Reichsbank Gold (1945) - Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the Nazi Gold Hoards
Photograph © Gerhard Zauner
In the last weeks of the Third Reich anyone who still had gasoline was trying to escape the Soviet Army and the American and British Armies as they met. A few made it to Denmark but many more made it to Austria and the Alps. On paper, the Nazis had already made preparations to defend Alpine Austria and make it the Alpenfestung: The Alpine Fortress, but these were never carried out. Even Vienna received a cursory defense.
In Berlin the Reichsbank vaults were emptied and shipped several truck loads of gold bars, and large bales of foreign currency south to Austria.
Degusa refined bars
With chaos everywhere, refugees being driven ahead of the Soviets filling the roads, and very little gasoline or ammunition to be found, there was little that could be done to hide the gold. The convoy of trucks did not make it further into the Alps than Garmisch-Partenkirchen, still inside Germany and a few kilometers from the Austrian border.
The truck load of gold was buried in shallow pits in the forest not far from the forester's house on the Walchensee at Einsiedl, east of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The high ground in Bavaria is rock and although trees may find a foothold, there is little soil. Digging deep pits is very difficult, especially in a hurry.
The bales of foreign currency, being lighter, were taken up the mountainside by mules and buried or hidden in the forest.
Within days the US Army had arrived from Italy and most German Army personnel were made prisoners of war. Some escaped and hid in the forests for months afterwards. Some eventually entered camps for Displaced Persons (»DP Camps«), of which there were hundreds, some claiming they were DPs from Eastern Europe. There was little security at actual PoW camps and many PoWs just came and went. The troops had just finished fighting a war and security was loose, there were no checkpoints, except in some cities, for instance.
Weeks passed and those locals who had been involved in hiding the Reichsbank assets started to recover some of the foreign currency. At night they walked along the forest tracks from Garmisch-Partenkirchen to the Walchensee and then up the mountainside to the stashes of currency. The banknotes were retrieved and hidden in the garden of Haus Hohe Halde above Partenkirchen as well as anywhere else they could be stashed. Some were hidden in barns and under the floor of huts, some in stone walls north of Garmisch.
Meanwhile, Garmsich had become a hotbed of black marketeering. Just about anything could be traded. Germans were starving and selling anything which they had. The US Army troops had dollars, rations and the de-facto currency of Europe at that time: Cigarettes.
Most black market trading was for necessities like food, clothing, fuel but anything could be sold to US Army troops, especially officers who had access to transport, which would enable them to ship their goods stateside. Items like fur coats, cameras, silverware and works of art were worth nothing if you were starving. Large quantities of these goods came on the black market for G.I.s to purchase. Many items were just looted by the Allied armies during the actual fighting. Automobiles were particularly useful as they would save you having to walk. The Allied advance became clogged by stolen German cars. In some areas M.P.s were given orders to pull all private cars off the road and machine-gun the tires. More expensive cars would be successively requisitioned by successively higher ranks with the most expensive cars going all the way to Generals.
The famous Casa Carioca night club at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, 1946. The Casa burned down some decades ago and the site is now the parking area for the ski lifts.
With the war over, a new method had to be found and this was usually a 'requisition' using a false receipt in the name of a fictitious officer, or the arrest of a family member on trumped up charges, which required the other family members to buy their relative back out of jail.
Corruption was so rife that eventually there was a Congressional enquiry.
Eventually the American occupation forces heard rumors about the gold and currency, but it did not spread to all ears. Haus Hohe Halde was raided, the front gate broken down with a Sherman tank. The occupants were taken away and what currency had not already been buried or hidden was confiscated.
A small group of American soldiers were lead to the gold hoard on the mountainside above the Walchensee, and the gold recovered. They were given a receipt for the gold and the officers disappeared. Not just from Garmsich but from the record. Sayer and Botting, investigating in the late Eighties traced one to Switzerland, but could only find the landlady of an apartment the officer had rented. The trail disappeared forever at this point.
Even more mysterious is the appearance and sudden disappearance of a second gold hoard, the »Singleton Gold Hoard« further back down the road from the Walchensee toward Mittenwald. Sayer and Botting found eyewitnesses and and even photographs of the gold being recovered. It had been buried in a hole, deeper than the shallow graves of the other gold hoard, excavated into the steep bank of the mountainside as it rose above the road. This hoard also disappeared via the same method. Holes in the forest floor fill in remarkably quickly thanks to the build-up of leaves and the action of weather. Only the gold graves above the Walchensee are still visible as slight depressions in the ground at the side of a track.
Josef Pingl the pigkeeper from Mittenwald was found with a hoard of platinum bars beneath his midden pile. I have never been able to find out what happened to this hoard. I presume it suffered the same fate as the Reichsbank gold on the Walchansee and the Singleton Hoard. I have photographs of the area where the Singleton Hoard was buried and if I find them I will put them up on this page.
Clearly Garmsich was the last stop on the line for those charged with removing bank assets from Berlin.
Advertizement for Opel in the winter of 1951 shot outside the Casa Carioca in Garmisch Partenkirchen
In a separate event, reported by W.Stanley Moss in Gold is Where you Hide It, a hoard of diamonds which had been looted from Arnhem by an SS unit involved in the fighting, were discovered hidden in an Inn.
Gebirgsjäger Kaserne in Garmisch
Monument to the dead of two World Wars. The dead are honored in an annual ceremony.
Garmsich from the Zugspitz
Garmisch from the Zugspitz. The two rows of large buildings are the Gebirgsjäger barracks in Garmisch.
The Haus Hohe Hald as it is today.
The view to the south east from the Haus Hohe Hald.
Garden Wall of the Haus Hohe Hald.
DDAC Durchfahrtspläne fur 150 deutsche Städte, 1939, Garmisch-Partenkirchen
The Mittenwald Barracks is the headquarters of the Gebirgsjäger..
Gebirgsjäger Kaserne - Mittenwald
The monument to the faithful mule of the Gebirgsjäger.
The forester's house at Einsiedl on the southern shore of the Walchensee .
Looking south east across the south shore of the Walchensee from Hill 1406.
The road south to Mittenwald procedes out of frame to the lower right. The snow-capped mountains in the background are above Mittenwald. The forester's house is just beneath frame mid right at Einsiedl which is the south west corner of the Walchensee . The gold hoard was buried on the lake side of the first ridge above the lake under 1000m from the forester's hut. This was the most difficult photograph I ever had to acquire. It took and entire day to get just this one photograph. It would be from this vantage point or one close to it that one witness to whom W. Stanley Moss spoke supposedly watched the mules hauling the gold up to the gold graves on the Steinregel. W.Stanley Moss and myself were convinced that he had concocted this story to distance himself from events, and that in fact he was present with the mules when the gold was buried.
The location of the Reischbank Gold Hoard, 1945.
The line in purple denotes the approach. The road along the Walchensee is a toll road but you do not need to use it. There is a an area of hardcore just over the river around the 807,3 mark on the map. Leave the automobile there and walk across the road. Locate the track which ascends the mountain at the corner of the Walchensee toll road and the Mittenwald to to Bad Tölz highway (yellow, left of map). This is mule track which is paved with stones. Follow the track while it rises. As your ascent levels out the direction changes to the east. The main track contines along a contour. A short way along a track appears to branch off to your left and separate along the other side of a ridge which rises to separate the two tracks. Follow this track. The gold graves will appear to your right, against the rise in the ground just as the slope of the ground, from your right down to your left, steepens. I think the track dissappears shortly after this. The gold graves are probably invisible now as even deep holes in the forest floor dissappear after perhaps ten, fifteen years.
I have annotated the map from memory. If there is any discrepency, follow my narrative, and not the map.
My notebooks contain information on altitude, magnetic bearing and the number of paces from landmarks and I will relate these as soon as I am able to.
Gerhard Zauner is a SCUBA diver who has spent his whole life recovering artefacts from the bottom of Austrian lakes, including gold, printing plates from the Nazi counterfeiting programme and personal items discarded by fleeing Nazis as they changed into civilian clothing to make their escape. He has published the highlights of his findings in his book, but the actual extent of discoveries would extend to many volumes. His offices are an incredible treasure trove. His book is far more extensive than this webpage, even when completed..
A real bar gold Reichsbank gold recovered from the Salzkammergut by Gerhard Zauner © . After much discussion, this photograph has been altered in a minor detail to ensure that if it is used to manufacture forgeries, they can be verified as such.
At this time of writing both the novel Goldfinger (1959) and the screenplay Goldfinger (1964) one of many persistent rumors concerning the end of the War in Europe was that Nazi Gold had been hidden in the Toplitzsee (Lake Toplitz) in the Salzkammergutt (Austrian Lake Region). This was one of the many rumors concerning various hoards of valuables, treasures, hidden at the end of the war. There were indeed many of this hoards, which fueled the rumors concerning yet more hoards to be found. Various German organizations, such as the Reichsbank evacuated the contents of their vaults as the Soviets closed on the Reich. The natural location to hide this valuables was the Alpine Redoubt and most of the hoards were located in Austria. With the gigantic stocks of valuables held by institutions such as the Reichsbank, these hoards were contained fortunes larger than the treasury of many of the countries of the world. Untold riches for any individual or group of individuals. A large hoard of uncut diamonds looted by an SS unit during the fighting in Arnhem were also hidden in the region. A train load of valuables confiscated from Hungarian Jewry in Buda-Pest called »The Gold Train« ended up scattered all over Austria. The stocks of banknotes from Operation Bernhard, the Nazi Counterfeiting operation were hidden throughout the Salzkammergutt. In the confusion during the final days of the war, some of the cases of notes were ditched into the River Traun, which flowed with money for weeks afterwards. Locals and newly arrived G.I.s waded through the waters filling their pockets with English five pound notes. It is the River Traun which flows down into the lake at Ebensee, where the Cable-Car scenes in Where Eagles Dare (1968) were filmed.
Many of the hoards were discovered in the months following the end of the war. Some were never found, and some disappeared again after they were discovered. Many have attempted to discover what happened to these hoards and books have been written on the subject:
The place which has held the imagination of historians and researchers for longest is Lake Toplitz. The Austrian Lake region around Bad Ischl is famed for its beauty and and tranquility. In the final days of the war, Lower Austrian was the last region still not under Allied control and those in the Wehrmacht still able to move throughout the Reich all gravitated to the region to await the inevitable. Nearly all of the Parteibonzen (party big-whigs) were there and many of the personalities of the Third Reich. Herman Göring, Albert Kesselring, and Otto Skorzeny .
The Nazi Counterfeiting Operation (Unternehmen Bernhard) had been moved to Austria to continue operating without interference from Allied Bombing. The function of Unternehmen Bernhard was to produce large quantities of Allied currency - English pounds sterling and American dollars. Naturally it operated in secrecy to prevent the Allies realizing that their currency was being undermined. Adolf Hitler had forbade the use of the counterfeit notes in undermining Allied currency as he feared a retaliation by the Allies. However, the banknotes were used to fuel the intelligence gathering networks for the Nazi intelligence operations (SD, Schellenberg, Gehlen). Spy networks a fueled by large quantities of two commodities: Sex and cash. The counterfeit English pounds Sterling were fed through the Nazis spy networks throughout occupied Europe. It was forged British pounds which were used to discover the whereabouts of Mussolini prior to his rescue by Otto Skorzeny's Commandos from the Gran Sasso.
From the script of the film Goldfinger (1964)
At 00:20:04 James Bond and 'M' meet with Colonel Smithers at the Bank of England :
SMITHERS: He's legally entitled to operate modest metallurgical installations.
His British one is down in Kent.
We've failed to discover
BOND: I think it's time Mr Goldfinger and I met.
Socially, of course.
SMITHERS: I was hoping you'd say that. It might lead to a business talk... Mr Goldfinger's kind of business.
BOND: I'll need some sort of bait. - I quite agree.
SMITHERS: This is the only one we have from the Nazi hoard in Lake Toplitz.
But there are undoubtedly others.
Mr Bond can make
BOND: Of course, sir.
Colonel Smithers produces a gold bar which he states was recovered from the Nazi hoard in »Lake Toplitz«.
00:20:04: Bond, M, and Colonel Smithers dine at the Bank of England.
On the boardroom table at the Bank of England, Colonel Smithers displays the Bank's bar of Nazi Gold.
00:26:40: The gold bar makes one of the most dramatic entrances in film history.
GOLDFINGER: Oh you must excuse Oddjob, Mr Bond. He's an admirable manservant but mute. He's not a very good caddy. Golf is not yet the national game of Korea.
GOLDFINGER: This meeting is not a coincidence, eh ?.
What's your game, Mr Bond?
BOND: My game?
GOLDFINGER: You didn't come here to play golf.
BOND: [ Drops bar of gold onto the green ]
GOLDFINGER: A 1940 smelt from the [Weigunner] foundry at Essen.
BOND: Part of a smelt of 600
GOLDFINGER: They vanished in 1944
BOND: When the Nazis were on the run.
GOLDFINGER: And you have access to more?
BOND: Yes, from the same source.
GOLDFINGER: Interesting. Two holes to go
BOND: .Yes, and all square.
GOLDFINGER: Then you have no objection to increasing the stakes?
BOND: No. What do you have in mind?
GOLDFINGER: The bar of gold you have with you, naturally.
BOND: It's worth five thousand pounds.
GOLDFINGER: Oh, I'll stake the cash equivalent!
GOLDFINGER: Strict rules of golf?
BOND: But of course.
The actual gold hoards were at Einsedl. Lake Toplitz contained the huge hoard of forged Sterling bank notes created in the Nazi forgery program Unternehmen Bernhard.
There are several hundred more photographs of the locations related to the Reischbank gold hoard as well as several hundred paragraphs of text.
+ SEE ALSO
- Adolf Eichmann
- Unternehmen Bernhard
- Garmisch-Partenkirchen winter sports
Gold Is Where You Hide It - What Happened to the Reichsbank Treasure by W. Stanley Moss (1956)
- The original account of the disappearance of the Nazi Gold hordes at Garmisch-Partenkirchen . Moss is on the trail when it is still warm.
Nazi Gold : The Sensational Story of the World's Greatest Robbery - and the Greatest Criminal Cover-Up by Brian Sayer and John Botting
ISBN 1840187859, published by Mainstream
- Sayer and Botting's much longer investigation into the Nazi Gold hoards.
Nazi Millionaires by Kenneth Alford and Theodore Savas ISBN: 0971170967 published by Casemate.
- Deals with the many and various activities of German Intelligence and SS staff hiding in Austria at the end of the war, including SS-Standartenführer Josef Spacil's distribution and concealment of valuables from the Reichsbank at Schloss Fischorn at Bruck outside Zell am See.
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