The British Embassy to the Department of State


Subject: German Official Property in Neutral Countries

His Majesty’s Government have some reason to believe that instructions may have been issued to German Missions abroad that the fall of Berlin should be a signal to burn all the archives.

The Heads of His Majesty’s Missions in European neutral countries have been requested to inform their United States colleague accordingly and have been authorised to support him in any representations which he makes to Governments still entertaining German Missions.
The French Government have also now spontaneously proposed that French representatives should join in any approach to neutral Governments on this question.
Meanwhile, in a further telegram despatched to His Majesty’s Missions concerned, the Foreign Office have drawn attention to the following considerations—(Paraphrase)
Legal basis of representations. Some formal document assuming powers to act on behalf of ex-hypothesi defunct German Government may, according to our reports, be required by e.g. Swiss and Portuguese Governments. Hostilities will be brought to an end either by signature of an instrument of surrender or by a unilateral declaration issued by Allied Governments on basis of a complete German defeat. In either case document will provide assumption by four Allied powers of supreme authority with regard to Germany including all powers possessed by the German Government. It will thus enable Allies to issue subsequent orders to German Missions in neutral countries. But, while our representations might assume that such a document could be available and request the action to be prepared by Host Governments in anticipation of a situation which such an instrument would record, it is questionable whether we should [Page 1141] promise to furnish it. The question of timing is vital because it would, in practice, be quite impossible to present such a document in due form to Host Government after the event and yet before German Missions concerned learned of their Government’s final collapse and forestalled the action to be taken by Host Governments at our request by destroying or dispersing what we hoped to find. Neutral Governments must therefore be prepared to commit themselves to action at a moment to be defined by us and allow us to substantiate grounds for such action later. His Majesty’s Representatives will, if the State Department agree, be authorized to use these arguments at their discretion.
We must decide what German establishments should be covered by proposed action. For our own part we should like to include all diplomatic and Consular Missions in country concerned and all semiofficial establishments such as Nazi Party offices in Spain. Details could perhaps be left to Allied Representatives in each capital to decide individually.
On the other hand we deprecate extending action to Embassy in Rome now in custody of protecting power. We do not suspect Swiss of intending or permitting sabotage if anything of value remains. Moreover we do not at any rate at this stage want to take any action to discourage protecting power from provisionally continuing its duties.
His Majesty’s Ambassador in Lisbon has recommended, apparently with the concurrence of his United States colleague mentioning to Dr. Salazar25 the prospect of securing Nazi loot in German Missions. We should prefer to give no hint that Host Governments would profit by any assets or valuables discovered, as this might commit us to an undesirable policy over general Safehaven questions.26
We have considered, as a possible parallel method to approach to Host Governments, an attempt to use contacts through third parties with possible collaborators in German Missions to induce the latter to preserve documents from sabotage or even facilitate our entry into Missions’ premises. It is doubtful whether there is time for this method to be used widely though it is being tried already in certain cases. State Department may agree that, for it to be successful, collaborators would have to be offered some effective inducement.
  1. Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, President of Portuguese Council of Ministers and Minister for Foreign Affairs.
  2. For documentation on this subject, see vol. ii, pp. 852 ff.