In August, a pair of amateur treasure hunters caused a stir with their claim that they had located a Nazi train laden with looted gold, gems and weapons buried in a secret tunnel in southwestern Poland. At a news conference yesterday, however, Polish scientists who investigated the site announced that they could find no evidence of the train’s existence.
For decades after the end of World War II, rumors persisted that the mountains of southwest Poland held a secret—a Nazi “ghost train” abounding with looted weapons, jewels, priceless art and up to 300 tons of gold hidden inside a secret labyrinth of tunnels. The legend appeared to become reality in August, however, when two amateur treasure hunters said they had “irrefutable proof” of the train’s existence. The pair, who asked for 10 percent of the value of the train’s contents in exchange for information about its whereabouts, said they had located it in a tunnel sealed by exploded rocks near the city of Walbrzych.
The story gained traction in September when Piotr Zuchowski, Poland’s deputy culture minister, told the press that images from ground-penetrating radar at the site along a railway embankment between the cities of Wroclaw and Walbrzych had made him “99 percent convinced” that the train had been found. Fortune hunters—as well as the media—descended upon Walbrzych as geologists and engineers from AGH University of Science and Technology in nearby Krakow spent a month surveying the location with magnetic field detectors, thermal imaging cameras and radar.
At a news conference held in Walbrzych yesterday, however, the team of Polish scientists said their site investigation failed to produce any signs of the buried treasure. “There may be a tunnel,” announced Professor Janusz Madej, head of the scientific team, “but there is no train.” According to the New York Times, Madej said that although the investigators discovered some anomalies in the ground, they are no more than 8 feet below the surface, far shallower than the reported depth of the train, which was said to be 30 feet underground. “The anomalies could be remnants of a collapsed tunnel,” said Madej, who added that the irregularities would have been far greater if there were a train present.
According to the New York Times, the Nazis did hide treasure pilfered from across Eastern Europe in the castles and mansions in the region surrounding Walbrzych, which was part of the German province of Lower Silesia until it became part of Poland when the borders were redrawn after World War II. Some believe the Nazis also hid loot, much of it taken from Jewish families, in the network of underground tunnels that Adolf Hitler ordered built, much of it by Allied prisoners of war between 1943 and 1945, in the region’s Owl Mountains. The Associated Press reports that historians differ as to whether the tunnels were intended as shelters or secret weapons factories.
As the hidden tunnels have been unearthed in the decades following World War II, rumors have only intensified that a Nazi “ghost train” filled with riches was smuggled inside one of them as the Soviet Red Army closed in during the spring of 1945. The armored train reportedly left Wroclaw (known as the German city of Breslau at the time) bound for Walbrzych (then known as Waldenburg) 40 miles away but never reached its destination. Some believe it was hidden away and sealed inside one of the clandestine tunnels near Ksiaz Castle, just outside of Walbrzych, although no documents have ever been found that cite the train’s existence.
The pair of treasure hunters who claimed to have found the train in August—Polish construction company owner Piotr Koper and German geologist Andreas Richter—told reporters at the same press conference that the experts’ findings will not derail their quest. The New York Times reported that the men remained adamant that a railway tunnel and the “ghost train” exists at the examined site. Koper questioned the study’s methodology and presented the results of research conducted by his own set of experts. He displayed images of round, oval and rectangular shapes found by ground-penetrating, thermal and magnetic sensors and insisted it must be the train.
“We carried out similar examinations in many other locations, but we have never encountered anything like this,” Koper said. “There is no way these shapes are of natural origin.” Local authorities in Walbrzych are not so confident, however. The New York Times reports that the officials will now have to decide whether to move ahead with an expensive and complicated project of digging and drilling to insert cameras into the ground to investigate further or abandon the effort.