Rescuing Europe's Plundered Wealth
When Susan Fisher Sullam received a call from an historian 10 years ago asking for copies of her deceased father’s war files, Sullam said she was too busy to poke around. Her boss, then-Congressman Ben Cardin, was running for the U.S. Senate, and she had no time. Then she forgot about it.
In 2013, that historian called her again and said George Clooney was making a movie called “The Monuments Men.” The movie was about how members of General Eisenhower’s staff located and secured billions of dollars’ worth of art, gold, silver and currency plundered by the Nazis during World War II. The historian knew her father had a role in those events and asked Sullam to file for a copy of her father’s U.S. Coast Guard record.
“The mention of George Clooney got my attention, and it seemed like an easy enough request,” Sullam said. It turned out to be nothing but easy.
Sullam shared the story of her father’s part in one of the greatest treasure hunts in history with approximately 90 members of Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s Montgomery County Campus. Sullam, now living in Baltimore and an Osher member, spent her career in journalism and politics. She retired as Cardin’s communications director in 2013. In 2014, she wrote a Washington Post Magazine story about the role of her father, Joel Fisher, in World War II.
Sullam told the Osher members that when she requested her father’s Coast Guard record, nothing was found. So she went down into her basement and started digging through her father’s files. He had died in 1997, but she had never looked through his paperwork. (And her father had never talked to his family much about the war.)
What she found were hundreds of pages of top-secret and classified documents, as well as newspaper clippings featuring interviews he had given to journalists after the war. She also found his birth certificate. Her father’s name was really Joseph, not Joel. With that new information, the Coast Guard was able to find his personnel records.
Fisher had been assigned to Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force command and worked in the financial division.
During the war, Nazis hid gold, silver, money and art, which they had taken from the countries they had invaded as well as from Holocaust victims. Much of it passed through Berlin but ultimately the Nazis transported the loot to salt mines in the Merkers region, as well as Reichsbank branches in eastern and southern Germany. Fisher’s mission was to locate and recoup the stolen treasure.
From early April through May 1, 1945, Fisher and his task force traveled 1,900 miles and recovered 6.65 tons of gold and 198,000 pounds of silver.
Sullam shared with the Osher members details of her father’s journey, as well as her own journey in learning more about the man she admired as her dad.
Kathleen Burke, associate dean of Advanced Academic Programs at Johns Hopkins, attended Sullam’s presentation.
“Speakers such as Susan Sullam enrich the experience we are able to provide for our Osher community,” Burke said. “I was fortunate to hear (the) lively exchange between Susan and our Osher members, and to appreciate the unique opportunity to reflect upon history that her talk provided. I am especially proud that Osher at Johns Hopkins is able to provide high-quality programs such as (this) in Montgomery County, and that we find here an engaged and interested audience.”
Mary Kay Shartle Galotto, director of Osher at JHU, added: “It was an honor to have Osher member Susan Sullam recount the role her father, Joel Fisher, played in the closing days of World War II.”