The Courier-Mail

HUNT­ING HITLER’S HID­DEN LOOT

Se­cret Nazi trains crammed with stolen trea­sures have been the stuff of leg­end ever since the end of World War II. Now two men in Poland claim to have found a long-hid­den stash of Hitler’s stolen gold, writes Jamie Sei­del

- jamie.sei­del@news.com.au Adolf Hitler · Indiana · Poland · Soviet Union · Czech Republic · Germany · Deputy · Russia · Russian Empire · Potsdam · United States of America · United Kingdom · France · Budapest · Indiana Jones · Wroclaw · Walbrzych · Jaroslaw · RMS Titanic · Titanic · Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage · Ministry of Culture · German Army

ADYING NAZI soldier. His deathbed con­fes­sion. An armoured train loaded with nearly 300 tonnes of gold. It’s the stuff of an In­di­ana Jones movie. But it’s a tale that has thrilled Poland and has trea­sure hun­ters scram­bling for clues.

What makes this tale of long-lost Nazi loot dif­fer­ent is two prospec­tors have filed a le­gal claim on their find. And the Pol­ish Gov­ern­ment is tak­ing them se­ri­ously.

It’s just that it hasn’t ac­tu­ally been dug up yet.

The story goes some­thing like this:

It was May 1945, the last days of the war. Tired, hag­gard Ger­man troops were in full re­treat. Soviet fighter planes ruled the sky – swoop­ing on any tar­get of op­por­tu­nity. Amid the chaos of re­treat, a last heav­ily armoured and armed Ger­man train pulled into a sta­tion in the city of Wro­claw in eastern Poland. It was quickly and qui­etly loaded up. Some saw it leav­ing along a south-western line.

It was never seen again. Where did it go? Where could it hide? Did it even ex­ist?

Spec­u­la­tion grew and grew: Was this train car­ry­ing loot the Nazis had as­sem­bled from Poland’s mu­se­ums, gal­leries and trea­sury? Was it the valu­ables stripped from Pol­ish Jews be­fore they were sent to the con­cen­tra­tion camps? Was it some­thing else – the fab­u­lous Am­ber Room pan­els ripped from a Rus­sian palace per­haps?

About 70 years later, the story has surged back with a vengeance.

Early last month, two men con­tacted the Wal­brzych lo­cal coun­cil through a lawyer. They de­manded a guar­an­tee that they would be granted the 10 per cent cut Pol­ish trea­sure laws prom­ise. They had found the leg­endary gold train, they claimed, buried in a col­lapsed tun­nel near a 4km stretch of track be­tween Wro­claw and Wal­brzych, near the bor­der with the Czech Re­pub­lic and Ger­many. It was now time to cash in.

“We in­form you about the find­ing by the share­hold­ers (of an) armoured train from WWII. The train is likely to con­tain ad­di­tional equip­ment in the form of self-pro­pelled guns po­si­tioned on plat­forms with a to­tal length of about 150 me­tres. The train also con­tains valu­able, rare in­dus­trial ma­te­ri­als and pre­cious ores,” the le­gal let­ter sent to the Wal­brzych dis­trict coun­cil reads.

Their lawyer, Jaroslaw Ch­mielewski, spoke to Ra­dio Wro­claw about the hun­ters’ claim: “This is a trea­sure of global sig­nif­i­cance, com­pa­ra­ble with the Titanic.” But there was a catch. “They don’t want to show us the place be­fore the 10 per cent guar­an­tee is made,” a coun­cil of­fi­cial told lo­cal media. “That is a big prob­lem, be­cause we don’t know what’s in­side.”

Then, a few days later, Poland’s Min­istry of Cul­ture stepped for­ward. Its spokesman stated author­i­ties were “99 per cent cer­tain” a buried Nazi train had in­deed been found. A ground­pen­e­trat­ing radar scan had con­firmed it.

“We do not know what is in­side the train. Prob­a­bly mil­i­tary equip­ment but also pos­si­bly jew­ellery, works of art and archive doc­u­ments,” Deputy Cul­ture Min­is­ter Piotr Zu­chowski (right) said. “The fact that it is armoured in­di­cates it has a spe­cial cargo.”

He didn’t say how he knew it was armoured.

The news was in­cen­di­ary. A wave of ex­cite­ment flashed around the world. Troops have been de­ployed. Rail po­lice have been ac­ti­vated. A swathe of for­est and track de­clared outof-bounds.

But, two weeks later, there’s still no Nazi train.

Now author­i­ties have to con­tend with a surge of trea­sure hun­ters stum­bling into the path of trains on busy rail­way lines, tram­pling through the woods and ac­ci­den­tally set­ting alight the forests sur­round­ing the old Nazi castle head­quar­ters of Ksiaz.

They’ve since ap­pealed to the public to keep out of the area. There is a “huge prob­a­bil­ity”, they say, that the train is booby-trapped.

Two weeks ks af­ter the an­nounce­ment, Pol­ish author­i­ties are not ex­actly back­track­ing on their state­ments.But they are at­tempt­ing to put the brakes on ram­pant spec­u­la­tion.

A Wro­claw ad­min­is­tra­tor said ear­lier this week that the claims “aren’t any stronger than sim­i­lar claims made in past decades.”

Pol­ish gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials have also been em­pha­sis­ing the train is more than likely filled with rusted weapons and un­ex­ploded mu­ni­tions in­tended to as­sist in the de­fence of the col­laps­ing Third Re­ich.

And, per­haps, the trea­sure hun­ters’ 10 per cent isn’t so cer­tain af­ter all.

Rus­sia has al­ready re­minded Poland of its obli­ga­tions un­der the war repa­ra­tions agree­ment reached dur­ing the Pots­dam Con­fer­ence of 1945: Any loot re­cov­ered from the Nazis was to be split equally be­tween the US, Bri­tain, France and the Soviet Union.

The World Jewish Congress has also made rep­re­sen­ta­tions: It wants any jew­ellery or other valu­ables that may have be­longed to mur­dered Jews re­turned to their fam­i­lies, im­me­di­ately. None of this has eased public en­thu­si­asm.

Tourists

Even now, the tun­nels there have not been fully ex­plored or mapped. This is why talk of it be­ing the Nazis’ se­cret trea­sure stash still has trac­tion

and trea­sure hun­ters are throng­ing to a 200m mound near Walim, a vil­lage about 20km west of Wal­brzych.

They’ve been drawn there by un­usual po­lice and mil­i­tary ac­tiv­ity.

Black vans. Elec­tronic sur­veil­lance equip­ment. Crime scene tape. Fresh “no en­try” signs.

All serve only to add to the air of an­tic­i­pa­tion.

We know the Nazis used armoured trains. Clad in heavy sheets of tough­ened steel, they also car­ried can­nons and anti-air­craft guns. For­ti­fied car­riages pro­tected pla­toons of loyal troops.

We know they were used to carry dig­ni­taries. Se­cret weapons. Trea­sure. One such train was seized by US sol­diers in 1945. It was haul­ing 24 car­riages stuffed with $250 mil­lion worth of jew­ellery and art­work out of Bu­dapest. So the idea is real enough. But then there’s the mys­tery of the Wal­brzych Nazi tun­nel com­plex.

Pro­ject Riese (mean­ing “gi­ant”) was one of the Nazis’ big­gest build­ing projects of World War II.

More than 5000 slave labour­ers died hew­ing cav­erns into the liv­ing rock of the Owl Moun­tains sur­round­ing Ksiaz castle. No­body knows what they were for.

Was it a nu­clear re­search fa­cil­ity, an ad­vanced weapon fac­tory – or an im­pen­e­tra­ble com­mand cen­tre?

Then there are the fringe the­o­ries: That it was the site of the “Nazi Bell” re­search pro­ject into par­ti­cle can­nons, anti-grav­ity and time travel.

In truth there is some in­di­ca­tion that Ksiaz castle and its bunkers were in­tended to be a se­cret re­treat for Adolf Hitler. Af­ter all, an en­suite and la­va­tory was in­stalled to his per­sonal spec­i­fi­ca­tions.

Even now, the tun­nels there have not been fully ex­plored or mapped. This is why talk of it be­ing the Nazis’ se­cret trea­sure stash still has trac­tion.

There’s another com­pli­ca­tion.

There may even be more than one hid­den train.

“We ac­tu­ally have two gold train le­gends,” lo­cal his­to­rian Joanna Lam­parska told Pol­ish media.

“One is sup­posed to be un­der a moun­tain and the other some­where around Wal­brzych. But no one has ever seen doc­u­men­tary ev­i­dence con­firm­ing the ex­is­tence of such trains.”

The gold train sto­ries are noth­ing new in Wal­brzych. It’s been a vi­brant part of lo­cal folk­lore since World War II.

Trea­sure hun­ters are noth­ing new ei­ther. The mys­tery of Pro­ject Riese has long drawn ex­plor­ers, cranks and truth-seek­ers.

What makes this time dif­fer­ent is that some­one has ac­tu­ally staked a le­gal claim.

Lit­tle is known about the two men.

One is said to be Ger­man, the other Pol­ish. They say they have been scour­ing rail­way sid­ings in the area af­ter be­ing told of the burial of the loot train by a dy­ing for­mer Ger­man soldier.

He even handed them a 70-year-old hand-drawn map.

Lawyer Ch­mielewski told media his clients “are not trea­sure hun­ters, at­ten­tion seek­ers” but “peo­ple who have sig­nif­i­cant ex­pe­ri­ence in this (area)”.

While no foun­tain of trea­sure has yet erupted from the earth, the Wal­brzych dis­trict coun­cil has been tac­itly en­cour­ag­ing the gold rush.

The re­gion is suf­fer­ing. Mine clo­sures have re­sulted in the lo­cal econ­omy col­laps­ing, and a third of its pop­u­lace has moved away.

Trea­sure aside, the re­gion’s rich history and beau­ti­ful ter­rain have plenty of al­lure.

But the op­por­tu­nity to ex­ploit a mys­tery is prov­ing ir­re­sistible.

Throngs of hope­ful on­look­ers – and media – al­ready have the re­gion’s bed and break­fast op­er­a­tors smil­ing.

Parts of Pro­ject Riese and the un­der­ground fa­cil­i­ties at Ksiaz castle have long since been se­cured and turned into tourist at­trac­tions.

Among the dank cav­erns are the re­mains of rusted ri­fles, dis­man­tled ra­dios and cor­roded con­struc­tion fa­cil­i­ties.

There are also plenty of warn­ing signs where the tun­nels have been col­lapsed or in­ad­e­quately ex­plored.

De­spite all the spec­u­la­tion, the two trea­sure hun­ters haven’t ac­tu­ally re­vealed to any­one where they think the train is. There are vague rum­blings in Pol­ish media that they may have promised to tell the pres­i­dent of Wal­brzych next week.

In the mean­time, the Pol­ish Gov­ern­ment has sent mil­i­tary and po­lice per­son­nel to se­cure and sur­vey a site along­side a heav­ily used line.

And the lo­cals are en­joy­ing telling all who will lis­ten their tales of the grim Nazi oc­cu­pa­tion forces, their se­cret toils in the moun­tains, and the dis­tant rum­ble of armoured trains.

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 ??  ?? TALES OF TREA­SURE: Sto­ries of Nazi gold (left) in tun­nels sur­round­ing Ksiaz Castle (be­low) in Wal­brzych, Poland, have been cir­cu­lat­ing since WWII and (bot­tom) an armoured Nazi train.
TALES OF TREA­SURE: Sto­ries of Nazi gold (left) in tun­nels sur­round­ing Ksiaz Castle (be­low) in Wal­brzych, Poland, have been cir­cu­lat­ing since WWII and (bot­tom) an armoured Nazi train.
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 ??  ?? TUN­NEL VI­SIO VI­SION: (right and above) US Gen­er­als Omar Bradley, Ge­orge Pat­ton and Dwight Eisen­hower ex­am­ine paint­ings looted by Nazis found along­side tons of bul­lion hid­den at Merk­ers in Ger­many; and (top) tun­nels that form part of the Nazi Ger­many...
TUN­NEL VI­SIO VI­SION: (right and above) US Gen­er­als Omar Bradley, Ge­orge Pat­ton and Dwight Eisen­hower ex­am­ine paint­ings looted by Nazis found along­side tons of bul­lion hid­den at Merk­ers in Ger­many; and (top) tun­nels that form part of the Nazi Ger­many...

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