The saga of the Nazi Gold Train supposedly buried in a mountain tunnel may have ended with the treasure hunters coming up empty, but the world-wide publicity has given the nearby Polish city of Walbrzych a new lease on life.
The town has become a tourist destination for treasure seekers and those simply curious about the Gold Train story and the massive tunnel complex carved by the Third Reich into the nearby Owl Mountains.
The Legend of the Nazi Gold Train
The area is still rife with legends of undiscovered Nazi treasure. Some stories describe German national treasures or treasures looted by the Nazis from conquered nations, sent east out of range of Allied bombers. These treasures ended up buried in 1945 by a fleeing German Army to keep them out of Soviet hands. Other stories tell of local towns or churches hiding historic treasures, or wealthy individuals burying their valuables before escaping the wrath of the advancing Russians.
The legend of the Nazi Gold Train says it was an armed and armored train in 1945, manned by Wehrmacht troops. It was filled with up to 300 metric tons of treasure, rare art, and secret documents. The train was said to have left Breslau (modern-day Wroclaw) ahead of the Red Army, on its way to Waldenburg (Walbrzych), then deeper into Germany.
The train never made it to Walbrzych.
The way the story goes, the train was being overtaken (or cut off) by the Red Army. It was decided to hide the train’s treasure, then escape through Soviet lines on foot. Time was short, so it was decided to bury the entire train.
The legend says there was a mountainside supply tunnel next to the Wroclaw-Walbrych rail line that had been dug by the Nazis as part of a giant underground complex called Project Riese. The Germans drove the Gold Train down the siding and deep into the tunnel. To hide the tunnel entrance, the Germans allegedly tore up the rails of the siding, then dynamited the mountainside above the entrance of the tunnel to bury it completely.
Location of Walbrzych, Poland (click to enlarge)
The Legend of the Nazi Gold Train Resurfaces
In August 2015, the world was galvanized by the news that two anonymous treasure hunters had found the Nazi Gold Train. They claimed to have obtained a 40-year old deathbed confession of a German who was present when the tunnel entrance leading to the Gold Train was sealed, which led them to a location outside Walbrzych along the railway.
The duo, later identified as Andreas Richter and Piotr Koper, said they had scanned the location using ground-penetrating radar, uncovering a tunnel containing a train-shaped object 50 meters (165ft) below the surface. Speaking through their lawyer, they asked the Polish government for a 10% finders fee in exchange for information on the train’s location.
A media frenzy descended on Walbrzych, as reporters, camera crews, treasure hunters, and the curious swarmed the area. Appearances by Polish authorities, then Polish Army explosives experts scanning the area, just led to more excitement and speculation. Local police had to constantly patrol the area to keep treasure hunters out, as the tunnel was assumed to be extremely dangerous. Statements by government officials warned of everything from trapped methane gas to booby traps, unstable munitions, and leaking chemical weapons.
The hype carried on for a year, amid claims, counterclaims, and divergent test results. Finally, permission was given to the two treasure hunters to use heavy equipment to uncover the tunnel entrance. Excavations began in August 2016, amid much publicity and anticipation. However, one week and $131,000 later, the dig was called off and the holes refilled.
Turning Rumors Into Gold
From the moment the news of the Nazi Gold Train broke in foreign media, Walbrzych started reaping the benefits. Within days, hotels were booked solid, restaurants were packed, and souvenir shops sprang up. Orders for “Nazi Gold Train” t shirts arrived from all over the world. Someone started producing a vodka named “Gold.”
Local historian Mateusz Mykytyszyn told reporters that it doesn’t matter all that much if the Nazi Gold Train is never found. “Loch Ness is famous for a monster never found. This is like our Loch Ness monster. We have been hoping to become a tourist town since the mines closed in the 1990s and it happened over one month because of the train story.”
A major coal mining town dating back to the 16th century, and an industrial hub in the 19th, Walbrzych has seen its fortunes decline in the 20th. The last five coal mines closed in the 1990s, though a Toyota plant opened in 1999. The city began focusing on tourism, centered on the medieval Kziaz Castle.
The third-largest castle in Poland, it was seized by the Nazis in 1944 and remodeled to be Hitler’s eastern headquarters. Alterations included an elevator from the grand suite down to two levels of tunnels beneath the castle. “Gold Train Fever” means that tours of the tunnels is always sold out. Tours of a renovated coal mine and cultural center is also seeing an increase in visitors.
Assistant to the Mayor and town spokesman Arkadiusz Grudzien told Sputnik last month that the frenzy over the Nazi Gold Train has benefited the entire area. “This impacts not only the city but its surroundings and small cities of the region as well. The situation has helped us to become recognizable in the world, this is really amazing.” He continued, “This legend will stay with our town for years to come. In my opinion, the gold train already arrived in the city.”
A group of WWII re-enactors have begun building a replica Nazi Gold Train (or at least, what it might look like) in an old factory 15km from the dig site. Work is finishing on the first armored train car, complete with anti aircraft gun on one end and a panzer tank cannon on the other. The 12m (40 ft) car is made of steel, covered with fake molded armor. Next up is an armored locomotive and three armored freight cars, before the entire train is put on display as a tourist attraction.
Even though this particular treasure hunt didn’t pan out, there are plenty of other stories and legends of hidden Nazi gold in the region to keep treasure seekers and tourists enthralled for decades to come.
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