When the collapse of Germany occurred, the Nazis tried to conceal a huge amount of gold and thousands of inestimable stolen masterpieces. Most part of the treasure has ever been found, although some pieces have been discovered in a small town from Texas, U.S. in 1990.
On February 3, 1945, while 950 bombers dropped 2,265 tons of explosives over Berlin, about 2,000 people were killed and 120,000 people lost their homes. Also, important buildings, including Hitler’s Headquarters, have been wiped out.
On that fatal Saturday, 5,000 employees of the main Nazi bank, Reichsbank, hid in the bunker of the building, while 21 explosives hit the building, eventually demolishing it. When the terrible assault ceased, all the workers of the Reichsbank and its president, Dr. Walther Funk, had survived. But the destruction of the nation’s vital center triggered a strange series of events that would lead to one of the most exciting unsolved mysteries in recent history.
It seems that Germany’s treasure disappeared without a trace, while the Allied forces were advancing on German territory. The most part of the treasure was deposited in the Reichsbank basement, estimated at $7.5 billion, at today’s value, including $1.5 billion in Italian gold.
The Americans discovered the hidden billions
Dr. Funk immediately decided to transfer the officials of the bank in other cities in order to rule the institution. He also ordered that the gold and the cash reserves be moved in a salt mine, Kaiseroda, 320 km southwest of the capital. The secret transfer of the Nazi reserve, about 100 tons of gold and 1,000 sacks of cash, required 13 train wagons.
But, in less than seven weeks, the U.S. Third Army, under the command of senior officer George S. Patton, advanced towards the area. It sounds incredible, but because of the Easter holiday, there were not enough trains in order to save the gold. However, the Reichsbank representatives managed to move 450 sacks of cash. On April 4, the Americans arrived and immediately localized where the treasure had been hidden.
Three days later, the U.S. officers entered the bunker and found over 1 billion German marks. After they managed to break the steel door of Chamber no. 8, they found over 7,000 numbered sacks and 8,527 gold ingots.
There were also suitcases full of diamonds, pearls, and other precious stones, stolen from the victims of the extermination camps. Of course, inestimable compared to the rest of the gold, but there were also a few sacks filled with dental gold. The whole discovery was one of the richest treasures in the world at that time. It represented an astonishing 93.17% of Germany’s entire financial reserve at the time when the war was almost over.
But this was not all. In other galleries from the Kaiseroda mine, were discovered over 400 tons of art objects, including paintings. The treasures found in the salt mine were locked in 11,750 containers and loaded into 32 trucks to be transported in the basement of the Reichsbank from Frankfurt. Despite the insistent rumors about the disappearance of one of the convoy trucks, nothing was lost during the transport.
And yet, the millions are evaporating
In the opinion of the head of the Nazi propaganda (Joseph Goebbels), guilty of reaching the nation’s treasury by the Allies was Funk’s “criminal negligence in service”. The Fuhrer approved the initiative to evacuate the remaining reserves. In fact, the author of the plan was the officer in charge of his personal guard, a police colonel, named Friedrich Joseph Rauch. He suggested that 6.83% of the remaining official reserves to be sent to Bavaria. Today would have valued about $150 million.
During the next few months, the Allied bombings eventually interrupted the communications of the Germans. Because of this, individual initiatives started to create complicated scenarios in order to save the remaining treasures.
The cash was loaded into two trains, while a truck convoy was ready to transport the gold ingots. In the chaos of a collapsing empire, the trains needed two weeks to cross the 800-km railroad to Munich. Along the way, Dr. Funk’s colleague, Hans Alfred von Rosenberg-Lipinski, ordered that the money sacks be taken from the train and moved to the truck convoy.
Finally, the trucks arrived at the destination in a small town in the Bavarian Alps, while the trains headed for Munich. Meanwhile, Rosenberg-Lipinski detained a bag of foreign money and five small boxes “for certain reasons”. It is not known what their fate was, but it is possible that, given the imminent collapse of Nazi Germany, the bank official would have prepared a comfortable future.
Where did the treasure from the Forest House disappear?
Others followed the example. The trucks loaded with the treasures have crossed the Karwendel Mountains to an infantry training camp. While the officers were arguing where to hide what remained of the nation’s treasury, it seems that Emil Januszewski (another Reichsbank official) took two gold ingots (worth of almost $500,000). But one of the officers noticed what Januszewski did, and the old and respectable man committed suicide. Meanwhile, the rest of the gold reserves had been buried in hideaways near a small isolated alpine hut, known as the Forest House.
The cash had been divided into three deposits and hidden on three different mountain peaks. Subsequently, the two gold ingots were recovered and a large amount of the currency ended up in the care of a certain Karl Jacob, a local clerk. Those ingots and that currency have never been seen. It looks like several lower-ranked Nazis didn’t resist the temptation.
After a short period, Dr. Funk and other Nazi officials were arrested by the Allies, but none of them testified about the missing reserves. Finally, the U.S. Army recovered a part of the Reichsbank gold ($14 million) as well as gold from other government agencies ($ worth about $41 million). But the treasure from the Forest House couldn’t be found.
For four years, American investigators have been trying to clarify the mystery, but eventually, they had to report that about $3.5 million (which is $46.5 million today) in gold and $2 million in cash (today $12 million) had disappeared without a trace.
The American Robbery
The Germans were not the only ones to take advantage of the surprising opportunities offered by the “waste of gold”. Many U.S. soldiers couldn’t resist the temptation, valuable artworks being illegally transported to the U.S. The culprits were tried for theft and either sentenced to jail or dismissed from the army.
Later on, in 1990, the world was shocked to find out that genuine German artworks, including one of the most valuable and historically significant works of medieval art, were offered for sale by the heirs of a war veteran from Whitewright, a small town from Texas.
Until his death in 1980, Joe T. Meador kept an invaluable manuscript of the four Gospels, dating back to the 9th century. The 1,100 years old manuscript included illustrations and it seems that came from a church from Quedlinburg, Germany. It was sold unexpectedly in Switzerland for $3 million.
As it turned out, Meador’s treasure included a 1513 manuscript and a 10th-century relic. The treasure had been taken from Quedlinburg church and hidden in a mine shaft by the Allied troops. It seems that Meador, at that time lieutenant, stole the objects and sent them to the U.S., thus succeeding in accomplishing one of the greatest thefts of the 20th century.
After his death, when the heirs began selling the Quedlinburg objects, American agencies, such as IRS and the FBI have begun a series of investigations. After a few months, the heirs agreed to give up the entire treasure for a total of $2.75 million.