Nazi gold: looking for the ghost train Inside the Polish tunnels, Walbrzych
Nazi gold. There has always been a bit of gold in the steep, tree-decked hills around Walbrzych in southern Poland. Enough to prompt the opening of a few mines long ago, and enough for tourists to still chance their luck with a nazi gold pan in the fast flowing rivers. But never enough to generate excitement and frenzy. Until now, that is.
Two men have claimed to have found what could be a legendary Nazi ghost train that disappeared without trace into the mountains around Walbrzych in April 1945 with a cargo of gold as it fled the advance of the Red Army. If the claim is true, then there could be a fortune beneath the people’s feet, and that has got them excited.
“People are talking about it. They are talking about in the town. My clients talk about it and we’ve had a lot of journalists coming by,” said Marek Marciniak, the owner of a cafe adjacent to Walbrzych town hall. “And when I go home and flick on the television I see a lot of news about the about the ‘nazi gold train’.”
Mr Marciniak, like many others, is quick to stress everybody has heard stories about the train and its gold before, and how people have tried and failed in the past to gain their fame and fortune by finding it. What sets this time apart from the others, he pointed out, is that the two claimants have taken a legal step by filing a claim with the local authorities in Walbrzych in the hope of attaining a finder’s fee of 10 per-cent of the value of the find.
This is a measure nobody before has taken, and has fuelled speculation that this time somebody may have actually found something.
But just where the train might have been found remains unknown. The two who have claimed to have found it have kept the location under wraps, saying, through their lawyer, that they may reveal their secret to the president of Walbrzych next week. But until then the location stays secret.
The local press have claimed one place the train could lie is the village of Walim. Stretched along a valley some 12 miles west of Walbrzych and overlooked by the forested Owl Mountains, Walim has emerged as a contender for the location because its hills are home to some of the Project Riese tunnels.
One of the biggest construction projects in the history of the Third Reich, Project Riese involved digging miles of tunnels in a series of complexes across the Walbrzych region, which was until 1945 part of Germany. Thousands of slave labourers died hewing the rock for reasons that still remain unclear. Some say the tunnels were for a secret command centre, others claim they were for underground factories for Hitler’s secret weapons, or even hid research on an atomic bomb.
To this day not all the tunnels have been explored so believers in the nazi gold train legend say the locomotive and its cargo may still lie hidden in a secret siding.
On his office computer Pawel Brzozowski, Walim’s director of culture and tourism, pulled up an old German map of the village. It showed a now non-existent railway line running into Walim. He explained the theory was that there may have been a special track laid that led into a Reise tunnel.
“In May we found that somebody had carried out illegal digging on one of the hills near the cemetery not far from the track may have been, and this indicates that somebody has been searching,” he said.
Some of the tunnels and caverns in Walim’s hills are large, big enough, perhaps, to house a train. Mr Brzozowski said he hopes the legend and its gold lies buried somewhere in the hills but maintains a dose of scepticism.
“It would be important for us, if it was found,” he explained. “It could bring people here, and already people are asking about it. We are just waiting to see what happens. But some people laugh about it because there have always been stories about the train.”
Further up the valley at the entrance to Walim’s Reise tunnels, now a tourist attraction, Marcin Pasek, shakes his head at talk of finding the nazi gold train. A tunnel guide for five years he has heard the legend many times and it still fails to ring true for him.
“I have my reservations about this,” he said with a slight laugh. “There has been talk but no evidence. Maybe there was some treasure but why leave it on a train? In the past Nazi loot has always been found in boxes: never on a train. Or maybe somebody has found a train, but perhaps it’s just an old abandoned train with no treasure.”
While his scepticism about the discovery claims appears to strike a chord with many people in the Walbrzych region there is also abundant hope the train and its precious cargo will soon be uncovered. That would bring a surge of publicity to a region unknown to many in Europe, and provide a an economic boost to town to a that has suffered of late.
Mines around Walbrzych have closed, jobs lost and the population has dropped 170,000 to 110,000 in just 25 years.
“We hope it’s true. For this region it would be good news,” said Mr Marciniak, the cafe owner. “But even it isn’t, the legend will live on,” he added with a smile. “Nobody ever sees the Loch Ness monster but people still go to Loch Ness.”
By Matthew Day