Thursday, 15 October 2015

Poland's Nazi Gold Train

This August, whilst preparing for my short talk in Wroclaw, Poland, to my delight there was exciting topical news all over the international press. It was that Nazi gold train hidden in a tunnel in nearby Walbrzych, ever since 1945, having been stuffed with loot from Wroclaw's bank vaults and spirited away. I should say the old German name, Breslau because it was part of Germany in those days - on their far easterly border, with the Russians rapidly approaching westward over the plains. No doubt they were hiding it for future use, about 50 miles closer to Berlin. As you can see from the map, the railway offered a direct route towards the Silesian forests and mountains, well known as hunting country.

Now I had the beginnings of an adventure. Well, the fabulous castle near Walbrzych was already part of my talk and slide show. This was because of the historic link with Winston Churchill. His aunty, Princess Daisy, lived there! In the days when it was part of the German Reich, the castle was known as Schloss Furstenstein, and nowadays in Polish it is called Zamek Ksiaz. Here is a bird's eye view in 2015 -  keep a lazy eye out for  the main road and railway lines down in the valley.....south south east - 1.5 miles or 2.41 km away - precisely.

 I discovered from the Churchill Archives and other primary sources, that back in 1906, Winston was trying to wangle a visit since Kaiser Bill would be using the region of this beautiful, much fought-over Silesia for his military manoeuvres, involving 50,000 troops and machinery, showing off the huge Germanic power to numerous international dignitaries. The Churchill archives at Cambridge show that he had actually asked Daisy's brother, George Cornwallis-West to fix it for him (but then denied it), however in the end, he did receive a formal invitation via the Embassy from the Kaiser himself, along with the offer of the use of a horse and a personal military man to accompany him. So along with the Kaiser's other VIP guests, Winston was put up at the old Golden Goose hotel, slap bang in the centre of Breslau (where Chopin had famously stayed) and was woken up very early each morning to catch a special train to watch the manoeuvres.

On King Edward VII's instructions, Winston didn't put a step wrong with the Kaiser (the King's nephew), even having a 20 minute conversation with him and learning a lot, meanwhile. The Kaiser even sent him some autographed official commemorative photos from September's manoeuvres, along with new year's greetings for 1907.

              Close up of a  sneaky photo opportunity for Kaiser Wilhelm with young Major Churchill, September 1906

Winston wrote up the whole story eventually and it was published several times as 'The German Splendour' -  most recently in his 'Thoughts and Adventures'. I found out from Princess Daisy's personal diaries also published years later, that Winston did get to visit the castle for social events that week - twice, but not to stay.  She never did take to him, and she disagreed with his politics. But she too could see storms ahead - she was a passionate peacemaker with influence across nations and even a famed beauty.

So the next piece of research was 'walking the walk' - a bus journey from Wroclaw, alighting at the castle's Palm House, then a walk through the park and all round the castle. I was interested to read that Princess Daisy's German husband became a megalomaniac, spending money like water to impress all the heads of Europe with his rebuilding in the years 1909 - 1923. He must have made a good job of it, because although the family then faced personal and financial ruination, during World War 2, someone pounced on the potential: "Ksiaz was being prepared for one of the quarters of the Fuhrer." The sightseeing leaflet states this.

No surprise, then, when I was chatting with a member of staff at the main railway station at Wroclaw on 24th September. He volunteered the information (including showing me on Google Earth) of exactly where the Nazi gold train is - just a stone's throw from the Palm House and on an old spur from the main railway track - 10 metres down, and on land nowadays belonging to a Toyota dealer.

Last weekend, Philip helped me trace back on Google Earth and screen capture the location I had been shown.

So to be specific - the site is, as the drone flies, 2.41 km SSE of Ksiaz, under a wooded mound parallel to the main railway line to Wroclaw, north east from the road bridge on 'Uczniowska'. Just to the right of it is the Toyota dealership - Toyotakowski Walbrzych Sp.z.oo . To the right of the mainline track you can see a deserted track - I gather from another blogger like me that the rails have been removed but the sleepers are still visible to this day - and this would have been part of the old pre-war porcelain factory.  I wonder if, in early 1945, was there another track between the two, positioned for a quick getaway towards Berlin, and visible traces erased?

Having visited Dresden's porcelain factory last year and then Schindler's enamel factory in Krakow last month - and knowing that, during WW2, factories had to incorporate some clandestine war production techniques, I just wonder what else they were up to there. What an excellent location for secrecy, and thank goodness it wasn't suspected and bombed to oblivion.

Here is my fellow blogger's most recent 'on the spot' posting - good work:

If we look at that first map again, showing the location of present-day Polish cities Wroclaw and Walbrzych, notice the Polish border, to the south. That relocation southwards was all decided after the end of WW2, and Mr Winston Churchill definitely has credit for that.

Now the location I was given is confirmed with helicopter film footage! A travel tip for the future when visiting Wroclaw: You should see the splendour of the Kaiser's VIP suite at the castellated, newly renovated, Wroclaw railway station. Even Michael Portillo in his TV series didn't get to see behind the scenes like I did on a personal guided tour with the station manager this September. The ceilings currently under lock and key are magnificently decorated with four coats of arms, for the four German Kingdoms: Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony and W├╝rttemberg, and in the centre is a massive golden sun, to represent the Kaiser's enormous power over all his kingdoms. It may be turned into a sophisticated restaurant eventually. However, for those on lowly budgets happy to eat fast food, you can still enjoy the two amazing gold ceilings from the German Reich while you have an American-style coffee or some fried chicken, and dream of discovering Nazi gold from 70 years ago.

1 comment:

  1. Always a pleasure to 'read Grace', her narrative sparkles and content enthralling. But best of all - under 'about me' - she writes: "I have also been presented to Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip and had a little chat so watch out." What a gal!


Thanks for visiting Pigeon Post. Comments are reviewed so there may be a short delay.