Two months ago, headlines were made around the world as treasure hunters identified a legendary Nazi train packed with weapons, gold, money, and archives hidden in a long-forgotten tunnel in the Polish mountains. It is believed that the train may also contain the long-lost Amber Room of Charlottenburg Palace, an early 1700s room crafted from amber, gold, and precious jewels, estimated to now be worth $385 million. This week, engineers will begin surveying the site to determine how the armoured and possibly booby-trapped train can be retrieved.
Poland’s Culture Ministry announced that the location of the Nazi train was revealed to Piotr Koper of Poland and Andreas Richter of Germany, through a deathbed confession. The Telegraph reported that two treasure-hunters found the 100-meter-long armoured train and immediately submitted a claim to the Polish government – under Polish law those who find treasure findings can keep 10 per cent of the value of their find. The Polish Ministry has confirmed the location of the train using ground-penetrating radar.
The train is said to be located in an underground tunnel constructed by the Nazis along a 4km stretch of track on the Wroclaw-Walbryzch line. However, its exact location is being kept hidden, not least because it is believed to be booby trapped or mined and will need to be investigated through a careful operation conducted by the Army, Police and Fire Brigade.
The Guardian reports that work is now underway to plan exactly how that operation will be carried out. Experts will be using magnetic field detectors, thermal imaging cameras and radars to begin a non-invasive search of the ground. Digging and drilling are not permitted until this initial testing phase is complete.
“Since August, the Polish military has cleared vegetation from an area the size of a football pitch,” The Guardian reports. “Soldiers have swept for mines and analyzed the ground for the presence of poison gas.”
An underground tunnel, part of Nazi Germany “Riese” construction project under the Ksiaz castle in Poland ( Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland / Flickr )
Legend has it that the Germans hid their looted treasures from the advancing Soviet Red Army as insurance policies to help fleeing war criminals escape and set up new lives at the end of WWII.
While government officials have said that they don’t know the exact contents of the Nazi train, Piotr Zuchowski, a vice minister for conservation, told Poland’s Radio Jedynka that its contents are “probably military equipment but also possibly jewelry, works of art, and archived documents,” Yahoo News reports. An announcement by the Polish Ministry speculated that it may also contain the missing Amber Room, which was dismantled by the Nazis from Charlottenburg Palace near St Petersburg in 1941.
The Amber Room
The Amber Room was originally installed in Charlottenburg Palace, the home of Frederick I, first King in Prussia in 1701. During a state visit to Prussia, the Amber Room caught the eye of the Tsar of Russia, Peter the Great. Seeing an opportunity to gain the favor of the Tsar of Russia, Frederick I presented the Amber Room to the Tsar in 1716 in order to cement the newly-formed Prussian-Russian alliance against Sweden. The Amber Room was dismantled and shipped to Russia in 18 large boxes, where it was installed in the Winter House in St. Petersburg as part of a European art collection. In 1755, Tsarina Elizabeth had the Amber Room moved to Charlottenburg Palace, where it remained until it was dismantled and stolen by the Nazis in 1941 and sent to Königsberg’s castle museum.
Although the Amber Room was on display for the following two years, the war was not going well for the Germans, and the museum’s director, Alfred Rohde, was advised to dismantle the room and crate it away. Less than a year later, Allied bombing raids destroyed the city of Königsberg, and the castle museum was left in ruins. After that, the trail of the Amber Room simply vanished.
A reconstructed segment of the Amber Room ( Wikipedia)
The original Amber Room, 1931 ( Wikipedia)
Many believed that the Amber Room was safely hidden by the Germans prior to the destruction of the castle museum and thus, there have been many attempts to track down this treasure, all of them unsuccessful.
If the newly-discovered Nazi gold train does indeed contain the pieces of the world-renowned Amber Room, it will see the return and reconstruction of a valuable slice of history.
Featured image: An underground tunnel, part of Nazi Germany “Riese” construction project under the Ksiaz castle in Poland ( public domain ). Inset: Reconstruction of the Amber Room ( Patricio Rodriguez / flickr ).