Sunday, July 17, 2016

Mystery of Plundered Nazi Treasure

They are some of the greatest treasures the world has ever known, from priceless artworks to fabulous hoards of diamonds and vast reserves of gold. And they have all been missing since the chaotic dying days of the Second World War.

The Nazis plundered loot from across Europe, and, as they faced defeat in 1945, frantically hid it from advancing Allied forces. Some were stashed away while other pieces were smuggled out of Berlin by high-ranking Hitler henchmen to fund their own escapes and new lives. But as leading Nazis were killed or captured, the secret locations of much of the loot were lost forever.
In 2014 it was revealed that a collection of 1,500 paintings worth £850m had been found festering in a squalid apartment in Munich.

The collection, which included masterpieces by Picasso, Matisse and Chagall, had been hidden by Cornelius Gurlitt , the 80-year-old son of an art dealer trusted by the Nazis to dispose of seized artworks.
The US Holocaust Memorial Museum believes the Nazis seized as many 16,000 works of art as they pillaged their way across Europe during the 1930s and 1940s.

Along with Hitler’s diamond collection and the entire gold reserves of the Reichsbank, these are just a few of the valuable Nazi treasures still missing.
Before being stolen by the SS, the Amber Room was one of Russia’s most famous heirlooms, a stunning chamber at the Tsarskoye Selo palace near St Petersburg that was covered in amber panels backed with gold and mirrors. When the Germans invaded, the curators tried to hide the panels behind mundane wallpaper.

The disguise failed and in October 1941 German soldiers dismantled the Amber Room and shipped the panels to Konigsberg Castle in East Prussia, where they went on display. What happened to them remains shrouded in mystery. The German official in charge of the panels claimed they were placed in crates and stored in a castle that burned down during an air raid. Other experts believe the regime tried to ship the Amber Room out of the country, only for the ship carrying it to sink in the Baltic Sea.
Treasure hunters believe the panels, which are worth more than £150m, were buried 6,000 feet underground in old woodland mines near Zwickau in East Germany. Eyewitnesses claimed SS commandos sealed off the woods and dumped a secret cargo there early in 1945.

Despite countless fortune hunters flocking there, the mine has never been found.
Historians are using RAF surveillance photos taken by Mosquito fighter bombers as they flew over Germany during the Second World War to hunt for a bunker containing £500m of Nazi gold.
Truck loads of gold were shipped out of Berlin in 1945 as the Red Army advanced and treasure hunters believe it was buried by Nazi labour battalions in the Leinawald forest near Leipzig in eastern Germany.

The German government began digging for the lost gold in 1961, but had to stop when poison gases from old mines began seeping to the surface. Treasure hunters believe that one RAF reconnaissance photo shows sand workings that resemble the outline of a human skull and could point the way to the bunker.
During the final months of the war the SS dragged a stash of metal crates to the shores of Lake Toplitz, in the Salzkammergut region of Austria and dumped them into the icy waters. In 1959 the German magazine Stern sent a team of divers to the lake to investigate the stories.

They found no gold, but they did find crates of counterfeit British pounds, secret documents and a printing press.
Other reports suggest another Nazi fortune may lie buried beneath Lake Stolpsee, a 988-acre stretch of water north of Berlin. Nazi leader Hermann Goering reportedly ordered the gold to be dumped into the lake as the Red Army made its final push in 1945.

Eyewitnesses reported seeing concentration camp prisoners unloading heavy crates before ferrying them out to the middle of the lake and throwing them overboard. The men then rowed back to shore, where they were lined up and shot.

In 1981 divers from East Germany failed to find treasure when they searched the lake.
It is well known the Nazis hid much of the gold, silver and jewels plundered during their conquests. The regime executed a policy of looting the assets of its victims to finance the war, collecting the looted assets in top-secret central depositories.

It included valuables confiscated from prisoners arriving at concentration camps before it was melted down into bullion. As the war drew to a close, they desperately tried to 'make it disappear' instead of letting it fall into allied hands. Much of it remains unaccounted for.