An Israeli investigative journalist has launched a search for nearly half-a-ton of Jewish-owned gold and platinum believed to have been stolen by the Nazis and dumped in a remote lake north of Berlin during the last days of the Second World War.
Yaron Svoray, who is also an anti-Nazi campaigner, announced that he has begun a new attempt to find the stolen gold using sophisticated sonar equipment, following a number of previous failed bids.
“It’s about the people the treasure belongs to. It is time that they obtained a little justice,” Mr Svoray told Germany’s Bild newspaper.
The lost gold and platinum is thought to be encased in 18 crates lying at the bottom of eastern Germany’s Stolpsee lake. In 1981, the Stasi – the hated Communist secret police – used army dredging barges to scour the 40ft-deep lake but found nothing.
Mr Svoray’s previous efforts to track down property stolen by the Nazis resulted in the recovery of 40 uncut Jewish-owned diamonds decades after the end of the war. Having infiltrated neo-Nazi groups in Europe and South America, the 59-year-old has also written a book entitled In Hitler’s Shadow, which was later turned into a film.
The author, who lost several of his relatives in the Holocaust, said he would be using professional divers and the latest sonar detectors to conduct his search of the Stolpsee. German authorities in the state of Brandenburg said they were assisting him.
According to some reports, the crates contain 350kg of gold and 100kg of platinum in bars which were stolen from prisoners at the Ravensbrück concentration camp near the Stolpsee. Another version holds that the precious metals were seized during the Kristallnacht pogrom in which countless Jewish businesses were ransacked by the Nazis in November 1938.
A German eyewitness named Eckard Litz told Allied investigators after the war that, on one night in March 1945, he had seen SS troops forcing emaciated concentration camp prisoners to load inflatable boats with heavy crates which were then ferried to the centre of the Stolpsee and thrown overboard. The boats made six such journeys. The SS then shot all the prisoners dead and sank their bodies in the lake together with the shot-through boats.
The sunken treasure saga remained almost forgotten until 1981 when a West German journalist named Gerd Heidemann rediscovered the story. Mr Heidemann, who obtained dubious notoriety for his role in the faked “Hitler Diaries” scandal of the mid 1980s, travelled to Communist East Berlin and proclaimed to the Stasi that he had a map showing the spot in the lake where the treasure lay.
The news reportedly “electrified” the infamous East German Stasi chief Erich Mielke who dispatched a unit of Stasi officers to the Stolpsee and ordered them to oversee a covert dredging operation code named “autumn wind”. After weeks, the Stasi abandoned the attempt empty-handed.
Erich Köhler, a local historian from the town of Himmelpfort near Stolpsee, said residents had confirmed the murderous SS cloak-and-dagger operation to sink the crates.
But he said he believed the boxes more probably contained concentration camp files which the Nazis were trying to dispose of before the Red Army invaded.