image: Reichsbank wealth, SS loot and Berlin museum paintings discovered by American troops in a salt mine in Merkers, Germany in 1945
The end of World War II and the collapsing German eastern front was a chaotic time. The advancing Russians were crushing everything in their path and, after enduring Hitler’s betrayal and millions of casualties, they were in no mood to take prisoners. The stories of atrocities committed against combatants and civilians alike when the Russian Army captured a town didn’t need to be exaggerated, the truth was far more terrifying than anything a panicked imagination could conjure. The retreat of German soldiers and civilians was anything but organized.
One of the first areas threatened by the advancing Red Army was what is now modern day Poland. The Nazis had started massive and numerous tunneling and excavation projects in the area because the area was removed from the carpet bombing of Allied warplanes. The dense forest and rocky substrata of the Owl Mountains was an ideal place to tunnel and build a subterranean labyrinth designed to hide weapons factories and provide comfortable, bomb-proof shelters for the Nazi elite. All of it was connected by miles and miles of underground railroad tracks.
As the war ended, the Nazis made an effort to collect and loot the treasures of the conquered territories. Priceless works of art, jewelry, gold, precious stones and national treasures were all packed onto trucks, trains, ships and airplanes, much of it never to be seen again. A great deal of that treasure undoubtedly ended up in some of the tunnels under the Polish hillside. Understandably, treasure hunting has been a pastime in Poland since the end of the war.
That territory actually changed hands on three separate occasions during the war. The first was when the Germans swept in, the second was the Russians taking it from the Germans, and finally when the Russians kicked out the Germans and the modern day Poles resettled the region. Every time that real estate changed hands there were people ran to the woods to bury their china, porcelain, furs, jewelry, silver and gold coins. No doubt they intended to come back and get it someday, but most never returned. In the late 1940s you couldn’t till a garden in Poland without turning up someone’s buried stash of treasure.
The list of priceless treasures still missing and likely hiding in some corner of an abandoned underground shelter is extensive. That’s why the claim made by a pair of amateur archeologists late last year about possibly locating a Nazi armored train loaded with gold was completely plausible. But claims of treasure finds in that area have been going on for years. A museum curator named Bartlomiej Plebanczyk claimed he found a hidden treasure room in an abandoned Nazi military bunker. Plebanczyk believes the room may contain the legendary Amber Room and looted gold. There’s even someone claiming an earlier discovery of the Nazi gold train in a different area.
Then there’s the story of Herbert Klose who, in a debriefing after the war, claimed that in 1944 the chief of police in the city of Wrocław asked him to help secure resident’s valuables. According to Klose they collected gold, silver, jewelry and other treasures and stored them at the police station. Later they were loaded into sealed iron chests that were buried in various locations around the city.
Legends like the Klose treasure are numerous, and groups of amateur explorers collect the stories, sort through old documents and maps, interview war survivors and continue to hunt for lost Nazi treasure nearly seventy years later.
One of those stories was about the gold from the Reichsbank being hidden away in a salt mine. In 1945 American soldiers discovered a room in the mine stacked with bags of gold coins and the floor lined with gold bars. Similar stories, many told by German soldiers trying to save their hides after the war, are what fuel the search for the looted riches.
So, is the gold train really down there in those tunnels and shuttered underground factories? Almost certainly, and there may be more than one. It’s almost a guarantee that a massive treasure find awaits under the rolling hills of Poland and likely more than one. There are just too many stories for them all to be wrong.