On the morning of April 6th 1945, two American soldiers were patrolling a road outside Merkers, central Germany, having recently helped their comrades take the town. They met two women, one of whom was pregnant and looking for a doctor. They took them to Pfc. Richard C. Mootz, who could speak German. As Mootz escorted them into town, they passed the entrance to the town salt mine, which the women told him the German army had used to store valuables.

Upon further examination, the mine turned out to contain exactly 3,682 bags of German currency, 80 of foreign currency, 8,307 gold bars, 55 boxes of gold bullion, 3,326 bags of gold coins, 63 bags of silver, one bag of platinum bars, eight bags of gold rings and 207 containers of other looted items, including valuable artworks.

The Allies had known for a while that the Nazis had looted currency and assets from all over Europe. Much of it had gone straight to neutral countries like Portugal, to pay for arms manufacturing. But not all of it. The Allies had stumbled on Germany’s domestic reserves, which meant the war could be brought to a close sooner.

The Nazis had taken whatever they could get their hands on. This included, notoriously, eyeglasses and jewellery belonging to people imprisoned in concentration camps.

74 years after the discovery of the Merkers loot there are still those who think there may be Nazi gold buried elsewhere too, as yet unfound. Rumours persist in locations all over formerly-occupied areas of Europe. For many, hunting for the treasure has become an obsession.

The most tantalising of these fables involves not sacks of gold, but an entire train full of gold, buried under tonnes of earth in a secret tunnel in south-west Poland.

The story goes like this: As Soviet troops advanced towards Wrocław in east Poland, the Nazis hurriedly loaded a train with gold and arms. They sent it to the safety of Wałbrzych, at that time in Germany, where it disappeared. In the chaos of civilians trying to flee Wrocław before the fighting started, no-one would have noticed a goods train pulling out of the station.

Outside Wałbrzych, the Nazis had built an offshoot from the main railway, which lead into a tunnel. When the Soviets got perilously close, this tunnel, with the gold train inside it, was covered with earth; the entrance demolished, the tracks leading into it torn from the ground, and the surrounding area cleared of all evidence and unreliable local eyewitnesses.

It’s a far fetched story on its own. But it derives added weight from the fact that there are, in fact, secret Nazi-dug tunnels snaking beneath Wałbrzych.

Project Riese

Książ Castle has stood in the Wałbrzyski Foothills for over 700 years. As with most old castles, it’s been taken down and rebuilt a number of times, but since the 16thcentury, it has been an extravagant renaissance palace. In 1944 the Nazis seized the castle from its owner Count Hans Heinrich XVII of Hochberg.

The Nazis went about converting the castle into what would become a centre of power in the east of the Third Reich. And underneath the castle, in the rock of the Owl Mountains, they carved a warren of tunnels. Jewish prisoners from the nearby Gross-Rosen concentration camp were enlisted to dig them. Thousands died of malnutrition, disease, and exhaustion.

The tunnels connected the castle to vast underground missile factories. Because they were never finished – only a few reinforced with concrete, most only ever crude passages through rock – it’s hard to know what the ultimate purpose of the network was. But it’s possible that had Hitler decided to leave his Berlin bunker as the Allied forces got perilously close, he would have retreated to this castle in the mountains and fought on, surrounded by his secret munition factories and escape tunnels.

As the Red Army progressed further through Poland and it became obvious that they would be unable to finish Project Riese, the Nazis set about eradicating all knowledge of the project.

May 8th 1945 was a momentous day in the history of Europe. The Nazi army was collapsing, while the Soviets pushed into the fringes of Germany’s borders. On the same day, three civilian women who lived in a house opposite the entrance to one of the tunnels were murdered. A grenade was lobbed through their window. Why? What had they seen?

Digging Up The Past

To the minds of the amateur archaeologists who believe there is something ominous buried under Wałbrzych, these facts together serve to suggest they are onto something. To them, these women may have been witness to something very valuable being hidden in those tunnels.

In 2016, two men, Piotr Koper and Andreas Richter, announced that they had found the train. Going by the death-bed confession of a former Nazi who said there was a buried train and had told them where it was, Koper and Richter used ground-penetrating radar to investigate a location next to the Wrocław-Wałbrzych railway line, in an area known only as Kilometre 65.

Their radar images appeared to show a long object underneath a collapsed arch. Looking closer at the radar images, Koper and Richter pointed to a section which looked a lot like couplings. With the help of the Polish government and army, they began to dig.

But soon they encountered problems. After seven days, all they were turning up was earth and rocks. The images on the radar, so tantalising before, turned out to be natural ice formations. There was no sign of any tracks, tunnel, train or gold bars. The digging stopped.

Koper and Richter maintained that there was something down there. They had made the mistake, they said, of digging in the wrong place, of not digging deep enough. But the money was spent, and the government’s patience with the pair gone. The two had racked up large lawyer’s bills, having spent time negotiating 10% of the spoils from any discovery, and financing much of the investigation out of their own pockets.

So, there was no gold. Or, at least, it remains hidden. But while the two men fell out, the local tourism board was walking on air. As the excavators tore through the earth in search of the lost Nazi gold, news of the supposed discovery brought an international media circus to the small city of Wałbrzych. With them came curious visitors from across Poland and Europe. Tourism, in this not so popular area of the country, rocketed by 44%.

“The publicity the town has gotten in the global media is worth roughly around $200 million,” said one local official. “Our annual budget for promotion is $380,000, so think about that. Whether the explorers find anything or not, that gold train has already arrived.”

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