Monday, November 28, 2016
April 8, 1945, UP - The Pittsburgh Press, page 1, Yanks Seize Reich Gold Hoard; Art Treasures, 100 Tons of Bullion Found; German Trove Stored In Salt Mine, by Robert C. Richards,
April 8, 1945, UP - The Pittsburgh Press, page 1, Yanks Seize Reich Gold Hoard; Art Treasures, 100 Tons of Bullion Found; German Trove Stored In Salt Mine, by Robert C. Richards, United Press Staff Writer,
With 90th Infantry Division, Merkers, Germany, April 7--
American soldiers found a vast treasure trove said to include the entire German gold reserve in a salt mine today. Fritz Vieche, an official of the Reichsbank, was on guard. He said the subterranean vaults contained approximately 100 tons of gold bullion, two million dollars in currency, a 100 million francs in French currency, 110,000 British pounds, four million Norwegian crowns, and lesser amounts in other currencies.
A U. S. Treasury spokesman at Washington said the bullion would be worth about 100 million dollars. Lt. Col. William I. Russell, of Chevy Chase, Md., Military Government officer attached to the 90th, said there was "absolutely no reason to doubt any of Vieche's statements because he is under no pressure and has nothing to gain by lying."
The salt mine also sheltered a priceless art collection. The gold and currency were stored in a room 2100 feet under the ground.
Priceless Art Collection
"The gold was brought from Berlin by train, starting Feb. 11, and later all the rest of the treasures was brought in," Vieche said. "Later when the Berlin printing presses were all destroyed by bombing, we attempted to return the paper currency back to the capital.
"However, because of blown bridges and the fact that American armor moved so swiftly, we were unable to escape with the paper currency."
The Third Army tonight issued an official statement that there was "no certification yet on the captured German gold bullion because no American actually has seen it. However, there is no question whatsoever that paper currency and art treasures are stored inside the mine."
Vault Doors Clamped
It was some time before the American Doughboys got into the underground vault because the Germans had clamped the doors closed. Capt. James McNamara, of Los Angeles, was the first to enter.
"Gee. I never saw so much money in my life than when I walked into the room and saw those bags stacked up against the wall," he said.
The storage vaults are so deep, the trip down in an elevator takes two or three minutes. The statues and paintings were in wooden cases with Vienna, Brussels or Paris stamped on them suggesting some may contain stolen art, though the German civil servants said it all belonged to Germany before the war.
Originals of Masters
Dr. P. O. Rave, curator of German state museums and assistant director of the National Art Gal-
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Reich Gold Hoard Captured by Yanks,
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-leries in Berlin, was in charge of the hidden art treasures. He said originals of Raphael, Rembrandt, Van Dyke, Durier, and Renoir were in the mine.
"Most of these treasures were brought here between March 20 and April 4, Including a thousand cases of paintings and statues, 150 tapestries, a thousand engravings, and 120 cases containing the original Goethe collection from Weimar," he said.
Mekers is 90 miles west of Weimar. The tip-off on the hidden treasure came late yesterday when two military policemen stopped two women who were on their way to get a midwife for a friend. Walking with them, they passed the mine entrance. One woman said: "That's where the bullion is hidden." The M.P. barked: "What did you say?" She repeated her remark.
The M.P's investigated at once. Eight civil servants were in charge of the treasure. They showed no inclination to run away.
"Russians Too Close"
Another of the German guardians, Wolf von Kurzel, said: "The pictures were removed from Berlin because the Russians were pushing too close." Rave shrugged when asked what the pictures and sculptures were worth. "They're priceless," he said.
Almost 200 British prisoners of war had been forced to work the salt mine until recently. One of these was a sergeant from Liverpool. "I've been working for the past two years," he said. "I saw the gold coming in on trucks from time to time. I reckon I saw 20 ten-ton trucks loaded to capacity enter the mine."
Vieche disputed this estimate 200 tons of gold. "The gold is stored in a room 120 meters long and 20 meters wide," he said. "The gold is in bars and each bar weighs 25 pounds. The gold is piled across the entire floor space and is stacked three feet high. The bars are packed in sacks with 75 pounds approximately to each sack.'
Cognac Store Found
The 90th, which is commanded by Brig. Gen. Herbert L. Earnest, of Richmond, Va., captured another salt mine in the neighborhood which contained vast quantities of cognac and champagne. In another salt mine, the 90th found an underground industrial set-up so large it was called "an underground Ruhr." It covered an approximate 10 mile area and worked a vast number of slaves.