Death bed confession in Nazi gold hunt
The remarkable tale of the legendary Nazi gold train took an astonishing twist yesterday when a Polish minister said that the train's existence was confirmed in a deathbed confession.
Piotr Zuchowski, head of conservation at the culture ministry, said the location of the train was divulged to the train's finders by one of the men who hid it.
"A man on his deathbed gave the people looking for the train the information they needed to find it," he said.
Mr Zuchowski described the find as "unprecedented".
Since the end of the Second World War rumours and legends of a Nazi gold train that disappeared without trace in the dying days of the conflict have swirled around the town of Walbrzych, in south-west Poland. Stories put the train in the hills around the town, but despite many attempts to track it down it was never found - until now, it seems.
Mr Zuchowski told a press conference yesterday that the dying man was involved in the operation to hide the train 70 years ago. The identity of the man, and the two treasure hunters - believed to be a Pole and a German - who made the find has not been revealed, and remain part of the mystery still surrounding the train.
The vice minister said he is now "99pc" that the train has been found after seeing photographs of an object taken with ground penetrating radar.
"This is unprecedented. The train is over 100 metres long, and is armoured. We do not know what's inside but its armour indicates it has a special cargo," said Mr Zuchowski. "There is probably military equipment but also jewellery, works of art and archive documents which we knew existed but never found."
And the suggestion that the train carried stolen personal items, rather than solid gold blocks, has sparked a keen interest among specialists in returning looted property to their lawful owners.
"We are still very keen to establish the facts surrounding the content of this train, but certainly the discovery alone is of great interest," said Mary Kate Cleary, Art Recovery Group's research and due diligence director.
"The Nazis engaged in a systematic campaign to loot works of art and cultural property from public and private collections in Europe, with close to 80,000 objects confiscated in Poland alone. If even a fraction of that number can be recovered from this train then we could be witnessing one of the most significant finds in modern history."
The authorities and the finders have kept the exact location of the train secret owing to fears that it could be booby trapped and that any explosives on it could have become unstable, and so pose a danger to other treasure hunters who have reportedly descended on Walbrzych in the hope of getting to the train first.
Despite the news blackout on the location, Radio Wroclaw, a radio station in southern Poland, claimed the train was located somewhere besides a four-kilometre stretch of the Wroclaw-Walbrzych main line near Walbrzych. This would tie in with one of the original rumours of a gold train, which said the Nazis had parked a locomotive with trucks in a tunnel off the main line and then concealed the entrance.
Although just what the train might have been carrying is still unclear, Mr Zuchowski said the two treasure hunters are in line for some kind of reward for their efforts.
"If it is confirmed the train is carrying valuable items, the finders can expect a 10pc finder's fee, either in the form of a reward from the ministry or from the owners of the property," said the vice minister. "Of course any items of value will be returned to their original owners, assuming we can find them."