Could treasure hunters have discovered "Nazi Gold"?

The Legal Side of Recovered Treasure

Norwegian royals visit a reproduction of the Amber Room in Ekaterininski Palace in Pushkin village near St. Petersburg, Russia.
Norwegian royals visit a reproduction of the Amber Room in Ekaterininski Palace in Pushkin village near St. Petersburg, Russia.
Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images

Many experts don't believe the Amber Room is buried in Deutschkatharinenberg. Some think the panels were lost at sea, or destroyed by Allied bombs in the final days of the war. Nonetheless, if the cultural treasure does turn up, it's unclear who will have ownership rights. Haustein says the Amber Room panels would belong to Russia, but that any other gold -- the non cultural-artifact type -- would legally belong to Germany [source: Spiegle Online].

Others might disagree. Counties have been making an effort to return stolen gold (or its monetary equivalent) to the individuals and nations from whom it was taken. This effort was meager at first, but it picked up toward the end of the twentieth century when the world took a renewed interest in restitution [source: U.S. Department of State]. Forty-two countries showed up at the London Conference on Nazi Gold in 1997 to form a joint effort to uncover stolen gold and return it to its rightful owners. Ten countries still lay claim to more than $60 million in lost gold (about 5.5 metric tons) [source: Channel 4]. At the conference, many of those countries agreed to relinquish their claims on some of this gold and contribute it instead to various humanitarian groups, especially those benefiting Holocaust survivors, from whom the Nazi regime appropriated bank accounts, gold and everything else of value [source: U.S. Department of State].

It's fairly clear, at least, where the Amber Room gold will end up if it's ever found. The Geneva Conventions outlaws the wartime looting or destruction of cultural artifacts and requires that anything of cultural significance be returned after the war if it's taken [source: IFAR]. So it's likely the Amber Room would be returned to Russia.

However, the treasure hunters in Deutschkatharinenberg have more pressing issues to deal with. As of Feb. 28, 2008, Haustein has reportedly kicked Hanisch out of Deutschneudorf [source: CNN]. The two treasure hunters argued about where to dig and whether to suspend the search until scientists and engineers arrived to assess the situation. Hanisch now says he does not believe the treasure hunters have found the Amber Room at all. He says it's just plain-old gold.

For more information on Nazi gold, wartime looting and related topics, look through the links below.

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  • Geophysicists join the hunt for Nazi treasure in eastern Germany. International Herald Tribune (AP). February 29, 2008.
  • German Treasure Hunters Claim to Have Found Amber Room. Spiegel Online. February 19, 2008.,1518,536358,00.html
  • Holocaust Reverberation: The Emerging Story of Nazi Gold. U.S. State Department. March 23, 1998.
  • Treasure hunters dig for Hitler's gold. February 27, 2008.
  • Nazi gold hunt ends, treasure hunter claims. February 28, 2008. WWII: A Chronology: Nazi Gold. Channel 4 - History.

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