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© The Boston Globe 2001.  Used by permission.
The Secret History of World War II

by Mark Fritz / Globe Staff / November 19, 2001

Page 7 of 11

Continued from page 6

The OSS unit tracked how Nazi Germany took over France's insurance industry as it invaded the country. The files are filled not only with the names, backgrounds, and personal peccadilloes of French insurance executives who collaborated with the enemy, but the names and details of Allied branch executives who turned traitor. One, Carl Endemann, an American of German descent who represented AFIA but sided with the invading Nazis, provided strategic data about installations in North Africa just prior to the Allied invasion there, according to an OSS report. His English wife, stoutly pro-British, went to jail.

For Germany, the capture of France opened up a financial link to neutral Spain, allowing the Reich to penetrate the insurance market in the Americas. Fenix-Espanol, a joint venture of French and Spanish companies, was an important conduit. ''Due to this international versatility and its dual offices, Fenix has become a dangerous center for the accumulation of vital data and funds for use by Fascist interests,'' a 1943 OSS report said.

The OSS found that the Axis used different tactics in countries in which the government controlled the insurance industry. Acting through an intermediary, Munich Re in 1942 offered a deal to government reinsurance banks in Uruguay and Brazil. Munich Re would share their risk, and the Latin American banks, in turn, would get a cut of the European insurance market. It is unclear if the offer was accepted.

The records also describe how the Axis was using its precious foreign currency to finance Nazi spies in the United States itself. The US dollars it obtained -- often through American banks -- were ''used for subversive activities'' in this country, the OSS records said: ''The Insurance [Axis] people are the Axis payoff men in the US and Latin America.''

Not only do the OSS records show a paper trail of money that linked Munich Re and Italy's Generali Group to Swiss Re and their sundry adventures in neutral Spain, Portugal, Sweden, and South America, they provide evidence that Americans themselves were paying premiums on policies that indirectly funneled cash and intelligence to Germany.

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