Jewish wealth confiscated by the Nazis paid for almost a third of the German war effort, a new study has found.
Nearly 120 billion Reich marks – over £12 billion at the time – was plundered from German Jews by laws and looting.
The official study commissioned by the ministry examined the years from 1933 to 1945. Hans-Peter Ullmann, a Cologne history professor, said the tax authorities under the Nazis actively worked to "destroy Jews financially" and to loot wealth in the nations the Germans occupied.
Even Jews who managed to escape from Germany before the Holocaust had to leave part of their wealth behind in the form of an "exit tax". Tax laws discriminated against Jews from 1934 onwards.
The ministry raised money for the war effort through taxes, borrowing and "outright theft," Prof Ullmann said. "Conservatively, their money financed at least 30 per cent of the German war effort," he added.
Christine Kuller of the University of Munich, who also worked on the study, said tax offices built whole hierarchies of bureaucrats "who discovered dwellings and bank accounts and emptied them". The bureaucrats then disposed of all traces of those who disappeared in the extermination camps.
The historical commission was given unfettered access to ministry documents which showed down to smallest detail how the Nuremberg race laws – which after 1934 transformed Jews into an underclass without rights – allowed the bureaucrats to pillage and steal on an unprecedented scale from their victims, especially after the war began.
The Nazis also made vast profits out of selling off the possessions of those Jews who left – and those who were later deported to die in the extermination camps in occupied Poland.
For example, in Hamburg, auctions were held from 1941 onwards of furniture looted from Jewish homes. Auctions were staged on every working day between February that year and April 1945, the profits being lodged with a Gestapo bank account which transferred the money to the Reichsbank in Berlin.
The report also details the ransacking of 72,000 apartments in the eastern territories – Poland and the Baltic states – and shows how the taxman noted carefully down the wagons which brought the loot back to the Reich; 1,457 rail cars to Cologne, 1,023 to Rostock, 1,928 to Essen and 2,699 to Hamburg.
Last month, a similar German government report concluded that German diplomats were complicit in the murder of millions of Jews during the war.