image: Austria’s deceptively peaceful Lake Toplitz, where even experienced divers have died searching for long-hidden treasures
In 1945 Hitler’s Germany had only a few more weeks left before their twisted dream ended, crushed by the Russian tanks coming in from the east, and the Americans and British from the north. As the wildly chaotic fronts collapsed, the Nazis made several efforts to hide wealth and treasure they had looted from occupied territories. We know that because a lot of that hidden wealth has already been discovered in mines, underground bunkers and hastily buried fortifications.
That’s why when a pair of intrepid treasure hunters announced they found the location of a buried German armored train in the hills of Poland, it seemed perfectly plausible. Extensive surveys of the site and test pits determined that the “train” the pair found was nothing more than an ice covered rock formation. Though it does seem likely a treasure train is buried somewhere in those hills, historians differ on the reliability of the testimony.
Meanwhile, the train headlines crowded out the story of another hunt for Nazi gold, this time at the bottom of the cold, deep waters of Lake Toplitz. The lake is located in a mountainous area southeast of Salzburg, appropriately called The Dead Mountains in modern day Austria. If you’re looking for somewhere to get away from it all, Lake Toplitz is a good choice. It’s so remote the Germans used the area to test weapons, including torpedoes, and was one of the places the Nazi elite fled to make their last stand.
There are various stories about plunder the Nazis may have hidden in the cold, deep waters as the Allies closed in. There were reports of iron boxes full of counterfeit British currency and the printing plates to make more. That stash was part of Hitler’s Operation Bernhard, a plan to wreck the British economy by flooding the world with fake bank notes. That turned out to be true and in 1959, dive crews recovered several chests stuffed with counterfeit cash. The divers reported there were more chests stuck in the mud but they were too deep to recover.
Shortly after the war ended, more stories about Nazi plunder at the bottom of Lake Toplitz surfaced. The nephew of one German officer claimed that the Nazis sank chests loaded with gold into the lake. Plates from the lost fabled Russian Imperial Amber Room, which had also been rumored to be on the Nazi gold train in Poland, are also thought by others to be on the bottom of the icy lake. Along with treasure there are whispers of weapons components, ammunition, rocket fuel and maps showing the locations of even more stolen Nazi loot.
There have been many attempts to salvage treasure from the bottom of the lake over the years, with most of them ending in death. In 1983 the Austrian government declared the lake had been completely searched and anything of value removed. It’s turned out to be a bogus claim meant to discourage treasure hunters, as biologists studying the lake have since turned up more boxes of counterfeit currency, rocket parts, weapons, mines and even a torpedo. Photographs from a submerged bunker showing boxes with Cyrillic lettering are what led to the speculation those boxes might contain panels from the Amber Room but the exact location of the bunker remains a mystery to the public.
The years roll on and people continue to search for Nazi treasure on the bottom of Lake Toplitz. Some of those explorations involved modern, high tech equipment and some were simply people diving illegally. Further exploration is complicated by snarls of sunken trees that block access to some parts of the lake bottom. Even experienced divers have become tangled in their branches and died.
What’s certain is Lake Toplitz still holds secrets waiting to be discovered. Locked in iron chests and buried in the mud, it’s unclear if those secrets will ever see daylight. Anyone who did find Nazi gold would have to split it with the Austrian government and, after that, there would certainly be lawsuits by Russia and other countries claiming a share of the find. Whoever eventually finds the Nazi gold on the bottom of the lake will need to be both an experienced diver and a really good lawyer.