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. Many of these hoards were discovered, which fuelled 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 locatoin 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 World's countries. 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 British 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.
Banknote from the Operation Bernhard produced sometime in 1942. This one was not from from the Toplitzsee but was in circulation somewhere in Italy.
Many of the hoards were discovered in the months following the end of the war. Some were never found, and some dissappeared 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 Austria 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. Adolf Eichmann, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Albert Kesselring, and Otto Skorzeny.
The Nazi Counterfeiting Operation had been moved to Austria to continue operating without interference from Allied Bombing. The function of the operation was to produce large quantities of Allied Currency - British 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 (the SD, Walter Schellenberg, Rheinhard Gehlen). Spy networks are fueled by large quantities of two commodities: Sex and cash. The counterfeit British 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.
The Lakes of the region are as precipitous as the mountains which rise above them and formed by the same glaciation which gouged the sides of the mountains into veritigenous slopes.
The westernmost end of the Toplitzsee where the track from Bad Aussee terminates.The Fischerhütte restaurant is visible as a dark shape on the shore below the tallest part of the woods. The on the mid left of frame is a boathouse.
This is the only part of the lake you can access. The sides are sheer cliffs and and extend for the full length of the lake. There is a small forest track which rises from the Fischerhütte (center frame lakeshore) and up along through the trees under the huge boss of rock. It narrows to less then a the width of a human footprint at one point and continues not further than the end of the boss of rock. To take this photograph I had to climb horizontally, sometimes rigging rope transfers. The cliffs are punctuated by ravines with torrents flowing down them which prove even more difficult to traverse. This is one of the few times I have had to use a grappling iron in mountaineering. By way of consolotion, the face is so steep that any mistakes would be rewarded only by a cool plunge, whereupon one's camera equipment would join the loot at the bottom of the lake. It almost happened.
Cliffs are uncommon and overhangs ever more rare. The Toplitzsee has both. This is on the track from the Grundlsee up to the Toplitzsee. You can see the light marks on the rock in the panoramic photograph above this one.
This is the track at Gössl, at the end of the Grundlsee, where it leads on to the Toplitzsee. The camera looks toward the Toplitzsee.
The south shore of the Toplitzsee looking down on the west end of the lake where the Fischerhütte is located.
The track back down to the Grundlsee is visible as a thin white line low on the mountainside in the distance. There is no path on this shore of the Toplitzsee: I had to find my way here by climbing. The Norwegians have a saying
»Where trees grow, a man can go«
which they used during the planning of the raid on the heavy water plant at Rjukan . This terrain is rough and in a class of impassibility with mangrove swamps and the flood plains of Siberian rivers, which consist of low tangled bushes. In the decades after the war, dead climbers and dead SCUBA divers were regularly pulled out of the Toplitzsee in unexplained circumstances.
The boathouse. The the Fischerhütte is to the left of frame.
The entrance to the Fischerhütte. The owner of the Fischerhütte restaurant is one of the three big experten on the Toplitzsee.
Entrance hallway to the Fischerhaus
One of the printing plates form Unternehmen Bernhard recovered from the Toplitzsee.
Plates and the smaller replacable componments which are placed within them to change the serial number of the signature of the chief cashier, sometimes come up at auction. The Bank of England consider all forged banknotes and plates to be contraband and will issue a note of detention should they find them. This means that it is not possible to return these plates or notes within England. Some decades ago some one discovered that numismatists found the notes of detention issued by the Bank of England more valuable than some of the more common forged banknotes. They did a healthy trade in returning to the forged bank notes to the Bank of England in return for the notes of detention.
High above the Toplitzsee looking toward the Grundlsee
Gold ! At last Gerhard Zauner, Monarch of Austrian Lake Divers (right) pulls a fortune in gold from the Toplitzsee. Have a careful look at the date on the newspaper. This was decades before Adobe Photoshop and this photograph was produced the good-old-fashioned-way.
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 and his unpublished notes are many times more extensive.
One of the crates of banknotes found in the Toplizsee
Schloss Labers in Meran was part of the distribution network of the forgery program. It is today back in the ownership of the family who ran it as an hôtel before the war. There are many arifacts book and photographs relating to Unternehmen Bernhard at the Schloss
Schloss Labers at Meran. Willhelm Höttl used to return to stay at the Schloss regularly until his death.
Schloss Labers. Meran is down to the left of frame.
The skyline of Meran is dotted with Schloss.
Schloss Labers adorns the cover of Hitler's Fälscher by Shraga Elam ISBN 3-8000-3757-2 published by Ueberreuter, (German language).
Feichten above Prutz at Landeck. The location of SS Sturmbahnführer Friedrich Schwend's villa. Schwend used Schloss Labers in Meran as his distribution HQ for the output of Unternehmen Bernhard. As the end of the war approached he buried bales of the forged banknotes in the grounds of his villa at Feichten.
Ian Fleming in his novel Goldfinger (1959) mentions Unternehmen Bernhard at the beginning of Chapter Seven:
Colonel Smithers came over.
'Fivers,' he commented. 'Just come up from our printing works at Loughton.'
'I'm not very impressed by the new ones. They look like any other country's money. The old ones were the most beautiful money in the world.' They walked across the entrance hall, now dimly lit and deserted. Colonel Smithers said,
'As a matter of fact I agree with you. Trouble was that those Reichsbank forgeries during the war were a darn sight too good. When the Russians captured Berlin, among the loot they got hold of the plates. We asked the Narodni Bank for them, but they refused to give them up. We and the Treasury decided it was just too dangerous. At any moment, if Moscow had been inclined, they could have started a major raid on our currency. We had to withdraw the old fivers. The new ones aren't much to look at, but at least they'd be hell to forge.'
In real life, the forgery program was moved to Austria at the end of the war, so the Soviets never captured anything from it.
+ SEE ALSO
Die Falscher (2007)
- Otto Skorzeny
- Adolf Eichmann
- Reichsbank Gold
+ EXTERNAL LINKS
- 1986 Article on Schloss Labers
- Dives in the Topltizsee
Hitler's Paper Weapon by SS Obersturmbannführer Willhelm Höttl published by Rupert Hart-Davies 1955
The Gold Train by Ronald Zweig ISBN 0141000759 published by Penguin
+ Details the route and dispersal of an entire train of valuables from Budapest throughout Austria in the closing days of the war.
Nazi Counterfeiting of British Pound Currency During World War II by Bryan Burke ISBN 0-9618274-0-8
+ This is the definitive reference work on the technical details of the program, written by numismatist Bryan Burke. Ian Fleming mentions the Nazi counterfeiting programme in his novel Goldfinger (1959) at the start of chapter seven.
Enthülltes Geheimnis Toplitzsee by Werner Kopacka ISBN 3-85489-041-9 published by Steirische, (German language).
Der Toplitzsee by Dr. Mrkus Köberl, (German language).
Hitler's Fälscher by Shraga Elam ISBN 3-8000-3757-2 published by Ueberreuter, (German language).
Unternehmen Bernhard by Walter Hagen, published by Welsermuhl, Wels, (German language).
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