As the Nazis fled occupied Europe in the final days of World War II, four German soldiers buried a hoard of gold coins and jewels in the middle of nowhere in the Dutch countryside. Nearly 80 years later, hopes of finding the buried loot have been raised after the Dutch National Archives released a trove of documents — and a map to the treasure where X marks the spot.
The treasure — four ammunition cases laden with coins, watches, jewelry, diamonds and other gemstones — is thought to have been worth at least 2 million or 3 million Dutch guilder in 1945, the equivalent of about US$19.2 million in today’s money.
“A lot of researchers, journalists and amateur archeologists are really interested and excited,” said Annet Waalkens, an adviser at the National Archives, which last week released more than 1,300 historical documents.
Whether any would-be treasure hunter would be able to find the cases is another matter. Among the cache of World War II papers was a 7cm-thick file that recounted the fruitless efforts of the Dutch state to find the looted Nazi treasure after the war.
Researchers believe the treasure was buried in April 1945, when the Allies were on the brink of liberating Arnhem in the eastern Netherlands. German soldiers were fleeing.
“They decide to bury the treasure, because it’s just getting a bit too hot under their feet and they’re getting scared,” Waalkens told the Observer.
The precious cargo was buried in the roots of a poplar tree, 70cm to 80cm deep, just outside the village of Ommeren, about 40km from Arnhem.
The riches might have vanished from the historical record forever were it not for a chatty German soldier, Helmut S, who was not one of the original looters, but took part in the burial.
The National Archives are withholding his full name, as Helmut S, born in 1925, might still be alive, although no one has been able to trace him.
Of the three other soldiers, two did not survive the war and the other simply vanished.
However, Helmut S stayed on the radar.
“He was a bit loose-lipped back in Berlin,” Waalkens said.
He soon came to the attention of Dutch authorities in the occupied German city. They passed the information on to the Beheersinstituut, the Dutch Institute of Asset and Property Management, a body responsible for managing the wealth of people who had disappeared in World War II, including deported Jews, Dutch spies and German citizens who lived in the Netherlands.
Helmut S said that the hoard was discovered when an Arnhem branch of the Rotterdamsche Bank was bombed in August 1944.
A safe was smashed, leaving jewels, coins and other riches scattered in the street, and his comrades pocketed what they could see, later hiding the loot in zinc ammunition boxes, he said.
In 1946 and 1947 the Beheersinstitut carried out three searches. The first failed because the ground was frozen. The second, aided by primitive metal detectors of the time, yielded nothing.
For the third attempt they summoned Helmut S back from Germany to help, but despite his eyewitness knowledge and the map he had provided, the dig was fruitless.
Archivists are not certain who made the map, but believe it was done by one of the German soldiers. After Helmut S handed it over, the map went into the file of the Beheersinstituut, with the proviso it would not be released for many years to protect the financial interests of the property owners.
Dutch officials toyed with several theories. Perhaps the treasure had been dug up by a local who witnessed the burial or by the mystery surviving German soldier.
Others suspected the Americans. During the third dig, Beheersinstituut staff encountered two US officers and noticed that the soil in the area had been disturbed.
“And they actually go to them and they say: ‘Well, we don’t know what you’re doing, but please mind your business and this is our affair,’” Waalkens said.
Joost Rosendaal, an assistant professor in history at Radboud University, said that looting was common on both sides.
In October 1944 at least five banks in Arnhem were looted by German soldiers. After the liberation in April 1945, another was robbed by troops in British uniforms, a group that included one Dutchman serving in the South Wales Borderers.
The historian believes Helmut S got some of the facts wrong.
Helmut’s version that his comrades stumbled across the jewels in the street after a bank was hit in August 1944 “can’t be true,” because Arnhem was not bombed in that month, Rosendaal said.
It was not until September that the Allies attempted to take Arnhem, in the disastrous Operation Market Garden. This reckless gamble by British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery to break through to Germany cost many lives and was later dramatized in the 1977 film A Bridge Too Far.
Rosendaal said it is likely the other soldiers stole the jewels in November 1944 when German forces set fire to Arnhem’s Rotterdamsche Bank, with the blaze intended to “hide the robbing of the bank.”
The historian doubts the treasure will ever be found. The area around Ommeren was heavily bombed on the night of April 24, 1945, by the Royal Air Force.
Rosendaal said he suspects the hiding place was “destroyed by this bombardment,” allowing the treasure to be discovered by locals or Allied troops, or it was taken to another location by the Germans.
The Dutch archive team is more hopeful now the map is online and available to view in person at the Hague, alongside other papers from its 142km-long collection.
“I really hope that it is still there, and that when it’s dug out perhaps we could trace some of the rightful owners,” Waalkens said.
Over a few hours under gray skies, dozens of combat planes and helicopters roar on and off the flight deck of the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier, in a demonstration of US military power in some of the world’s most hotly contested waters. MH-60 Seahawk helicopters and F/A-18 Hornet jets bearing pilot call signs such as “Fozzie Bear,” “Pig Sweat” and “Bongoo” emit deafening screams as they land in the drizzle on the Nimitz, which is leading a carrier strike group that entered the South China Sea two weeks ago. US Rear Admiral Christopher Sweeney, who is commanding the group, said the tour
Sitting in a lotus position, four men weave glittering beads through gold thread on an organza sheet, carefully constructing a wedding dress that would soon wow crowds at Paris Fashion Week. For once, the French couturier behind the design, Julien Fournie, is determined to put these craftsmen in the spotlight. His new collection, which showed in Paris on Tuesday, was entirely made with fabrics from Mumbai. He said that a sort of “design imperialism” means that French fashion houses often play down that their fabrics are made outside France. “The houses which don’t admit it are perhaps afraid of losing their clientele,” Fournie
A court in Thailand sentenced a 27-year-old political activist to 28 years in prison on Thursday for posting messages on Facebook that it said defamed the country’s monarchy, while two young women charged with the same offense continued a hunger strike after being hospitalized. The court in the northern province of Chiang Rai found that Mongkhon Thirakot contravened the lese majeste law in 14 of 27 posts for which he was arrested in August last year. The law covers the king, queen and heirs, and any regent. The lese majeste law carries a prison term of three to 15 years per incident for
INSTABILITY: The country has seen a 33 percent increase in land that cultivates poppies since the military took over the government in 2021, a UN report said The production of opium in Myanmar has flourished since the military’s seizure of power, with the cultivation of poppies up by one-third in the past year, as eradication efforts have dropped and the faltering economy has led more people toward the drug trade, a UN report released yesterday showed. Last year, the first full growing season since the military wrested control of the country from the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2021, saw a 33 percent increase in Myanmar’s cultivation area to 40,100 hectares, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime report said. “Economic, security and governance disruptions