WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland said on Friday it was almost certain it had located a Nazi train rumored to have gone missing near the close of World War Two loaded with guns and jewels.
Photographs taken using ground-penetrating radar equipment showed a train more than 100 meters (330 feet) long, the first official confirmation of its existence, Deputy Culture Minister Piotr Zuchowski said.
The vehicle was armored, suggesting it was carrying a special cargo, “probably military equipment but also possibly jewelry, works of art and archive documents,” he told journalists in Warsaw.
“I am over 99 percent sure that such a train exists,” he said, though experts would only be certain once they managed to uncover the vehicle.
In reaction to the finding, the World Jewish Congress said on Friday that any valuables found on the train must be returned to their rightful owners.
“To the extent that any items now being discovered in Poland may have been stolen from Jews before they were sent to death ... it is essential that every measure is taken to return the property to its rightful owners or to their heirs,” WJC head Robert Singer said in a statement issued in New York.
Polish authorities started looking for the train this month, tipped off by a German and a Pole who said through lawyers that they had found it in the southwestern district of Walbrzych and expected 10 percent of the value of the findings as a reward.
Rumors have circulated for decades that a Nazi train loaded with weapons and loot had disappeared into a tunnel near Poland’s border with Germany in 1945 as the Soviet Red Army closed in.
Zuchowski said the initial source of the stories was a man who said he had helped hide the train. “On the death bed, this person communicated the information together with a sketch, where this might possibly be,” he said, without going into more details.
Zuchowski said experts were now working out how to get to the vehicle. The culture ministry said on Thursday there could be explosives at the site and urged “foragers” and World War Two enthusiasts to keep away.
Local media have broadcast images of digging equipment and other gear, though it was impossible to confirm the location.
Local news reports say the train went missing in 1945, carrying loot from the then-eastern German city of Breslau, now called Wroclaw and part of Poland.
According to local folklore, it entered a tunnel in the mountainous Lower Silesian region and never emerged. The tunnel was later closed and its location forgotten.
Addtitional reporting by Marcin Goettig and Wiktor Szary; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Larry King