Fool’s Gold?

Is Poland’s Long-Lost ‘Gold Train’ a Nazi Trap?

Officials say they’re zeroing in on the fabled German haul, but they’re warning away new treasure hunters looking to solve the mystery and cash in.

WARSAW — Seventy years after the end of World War II, Poland could be on the verge of solving the mystery of a long-rumored “gold train” believed to be tucked away in the country’s southwestern corner. According to legend, a train laden with gold departed the then-German city of Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland) around the start of 1945, as the Nazis braced for defeat. It never reached its destination, and its whereabouts have fascinated generations of treasure hunters.

Now the answer seems closer than ever—but it could contain some nasty surprises, officials warn.

There is a growing sense that this time is for real, after various false alarms over the years. The clues point to the area around Wałbrzych, a city of some 120,000 inhabitants southwest of Wrocław.

Piotr Żuchowski, head of conservation at Poland’s ministry of culture, said at a Friday press conference that he is more than 99 percent sure that this is the “gold train.”

“This is an unprecedented find. Until now, we found only tanks and guns, and now there’s to be a train that’s over 100 meters long,” he said. “I have seen clear, ground-penetrating radar photos of the underground train.” Seeing is believing, it seems.

The buzz began this month when two unidentified men, a Pole and a German, claimed to have found the storied train. They contacted authorities in Wałbrzych via a law firm, but refused to reveal the train’s exact location until they were guaranteed 10 percent of the value of what’s inside.

The news struck a chord with many others who have long sought to find the train. With its complex network underground of tunnels designed by the Nazis, the surrounding hills of Lower Silesia have plenty of space to hide a train—even one 100 meters long.

Yet just as more hopefuls are joining the gold rush, they are being asked to stop.

Żuchowski issued a warning this week to all treasure-hunters hoping to find the train. “I call on you to halt all searches for it until the official administrative procedure securing the finding is completed,” he said in a statement.

“There is an enormous likelihood that the train is mined,” he added.

This is unlikely to put off hopefuls, particularly now that the trail leads to Wałbrzych. This week, the city’s deputy mayor, Zbigniew Nowaczyk, said at a press conference that the train is “is in the city’s territory, within its administrative limits.” This appeared to solve ambiguities about where the missing train might be hidden, as different versions of the legend pointed in slightly different directions.

Anyone hoping to hear the train’s precise whereabouts was quickly disappointed, though. “For understandable reasons, I cannot show you the exact place,” Nowaczyk added.

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In terms of ownership, any works of art inside the train that belonged to the German state before World War II would become the property of Poland now. Private treasures would be returned to their pre-war owners or, more likely, their heirs.

This still leaves some hope for the Polish-German duo. Regardless of whether valuables are state or private property, they would get their 10 percent, Żuchowski said. All the same, it is unclear what the train contains and how much it will be worth. It could include military equipment or archival documents, he pointed out.

As the gold fever mounted, Wałbrzych Mayor Roman Szełemej spoke about the train for the first time on Thursday.

As far the train itself is concerned, he was rather blasé. “The fact that people who think that they have particular knowledge about this or other event is no surprise for us,” he said, quoted by local newssite wałbrzych24.com. “Anyone who lives in Wałbrzych has heard information of this kind at least a few times in their life and it’s nothing new.”

What is surprising is the two men’s determination, he added.

Despite the focus on Wałbrzych, it is becoming clear that the search for the train could demand a larger operation. The historical, legal, and security dimensions of the finding make this a national matter. The city is in touch with the Ministry of Culture, the State Treasury and even the Ministry of Defense, the mayor announced.

Even so, the mayor said that he is “very skeptically disposed” toward the final outcome of the search.

At the same time, he did not hide that the excitement was benefiting the city and its inhabitants. “There have never been so many people interested in Wałbrzych and my humble person as now,” he admitted. “There have been more in these three days than over the past four years.”

For now, Wałbrzych is basking in this unexpected attention at home and abroad. How long it lasts will depend on what treasures the long-lost train reveals.