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A Nazi's Trail Leads to a Gold Cache in Brazil

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Title
Diana Jean Schemo, 'A Nazi's Trail Leads to a Gold Cache in Brazil', New York Times, 22 September 1997

Description
Albert Blume died 14 years ago, an outcast and a mystery to his relatives, buried in a poor man's grave. As odd as his life was his legacy -- a $4 million fortune in luxury watches, rings, gold bars and gold teeth for which an aging aunt had been battling in court since his death. The case might have ended unnoticed, with a court-appointed executor finally handing over the treasure to Mr. Blume's aunt, Margarida Blume. Instead, it caught the attention of Brazil's first commission to investigate Nazi war criminals who fled here with looted Jewish property, as well as those who helped them flee.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said the Blume case ''appears to be the first concrete discovery of a perpetrator's account, which is where we believe the lion's share of the Jewish wealth was hidden.''

The case was considered a South American counterpart to the scandal over Swiss banks that swallowed Jewish assets. Theories about Mr. Blume's treasure abounded.

Some said that Mr. Blume, who lived out his life as a pawnbroker, fled to Brazil to escape Nazi persecution of homosexuals and that the gold was merely collateral for loans. But Rabbi Henry Sobel, the Chief Rabbi of Brazil, who headed the Brazilian commission, and others contended that Mr. Blume never owned the fortune. More likely, they said, this German-born member of the Nazi Party was sent to Brazil in 1938 as a spy and was later used as a conduit for stolen gold that then lay in a bank vault in his name. They believed that Mr. Blume was holding it for a similarly named war criminal in Argentina, whose Nuremberg death sentence was commuted in 1951.

By raising these questions, the investigating commission was challenging Brazilians to color in the pages of an era that had only been outlined until then -- the history of Operation Odessa, a German plan devised in the final days of World War II to smuggle senior Nazis to South America.

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