It was a tale of astounding treasures. And it the end the tales paled in comparison to the reality.
At noon on April 4, the village of Merkers in the Wartburgkreis district of Thuringia, Germany fell to the Third Battalion of the 358th Infantry Regiment, Ninetieth Infantry Division, Third Army. Over the course of the next couple of days as the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) personnel of the Ninetieth Infantry Division interviewed displaced persons there was a consistent thread to stories told – a recent movement of German Reichsbank gold from Berlin to the Wintershal AG’s Kaiseroda potassium mine at Merkers.
On the morning of April 7 local civilians were interrogated to obtain information on storage of Reichsbank reserves in the mine. Authorities learned that other nearby mines at Leimbach, Ransbach, and Springen had also been used for the storage of “currencies, gold reserves, select national treasures, and document archives.”
There was also increasing evidence that mine had been used to store artwork from German museums as well as treasures looted by the Nazi government throughout western and central Europe, and Russia. With this evidence on June 6, Lt. Col. William A. Russell requested that the 712th Tank Battalion and Elements of the Ninetieth Division Military Police place guards at the mine entrance. He also ordered the mines electrical systems be repaired.
At 10 a.m. Russell accompanied by the assistant division commander, officers from Ninetieth Infantry Division officers, Signal Corps photographers, and German mining officials entered the mine. At the bottom of the 2,100-foot-deep main shaft, the walls of the drift, were hundreds of bags of Reichsmarks. The end of the tunnel was blocked by a brick wall that was found to be three feet thick. Set in this wall was a large steel bank safe door with timing mechanism and combination lock.
On April 8 Earnest, Russell, a public affairs officer accompanied by photographers and reporters as well as elements of the 282d Engineer Combat Battalion entered the mine. Engineers blasted through the masonry wall. Vault Room Number 8, 75 feet wide by 150 feet long was stacked with thousands of bags, suitcases, trunks, and crates.
A partial a partial inventory was made. There were 8,198 bars of gold bullion: 55 boxes of crated gold bullion, and 1,300 bags of gold Reichsmarks as well as 711 bags of American twenty-dollar gold pieces, silver, and gold coins from throughout the world and even bars of platinum.
But this paled in comparison to the irreplaceable treasures discovered deeper in the mine with its 35 miles of tunnels and in area mines. The men inventorying the stored materials cataloged forty-five cases of art from the Kaiser-Friedrichs Museum in Berlin. This included centuries old paintings with massive hand carved framing.
In just one chamber were ancient Egyptian papyri in metal cases as well ancient Greek and Roman marble, gold, and silver statuary, the famous woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer’s Apocalypse series produced in 1498, and paintings by Rubens and Goya. In another chamber there were forty-five cases of framed art that had been looted from museums and private collections throughout Europe. More than four hundred priceless paintings that had been removed from their frames were found loosely stacked.
All these treasures and more were found in just one mine. Similar treasures were found in numerous salt mines throughout Europe. Their discovery and recovery is one of the most astounding stories of lost treasure in the history of the world.
Your prints and paintings may not be on par with the world class treasures hidden in the dark recesses of German salt mines. Still, they are treasures to you and your family. And as such they are worthy professional matting and framing, a specialty of Avant Print & Frame in Kingman, Arizona.