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Art Theft

Gold Bar

Spanish Civil War 1936-1938, most know of the battle between the socialist Republic and the nationalists under General Francisco Franco. A violent prequel to World War Two it saw future adversaries of communism and fascism meet on the battlefield with the Fascists winning round one. What most don’t know is that Moscow got what it really wanted, which was the bulk of the Government of Spain’s gold bullion. The Bank of Spain, charted in 1936 had estimated reserves of 635 tonnes of gold or 20.42 million troy ounces. October 20, 1936, Alexander Orlov the head NKVD resident in Spain received a telegram from Josef Stalin. The telegram in question read the following:

Alongside Ambassador Rosenberg, I organized with the head of the Spanish government, Caballero, the sending of the Spanish gold reserves to the Soviet Union.... This operation must be carried out in the utmost secrecy. If the Spanish demand a receipt for the cargo, refuse. I repeat, refuse to sign anything and say that the Bank of Spain will prepare a formal receipt in Moscow.

As a Post script to the strange story of the Spanish bullion being plundered from Spain by the Soviets, Alexander Orlov offered the following sworn testimony under oath in front of the United States Congress:

I wish to note that, at that time, the Spanish government (...) did not fully control the situation. I truthfully told the Minister of Finance Negrín that if anyone were to find out about it, if the anarchists intercepted my men, Russians, with their trucks full with Spanish gold, they would kill them and it would be an enormous worldwide political scandal, that could even provoke an internal revolution. Considering this (...) I asked him if the Spanish government could offer me credentials under a fictitious name (...) as a representative of the Bank of England or the Bank of America, because then (...) I could say that the gold was being transported to America for security reasons (...) Negrín did not object. He thought it was a good idea. I could speak relatively good English and could pass by as a foreigner. Thus, he gave me the credentials of a man named Blackstone and I became the representative of the Bank of America.

Alexander Orlov United States Congress, Senate, Scope of Soviet Activity, p. 3431–32

It should be noted that Orlov defected to the United States after it became apparent he knew of Stalin’s impending purges of “Old Bolsheviks” however he was wise enough to pen Uncle Joe a letter listing the number of espionage activities then underway in the west and who the spies were. All of this in case something were to suddenly happen to him, those files were to be forwarded to the leading western spy agencies. The point here is that the bullion was taken illegally during the heat of Spanish domestic troubles, the Russians kept the gold, and upon its arrival to Moscow, Stalin celebrated with an old Russian saying:

The Spaniards will never see their gold again, just as they don't see their ears

Legal niceties meant nothing to the communists. Nor would it be the last time Uncle Joe’s trophy squads were in action.




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