been hoping to discover hidden gold in the lakes of Austria
and Germany. (Copywrite Lee Krystek,
Deep in the Austrian Alps early one morning in 1945,
Ida Weisenbacher answered a knock at her door. The 21-year-old
Austrian farm girl found herself confronted with a Nazi officer.
"Get up immediately," he told her. "Hitch up the
horse wagon. We need you."
Weisenbacher did as she was told and pulled the
family wagon up next to a military vehicle. Soldiers then loaded
heavy boxes onto the wagon. Each was marked with a series of letters
and numbers that gave no hint as to the contents. When the wagon
was loaded the officer told the girl to drive it to nearby Lake
Toplitz. Once she was given the destination the need for the wagon
became obvious: The road did not go all the way to the lake. Only
the horse-drawn wagon could take the cargo over the final distance.
It took three trips to transport the whole load
to the lake. On the final run Weisenbacher saw that the soldiers
were out on the lake and that the boxes were being dropped into
the water. They quickly sunk out of sight. Weisenbacher wondered
what the boxes contained that they had to be sunk to the bottom
of that deep, dark, cold place. What secrets did they possess?
"The Largest Robbery in History"
During World War II German troops invaded numerous
countries across Europe. As they did so they looted the bank reserves
of those countries and took the gold back to Germany. Victims
of the holocaust were also stripped of any valuables they had,
including gold jewelry. The gold from these sources was then melted
down and cast into bars with the mark of the German central bank,
the Reichsbank, imprinted on them. Much of this loot was used
to pay for the war effort, but a large portion was still intact
and in Nazi hands as the end of the war neared.
In February of 1945 the President of the Reichsbank
ordered that the majority of the gold reserves be sent to the
village of Merkers some 200 miles south of Berlin. There it was
concealed deep underground in a potassium mine. The mine was also
used to store many art treasures, some belonging to German museums,
others looted from conquered nations.
In April Merkers was captured by the U.S. Third
Army commanded by Lieutenant General George Patton. French civilians
who had worked at the mine told the American military what was
hidden there and the hoard was soon in American hands. A tally
of the treasure showed that there were 8,198 bars of gold bullion
in the mine along with gold coins, silver bars, and paper money.
The total value (in 1945 dollars) was estimated to be over $520
million . This constituted the bulk of the Nazi loot, but not
all of it. Some of the gold and other valuables had been left
By April of 1945 the Allies were closing in on the
German capital and Nazi officials decided to move the remaining
contents of the Reichsbank to Oberbayern in southern Bavaria.
There, in the mountains, the Nazis hoped to hold out and try to
regroup. At least nine tons of gold were sent to Oberbayern along
with bags of foreign currency and coins. This treasure, including
730 gold bars, was thought to be hidden around Lake Walchensee.
After the end of the war U.S. soldiers were able to find and account
for $11 million of that final hoard. Over $3 million was never
found, however. Some small portion of it might have been smuggled
out of the country by escaping Nazi officials, but what happened
to the rest of the missing gold?
The disappearance of this treasure was listed by
the Guinness Book of World Records as "the largest robbery in
the history of the world."
Lake Toplitz is one mile long and lies between steep
limestone cliffs in the Salzkammergut region in Austria. It is
a beautiful, but remote place. The water is over 300 feet deep
and oxygenless. Without oxygen nothing can live in the lake except
some specialized bacteria and one specie of worm. With its dark,
deep recesses and isolated location, the lake seems the perfect
place to hide something.
Were those boxes seen by Ida Weisenbacher filled
with some of the missing gold? A lot of people thought they might
be. In 1959 the German magazine Stern sent divers to the
lake to investigate. What they found was not gold, but crates
of counterfeit British pounds, secret documents and a printing
It was learned what that had found was remnants
of a secret German project called Bernhard. The idea for
the operation had come from Adolph Hitler himself. Skilled printers
were recruited from concentration camps and given the best printing
and graphic equipment available. Their assignment was to counterfeit
enemy currency. It would be used to pay for the war effort and
at the same time weaken the enemies' economies.
It is estimated that the equivalent of $4.5 billion
was forged in operation Bernhard. Most of the false money were
British pounds. The operation was so successful that at the end
of the war the Bank of England recalled and redesigned all it's
currency. The American dollar was also a target, but the war ended
before any significant amount of United States currency could
When operation Bernhard was moved out of Berlin,
the S.S. apparently chose to hide the evidence at the bottom of
Lake Toplitz. Was anything else also hidden down there?
In 1963 a German sport diver was hired to find out.
Unfortunately he died in the attempt. The Austrian government
responded by making it illegal to dive in the lake for the purpose
of hunting treasure. They also started a search of their own.
The operation located eighteen crates of counterfeit money on
the bottom along with the printing plates needed to make forgeries.
Rockets, projectiles, mines and other experimental weapons were
also salvaged from the bottom of the lake. Apparently during the
war Toplitz had been used to test torpedoes and even a missile
that could be launched by a submarine from underwater.
By 1983 it was thought that the lake was completely
cleaned of all Nazi material, but in that same year a biologist,
Professor Hans Fricke, started diving in Toplitz and found even
more items. Fricke hadn't initially been interested in treasure,
but had obtained special permission to dive in the lake to research
what kind of life might survive in its oxygenless depths. He discovered
several types of bacteria and a worm that manage to live under
the hash conditions. He also found more counterfeit British pounds
along with additional military hardware. His discoveries sparked
more speculation that the lake still hid gold bullion. If it did,
though, Fricke never came across it.
The most complete examination of the lake came in
2000 when the American television network CBS, along with the
World Jewish Congress, sponsored an exploration of the Toplitz
by a company called Oceaneering Technologies. Oceaneering Technologies
went over the bottom of the lake inch-by-inch using a remote-controlled
submarine named Phantom. They found the floor of the lake covered
with trees that had fallen off the surrounding mountains. In some
places the wood was stacked as deep as sixty feet. This made using
the submarine difficult. Its long tether, which connected it to
the crew on the surface, was always in danger of being tangled
in the dead branches and roots. When the robot submarine found
what looked like the remains of a crate, Oceaneering sent down
a manned submarine that found more forged British bank notes.
It would seem that with all this searching the reputation
of Lake Toplitz as a location for lost treasure should be gone.
This isn't the case. Some people continue to believe that the
lake or others like it in Austria or Germany still hold millions
in gold. Their speculation was strengthened in 2003 when an amateur
diver discovered a solid gold cauldron at the bottom of Lake Chiemsee
in Bavaria. The cauldron was decorated with Celtic and Indo-Germanic
figures and is thought to have been commissioned by a top Nazi
official who drew inspiration from such mythology. It is estimated
that the cauldron, which weighs 23 pounds, is worth almost $100,000.
A Partial Bibliography
Salvage Crew Seeks Nazi Treasures, Melissa
Eddy, Associated Press, 7/4/2000, http://www.codoh.com/newsdesk/2000/000704ap.html
The Greatest Theft in History, BBC News,
Hitler's Lake, Scott Pelley, CBS NEWS 7/3/2002,
Lee Krystek 2004. All Rights Reserved.