Press reports are full of a sketchy story claiming that two men, one a Pole and the other a German, have found a supposed armored treasure train in Poland and are claiming a 10% finder's fee. There is no train to display or treasure to report, for now it is all just a tale and some very inconclusive evidence. I am going to track developments on this page until there is a definitive resolution.
German streamliner, June, 1941 in Kassel. A Deutsche Reichsbahn's Class 05. Henschel works made the picture.|
|In Breslau of 1945, there were dead everywhere.|
Not only is it not known what might have been on such a train, it isn't clear that there even was any such train, meaning this may all be a fable and mis-identification. However, the press reports make it sound as if "the" train has been located, and even give the number of cars that it had, the contents and the precise length of the train - a train that nobody has seen, of which there is no record, and which may not even exist.
|A typical World War II armored train (National Archive).|
Fact is that there were many such "treasure trains" despatched by local German authorities in the closing months of World War II. In fact, looting by retreating forces began at least by 1943, when Hermann Goering commanded local Wehrmacht leaders in Sicily to remove a sacred icon from a Sicilian church before the Americans arrived. Such trains were sent back to southern Germany from both east and west, that area being considered the most defensible and least subject to sustained bombing attack. Some were unloaded and the contents scattered, others just parked in abandoned salt mines with their cargo undisturbed. Hollywood made a film, "The Monuments Men" (2014) starring George Clooney, which addressed this issue.
Sending one such train out of Breslau, which soon thereafter was surrounded and held out for three months in one of the most heroic stands by a local population of the entire war, would have been perfectly ordinary. It is quite conceivable that precious items from the Soviet and Polish occupations would have been aggregated over time and stored in Breslau, which for most of the conflict was considered a rest area in no jeopardy. Treasure hunters like to fantasize that they finally have found the lost Amber Room or whatnot. While the SS no doubt kept their usual precise records of their stolen items, many documents were lost during the closing days of the war; either intentionally burned, destroyed in bombing, or merely misplaced. Many a valuable document was thrown in the trash or used to heat someone's house, just as the Russian peasants used the elaborate German burial markings as kindling after they left.
|Reinhard Heydrich working overtime to keep everything straight for future treasure hunters, Berlin, 1934 (Ang, Federal Archive).|
However, the notion that the Germans were just spraying gold and jewelry around indiscriminately, so that hoards are buried all across Europe, is a bit much. The reality of these legends, such as U-boats supposedly carrying crates of booty to, you know, Iceland or somewhere for some unexplained reason, invariably turns out to be less than overwhelming and usually downright cruel to the believers. U-534, for instance, was supposed to be full of gold, but when it was raised in 1993, it was found to be just, well, a U-boat with no treasure. Even late in the war, Wehrmacht officers were shot for looting (or at least for not turning their loot over to their higher-ups). If there were mountains of gold, they were tracked quite carefully. If there is anything that Germans did well during the war, it was keep good records of their crimes. They kept very good records, the better to hang them with later.
|Area of the supposed find near Breslau (Wroclaw).|
A lost train, even one loaded with treasure, is not inconceivable. Standard practice during the war was for German trains of all types to seek refuge in tunnels to avoid strafing/bombing raids. In fact, many trains were intentionally parked near tunnels when not in use for just this purpose. Upon a warning, they would scurry into the tunnel and wait for the all clear. Speculating like crazy, one can easily imagine that this train - assuming there is one - was caught in one such tunnel while being attacked. Enemy bombing sealed it in, killing all involved but preserving the cargo. Thus, its concealment might not have been intentional at all, which would explain why there are no known records or accounts of its existence.
|The Führer's Special Train (Führersonderzug) "Amerika."|
Anyway, Polish radio has reported that the two blokes filed an official claim of a 150-meter long train in Poland's southwestern district of Walbrzych. The area is on a rail line from Breslau (now Wroclaw) that passes by Ksiaz Castle in the lower Silesian region. The train is reputed (according to local legend, there are always local legends about things like this) to have disappeared after entering a complex of tunnels under the Owl Mountains. This was the mysterious (ooh, spooky) location of a secret bunker known as "Project Riese" - or Giant - which the Germans never finished. To this day, nobody knows exactly what all the vigorous digging there by POWs and concentration camp inmates was all about. Poland was considered the heart of Hitler's empire, seldom bombed and well behind the lines, so it was a natural spot to plan something big. Various legends refer to the project as a secret hideout for Adolf Hitler and so forth and so on. A Polish explorer claims to have found some of the Riese complex, and his claims also are being checked out.
Riese may have been part of Himmler's SS empire-building, as he was known to think big. Or, it may have been intended merely for weapons manufacture, part of Albert Speer's plan to disperse and protect weapons plants underground after the devastating 17/18 August 1943 Peenemünde raid. This is one of the numerous topics that someone should have thought to ask Speer about, because he would have known the details off the top of his head and he was always publicizing this book or that. However, nobody ever did, and he passed away in a mundane car accident in 1981. Thus, the mystery endures.
Fans of fantastic tales of World War II super-weapons will recognize the general area as the location of the infamous "Die Glock" (the bell) structure. Many think it involved experiments into exotic areas such as time travel and the like. You don't have to believe in such tales yourself to realize that this is a locality that many consider to be full of quasi-supernatural remnants of the war and undiscovered mechanisms of unknown provenance. And, as usual, the locals are not about to dissuade people about the folklore that brings in the tourists.
|The infamous "Die Glock" structure, which some think was a portal to other dimensions and others see as a standard skeleton of a natural gas storage facility.|
You know the old saying immortalized by REO Speedwagon, "And the tales grow taller on down the line." The Germans did a lot of stuff "up in the mountains" that they didn't talk about with the locals, who in any event generally were of the "I know nothing!" variety. Thus, legends form. Initial reports about this train "find" apparently weren't sensational enough for the media, since the train after all remains buried or hidden or whatever is going on with it. So, the media as is its wont helpfully is "filling in the blanks" for us. Now it is a "$1 billion" train with perhaps "300 tons of gold, precious stones and weapons" according to one outlet.
|This is what the media wants to sell, at least until the next news cycle.|
Naturally, the exact composition of this still-unseen train and its supposed 300 tons would make a difference, as old German rifles, helmets and mortars might be of interest to collectors, but they certainly won't be worth their weight in gold or "precious stones." One presumes a few desperate people wanted to get away from the doomed city on this train as well, so if its final location was, shall we say, not of its own device, there could be a bit of a cleanup involved.
The locals are not stupid and are clever enough to recognize an opportunity when it comes pounding on their door:
"Lawyers, the army, the police and the fire brigade are dealing with this," Marika Tokarska, an official at the Walbrzych district council, told Reuters. "The area has never been excavated before and we don’t know what we might find."Other reports suggest that all these troops of fire brigades and the army and presumably also the navy and the Boy Scouts and the special forces and the space command etc. are actually all just awaiting something to do, because the supposed location of the supposed train has yet to be revealed. The men who claim to have found the train communicated through a law firm with the town council in two letters that have not been disclosed - and that is it. This all easily could be a hoax, but using a law firm gives the claim "legitimacy." That is about all that is known about this "discovery." We shall keep our eyes open on this, but anyone who expects to find Martin Bormann sitting in the caboose eating grapes and leafing through an old copy of Signal is likely to be disappointed.
Update 27 August 2015:
The Gold Train saga is beginning to get political.
The government has warned off treasure hunters "because the train may be booby trapped." An official of the Polish Culture Ministry said on 25 August 2015:
"I urge the public to stop searching for the train until official procedures to secure the find are completed. There may be hazardous substances dating from the Second World War in the hidden train. There's a huge probability that the train is booby-trapped."Naturally, if you were a treasure hunter, that is probably the best thing that he could have said to send every able-bodied man and woman in the region out into the mountains to find the train.
The government also basically admitted that it knows the location of the train. Deputy Mayor Zygmunt Nowaczyk (no, I don't know how to pronounce it) said:
"The find is within our administrative boundaries. I cannot of course reveal the exact place."Well, if I heard that, I would hit the road that minute to look for the train.
Needless to say, this is getting more interesting.
Update 28 August 2015
I know, I am now posting updates every day on this mystery train. However, the local officials in Poland are releasing dribs and drabs of information as if they were being paid by the number of news releases they put out.
According to news accounts:
Photographs taken using ground-penetrating radar equipment showed a train more than 100 meters (330 feet) long, the first official confirmation of its existence, Deputy Culture Minister Piotr Zuchowski said.
|A German electric train from the 1930s on display in Nuremberg, complete with typical eagle symbol on the front.|
He also said that someone associated with the train pinpointed it:
"On the death bed, this person communicated the information together with a sketch, where this might possibly be."Well, if the train is completely buried, how would they know if it is booby-trapped or has anything on it at all besides old rifles? Obviously, the officials are speculating like crazy. That does, though, explain why the "finders" were willing to settle for only 10%, as digging it out will be a major job. This smacks of sensationalism, as clearly they are building the suspense unnecessarily. If they have found a train, just dig it up, it's not like they don't have any bulldozers in Poland.
|The Germans using an apparently captured Soviet locomotive, scanning for partisan bombs or barricades.|
Naturally, minds already have turned to who gets the proceeds if something is found. Aside from the 10% finder's fee, the World Jewish Congress already has gotten into the act:
"To the extent that any items now being discovered in Poland may have been stolen from Jews before they were sent to death ... it is essential that every measure is taken to return the property to its rightful owners or to their heirs," WJC head Robert Singer said in a statement issued in New York.News is moving fast on this, stay tuned. No reason now to speculate what is in the train, they will find out soon enough. If they indeed have a German train, the "Culture Minister" says it appears to be of the armored type used to transport important goods.
Photos of a nondescript mud bank alongside some modern rail tracks are floating around that is purportedly the exact site, which actually would make perfect sense if the Germans simply decided to ditch the train on a spur, bury it, and flee for their lives. There would be no way for treasure hunters to dig it out with modern trains rolling by within a few meters every day, and doing so might cause a slide that would cover the tracks.
|The site of the train? Pretty good job of burying it in a hurry if so.|
Update 2 September 2015
More people are chiming in on the gold train. As you might suspect from what I have written above, I remain suspicious. Turns out that I am not the only one.
Poland's central bank governor Marek Belka said on this date that the story of the gold train was in his opinion a hoax.
Asked if potentially the gold found in the train could add to the bank's reserves, Belka said: "I think nobody (at the central bank) even thought to devote a second to this issue. This is some hoax."
Now, this guy oozes credibility. Personally, I also remain suspicious, and will remain so until I see the train. But, this story is fairly typical of outrageous claims of "stunning" World War II finds through the years that turned out to be hoaxes (such as the infamous "Hitler Diaries" of the '80s), so it remains of interest. And who know, maybe there is such a train, but not necessarily where they think it is.
Update 4 September 2015
The two men who alerted local Polish authorities to the (presumed) existence of the gold train, Piotr Koper, a Pole, and German national Andreas Richter, told Poland's TVP public broadcaster that they are certain of their find, but that they would only communicate via their lawyers from now on.
"We have irrefutable evidence it exists," Koper told TVP Friday, adding that "we aren't responsible for the media circus surrounding the train."Koper also said that they themselves have sufficient funds to dig the train up themselves. The problem, though, is that the supposed location lies next to active train tracks that have had to be closed due to the spectacle, which has drawn many other treasure hunters to the scene.
The Polish military (yes, they have a military) is investigating. Rumors are flying that the train contains mostly old war equipment, with not as much "treasure" as people wish to believe. An intact German military train, though, would surely fetch a pretty penny at auction. The train system was not maintained well as the war went along, so any cars that they find may be in poor shape to start with. Naturally, now many local people claim to have known about the train all along, having been told by grandpa or whoever. Local officials, though, have turned skeptical, as they are beginning to tire of being made to look the fool over this possible elaborate hoax. Still, nobody knows for sure.
|A typical German freight train from the period.|
Update 9 September 2015As often is the case with "stunning" World War II finds, the news flow about this one has slowed drastically since the end of August, after an actual investigation was undertaken. Word now is that the train is not in fact next to existing tracks, but instead is in a "heavily forested" region.
Lt. Col. Artur Golawski is the spokesman for the army operations command, which has taken over the search. He told The Associated Press that a survey of the alleged suspected train site showed fallen trees that needed to be removed. Only after that could soldiers attempt a thorough inspection and assessment of any dangerous materials that might be buried there. Meanwhile, the government apparently has agreed to a 10% finder's fee to the two gentlemen who claim to know the train's location. Rumors are flying everywhere about how the train is mined, is full of dead bodies (which was not a standard German practice), has weapons defending it (by dead Wehrmacht troops), and so forth and so on, endlessly.
Meanwhile, local tours at the castle which serves as the anchor for the region's tourist trade have been expanded. Many new t-shirts are being sold, and the surrounding area reportedly is overrun with treasure hunters and tourists drawn by tales of the train.
|The abandoned train station used by the Germans at Canfranc on the French/Spanish border. It is home to advanced particle physics experiments today, but remains closed as a train station (though may someday be reopened). Beautiful facility.|
Nobody would like a big trainload of German treasure uncovered more than me, but nobody seems to be in a big hurry to actually uncover it. Below is a video containing drone footage from the area.
Update 4 October 2015There really is nothing new to report, and that's the update. There's a reason that that actually is an update, a very real update, in fact the most important update of all, which I will get to below. You'll understand if you read further on.
Reports are that the Polish military has cleared the supposed site of the supposed hidden gold train. They intend to commence digging. The train is said to be several meters down - that's what ground-penetrating radar suggests - so the Polish soldiers intend to dig down exactly one meter.
|An area reportedly close to the supposed location.|
As to why the Polish 1st Regiment of Engineers would only dig down one meter when the train is several meters down, well, there's the rub. The operation will be given exactly six days to dig that one meter, and then the Army will present its findings to the local town and await further instructions.
|The two treasure hunters, with their disputed evidence of the train's existence.|
You might think that the two treasure hunters would be feted as local heroes. You would be wrong. Apparently, charges have been filed against them for looking for treasure without a permit. The theory behind this is that the town wishes to deter future treasure hunters. As well, incidentally, as these two fine fellows.
And that brings us to our grand conclusion.
You see, they have discovered treasure in Wroclaw. And no, I am not joking. They have found gold in them thar hills - piles of gold. Absolute hordes of shiny, spendable gold. It comes in every day, every hour, the lovely sound of money. And there is no disputing it.
You see, tourist visits to the local tourist attraction, Ksiaz Castle, are up 200%.
|Book your tours to Ksiaz Castle now!|
The Poles are not stupid, my friend. Quite the opposite. The gold train can stay in the ground forever and produce a fortune. Think about it.
|A stylized rendering of a German locomotive.|
Update 9 November 2015
Word is that that an area about the size of a soccer field has been cleared in the area suspected to cover the Breslau Gold Train. The military swept for mines and poison gasses and found none. Excavators are considering how to proceed. Since it now is the onset of winter, it would be surprising if much digging occurs any time soon.
However, something has changed. Now, there is said to be the possibility of three trains, not just one. The story keeps changing, because nobody has any idea what might be under the ground. All that anyone has to go on is a deathbed tale and a few obscure images taken by ground-penetrating radar. Plus, of course, legends of German gold that are endemic in this part of the world.
On the bright side, though, Walbrzych now has a Gold Train Car Wash, a Gold Train Skoda dealership, a ‘Gold’ bar and a line of souvenirs including fridge magnets, stickers, bags and gold ingot paperweights. At the city’s museum, there is a waiting list for Gold Train mugs.
Not bad for a depressed mining town in the middle of nowhere.
Update 28 May 2016
While well over six months has passed since my last update, very little news has come out about the Breslau Gold Train.
However, for those who are interested, this is a good time to give a bit of background about the entire situation. I will do this as briefly as I can, because I don't want to belabor this topic.
|Workers inspect gold bars taken from Jews by the Germans and stashed in the Heilbron salt mines Photo: National Archives/Getty Images.|
Lower Silesia is full of legends and tales about not just the Germans in World War II, but just about everything else you can think of. The locals have an almost mystical belief that strange things happen there - strange natural things, not just strange World War II things.
The Germans were active in the region, no question. Armaments Minister Albert Speer, who took over the Todt Organization in 1942, had slave laborers digging tunnels here, there and everywhere. He sent Hitler a letter at one point in 1944 telling him that massive digging had been completed in the hills there. He indicated, in fact, that much more had been completed than has been found. Now, Speer lived until 1981 and never seemed overly preoccupied after his release from Spandau in 1966 with gold in Silesia, but what explorers have is this letter to Hitler which suggests great things remain to be uncovered in the area.
The gold train legends began with one man. Herbert Klose was one of the few Germans who remained behind in the area after the war - the rest either fled, committed suicide, were deported in one fashion or another, or were killed. Klose basically is the source of all rumors regarding the gold train, though, believe me, every treasure hunter - excuse me, "explorer" - in the region has his own "source" (and, yes, they are all men). Basically, nothing about Klose is very believable, but he made one point abundantly clear during years of interrogation: there was buried loot in them thar hills.
Naturally, there is all sorts of embroidery to the Klose tales. There are stories of secret convoys through towns where people were shot if they dared to look out through their windows, tales of people seeing mysterious openings to tunnels that are no longer there, stories about entire families being murdered because they "knew too much" - just about every conceivable embellishment to a straightforward story that the Germans hid treasure in the area and then buried it so skillfully that there is no way to find it.
Included in this are the usual paranoid conspiracy theories that "someone" is "preventing" the discovery of the train. If you want an American analogy to this, just google "UFO conspiracy theories" and you get the picture.
Let's be clear: there is no proof whatsoever of any train. None. Zero.
People in the region have had pet theories about this for decades. They "know" there is a train buried here, there or the other place. What brought about the most recent "news" about the Breslau gold train was a change in Polish law in early 2015: anything found more than 1 meter below ground became the property of the Polish state. Now, that doesn't exactly make treasure-hunting fun, but the next part does: as a "thanks" for telling the Polish state where its treasure is, you get a "finder's fee" of 10%. Now that could add up to serious coinage if somebody helps locate the priceless Russian Amber Room. Thus, the race to the courthouse was on for explorers to get their own claim filed before someone else beat them to it.
The sudden furor in the summer of 2015 about the gold train did not reflect any new "discovery": two of the locals (Koper and Richter, see above) simply filed a claim to beat everyone else out - just in case there was a train there. The spot in question along the main rail line is well-known among local explorers as a reputed site of the Breslau Gold Train. The only thing that the two fellows who filed the claim added was some blurry ground-penetrating radar images that could show just about anything.
To say that there is widespread disgust and envy among fellow explorers about these two fellows filing the claim based upon flimsy evidence is to understate the case. The local "explorers" club kicked them out, in fact, for filing the claim without telling them. Just about everyone has their own theory about the railway culvert, their own evidence, their own thermo/magnetic/radar/Voodoo pictures of "anomalies" along the rail line. People literally use dowsing sticks there to look for treasure there - yes, two sticks of wood. And just about everything else.
The only real news since last summer is that the state commission devoted to "exploration," a group from AGH University of Science and Technology in Kraków, looked the supposed location over and found nothing. That was in December 2015. “There may be a tunnel,” Janusz Madej, the head of a commission announced, “but there is no train.”
Naturally, none of the local treasure-hunters believes them, least of all Koper and Richter, the two claimants. They have all sorts of "readouts" showing this, that and the other thing establishing that there is "something" buried there. They have "proof" that the AGH people were full of beans and either completely incompetent or working for powerful, mysterious interests to keep the lid on things.
At this point, it is unclear where everything stands. Winter is most definitely over, and digging could begin - if anyone really wanted to dig. The thing is, people in the region like their legends. They would rather "know" that there is something strange out there than actually look and find out it's only an old septic tank. Many other people besides the first two have filed claims - 19, apparently, maybe more - and the government has to decide whether or not to dig here, there or the other place. Naturally, everyone has all sorts of fancy pictures taken with their fancy ground-penetrating this-and-that to buttress their claims.
As mentioned previously, the real bonanza is not some rusting train buried in "secret" Riese tunnels built by the Germans. It is tourism, which shot through the roof last summer. Every tourist attraction and exploration-selling shop in the area benefits, including the local castle, the fellow selling tickets to some German bunkers that he uncovered (at great expense to himself), people selling radiation counters (yes, the rumors include atomic research), and so on and so forth.
What has not been found are any German gold trains.
Anyway, that is where it stands. Further updates as events warrant.
|The World War I armoured train "Zammurets."|
UPDATE 18 AUGUST 2016
It has been about a year since the claim was first made about the "Breslau Gold Train," so let's update what is going on.
As you will recall, Piotr Koper and Andreas Richter filed a claim for a buried German train along a rail line between Walbrzych and Wroclaw, Poland. After spending that year obtaining necessary permits, hiring equipment and assembling a team to dig up the ground around the tracks, they began digging on 12 August 2016.
To date, they have dug three holes, to a depth of nine meters. So far they have found nothing of value. The plan is to continue digging until at least 22 August 2016 and perhaps longer. They have run into rocks in two of the holes that to date have barred the way. A third hole produced some materials that are not indigenous to the area (porcelain fragments and clay), but nothing to indicate there is a buried train anywhere nearby.
Everything else that you may hear is beside the point. They have found nothing that they were searching for so far. If they do, I will update this.
|Digging a hole in Poland. August 2016.|
UPDATE 3 SEPTEMBER 2016It is quite easy to be smug about these things. "I knew it all along" your smug tone says as you stick the knife into the back of the very idea that a German gold train exists anywhere near where a bunch of "adventurers" have been digging to find one in some backwater in Poland.
Well, I'm not smug at all. I wish these fellows would find their train. It would be fascinating, not because of the value of the gold, but because of the history. They can have all the gold they want, I would just like to see a historic relic uncovered.
But they haven't found anything.
Conflicting reports were coming out of Poland, so I decided to wait a bit until a coherent story emerged. It's been a week now, and the story appears to be this:
- They dug three holes, or shall we say pits;
- They spent 140,000 zlotys ($37,000);
- They found squat;
- They have covered the pits back up.
There have been some reports that the diggers found an "underground tunnel," but the spokesman for the enterprise, Andrzej Gaik, denies it. He should know.
I think it's fabulous that there are enough dreamers left in the world to finance this type of project. It would be boring otherwise.
Now, not all hope is lost for hopers and dreamers, planners and schemers. The adventurers are going to continue searching nearby sites with probes. Regardless of what they find, though, it will take someone with a lot of money to burn, along with a lot of faith, to finance another expedition to dig huge holes and then cover them up again.
We'll continue to keep an eye on it.
|Drone footage of the site. I believe the tracks are between those lines of trees.|
UPDATE 27 SEPTEMBER 2016
Buried treasure has been found in Poland!
However, it doesn't involve any trains.
Researchers at Zlocieniec, Poland have dug up a buried German time capsule containing complete newspapers, coins, copies of "Mein Kampf," photos of Hitler and various other artifacts. They were buried on 22 April 1934 (two days after Hitler's birthday) at the Ordensburg Krossinsee center in what was then called Falkenburg (now a Polish military base).
The contents are perfectly preserved - the copper capsule was soldered shut tight as a drum - and they will go into a local museum. The Germans were very good at that sort of thing.
What always disappoints me about these time capsules is how mundane the contents are. From the looks of it, there isn't a single thing in this particular time capsule that you couldn't find at a good research library. But... it's straight from 1934. Special delivery.
I know, you're thinking, "What a gyp! No gold! No Amber Room! No Martin Bormann!"
Well, that is true. I feel your pain. But that is about as much buried treasure as anyone is likely to find in Poland from the World War II era.
|Germans bury the time capsule in 1934.|