Like a scene in a Clive Cussler thriller, the climax of the story of the Nazi Gold Train is imminent.
Reports today say that the Polish Army is sending specialists with ground penetrating radar (GPR) to survey the supposed hiding place of an armored Nazi train in the mountainside city of Walbrzych, near the Czech border. It is rumored to be filled with priceless treasures, secret documents, and tons of gold. A suspicious fire in the area Sunday burned over 200 square yards of forest, requiring five fire engines to get the blaze under control. Local authorities have now cordoned off the area, as hundreds of amateur treasure hunters and tourists flood to the mysterious site.
Agents from Poland's intelligence service are already on the ground to secure any secret documents uncovered.
How Did This Start?
Rumors of treasure hidden in the massive tunnel systems built by the Nazis in what is now southwestern Poland began shortly after the end of WWII. The current excitement was sparked by two anonymous treasure hunters who approached authorities two weeks ago, claiming that they had used ground penetrating radar to find an armored train sealed in a mountainside tunnel. They said that they were led to the area by the deathbed confession of a man who said he helped hide the 100-meter-long train in 1945. They will reveal the location to authorities for the customary 10% finders fee.
The news set off an international frenzy, with reporters, treasure hunters and the curious milling about the city of Walbryzch, situated in the Owl Mountains. Lending credibility to the story is nearby Ksiaz Castle, a fortress that was in the process of being converted to Hitler's eastern headquarters, complete with a duplicate of his Reichstag bunker complex.
Where is the Nazi Gold Train?
Walbrzych is a city that was founded in the 12th century in Lower Silesia, southwest Poland. Situated just six miles from the Czech border, the area was German territory until the Allies transferred the area to Poland after WWII.
The Nazi gold train is rumored to be entombed in the tunnel of a railway siding in the nearby Owl Mountains. The surrounding mountains are riddled with miles of Nazi-built tunnels, under a program known as Project Riese (Giant). Opinions as to the purpose of these tunnels range from underground armaments factories, to a secret command complex, to housing the German atom bomb project.
In 1945, as the Soviet Army closed in, the Germans blew up or flooded many of the tunnels, sealing their secrets behind them.
85-year-old Tadeusz Slowikowski has been hunting hidden Nazi loot for forty years. He says that he not only knows who has found the Nazi Gold Train, but that he knows where it is. Showing reporters a 1928 map of the area, he points out two parallel railroad tracks running from Walbrzych to Wroclaw (Breslau). A siding branches off one of the tracks, and goes into a mountainside. Post-war maps do not show this track, or the tunnel. Anyone following the tracks today can find no evidence that there was ever a siding—it has all been ripped up and the switch removed. The tunnel has been sealed, and the entrance buried.
How Did It Get There?
By the spring of 1945, the German Army had been driven out of Russia and Poland, and back into Germany. The area that is now southwest Poland had been part of Germany since 1871. As the Germans retreated, they attempted to save as much as they could, loading the most valuable items on armored trains bristling with anti-aircraft guns. It is one of these trains that found itself outside Walbrzych (which was then the German town of Walbrich) in the first days of May, 1945.
Slowikowski the treasure hunter has a photo taken during the war of a man and two boys standing in front of a house near the siding that the Gold Train traveled down.
"This house used to overlook the track," he said. "From the top window you could see everything coming and going on the railway line. On the 5th of May 1945, the family living there were all shot dead and the house razed to the ground. It was three days before the Soviets took the town. Whoever killed them didn't want them talking about anything they had seen."
He says this frightened the other railway workers into silence, until the deathbed confession that revealed the secret of the Nazi Gold Train.
Slowikowski says he was threatened by unidentified men with guns once it was known that he was close to discovering the train. He says his front door has been smashed in, his dog poisoned, and his phones tapped.
What Is Inside?
Speculation runs rampant as to the contents of the train. Some say it is priceless art treasures looted from Poland and Russia, or 300 tonnes of gold. Some say secret Nazi documents, others say it may be full of weapons and explosives. Some say it's all of the above. Russia has laid claim to the train, saying that it possibly holds the legendary Amber Room, looted from the Imperial Palace in St. Petersburg in WWII as the Germans retreated. In any case, they demand all the contents of the train as compensation for the damage suffered by Russians at the hands of the Germans in the war.
The Polish government quickly threw cold water on that plan. "The analysis we have conducted with our lawyers quite clearly states that if the train is found it will be owned by the State Treasury," said Piotr Zuchowski, a vice minister for conservation. "We do not know what is inside the train. Probably military equipment but also possibly jewellery, works of art and archive documents. The train is 100 metres long and is protected." He continued, “Of course any items of value will be returned to their original owners, assuming we can find them.”
The World Jewish Congress has called for all contents to be identified, and if possible, returned to the rightful owners or heirs. “If any of these items were stolen from Jews before they were murdered, or sent to forced labour camps, every measure must be taken to return them to their owners, or their heirs,” the organization said. In the case that any Jewish owners cannot be found, they want the Polish government to use the proceeds for the betterment of the Jewish community in Poland.
The world may wait for months to find out what is inside the armored train (assuming that it really is where it is said to be). The train and tunnel are doubtlessly festooned with numerous booby traps like landmines, as well as all the ammunition for the cannons and anti-aircraft guns, which will have become dangerously unstable over the last 70 years.
MORE Nazi Gold Trains?
Even if the train has actually been found, it may not be the end of the story.
Magdalena Woch, director of culture at the massive Ksiaz castle, claims that there were actually three trains. "There is a story that in 1945 there were three trains which came into the town and have never been found."
"The gold may not be in the train that has been found but in one of these better secured military trains. It is possible there are more trains in Walbrzych," she said.
Noting the differences between pre-war and post-war maps, she says that there are still hidden tunnels under the city, as well as in the surrounding mountains. The known tunnels under Ksiaz Castle and Walbrzych are tourist attractions, and are sure to see increased traffic due to recent events. The gift shop at Ksiaz is even planning to sell "Gold Train" t-shirts.