Polish tour guide and ex-treasure-hunter Andrzej Gaik cannot contain his excitement as he points to the train track slope that has left the world spellbound: hidden in its depths may very well be a Nazi gold train.
“There it is, that’s where the tunnel’s entryway was located, that’s where the train is hidden,” Gaik says while indicating a slightly sunken-in part of the railway embankment in the southwestern city of Walbrzych.
The Internet has for days been abuzz with old lore of trains full of gold and jewels stolen by the Nazis after two men — a German and a Pole — claimed to have found an armored train car.
Initially taken with a grain of salt, the story has gained credibility after a culture ministry official said he saw a ground-penetrating radar image of the alleged train on which he could make out platforms and cannons.
“I’m more than 99 percent sure such a train exists, but the nature of its contents is unverifiable at the moment,” Deputy Culture Minister Piotr Zuchowski said Friday.
Since the announcement, reports speculated that the train could contain the famed “Amber Room” looted from the Catherine Palace during WWII (treasure hunters have reported finding traces of the Amber Room many times in the past), or priceless paintings. Russia and Poland were already sparring over ownership of the train’s contents, and the World Jewish Congress said it would lay claim to any items stolen from Jewish owners.
Poland’s very own Loch Ness Monster has catapulted Walbrzych into the public eye, with swarms of treasure-hunters and foreign television crews showing up at what is known as “kilometer 65” of the Wroclaw-Walbrzych train track.
Gaik himself tried to locate the train years ago with a group of enthusiasts led by retired miner Tadeusz Slowikowski.
They dug into the slope and found concrete and bricks but were forced to give up their efforts for lack of better equipment and funds.
Fast-forward a decade and he believes the train will soon see the light of day.
“There’s a large opening in the rock in the slope and it’s filled with all kinds of stones, which had to have been brought over by the Germans to hide the tunnel entryway,” Gaik said.
A sizeable section of the slope also looks different from the rest: the vegetation is sparser for several meters (feet) as if the ground were less fertile there.
Another clue according to Gaik is a piece of retaining wall that juts out of the slope at an acute angle. He believes it hints at the secret railroad switch that the Nazis were said to have built to redirect trains into a massive network of underground passages.
Nazi Germany had concentration camp inmates build the huge tunnels — code-named Riese (Giant) — to notably shelter Adolf Hitler and his associates.
The train’s exact location was supposed to be kept under wraps but curious onlookers can already be seen loitering around where X marks the spot.
Most joke about finding gold bars but one young couple with two children say they live nearby and are worried their house may be in danger if the tunnel is found to be booby-trapped as is suspected and explodes.
No such concerns at the nearby Ksiaz Castle, once known as Furstenstein, whose only source of revenue is tourism. It will be swarming with crowds if the train proves to be real.
“I don’t have any concrete evidence to show the train exists, but reliable sources have confirmed it to me and I would love for it to be true,” said Ksiaz castle manager Krzysztof Urbanski.
The massive 400-room castle “is already reaping the benefits of a kind of Loch Ness Monster effect,” he added.
“No one’s seen the monster but that doesn’t stop it from attracting people.”
Ever the effective administrator, he is already preparing promotional material: starting next week tourists will be able to buy “Gold Train” T-shirts.
The castle is equipped with some of the underground Nazi passages — which perhaps still have a secret or two to reveal.
“We found a document detailing the amount of building material brought here for the facilities meant to welcome the Fuhrer,” said Urbanski.
“But according to experts, only about half of that material is found in the parts of the castle that we known of.”
Slowikowski, the retired miner, stands in his Walbrzych garage and shows off his model of the secret tunnels including a miniature version of the train he has sought for 30 years.
“I’m 100 percent sure the train exists, but we don’t know what it was carrying,” he told AFP.
“Now it needs to be dug out. And if it turns out to be a hoax, then its instigator will have to pay.”