Research in Poland by a pair of eccentric amateur geologists convinced they had found lost Nazi gold has created tantalizing headlines all year. The supposed discovery of an abandoned WWII-era train hidden underground ultimately proved fruitless.
Yet the trail of the Nazi’s mythologized treasure hasn’t gone entirely cold: now it’s purported to be among a 1945 shipwreck in the Baltic Sea.
Fleeing the Russians
The German cruise liner, the MV Wilhelm Gustloff, was transporting Nazi soldiers and military officials along with German refugees when it was sunk by a Russian submarine in January of 1945. Refugees made up the vast majority of the passengers. The ship was escaping Europe as the Soviet Red Army was overpowering and advancing on Nazi forces.
Nearly 9,500 people died in the incident, ranking the Wilhelm Gustloff the largest loss of life ever recorded in a single ship sinking. During wartime, she was used as a hospital and barracks accommodations. At the time of the attack, she was escorted by a torpedo boat.
The ship was only designed to hold a capacity of 1,800 people, but at the time it was sunk, it was packed with over 10,000 onboard. The space was packed so tight that many people refused to leave their life preserver jackets on as they had been instructed. Many who didn’t survive perished in the icy water of the Baltic Sea. Wilhelm Gustloff‘s passengers were made up primarily of refugees—almost 9,000—and a handful of Gestapo members, naval officers, and other wounded military personnel. She was transporting residents of the German enclave, Danzig, and refugees from elsewhere in the Prussia region as part of Operation Hannibal, an evacuation mission.
Now a British diver, Phil Sayers, believes that the vessel was also carrying the stolen Nazi loot that couldn’t be found in Poland’s tunnels. There’s just one problem: the shipwreck site is a war grave. It’s protected from diving or exploration unless special approval is given.
In all likelihood, permission will not be given to investigate and recover anything from the undersea remains of the Wilhelm Gustloff. However, speculation will only intensify that perhaps the lost gold, jewelry, furniture, and rare art looted from Europe by the Nazis are lying at the bottom of the Baltic Sea with the rest of the shipwreck.
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