Holocaust-Era Assets

Military Agency Records RG 226

Interallied and Interservice Military Agencies Records

Records of the Office of Strategic Services (RG 226)

The Office of Strategic Services (OSS), was established by a military order of June 13, 1942, as the principal successor to the Office of the Coordinator of Information. Since the latter's establishment in July 1941, it had collected, analyzed, and disseminated information bearing on national security. The two basic functions of the OSS, under the jurisdiction of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, involved (1) gathering, evaluating, and analyzing intelligence in support of the war against the Axis Powers; and (2) planning and executing operations in support of intelligence procurement.

The Office of the Director of the OSS, located in Washington, DC, constituted the organization's headquarters throughout the war. The principal divisions within consisted of separate Offices of Deputy Directors for Services (concerning administrative duties), Intelligence (including the Research and Analysis and Secret Intelligence Branches), Operations (including the Special Operations and Morale Operations Branches and the Operational Group Command), Schools and Training, and Personnel. In addition to field offices in New York and California, the OSS established more than 40 overseas offices, which fell under the authority of the Special Services Officer in a given theater of operations or the chief of a mission. At the height of its wartime activities in October 1944, the OSS numbered approximately 5,500 military and 2,000 civilian personnel overseas and approximately 2,700 military and 2,000 civilian personnel in the United States.

Among the constituent organizations, the Research and Analysis Branch (R & A) performed the principal task of collating and evaluating intelligence information for distribution to interested government organizations. Intelligence procurement, especially in the form of espionage, occupied the attentions of the Secret Intelligence Branch (SI) and the Foreign Nationalities Branch (FNB). The Special Operations Branch and (after May 1943) the Operational Group Command organized sabotage and resistance activities behind enemy lines; the latter organization assumed responsibility for guerrilla units operating in uniform. The Morale Operations Branch attempted to undermine Axis morale. Protecting the security of OSS intelligence collection and operations was the responsibility of the Counterintelligence Branch (X-2).

William J. Donovan, (Note 7)who had previously served as the Coordinator of Information (beginning in July 1941), occupied the post of Director of the OSS throughout the war. (Note 8)

By an Executive order of September 20, 1945, OSS was abolished (effective October 1, 1945), and its functions, personnel, and records were divided between the State Department and the War Department.

An activity in which the OSS was a critical agency was the Safehaven program. As the tide of battle turned decisively in favor of the Allies on the eastern front with the Soviet victory in the Battle of Stalingrad in early 1943 and on the western front with the invasion of the Continent in June 1944, the focus of economic warfare against the Axis also shifted. While maintaining the fundamental goal of blockading and defeating the Axis, the Allies increasingly aimed their efforts at preventing the enemy from moving its resources outside Germany and precluding the Nazi regime's revival at a later time. The program established to ensure this was termed the Safehaven program.

The goals of the U.S.-led Safehaven program (as it came to be known since its goal was to deny any safehaven for Nazi looted assets) were to block Germany from transferring assets to the European neutral nations, to ensure that German wealth would be available for the reconstruction of Europe and for the payment of reparations to the Allies, to enable properties looted by the Nazis in occupied Europe to be returned to their owners, to prevent the escape of key German personnel to neutral havens, and above all, to deny Germany the capacity to start another war.

The Safehaven program was formally launched at the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference at Bretton Woods in July 1944, the main business of which was the creation of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The delegates also took up measures to prevent Germany from secreting assets in the neutral nations. The Conference adopted Resolution VI, which called for immediate measures by neutral nations to prevent any disposition, transfer, or concealment of looted gold or other assets from the occupied nations of Europe. Resolution VI quickly became the key element in the Allied Safehaven program aimed at the neutral countries. (Note 9)

The OSS was drawn into the Safehaven Program in 1944, when the Foreign Economic Administration (FEA) consulted on an informal basis. The general plan projected for Safehaven operations was explained to OSS and its cooperation enlisted. OSS instructed its agents to assist the men from the Departments of State and Treasury and the FEA who were to visit the European neutral countries in the summer of 1944, and to gather such intelligence as it acquired which fitted into the Safehaven program. OSS routed to FEA and to the Department of State copies of intelligence reports. (Note 10)

In the spring of 1945 the Secretary of State sent a directive to OSS regarding Safehaven work, and in April OSS forwarded instructions to its own field agents. Thereafter, so far as OSS was concerned, it was responsible to the Department of State for its part in the program.

OSS expected take an active part in the securing of German business records (a very significant aspect of the Safehaven Program) for the purpose of submitting them to careful Safehaven analysis. OSS expected to staff the Combined Intelligence Objectives Sub-Committee (CIOS). CIOS, however, was put under control of the Military, and OSS and other civilian operators were put into uniform to work under the commander of the U.S. Military Governor for Germany, U.S. This caused records to be channeled through Army control and had the effect of de-emphasizing FEA as well as OSS purposes so far as immediate use of German files was concerned. (Note 11)

But OSS was still most active in collecting Safehaven intelligence after the war. In fact to better direct OSS participation in the Safehaven program, an Economic Intelligence Collection Unit (Econic) was created in Washington under John A. Mowinckel, reporting directly to the Director's office.

Researchers will find, scattered throughout the OSS records, many Safehaven Program and Safehaven-related records.

OSS Grading of Reports

On October 19, 1942, the OSS modified its system of grading intelligence reports. (Note 12) Agency employees were notified that the present symbols used for grading purposes on certain reports distributed by OSS have, in some respects, been found to be inadequate and therefore they were being modified as follows:

Reports are graded, according to the reliability of the source and the probability of the information, by letters and figures respectively. Please note that the following definitions of symbols vary from those previously used:

I. Sources

"A" indicates "Absolute reliability" (inside source)
"B" indicates "Previously or probably reliable"
"C" indicates "Doubtful reliability"- this indicates uncertainty as to reliability of source but does not necessarily mean the source should not receive consideration.
"D" indicates "Unreliability"

II. Information

"O" indicates that the "Probability of the report cannot be adequately judged"(please note that this a new and important addition to the grading system)"
"1" indicates "Entire reliability (at first hand)"
"2" indicates "Information supported by other evidence or considered probably true"
"3" indicates "Information unsupported but considered probably true"
"4" indicates "Information improbably"

Many of the OSS records have been microfilmed. Researchers are requested to use the microfilm rather than the textual records.