Dutch authorities released a WWII-era map last week that marks the spot where Nazis buried a small fortune of looted treasure as they retreated from the Netherlands in 1945, setting off a mad rush to find the long-lost stash of riches that has rankled locals.
The treasure is said to contain coins, jewelry, gems, and other valuables estimated to be worth about $19 million today. German soldiers stole the hoard from a broken bank vault in Arnhem during the final year of the war, and buried it in ammunition boxes as they fled advances into the nation by Allied forces.
According to the map, the booty should be hidden in a field near the town of Ommeren, in the Dutch municipality of Buren, though many experts believe it has long since been plundered. Regardless, treasure hunters descended on the town: Reuters reported that, “armed with metal detectors and shovels, groups wandered through the fields surrounding rural Ommeren” last week. It got so bad that municipal officials in Buren have had to warn treasure hunters not to search for the loot given that this area is also littered with much more dangerous remnants of WWII, such as unexploded munitions.
“Experts point out that the area is close to the frontline of the Second World War,” the municipality of Buren said in a statement on Thursday. “Searching there is dangerous because of possible unexploded bombs, landmines or grenades. We therefore advise against searching for the Nazi treasure.”
Moreover, the statement cautioned that Dutch laws stipulate that “archaeological excavations are prohibited, except for organizations with an excavation certificate” and that carrying a metal detector without permission from the Municipal Executive is also prohibited.
The news release initially said that the town would meet to discuss measures to be taken as a result of the deluge of treasure-hunters, but an update on Monday stated that, “Today no one has been found in the area looking for the Nazi treasure,” and that no new measures need to be taken although officials are monitoring the situation.
The map was one of roughly 1,300 documents released last week by the National Archives of the Netherlands, a document dump that also included details about previous failed searches for the treasure.
The map originally belonged to a German soldier known only as Helmut S., whose whereabouts and ultimate fate are currently unknown. After WWII, Helmut S. ended up in Berlin, where he boasted that he was present for the burial of the valuables near a poplar tree, though he claimed he was not involved in the original theft. Word of the treasure reached Dutch officials, who tried to locate it several times from 1946 and 1947, to no avail.
Helmut S. was then enlisted to help find the treasure, but that effort also came up short, though he did provide the newly released map to the Dutch government. Two of the other soldiers that were said to be involved in the heist and burial died in the war, and the remaining witness was never heard from again, according to the Guardian.
Experts have speculated that the treasure could have been already ransacked by any number of people during the turbulent end of WWII, from local Dutch villagers, to retreating Nazi soldiers, to Allied forces that liberated the Netherlands. But for prospectors who flocked to the area this week, hope springs eternal.
“A lot of researchers, journalists and amateur archaeologists are really interested and excited,” Annet Waalkens, an adviser at the National Archives, told the Observer. “I really hope that it is still there and that when it’s dug out perhaps we could trace some of the rightful owners.”
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