As the story goes, with Soviet forces approaching in the final days of World War II, an armored train left the city of Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland) in April 1945 and headed west toward Waldenburg (now Walbrzych). Somewhere along the 60-km (40-mile) trip, the train and its cargo of gold and other treasures—many of them stolen by the Nazis from Jewish families—vanished into the Owl Mountains, emerging since then only in local legend. Now, two anonymous men have contacted officials in Walbrzych, a district in southwestern Poland, claiming to know the train’s location and demanding 10 percent of the value of its contents in exchange for leading authorities there.
Stories of the Nazi “ghost train” that disappeared along with its precious cargo into the Polish mountains near the end of World War II date back some 70 years, although historians say they haven’t been able to conclusively prove the train ever existed. During the war, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler ordered the creation of a network of underground tunnels in the Owl Mountains, which at the time were under German control, as part of a project known as “Riese,” meaning “Giant.” The original rumor of a Nazi train hidden in the mountains came from a Polish miner, who claimed that just after the war, German miners told him they had seen the train being pushed into one of the tunnels.
According to Marika Tokarska, an official in the southwestern Polish district of Walbrzych, a law firm representing two men (a Pole and a German, who prefer to remain anonymous) sent her office two letters in the last month, offering a description of the train and its contents and claiming to know its location. The documents received from the law firm claim the train is some 150 meters (490 feet) long and loaded with guns, precious metals and other valuables, including up to 300 tons of gold. In exchange for revealing the train’s location, the men are demanding 10 percent of the value of its contents.
Despite the skepticism expressed by some historians as to the veracity of the men’s claims, authorities in Walbrzych say they will pay the reward if the information turns out to be legitimate. As Tokarska told the Associated Press: “We believe that a train has been found. We are taking this information seriously.” Though the men’s knowledge of the train’s contents and their retaining of a lawyer lend legitimacy to their claims, there is still plenty room for skepticism: The first letter from the men’s law firm includes several references to local topography suggesting the men might not be as familiar with the area as they claim, and previous searches for the train in recent years have yielded nothing.
As reported in the Guardian, an anonymous source described to the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborzca how the two men used ground-penetrating georadar technology to find the train, which is buried some 70 meters (230 feet) underground. Other reports claim to have pinpointed the location as under an out-of-service railway station in Walim, a small town nine miles southeast of Wałbrzych. Unauthorized drilling took place at the site in May, leaving six large drill holes.
The district governor in Walbrzych has held a meeting with firefighters, military, police and others to determine how to safely approach and handle the train, which could be loaded with mines or other explosives. In addition, the possibility of methane gas trapped underground increases the risk of a blast.
As the story develops, fortune hunters from around Europe are heading to southwestern Poland, hoping to enjoy some of the spoils or at least witness the dramatic discovery firsthand. Similar searches for hidden Nazi loot have extended throughout the former Third Reich, as hopeful hunters scour lakes, caves, underground bunkers and dungeons, but rarely have their efforts yielded anything substantial.