to track down deported Jews with
questions about the assets they were leaving behind. Surely the top officials
must have known they were already murdered." The finance ministry, now based in
the formidable complex of buildings originally built as Hermann Goering's
Luftwaffe headquarters in central Berlin, is the latest German cabinet
department to critically examine its role during the Nazi era.
foreign ministry was the first, almost a decade ago, to take a critical look at
its Nazi past after long presenting itself as a bastion of resistance to Hitler
even though many top officials identified with his regime and even after the war
ostracised genuine opponents of Hitler's regime.
Nazi-era tax authorities
appropriated property, bank account savings, securities, furniture, and artwork
from Jews. Kuller said the Third Reich took "considerable sums, amounts into the
billions", for state coffers.
She said Jews had estimated wealth of 16
billion Reichsmarks in 1933. About four billion was taken abroad by Jews who
left Germany while the remaining 12 billion padded Hitler's coffers.
Reichsmark was replaced by the deutsche mark in West Germany's 1948 currency
reform. West Germans were allowed to exchange 10 Reichsmarks for one deutsche
"The finance ministry was certainly not an apolitical, neutral
administration especially if you look at the way it took part in the financial
exploitation of Jews," said Kuller, a historian at Berlin's Free University who
headed a commission investigating the Nazi past at the ministry's
"Bureaucracy and Crime" lays bare how the finance ministry
systematically plundered assets from Jews but also how they were discriminated
against with tax policies as well after the Nazis took power in
"Jews faced systematic discrimination and were even hit with a
special tax," she said. "Their assets were also expropriated."