Mystery of the Lake Toplitz

According to legend, in the spring of 1945 numerous crates of secret cargo were trucked through the dense mountain forest to Lake Toplitz and dumped into the 350-foot-deep lake by Nazi officers just before U.S. and allied forces closed in on them. Nobody knows exactly what was inside. Some believe they contained gold looted by German troops throughout Europe and carried back to Germany while others believe that they contain documents showing where assets confiscated from Jewish victims were hidden in Swiss bank accounts.

During 1944-1945, the shore of Lake Toplitz served as a Nazi naval testing station. Using copper diaphragms, scientists experimented with different explosives, detonating up to 4,000 kg charges at various depths. They also fired torpedoes from a launching pad in the lake into the Tote Mountains, producing vast holes in the canyon walls. Millions of counterfeit pound sterling notes (£100+ million) were dumped in the lake after Operation Bernhard, which was never fully put into action. There is speculation that there might be other valuables to be recovered from the bottom of the Toplitzsee such as diamonds and gold worth millions, stolen art, and also documents detailing the whereabouts of other Nazi treasures.

Lake Toplitz

Old Toplitz-watchers believe that if there was treasure down there, it has long since been recovered and spirited away. That would have been possible in so isolated a region — the lake is frozen at least five months of the year, and much of the older local population still has a certain sympathy for swastika-related times past.

In 2005, the Austrian government has given a US team permission to make an underwater expedition to the log-infested bottom of the lake. This is not the first time explorers and treasure hunters have tried to retrieve the lake's legendary lost gold. Treasure hunters have been flocking to Lake Toplitz ever since a group of diehard Nazis retreated to this picturesque part of the Austrian Alps in the final months of the second world war.

In 1947 a US navy diver became entangled in Lake Toplitz's many submerged logs and drowned. Then in 1959 a team financed by the German magazine Stern had more luck, retrieving £72m in forged sterling currency hidden in boxes, and a printing press apparently created by the Nazis in an attempt to crash the British economy. Wooden boxes containing secret Nazi documents have also been found. In 1963 the Austrian government imposed a ban on explorations after another diver, led to the lake by an SS officer, drowned during an illegal dive. More recent expeditions have had mixed fortunes. In 1983 a German biologist accidentally discovered more forged British pounds, numerous Nazi-era rockets and missiles that had crashed into the lake, and a previously unknown worm. The last diving team to explore the lake, in 2000, had less luck. After a three-week search in an underwater diving capsule they came away with nothing more than a box full of beer lids, apparently dumped in the lake as a practical joke.

However, treasure hunters believe that the real treasures remain where the Nazis allegedly sank them -- on the bottom of the lake encrusted with a thick cover of logs and mud. Several divers have been killed over the years after becoming entangled in the branches on the bottom of the lake, but that hasn't dimmed the interest in exploring.


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