Q: What inspired you to write this book?
The inspiration for Broken Trust came from a 2005 business trip to Brussels, Belgium where we were speaking at the Family Business Network international conference. During some of our spare time we visited the Belgian National Bank’s Museum of Money in the old part of the city.
At the museum we saw a display about what had happened to the Belgian national gold reserves during World War II. It’s an intriguing story and we thought it would be fun to develop a story set in current times to explain where the unaccounted for portion of the ill-gotten Nazi gold had gone.
In the early 1930s the Belgian government decided to start protecting some of their gold reserves by sending one-third to England and one-third to the United States and Canada.
In the late 1930s it became clear Belgium was in danger of losing the remaining one third of their gold reserves because they had very little in the way of natural protection. In the early 1940s the Belgian government made arrangements to transfer the remaining portion of the gold reserves to France.
Approximately 200 tons of the remaining gold were packed into 4,944 chests and sent to be stored in the cellars of the Bordeaux and Libourne branches of the bank of France. Shortly after the gold was received, fears of a Nazi invasion caused French officials to move it to safer environs. The Belgians insisted the gold be shipped to the U.S. but the gold was sent instead to Dakar in western Africa. They moved the gold again further inland to the middle of the Sahara, about 500 km from Dakar. Near the end of 1940, during the Franco-German armistice talks, the French agreed to pay Germany the gold as part of an atonement agreement. The Nazis quickly moved the gold out of the Sahara and shipped it to Algiers via several routes. (See a great route map by clicking on the above link.)
Eventually most of the Belgian gold reached Berlin where it was re-smelted and hallmarked with dates from 1936 and 1937 to give the impression Germany owned the gold before the war. Much of it was recovered after the war, but a substantial amount has not, to this day, been accounted for. There is still some Nazi gold stored in a vault in New York pending decades of litigation about who its rightful owners are.
The antagonist in our story, Hans Mueller, is the son of the man who orchestrated the theft of one shipload of gold being transported by the Nazis from western Africa to Berlin. Instead, having faked a shipwreck soon after the ship sailed from the African coast, and aided by an SS officer he had known since childhood, Hans senior sailed the southern route of the Atlantic away from the area he knew the Nazi submarine wolf packs were disrupting Allied shipping.
The Nazi soldiers under command of the turncoat SS officer (who had dual German and Swiss citizenship) were loaded onto a lifeboat at gunpoint and cast adrift with a hidden cache of explosives. The explosion killed them all. All unnecessary materials on the ship were discarded overboard in hopes of staging a successful sham wreck. The skeleton crew that remained was part of the plot and were promised some portion of the riches in addition to being removed from the war.
After many days of sailing they arrived on Grand Cayman. Hans senior purchased some property so that he could begin excavating an underground vault from the coral stone along the eastern coast of the island where the transport ship was moored. Most of the skeleton crew died from unexplained accidents. The remaining few integrated into Caymanian life and kept silent about the source of their wealth.
When the war concluded there was a lot of money to be made in the reconstruction of Europe, especially for someone with a Swiss passport, a lot of capital, and the muscle and morals of a corrupt former SS officer. The Swiss investment bank they created is the same one run today by the main antagonist of our story, Hans Mueller II. Hans’ head of security, Diethelm Langbein, is the son of the former SS officer involved in the plot to relieve Hitler of a large quantity of ill-gotten gold.
Each of the major characters in the book are, in their own ways, carrying on activities started in previous generations, much like successor owners of family businesses. Succession and transitions in family businesses has been our professional interest for decades and we brought a lot of that experience to the characters and their family situations.