PanARMENIAN.Net - Founded in 1919 as the German Workers’ Party, the group promoted German pride and anti-Semitism, and expressed dissatisfaction with the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the 1919 peace settlement that ended World War I (1914-1918) and required Germany to make numerous concessions and reparations. Hitler joined the party the year it was founded and became its leader in 1921. In 1933, he became chancellor of Germany and his Nazi government soon assumed dictatorial powers.
Under Nazi rule, all other political parties were banned. In 1933, the Nazis opened their first concentration camp, in Dachau, Germany, to house political prisoners. Dachau evolved into a death camp where countless thousands of Jews died from malnutrition, disease and overwork or were executed. In addition to Jews, the camp’s prisoners included members of other groups Hitler considered unfit for the new Germany, including artists, intellectuals, Gypsies, the physically and mentally handicapped and homosexuals.
Sales of Hitler's political autobiography "Mein Kampf," sometimes referred to as the bible of the Nazi Party, made him a millionaire. From 1933 to 1945, free copies were given to every newlywed German couple. After World War II, the publication of "Mein Kampf" in Germany became illegal.
In 1939, the Nazis formed a plan to counterfeit the British pound to cause hyperinflation. Using a German concentration camp, they manufactured $132 million GBP, which is the equivalent of $6-7 billion modern-day pounds. The scheme known as Operation Bernhard partially succeeded.
The story was told by award-winning journalist Lawrence Malkin is his book “Krueger's Men: The Secret Nazi Counterfeit Plot and the Prisoners of Block 19”, the truth behind the film "The Counterfeiters".
Only a fortnight after the start of World War II, at a meeting that has remained a secret for more than half a century, officials of German finance and Nazi espionage approved an audacious plot to bring down the world's financial system. Hundreds of millions of forged British pounds were to become a weapon of war. Operation Bernhard not only became the greatest counterfeit scheme in history but the most wide-ranging and bizarre, with its own gallery of rogues.
Major Bernhard Krueger, a meticulously correct SS engineer, ran a production line of Jewish prisoners in Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin. The millions of forged notes they printed were laundered through a Nazi confidence man with the help of Jewish agents who concealed their origins. Toward the end, one of Europe 's most accomplished professional forgers, the only career criminal in the operation, was brought in to counterfeit dollar bills.
In London, the arrogant grandees at the Bank of England could not believe their pound notes could be forged with such expertise and in such quantity. Even George Soros, the great speculator who broke the Bank of England fifty years later, almost got bilked as a boy on the Budapest black market. In one of the crowning ironies of many, after the war Golda Meir [fourth elected Prime Minister of Israel] protected a millionaire Jewish money-launderer from British authorities in what was then known as Palestine, Malkin writes.
Bullies and incompetents were at first put in charge of the operation. After several false starts, Krueger, a textile engineer, figured out how to match the paper, printing, and design of the impressive British notes. He found his forgers in Jewish death camps on the orders of SS Reichsfuehrer Heinrich Himmler. Some were plucked from Auschwitz by Krueger himself.
The SS planned to keep the operation secret by killing them when the job was done. The prisoners worked with the knowledge that they were marked for death when they had finished their jobs. " From the start, they wondered whether they should stretch out their work and risk execution for sabotage, or perform efficiently and thus hasten their own deaths. No one ever knew for sure where Krueger stood, but by keeping the operation going, he kept himself from being sent to the Russian front.
From 1942 to 1945, the Germans forged more pound notes than all the reserves in the vaults of the Bank of England - 132 million pounds, equal to about 15 per cent of all genuine notes in circulation and enough to cast suspicion on all of England 's paper money. They were worth $650 million at the wartime rate of exchange and six or seven billion dollars in today's money.
By 1943 the Luftwaffe (the aerial warfare branch of the combined German Wehrmacht military forces during World War II) was almost kaput, so instead of pursuing their original goal of dropping the counterfeits on England to cast suspicion on real pound notes, the SS used the fakes to finance its own espionage service--whose discoveries Hitler ignored like all bad news - and to undermine and eventually absorb the German military's own intelligence corps. The SS specialized mainly in dirty tricks and, true to the nature of the Nazis' gangster regime, in skimming money to enrich themselves. So many counterfeit pounds flooded the black markets on the European continent and North Africa that Britain's currency came under widespread suspicion abroad, and its value plunged, Malkin writes.
The British defense was as weak as it was unprecedented. Normally nations at war guard their currency by prohibiting its export. Instead, the British imposed a wartime blockade on bringing pounds into the country to prevent the counterfeits from infecting the economy. Scotland Yard was powerless, and so was Interpol. Its Vienna headquarters had fallen into Hitler's hands when he swallowed Austria in 1938. The Nazis even fooled Swiss bankers, whom the British left swinging in the wind rather than let their secret defenses against counterfeits become known, he writes.
The British defense was as weak as it was unprecedented. Normally nations at war guard their currency by prohibiting its export. Instead, the British imposed a wartime blockade on bringing pounds into the country to prevent the counterfeits from infecting the economy. Scotland Yard was powerless, and so was Interpol. Its Vienna headquarters had fallen into Hitler's hands when he swallowed Austria in 1938. The Nazis even fooled Swiss bankers, whom the British left swinging in the wind rather than let their secret defenses against counterfeits become known.
By the end of the war, Operation Bernhard had left its imprint. Through one of the Jewish money launderers, the Jewish underground passed on thousands of counterfeits to help the ingathering of exiles to Palestine and the purchase of war materiel for the nascent Israeli army. The Bank of England was so embarrassed by the massive counterfeit that it not only burned the fakes but some of its files. In the continuing and futile search for Nazi loot and bank records deep in the Alpine lakes where the SS dumped millions of forged bills, the financial and political ripples continued into this century.
After Germany’s defeat in World War II (1939-45), the Nazi Party was outlawed and many of its top officials were convicted of war crimes related to the murder of some 6 million European Jews during the Nazis’ reign.