The Nazi Underground; The Gold Train →

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Jake Halpern for the New Yorker:

“There are so many tunnels, who knows what else is there,” Tomasz Jurek, one of Lower Silesia’s many treasure hunters, said. “It’s the tip of an underground city.”

Lower Silesia, in southwestern Poland, is a land of treasure hunters. Until the end of the Second World War, the region—covered by mountains and deep pine forests with towering, arrowlike trees—was part of Germany. In the early months of 1945, the German Army retreated, along with much of the civilian population. The advancing Red Army killed many of the Germans who remained. Nearly all those who survived were later evicted and forced to move west. By the end of 1947, almost two million Germans had been cleared out.

In order to fill the emptied landscape, the newly formed Polish government relocated hundreds of thousands of Poles from the east. The settlers arrived in vacant towns, walked into empty houses, and went to sleep in strangers’ beds. There was furniture in the houses, but usually the valuables were missing. The porcelain dishes, the silk dresses, the fur coats, the sewing machines, and the jewelry were gone, often hidden in the ground: buried in jars, chests, and even coffins. It was a hasty solution—a desperate effort to cache valuables as people were running for their lives. The owners of these possessions intended to return, but most didn’t. And so on steamy fall mornings, when the new arrivals dug in their gardens or tilled their fields, they unearthed small fortunes.

I grew up in Lower Silesia, so I might be a bit biased, but it’s one of the most beautiful parts of Poland, especially in the mountainous regions. I assume I know more about the history of this region than people from other parts of Poland, having actually visited them many times over the years, but Jake’s reporting is truly first-rate — he mentions events and secrets that I never heard of.

If there’s only one article you can read this week, make sure it’s this one.

Photo: Wojtek Pietrusiewicz (that’s me), shot with a Nikon D700 & Zeiss ZF 2/100 @ 1/400, f/8, ISO 200, 100mm.

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