With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Dutch Villagers Find Hunt for Nazi Treasure Less and Less Charming With Passage of Time

In the spring of 1945, a couple of weeks before the liberation of the Netherlands from its Nazi occupiers, five German soldiers buried four ammunition boxes filled with gold, jewels and watches in a woodsy part of a sleepy Dutch village.

Nazi soldiers had snatched the valuables, which could be worth millions, off the street after they were blown out of a bank vault during an explosion in the city of Arnhem in the late summer of 1944, documents show.

What the men who buried the loot probably did not know was that one of their fellow soldiers, a man named Helmut Sonder, was lying in the bushes with a war injury, observing the scene and committing it to memory. Afterward, Mr. Sonder drew a meticulous map that showed exactly where (by three poplar trees) and how deep (about 1.7 to 2.3 feet) the treasure had been buried.

Not much is known about the fate of the man who drew the map, but the document ended up in the Dutch National Archives in The Hague. This month, it was released as part of the archives’ annual “publicity day,” along with thousands of documents that are no longer classified.

The map’s release has spurred a renewed hunt for the boxes of gold and jewels and has elevated the profile of the tiny village of Ommeren — population 751 — as one of the few places in the world where a known Nazi treasure could be hiding.

“We’re on the map,” said Klaas Tammes, a former mayor of the municipality that includes Ommeren. “That has been nice.”

Others share his excitement but express a sense of frustration about the people coming from all over the country to dig up the village, which is about an hour’s drive southeast of Amsterdam.

Dozens of people have descended with shovels and metal detectors, and one man even brought a divining rod, according to Mr. Tammes, who lives on the estate where the treasure might be buried. One photograph circulating among residents shows another man standing waist-deep in the ground at the side of a regional road.

Read entire article at New York Times