Every gold investor has their own “gold story” — that pivotal moment in their lives that made them realize the true value of gold. For Olivier Garret, founder and CEO of the Hard Assets Alliance, that story goes all the way back to his grandfather… and the German invasion of France. Today, he tells that story. - Owen Sullivan
by Olivier Garret
I grew up in a little town in Northern France that, from 1939 to 1945, was occupied by the Nazis.
I hadn’t been born yet at the time, but my mother and her family were forced to live for five long years with two German officers as “guests” in their own home. My childhood was colored by first-hand stories of life in a Nazi-occupied town.
I heard many stories of scarcity, like that of the nuns in my mother’s school serving rodents and rutabaga for dinner — or that of my grandfather setting up a soup kitchen in his small factory to help feed the families of employees.
But there was one story my mother used to tell me that made me realize the true value of gold and sparked a lifelong appreciation for it.
It revolved around my grandfather, a Swiss immigrant who moved to France in the early 1920s. He was an electrical technician and entrepreneur. And his arrival in France coincided with the electrification of the country, just as France’s most remote towns and villages were being connected to the grid.
Up until that point, farmers had been working the fields and processing their crops entirely by hand or with the help of animals. Basic machines were powered by cranks, ropes and pulleys or treadmills.
My grandfather, seeing the opportunity, invented an electrical motor that could power many different types of equipment.
Farmers around the country quickly adopted his product and by the late 1920s, he ran a small but successful business, selling his electrical motors and a variety of mostly farm-related equipment. (One of his inventions was a device to automate the ringing of church bells.)
Being Swiss, my grandfather always associated financial security with gold. He used all of his excess savings to buy small Swiss gold coins called Vreneli.
Over the next decade, he accumulated hundreds of them.
The War Begins
In 1939, following Hitler’s invasion of Poland, France declared war on Germany. Within weeks, German tanks were rolling through Flanders into Northern France.
My grandfather decided to take his wife and two daughters south to his mother-in-law’s farm in rural Normandy.
As his wife prepared for their departure, he retrieved his stash of gold coins and headed into the basement.
There he cut lead pipes into five-inch sections and melted one end of the tubes to seal them. After filling the pipes with his gold coins, he sealed the other end and within a couple of hours emerged from the basement with twelve short lead tubes filled with gold and a shovel.
He went out into the yard and buried the pipes with his life’s savings in a deep hole next to a big tree. With the gold safely hidden, the family left their home and joined hundreds of thousands of refugees heading away from the advancing German troops.
In August 1944, the German troops retreated and Paris was liberated by the Allied forces. As France started to heal from the wounds of war, life in the quiet town of Senlis slowly returned to normal.
Many years later, my grandfather fell ill and became bedridden. It was then, near the end of his life, that my grandfather called my mother to his bedside and instructed her to get a shovel, go to the tree and dig up the twelve little gold-filled lead tubes.
After decades underground, the coins were still there, and my grandfather split them between my mom and her sister.
A couple of decades later, my parents decided it was time to pass the gold coins on to their children—and so in 1984, the tubes were opened, revealing their precious contents as shiny and new as when they were first buried.
If my grandfather had kept the money in bank notes instead of investing them in gold coins, the value of the 36,000 French francs would be approximately €3.00 today (by the mid-1980s, the old French francs had lost 99.9% of their purchasing power).
On the other hand, the value of the 480 gold Vrenelis he bought would be approximately €105,600 today (each Vreneli coin contains 5.8 grams of gold).
That was the day I learned the true value of gold.
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