The Nazi train filled with gold

An enduring myth

Ever since they’ve cross-crossed the planet, trains have held their fair share of legends, from Madrid to Paris. In the Polish city of Walbrzych, these take the shape of an enormous amount of treasure, comprising gold, jewels and arms. Since the end of the 1940s, it’s been said that faced with the arrival of the Red Army in the region, Nazi higher-ups had packed a proper fortune into a packed train that they hid in a network of military tunnels.

The tale endures for two reasons. The first is that it mirrors known facts, namely the existence of a train packed with precious objects robbed from Jewish families from Budapest. Similarly, in 1944, a train leaving Bobigny, just outside Paris, was filled with works of art by the Germans before being stopped by the French Resistance. The second reason is that the more people spread the story, the more people refuse to believe it couldn’t be true. It simply must have happened, they say. Rumour has it around 400 tonnes of gold bars were packed onboard. This colossal fortune would be easy to transport and reinject into the legal financial system. In short, it was a treasure hunters’ dream.

Two of them, the German Andreas Richter and Pole Piotr Koper, brought the story back into the limelight in 2015. At the time, the two men claimed to have located the famous train, hidden in a network of tunnels built by the Third Reich. Called Riese (‘giant’ in German), the system was supposed to house an HQ for the Führer’s army but this was never completed. There remain several corners of the complex that haven’t been explored.

When these claims were reported in the international press, the world’s treasure hunters were wild. But not only that. The Polish authorities immediately enlisted historians and geologists to evaluate the plausibility of the claims. The army, the police and the fire services were all enrolled too. Lawyers, meanwhile, started mulling over the legal situation Poland would face if such a train were discovered.

The first disappointment came through the historians. Several local and international specialists said no document confirming the existence of the train had been discovered and so its existence was improbable. The Nazis had a tendency to leave traces of their plans, even concerning the most confidential things. However, the absence of proof wasn’t enough to discourage treasure hunters like Andreas Richter et Piotr Koper.

The second blow came via a report produced by the team of a well-known Polish geology professor. The latter said he was 100 percent sure that no train was buried or hidden in the zone marked out by the pair. He did recognise, however, that anomalies in the terrain could indicate the presence of the famous tunnels built for the German army.  After all, the Nazis could have emptied the train and hidden their treasures in the underground cavities. So the hunt continued.

On August 24 2016, Andreas Richter and Piotr Koper themselves put an end to their version of the tale of the train filled with gold. They recognised publicly that what they thought had been the train was in fact a cavity created in prehistoric times by the presence of an iceberg. And that was that.

After those two Indiana Joneses had brought the story back into the public imagination, curious (and ambitious) tourists had started to visit the Walbrzych region and offered a small economic boost to this city (still badly affected by the closure of five of the factories that had formed the backbone of its economy for so long). But after the story was debunked, the small city fell once again into neglect and poverty.

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