One Man's Quixotic Hunt for Sunken Nazi Treasure in Frigid Lake

IDF Man Aims To Solve a Stubborn Mystery of Holocaust

History Sleuth: Yaron Svoray wants to get to the bottom — literally — of the story of the Nazi treasure in this German lake.
Maximilian Kiewel
History Sleuth: Yaron Svoray wants to get to the bottom — literally — of the story of the Nazi treasure in this German lake.

By Maximilian Kiewel

Published November 24, 2013.
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It’s cold this winter morning at Stolpsee Lake. It’s February 2013, and ice is floating on the lake, an hour’s drive north of Berlin. Reeds and trees are covered in snow. Yaron Svoray, 60, stands on the lake’s shore, dressed in a thick winter jacket, looking thoughtfully over the water.

He has been waiting nearly six years for this moment. The former paratrooper in the Israeli Defense Forces and son of a German Jew pins his eyes on the dark water and optimistically says: “Today, we are going to find the treasure. I officially announce that we are going to solve the 70-years-old Stolpsee mystery.”

Only a few kilometers away, in the small town of Himmelpfort, Erich Köhler, 79, sits in his kitchen and smiles. He has been living in the area for 40 years, first as a priest in the former German Democratic Republic: now he’s a historian. “Svoray is just the latest guy trying to find the treasure,” Köhler says. “Maybe he’ll actually do it.”

Köhler has been researching the legend of the Stolpsee treasure for decades. Again and again he’s heard the story, about how of trucks rumbled to Crab Bay and how SS guards forced haggard female prisoners from the nearby Ravensbrück concentration camp to unload heavy boxes from the trucks. The SS guards were evidently in a hurry, knowing the Soviet Red Army was approaching Berlin,”Köhler says.

The prisoners hoisted the boxes into two inflatable boats, rowed to the center of the Stolpsee and threw them overboard, people told Köhler. When they were done, the exhausted inmates returned to the shore and were lined up. “People I spoke with remembered that water was dripping down from their stripy concentration camp uniforms,” says Köhler. “Then the prisoners were apparently all shot.”

Murdering the witnesses

The only thing for sure is that the legend of the Nazi treasure is hard to believe. A cloak-and-dagger operation during the last weeks of the Second World War? Mysterious boxes dumped in an icy lake close to Berlin?

Köhler feels the story is true but has his own theory about the boxes. While some believe the crates contained gold and platinum looted from Carinhall, Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering’s nearby country home, Köhler thinks the Nazis were trying to dump files from Ravensbrück.

In support of that theory, Germany had thoroughly documented the Holocaust, but the paperwork for Ravensbrück is oddly scanty.


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