Heritage Hunt: Nazis buried a treasure 80 years ago, the search is still on
WASHINGTON: In spring 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 late summer 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, 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 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.
The mystery has captivated local residents and received widespread attention in the Dutch and international news media, but its main question remains unanswered: Is the loot still there? “I have my doubts,” said Joke Honders, a local historian who works for the regional museum in Ommeren and lives in the next town over. But, she added, after consulting a historical atlas as well as the hand-drawn map, she believes she knows where the treasure could be — a place where nobody has searched yet, as far as she is aware. Asked for more precise details, she said, “I’m not going to tell you!” It is not entirely clear what would happen to the treasure if someone were to find it. Honders said she had no interest in keeping the contents of the boxes if she were to find them. “It’s not about the treasure itself,” she said. “It’s all stolen; there’s too much negativity attached to that.”
Searching for the treasure in the area could be a dangerous pursuit, said Sebastiaan Hoogenberg, an amateur metal detectorist who runs a YouTube channel where he talks about the items he finds around the Netherlands. There are unexploded World War II-era bombs in the ground.
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