Conflicting Reports on Discovery of 'Nazi Treasure Train' in Poland

Remarks by local Polish officials contradict Warsaw's '99% certainty' of last week; Jewish restitution agency calls for joint panel.

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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November 9, 2011 image of an old miner shaft at Walbrzych, Poland amid reports of Nazi gold train being found.
November 9, 2011 image of an old miner shaft at Walbrzych, Poland amid reports of Nazi gold train being found.Credit: AFP
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

The “Nazi treasure train,” which the Polish government announced on Friday had been located with 99-percent certainty, continues to cause a stir. Conflicting reports over its existence, along with fantastic tales of its contents and demands for the restitution of the treasure it may or may not contain, continue to swirl.

At a news conference in Wroclaw, officials in the southwestern province of Lower Silesia contradicted the Polish Culture Ministry’s excited announcement on Friday of the train’s probably discovery.

Provincial Governor Tomasz Smolarz said that new evidence about the location of the armored Nazi train, reputed to be carrying gold and other valuables, “aren’t any stronger than similar claims made in past decades.”

Roman Szelemej, the mayor of Walbrzych, which is along the rail line where the purported train has been located, made similar statements, telling Poland’s TVN24 news channel: “This isn’t the first time and probably not the last signal of an astounding discovering in our area.”

On Friday, Polish Deputy Culture Minister Piotr Zuchowski said he had seen underground radar photos showing the 100-meter-long train, reputedly hidden by the Nazis in 1945 on their withdrawal from Poland in an area that, until after World War II, was German territory.

Despite the conflicting reports, the area, in a forest near the Czech border, is under guard and additional aid has been requested from the Polish army.

Media outlets around the world have been reporting additional unverified details about the train’s booty. In addition to gold, jewelry, artwork and ammunition, it reportedly carries panels from the Amber Room of a Russian palace that Czar Peter the Great presented to King Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia in 1716.

The room was looted by Nazi German soldiers during World War II, and the location of the contents is unknown.

Inquiries from Jewish organizations regarding the treasure have also been on the rise.

After Lilly Haber, the chairwoman of the Polish Forum of immigrants in Israel, demanded that Poland make efforts to identify the rightful owners of the property on the train, on Sunday the World Jewish Restitution Organization sent a letter to Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz.

The organization proposed the establishment of of a committee, with representatives from the WJRO and the Polish government, that would examine the provenance of the train’s contents.

The WJRO said it was very interested in the purported discovery of the train and stressed that the organization is considered the legal and moral representative of the Jewish people with respect to the restitution of Jewish property that was confiscated during the war in areas that later became the communist countries of Eastern Europe.

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