- Hello Jeff,
- Here is an article from "Der Spiegel" about
treasure hunters and other "crackpots", etc. who are looking
for WWII secret weapons in central Germany. It is a well done piece, written
with a tone of official skepticism. I especially enjoyed the part about
Hitler's supposed phone number still being in service. The Germans really
build things to last!
- Peter Groff
- 'Bright As Hundreds Of Bolts Of Lightning'
- By Steffen Winter
- Translated by Christopher Sultan
- Der Spiegel
- Crackpots and treasure hunters are overrunning the Jonas
Valley in Thuringia. They hope to find the Amber Room, art treasures and
Hitler's first atom bomb in the tunnels of one of the Führer's main
headquarters bunkers, now destroyed.
- There are days when the secrets of the Third Reich are
especially nerve-wracking to Captain Andreas König. On these days,
the telephone doesn't stop ringing. It could be one of König's guards
calling to report that a patrol has just taken another treasure hunter
into custody. Or someone is on the line who at first sounds perfectly reasonable,
but then wants to discuss Hitler's supposed atom bomb with König,
claiming it's buried under his feet.
- This badgered officer is the commander of Ohrdruf, a
military training ground in Thuringia that includes parts of an especially
enchanted area: the Jonas Valley. Like virtually no other place in Germany,
this wild canyon has ignited the fantasies of an international league of
conspiracy theorists and treasure hunters. They believe that this magical
place holds untold art treasures, the Amber Room, giant caverns filled
with tanks ready for action - and the first German atom bomb, together
with its powerful carrier rocket.
- During the last few months of World War II, Hitler's
followers did in fact have a complex network of underground passages and
caverns built in the Jonas Valley. The complex was to be the Führer's
last headquarters. Thousands of slave laborers from concentration camps
were forced to excavate 25 tunnels into shell limestone cliffs. They also
built a multi-story bunker which, packed with technology, was to serve
as a communications center.
- The highest-ranking Nazis intended to fight their last
battle from this site. And virtually all of them - men like Hermann Göring,
Joachim von Ribbentrop, Heinrich Himmler - were seen in the vicinity during
these final weeks, as the initial construction began on secret project
- However, the final battle for this fortress of tunnels
in the Jonas Valley took place without Hitler and his bodyguards. And the
victorious allies made sure that the myth of this tunnel system could truly
flourish. The US military combed through the valley in 1945, but Washington
intends to keep its records under lock and key for a few more decades.
The Soviet army, which took over the site from the Americans, immediately
classified it as a restricted zone and then used it as a military training
ground. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the site was taken over by the
German armed forces.
- For lack of hard information, present-day treasure hunters,
excellently connected through the internet, are all the more enthusiastic
in their use of historical sources and secretive contemporary witnesses.
New books on the subject keep popping up, further fueling the flames of
adventure. As a result, this tranquil valley has been turned into a virtual
madhouse. Almost every weekend, amateur sleuths arrive in the region armed
with metal detectors, satellite navigation equipment, and digging tools.
All of this, of course, is illegal. Anyone caught in the restricted zone
must pay a fine.
- Captain König's files are stuffed with documents
about the bunker craze. He calls his bundle of papers on the secrets of
the valley "my X-file." In the beginning, König, who is
in charge of the 12,000 acre site, tried to argue with the treasure hunters.
When a few of them saw a reddish-orange cloud hovering over the valley
and conjectured that someone was flying through the air with Hitler's secret
planes, the commander soberly explained to them that the phenomenon had
been caused by ground flare testing. "They were reflections in the
sky," he said.
- Unfortunately, none of the treasure hunters believes
a word this poor man has to say, which is why König has given up trying
to reason with every crackpot who crosses his path. For example, he won't
even listen to an amateur researcher who claims to have located 480 to
520 combat tanks in underground caverns.
- Diviners have already been there, a tornado researcher
has circled over the site, and gamma and beta radiation levels have been
measured. But nothing has been found.
- Well, at least not by experts of the German armed forces.
Because König is an open-minded man, he allowed a Hamburg reconnaissance
firm onto the site. It claimed that aerial images showed the outlines of
a giant rocket beneath the ground. The experts from Hamburg warned against
a possible nuclear explosion, even though there was absolutely no evidence
of the rocket.
- Tourism companies have also discovered König's restricted
military zone. It's almost become like the famous Area 51 in America, where
fanatics repeatedly claim to have sighted strange airborne objects - just
like in the Jonas Valley. A travel agency in Saxony has advertised two-day
excursions into the Jonas Valley under a category it calls "Flying
Saucers." The company offers its tour as being "accompanied by
an insider." It hardly comes as a surprise that Commander König
has already found a minibus filled with tourists on his site, which is
heavily contaminated with ammunition. The curious tourists had simply driven
around the barricades.
- Sometimes König has been able to help, such as in
the case of a young man who, during an illegal exploration tour, heard
the sound of engines deep underground in an old tunnel. The man, completely
distraught, risked paying the fine and informed the military. König
was able to quickly identify the source of the noise, and it wasn't a surviving
member of the Nazi elite taking his tank for an underground spin. It was
simply an excavator in an adjacent gravel pit.
- Of course, it's virtually impossible to reason with the
self-proclaimed nuclear experts. One of them is Thomas Mehner, a member
of the board of the directors of the so-called Jonas Valley Society and
author of a book titled "The Secret of the German Atom Bomb."
Mehner is convinced that it was the Germans and not the Americans who built
the first atom bomb. And that it could still be lying dormant underground
- Mehner cleverly weaves his way through verifiable facts,
only to pad them with a heavy dose of interpretation. For example, it is
a proven fact that in the 1940s a team of nuclear researchers working with
Kurt Diebner and Walther Gerlach maintained a research laboratory in the
nearby town of Stadtilm, and that nuclear energy was the focus of their
- In 1962, East German officials interviewed contemporary
witness who claimed to have sighted atomic weapons tests on the training
ground in March 1945. Cläre Werner, for example, a former administrator
of the adjacent Veste Wachsenburg who is now deceased, assured officials
that she had seen a glowing light, as bright "as hundreds of bolts
of lightning," red inside and yellow on the outside, at approximately
9:30 p.m. on March 4, 1945. Werner went on to describe how a powerful squall
had moved across the mountains. The next day, she said, she and others
in the areas had had nosebleeds, headaches, and sensations of pressure
in their ears. She also claimed that she had heard another loud noise on
March 12th at 10:15 p.m.
- No one has ever determined what exactly exploded there.
To Mehner and others who propose similar theories, however, the indications
serve as sufficient proof that Hitler was having his bomb built in the
valley, and that leftover bombs could still be lying around today.
- Both the military's counter-espionage service and the
state security agency of the state of Thuringia gave seriously consideration
to this theory. An investigator spent weeks pursuing every conceivable
lead, but without results.
- Even the East German political leadership was aware of
the legends and had its state security agency poke around in the Jonas
Valley. Stasi investigator Paul Enke, for example, spent his entire life
searching for the Amber Room, and his work also took him to the Jonas Valley.
Enke concluded that his intensive search through archives had yielded evidence
of art treasures "that had been taken from East Prussia to Thuringia."
The ruins of Hitler's last-ditch headquarters play a central role in Enke's
- Of course, the former Stasi officer, since deceased,
found neither the costly wall hangings from Zarskoje Selo nor anything
else that could be converted into cash. To this day, however, his suggestions
have helped fuel the rush to explore these tunnels dug into shell limestone.
In 1991, this prompted the Free State of Thuringia to have those entrances
closed off that had not yet been dynamited by the SS and Allied forces.
"Even drilling into the tunnels has produced nothing," assures
Dieter Zeigert, author of a book about the Jonas Valley titled "Hitler's
Last Refuge." Zeigert was the commander of the military training ground
for five years, and is familiar with every tunnel and every bit of concrete
protruding from the ground in the area. He does not believe that the complex
still contains anything of interest.
- But Germany's secrecy fanatics remain undeterred by Zeigert's
assessment. Regular expeditions are organized on an internet web site called
www.schatzsucher.de (www.treasurehunters.de). For some people, as little
as two plastic rods, a pin and a piece of wire are enough to find world-class
treasures. Put together, they make an acceptable divining rod, with which
Martin Stade, author of the book "Amber Rooms in Thuringia and other
Hollow Spaces," likes to guide history buffs through the Jonas Valley.
Stade, who is of course an honorary board member of the Jonas Valley Society,
apparently knows something no one else does.
- On an inconspicuous parking lot in the valley, for example,
Stade routinely casts his divining rod, because he believes that Hitler
had UFO-like flying saucers developed in bunkers at this site. He's divined
174 of these objects beneath the ground.
- Stade also believes that the Führer's telephone
system inside the tunnel network is still connected to the public telephone
system. In fact, he claims that it's buried deep in the archives of the
German Reichspost, and that he found Hitler's number there. It's 03624-1200500.
- Although the Führer's number is a working number,
it's always busy.
- © DER SPIEGEL 33/2003
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