DIVERS have begun exploring a murky lake near Berlin in a bid to find a billion-pound fortune in gold looted during the Second World War by Nazi Luftwaffe chief and Adolf Hitler deputy Hermann Goering.
Legend has it that 18 crates of gold and platinum were dumped by an SS-led squad in the Stolpsee lake in Brandenburg, north of Berlin, in the closing days of the war and lie in less than 50 feet of water.
They were sunk in a secret mission codenamed Operation Nibelung after the vast treasure of the mythical Burgundians whose stories are told in Richard Wagner’s opera cycle, The Ring of the Nibelungen.
The search team from Israel – backed by the German government – made its first dives into the Stolpsee at the weekend.
Journalist Yoran Svoray, the team’s leader, said: “We have brought the latest technology from the United States. We have a magnetometer, a side-view sonar, a sediment-sonar and digital map machines. If anything is there, we will find it.”
The lake lies in what was former East Germany and was the scene of frantic dives in 1986 organised by the Stasi secret police desperate for treasure to sell in order to buy foreign currency. The loot has a conservative value of around a billion pounds. The treasure was taken by Goering, who stored it at his hunting lodge, Carinhall, 50 miles north of Berlin.
Eighteen months ago, a consortium of British businessmen expressed an interest to the German government of diving for it but nothing came of their expedition.
According to eyewitness accounts from 1945, Polish slave labourers assisted the SS in dumping the gold into the lake and were then executed, their bodies weighted and then thrown into the water after the treasure.
The search has been reignited after claims by a local priest, Erich Koehler, 79, who has researched the legend of the treasure and who was a pastor near the lake during the East German communist regime.
“They didn’t have the technology in the former East Germany to properly examine the lake,” he said. “But there are enough local people still around who believe that the gold is there – and the bodies of the poor souls forced to dump it into the water.”
The Israeli team has been bolstered by papers found in the German Federal Archive in the Rhineland city of Koblenz. SS documents, together with post-war eyewitness statements give credence to the theory that precious material was indeed dumped into the 400-feet deep lake.
Goering is alleged to have personally taken charge of bullion from the national bank of Poland following the Nazi invasion in 1939. It is this loot which allegedly lies in the Stolpsee.
Mr Svoray, 59, received permission and assistance from Germany for the searches. He said: “It is not just about the treasure but also about the people who it once belonged to. It is about putting things right.”