OMMEREN, Netherlands (AP) — A hand-drawn map with a red letter X allegedly showing the location of a buried stash of valuable jewelry looted by the Nazis from an exploded bank vault has sparked a hunt for modern treasure in a small Dutch village more than three quarters of a century later.
Brandishing metal detectors, shovels and copies of the map on mobile phones, prospectors descended on Ommeren – population 715 – about 80 kilometers (50 miles) southeast of Amsterdam to try and unearth treasure WWII potential based on the cartoon first published Jan. 3.
“Yes, of course it was spectacular news that captivated the whole village,” said local resident Marco Roodveldt. “But not only our village, also people who don’t come from here.”
He said that “all sorts of people spontaneously dug in places where they think this treasure is buried – with a metal detector”.
It was not immediately clear if authorities could claim the loot if found, or if a prospector could keep it.
So far no one has reported finding anything. The scavenger hunt began this year when the Dutch National Archives released – as they do every January – thousands of documents for historians to look into.
Most of them have gone largely unnoticed. But the map, which includes a sketch of a cross-section of a country road and another with a red X at the base of one of three trees, was an unexpected viral hit that briefly broke the winter calm d’Omeren.
“We are quite amazed at the story itself. But so is the attention it gets,” National Archives researcher Annet Waalkens said, carefully pointing to the map.
Photos on social media in early January showed people digging holes more than a meter (three feet) deep, sometimes on private property, in the hope of digging up a fortune.
Buren, the municipality to which Ommeren falls, issued a statement on its website stressing that a metal detecting ban is in place for the municipality and warned that the area was a frontline in World War II.
“Excavating there is dangerous due to the possible presence of unexploded bombs, landmines and shells,” the municipality said in a statement. “We advise against going after the Nazi treasure.”
The last treasure hunters are not the first to leave the village empty-handed.
The story begins, Waalkens said, in the summer of 1944 in the Nazi-occupied city of Arnhem – made famous by the star-studded film “A Bridge Too Far” – when a bomb hit a bank, punctured its vault -strong and dispersed its contents. — including gold jewelry and cash — across the street.
German soldiers stationed nearby “pocket what they can get and keep it in ammunition boxes,” Waalkens said. As World War II draws to a close in 1945, the German occupiers of the Netherlands have been pushed back by Allied advances. The soldiers who were in Arnhem find themselves in Ommeren and decide to bury the booty.
“Four boxes of ammunition, then just some jewelry that was kept in handkerchiefs or even folded cash. And they buried it right there,” she said, citing the account of a German soldier questioned after the war by the Dutch military authorities in Berlin and who was responsible for the map. The archives do not know if the soldier is still alive and did not release his name, citing European Union confidentiality rules.
Dutch authorities using the map and the soldier’s account went in search of the loot in 1947. The first time the ground was frozen and they made no progress. When they returned after the thaw, they found nothing, Waalkens said.
After the failed attempts, the German soldier said “he believed someone else had already searched for the treasure”, she added.
This detail was largely ignored by treasure hunters who descended on Ommeren in the days following the map’s release. On a recent visit to the village, there were no diggers to be seen as peace and quiet returned to Ommeren.
But the village’s brief brush with fame has left some residents with a bitter taste. Ria van Tuil van Neerbos said she doesn’t believe in the treasure story, but she understands why some believe it.
“If they hear something, they’ll head over to him,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s good that they just dug into the ground and things like that.”
Mike Corder contributed to this report from The Hague.