Monday, 1 May 2017

The Shoot - Day Three

The Gold Train legend is usually linked to the nearby location of the Projekt Riese complex - the massive Nazi construction site, of unknown purpose, which - had it been completed - would have covered over 30 square kilometres under the Sowie Góry (Owl Mountains). According to Hitler's architect Albert Speer, this project was consuming half of the Third Reich's cement at a time when the Red Army was pushing westward and the Allies had just landed at Normandy. It makes sense that a project of such such size would have a railway link - hidden from allied reconnaissance aircraft.

We visit one of several known Projekt Riese sites - Włodarz (Wolfsberg), one of three that are open to the public, and the largest. With 3.2km of tunnels, all excavated by slave labour, Włodarz is a frightening monument to Nazi inhumanity.

Below: one of eight underground guardhouses. It is believed that behind this wall there is a another tunnel. To the left, Krzysztof Szpakowski, who runs Włodarz; he has been exploring the area for many years and says there's still many parts of the complex still waiting to be explored.

Mr Szpakowski points out that the tunnels were built to be eight metres from floor to ceiling; two shafts were dug in parallel, one directly above the other. Then the rock between the two would be blasted out to create one massively high tunnel. For what purpose?

Below: one-third of Włodarz's tunnels is under water. Visitors to Włodarz can move about in boats. The rock is gneiss - particularly hard and difficult to mine. Hardhats are crucial, the ceiling is low here.

Below: looking down seemingly endless corridors, one gets the sense of the horror of working down here, shovelling rock into wagons and pushing them towards the open air. Some 5,000 slave labourers are said to have died on this project, of disease and exhaustion.

The scale of the work astounds at every turn. I've been to Wieliczka, the Llechwedd Slate Caverns, the Queen Luiza coal mine in Zabrze - but this place projects a sinister awesomeness I've not experienced before. Below: making our way back up from the lowest levels.

Below: a map of the known tunnels at Włodarz (source: Wikipedia)

After filming in Włodarz, we returned to Wałbrzych to interview the legendary gold train hunter, Tadeusz Słowikowski (below). Since 1974, when he took early retirement from the coal mine, he had doggedly pulled together strands of the gold train story - all the more difficult in the days before the internet, when maps were top secret. Mr Słowikowski first became aware of the story in a refugee camp in Dresden in 1948, hearing from eyewitnesses from Lower Silesia as to what had been going on in these parts during the war. I ask Mr Słowikowski - "Is there a gold train?" "Not necessarily a gold train, but train - trains - certainly," he replies.

Next up:Wałbrzych to talk to local people about the gold train legend. Most had heard about it many years ago - the story about a train-load of treasure, evacuated from Festung Breslau in the spring of 1945, disappearing somewhere around here was common currency.

Final 'GVs' (general views) of the town of Wałbrzych, to show its position nestling among hills.

I shall return to this part of Poland. It fascinates, draws me in; there is so much still to be discovered around here.

This time two years ago:
45 years under one roof

This time five years ago:
May Day in the heat (it was 31C in Warsaw!)

This time seven years ago:
Bike ride across rural Poland

This time ten years ago:
Mazovian landmark from the air


Alexander said...

Good to see this story is still alive !

When I got back to work after visiting Warsaw for Easter, people forgot to ask me if I had found the “goldtrain” .

If you have time, can you also inform us about what the government is doing now ?

I will be watching this programme !

Best regards, Alexander

Paddy said...

Such an awesome place (in the true sense of the word). I have been twice and find myself cold to the bone with the thought of what happened there. Very much looking forward to watching the programme!

whitehorsepilgrim said...

The thought of an old train in a tunnel is fascinating. Even in the UK I've heard rumours of a "strategic reserve" of steam locomotives hidden away, backed up by "evidence" from incomplete records of scrapping withdrawn stock. Fanciful and fun for the gricers.

When I lived in Romania I heard stories of "secret uranium mines" from which trains ran, but of which little was known because "the workers didn't live long enough to talk". Once I did see a freight train with wagons marked with radiation symbols (in broad daylight passing through a station, so clearly not too secret). Villagers in some places would point out locations where, long ago, bandits "had hidden gold".

And there are the "lost gold mines" across the American Southwest.

People love a good story about hidden treasure. But maybe there is a train of some sort in a tunnel? Why not?

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Alexander

The best thing the government can do is not get in the way. Should someone suggest a possible site, the authorities should speed all permits through to allow digging - so long as the suggestion is cogent and based on logic.

@ Paddy

There are three Riese sites open to the public - Włodarz, Osówka and Soboń - which did you see?


Ah! the Strategic Reserve story! I remember reading about this in the launch issue of Steam Railway magazine back in the early 1980s...!

Uranium mines - Poland had one too, in Lower Silesia (Zakłady Przemysłowe R-1)