Did you miss out on finding the Fenn treasure? Did your bitcoin and NFTs leave you with nothing but digital dust in your digital wallet? Have your lottery tickets for the billion-dollar jackpots been worth less than the paper they were printed on? Did Grandma decide you’re too old to be getting a $10 check for Christmas? If you’ve failed to cash in on these big payoffs, there is one more you may want to try … a new contest announced this week might be your ticket to easy street. There’s just one little catch – the people who provided the prize weren’t exactly the most honest or trustworthy of folks. In fact … they were Nazis. That’s right - the National Archives of the Netherlands has made available to the public a treasure map which allegedly shows where Nazi soldiers buried plundered loot that was worth millions of dollars during World War II and could be worth billions today. There’s just one more little hitch … OK, maybe two. The map has been in the hands of professional treasure hunters for some time and none ever found it. And you’re up against the millions of people reading this and other stories about the map which claims Nazi treasures are located near the Dutch village of Ommeren. Should you keep reading or start booking your trip?
“During the defense of Arnhem, there was an explosion at a branch of the Rotterdamsche Bank on the Velperweg. German soldiers put loot in their coats at the scene."
Our story begins in Arnhem, a city in the eastern part of the Netherlands. Some time before it was liberated in April 1945 by the British 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division, German soldiers were able to take as much as they could carry out of a bank before fleeing. NL Times reports that Annet Waalkens of the National Archives told the Dutch media group Omroep Gelderland that the items – likely from safe deposit boxes as well as the vault – included watches, jewels, cut and polished diamonds, and jewelry. It was believed that the Nazi soldiers carried the loot out by hiding it in their clothes, then stored their stolen treasures in four large ammunition boxes and buried them in a secret place in the tiny village of Ommeren in the province of Gelderland before fleeing across the eastern border of the Netherlands into Germany.
"They said they had picked up the things when a bank safe had taken a direct hit and the jewelry and so on was scattered all around."
The bank heist remained a secret until the war ended. According to a report in 1947 in The Telegraaf, German soldier Helmut Sonder made a statement to investigators about being at the side of the road and watching “three of our troops… burying four boxes with valuable items such as golden watches and jewelry with precious stones” somewhere in Ommeren. Sonder verified that soldiers got the treasures after the back vault took a direct hit. The publication of the story set off the first Ommeren treasure hunt which ended in failure – despite a report that the Dutch government located a Nazi officer who allegedly knew about the treasures and brought him to the village – but they still found nothing. The Dutch News says a second hunt was commenced shorty after the first, but it also turned up nothing. At that point, the Dutch government labeled Sonder’s story as “dealt with” and filed it with all other details and the map at the National Archives.
"Of course it stimulates the imagination. It hardly happens. The fact that there is such a specific map is special. A lot is still unclear and there are still many questions."
Historian Joost Rosendaal from Radboud University in Nijmegen told the Omroep Gelderland he understand the appeal of the map and the thrill of a treasure hunt, but he cautions those joining in on the search to not blame the map if they fail – the lure of Nazi gold has messed with the minds of many ever since the war ended. That is why it is entirely possible the looted treasures were found soon after they were buried – perhaps even before Sonder told the authorities and they obtained the map.
"Ommeren was an area where battles were still taking place at that time. It is possible that the treasure was buried and that it was removed again two days later. I wouldn't be surprised at all if the treasure disappeared."
As we all know, that won’t stop hundreds – perhaps thousands – of people from getting a copy of the map and heading to Ommeren with their metal detectors. The map (you can view it here), which was originally held in the archives of the Netherlands Institute of Management, which was dedicated to searching for German assets on Dutch soil after World War II, is now at the National Archives of the Netherlands, which is located in The Hague. It is a good thing the map is on display because finding it at the National Archives would be a treasure hunt itself – the facility is said to have the equivalent of 137 km (85 miles) of documents, 15 million images, about than 300,000 historical maps and drawings, and 800 terabytes of digital files. Fortunately, the National Archives holds an annual Open Access Day when it releases thousands of documents to the public, from the mundane minutes of the council of ministers to the horrifying collections of documents on abuses in internment camps where many Dutch Nazi supporters were imprisoned after the war.
Does the treasure trove looted by Nazi soldiers after a bank vault exploded in Arnhem in 1944 still exist? It’s possible. If it does, why hasn’t anyone found it in the tiny village of Ommeren? That is the multi-million dollars question. Will the fact that a number of government and professional searches over the last 70+ years have been unsuccessful deter people from trying again? You already know the answer to that. The hunt for Nazi gold will go on long after the Nazis are gone … and they seem to show no signs of going. Finding the treasure just might be one way of sticking it to them ... especially if you find it and decide to return it to its owners or their heirs rather than keeping it.
Happy treasure hunting!