The story of the Nazi Gold Train—the riches-laden ghost car that’s still haunting Poland

The haunting tale of the Nazi Gold Train has been passed down in Poland since WWII ended in 1945. While its legitimacy has been disputed across the years, it has remained a central point of interest amongst the Polish people, all of whom know the story of the pricey Nazi train car tucked away in the Owl Mountain tunnels. What is the Nazi Gold Train? Who has hunted for the mysterious ghost car? And where is the hunt today?

Where Nazis hid their treasures

During the horrific events of WWII, some Nazis took it upon themselves to store away treasures in locations across Europe to keep the government, normal citizens, and even fellow Nazis from getting their hands on it. Many of these drop points were located in homes, castles, and Nazi-occupied locations throughout Eastern Europe. Still, it’s believed that even more loot—specifically that which was stolen from detained/executed Jewish citizens—was hidden away underground in Poland.

Where do these suspicions come from? Beneath Poland’s oldest mountain range, the Owl Mountains, exists a maze of underground paths. How did these catacombs come to be? From 1943 to 1945, Adolf Hitler, who recognized that the war was not going in favor of the Third Reich, ordered underground tunnels to be built by Allied P.O.W.s so they could be occupied and utilized by Nazi forces.

Hitler was hopeful that the decentralization of the Nazi troops would help turn the war in their favor and prevent any ambushes. After all, how can you bomb a group of troops who are holed up underground? While the logistics weren’t always clear, it was one of Hitler’s largest infrastructural undertakings. The operation was called “Project Riese,” and across the course of two years, Nazis and imprisoned Allies successfully dug hundreds of miles of tunnels beneath the Owl Mountains.

What do we know about Project Riese now?

Seventy years later, the full construction of the tunnels is still tough to chew up. The creation of these catacombs has puzzled historians for decades. Even Hitler’s own crew of Nazis thought that the project would be an impossible feat, with many of his closest pals urging him to abandon the expensive undertaking while he still had the chance. However, he held strong to his plan, and hundreds of thousands of feet of the tunnels exist today.

Unfortunately, while historians have been able to walk through some areas of the underground complex, many tunnels are still untouched by 21st-century eyes. In the open areas of the tunnels, historians have found everything from military caps to letters to photographs of Nazis. However, many of the sections of the catacombs are completely barricaded or flooded, with several hundred thousand feet of the original project going unaccounted for.

The rumor of the Nazi Gold Train

Realistically, historians haven’t mapped out every portion of the tunnels, and, due to safety restrictions, may never have the chance. However, more curious explorers, history buffs, and Polish citizens have become obsessed with the contents of the tunnels, with many believing that there is more to uncover than remnants of the war.

In an interview with Smithsonian, an inhabitant of Hitler’s castle over the tunnels shared information about an unstable spot in one of the tunnel’s walls:

“The tunnels are enormous, impressive. You could easily drive a car in here…We are standing in front of this mysterious wall. The rest of the walls are properly finished. But this wall isn’t. This wall has been cast in a sloppy way, which isn’t what German work looks like. This slapdash shuddering raises speculation that it conceals some mystery.”

Adolf Hitler Saluting
Adolf Hitler Saluting / Photo Courtesy: [Hola/Wikimedia Commons]
A widespread rumor about a “Nazi Gold Train”—a train car filled with hidden Nazi treasures—has become a point of interest in the last decade. Some believe that the Nazis, in a panic over people uncovering of their base, hid an entire train car filled with jewels, gold, art, and riches somewhere within Owl Mountain. In 2016, a couple of daring explorers decided to try their hand at locating the train car…and their endeavors sent historians into a frenzy.

Piqued interest in the Nazi Gold Train

The concept of an abandoned train car filled with 300 tons of gold piqued the interest of explorers back in the mid-2010s. In September of 2015, Poland’s Deputy Culture Minister, Piotr Zuchowski, released shocking news that radar images of the tunnels had confirmed the presence of the rumored ghost train under the surface of Poland.

Zuchowski was so certain that he convinced the press that the existence of the train was an indisputable fact rather than a mere bit of wartime folklore. In August of 2015, NPR reported:

“Poland’s Deputy Culture Minister Piotr Zuchowski said authorities were led to a spot by an unnamed individual and that images obtained from ground-penetrating radar [had] left him ’99 percent convinced’ that the treasure train has been located.”

At the announcement of this thrilling information, plenty of citizens took an interest in trying to track down the riches in the hidden vehicle themselves. Two explorers, Piotr Koper and Andreas Richte, became outspoken voices in this charge to locate the train car.

They promised the Polish government that they could find the train car all on their own and that they would happily turn the information of its whereabouts over to Polish officials once they located it. What did they want in exchange for uncovering the train car? 10% of whatever riches were inside. Not a bad cut, right?

An ambitious extraction mission

In 2015, Koper and Richte began their initial search along with the rest of the Polish explorers hunting for the Nazi Gold Train. They approached their exploration from a scientific angle and later announced that they had not only been successful in proving the train car’s existence but that they had been able to trace the train car to its exact location.

In August of 2016, the proud pair of explorers hired a team of 33 diggers to help them reach the train in its underground location. The year of preparation was met with skepticism from geologists, archeologists, and academic and historical organizations from around Poland, yet Koper and Richte did not accept the criticism as absolute. Koper later told The New York Times: “We carried out similar examinations in many other locations, but we have never encountered anything like this. There is no way these shapes are of natural origin.”

Polish officials refused to get tied up in their search for what they soon believed was nothing more than a fable train car. While scientists attempted to argue that there was no true evidence that the train car had ever existed, the pair of explorers refused to halt their ambitious search for the concealed riches.

By drilling into the ground where they had supposedly located the train car, they were hopeful they would return to the Polish authorities with the news that they had successfully located the Nazi Gold Train. Their week-long effort to dig into the tunnels and access the train was live-streamed. Plenty of people tuned in to see if the seventy-year rumor of the train filled with riches was more than a fictional story.

Giving up the search

Unfortunately, their long-anticipated search came up short, seeming to confirm the fictional nature of the train car for the skeptics. No one got closer to the truth than Koper and Richte, yet, at the end of the day, they weren’t able to locate the mysterious Nazi Gold Train in the tunnels. Upon further assessment of the radar images, they uncovered that the shape that they identified underground wasn’t a train car at all, but was a rock formation.

“From my own experience as an archaeologist, I’m highly dubious about it, and I think most of the archaeological community shares that opinion.”

Tony Pollard, Live Science

The devastated duo has since made a handful of additional efforts to reach or prepare to uncover the mystery car, yet they have seemed to abandon the bulk of their search efforts. Despite the fact that the train car (if it was even real) was not able to be located, not all hope for reward was lost. Fortunately, Poland still benefited financially from the buzz around the train.

The country has enjoyed a multi-million dollar increase in tourism since the search for the Nazi Gold Train first became a phenomenon. Much of this tourism is from fellow Europeans who are interested in conducting their own hunt for the hidden car. Still, many more are just curious travelers hoping to witness the tunnels and understand the buzz around the mystery of the Nazi Gold Train.

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101:

They can run to their tunnels, but they can’t hide from these epic sisters.

Finding a train full of gold isn’t the only way to get rich.