Hitting the jackboots’ jackpot

“In [the Merkers mine] ‘Room No. 8,’ a chamber 150 feet long and 75 feet wide, more than 7,000 bags of gold and other loot recently transferred from Berlin—in some cases by double-decker bus—lay in neat rows under lights dangling beneath the twelve-foot ceiling. In addition to 8,307 gold bars and 55 crates of bullion, the repository included 3,682 sacks of German currency, 3,326 bags of gold coins—among them 711 filled with U.S. $20 gold pieces, each sack worth $25,000—8 bags of gold rings, and a pouch of platinum bars. At the back of the room, in more than 200 satchels, suitcases, and trunks, each tagged ‘Melmer’ after a kleptomaniacal SS captain named Bruno Melmer, were valuables stolen from concentration-camp victims: pearls, watch cases, gold toothcrowns, Passover cups, cigarette cases, spoons. Much of the metal had been hammered flat to save space. Other galleries and shafts nearby yielded two million volumes from Berlin libraries, 400 tons of patent records, 33 wooden cases of Goethe memorabilia from Weimar, paintings by Rubens and Goya, and costumes from the Berlin state theaters. ‘If these were the old free-booting days when a soldier kept his loot,’ [General] Bradley told [General] Patton, ‘you’d be the richest man in the world.’ Patton facetiously proposed converting the 250 tons of gold—most of the Reich’s reserve—into medallions ‘for every son of a bitch in the Third Army.’ Eventually valued by SHAEF in excess of half a billion dollars, the treasure in the Merkers shaft lay within what soon would become the Soviet occupation zone. There was not a moment to lose, and plans already had been made to spirit the booty to Frankfurt—in the American zone—using thirty ten-ton trucks guarded by two MP battalions, seven infantry platoons, and air cover from P-51 Mustangs. The artworks were to be wrapped in German army sheepskin coats, thousands of which were also found in the mine.” – Rick Atkinson, The Guns at Last Light

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