Metal detectorist finds actual Nazi gold

On October 10th of last year, licensed metal detectorist Florian Bautsch struck gold on the outskirts of Lüneburg in the northern German state of Lower Saxony. Nazi gold. Scanning an area with hillocks that archaeologists suspected might be ancient burial mounds, Bautsch first found a single gold coin and then nine more in the hollow under a pine tree. He recorded the find location by GPS and notified the relevant authorities at the Lüne­burg Museum .

Thanks to Bautsch’s conscientiousness, archaeologists were able to do something they rarely get the chance to do: excavate a portable treasure in its proper context. The two-week excavation unearthed another 207 gold coins buried under that three, bringing the total up to 217. The oldest coin dates to 1831, the newest to 1910, and none of them were minted in Germany. The majority — 128 coins — are Belgian. Another 74 coins were minted in France, 12 in Italy and the last three in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Despite their diverse origins, all of the coins have the same diameter (21 millimeters) and weigh the same (6.45 grams). The total coin weight is 1.4 kilos (3 lbs). These are not circulation coins. They were minted in large batches to be purchased by individuals and banks for investment purposes.

Archaeologists also found two aluminium seals bearing the swastika, the imperial eagle and stamped “Reichsbank Berlin 244.” They also found remnants of tar paper and some individual fibers. These elements are what’s left of two coin bags, lined with tar paper and sealed by the Berlin Reichsbank during World War II. Those type of seals were used starting in 1940 and the chemical composition of the tar paper identifies it as a type produced before 1950. It is the greatest treasure from this period ever found in northern Germany. Had the finder just dug it all out himself and taken the gold, nobody would have been the wiser and the key evidence identifying it as Nazi gold, as fragile as it is important, would have been lost forever.

The working theory right now is that the gold coins, likely looted by Nazis from occupied territories before being grouped by exact size and weight, bagged and sealed, were stolen in the waning days of the Second World War. If so, it was almost certainly an inside job, a theft by a bank employee looking for some financial security in the most insecure of times.

As the coins were buried relatively recently under shady circumstances, at first authorities gave any potential legitimate owners the opportunity to claim the treasure. It was a long shot (although it has been known to happen) and indeed, nobody stepped forward to claim ownership. Then, because the find bears the marks of a previous government bank, state authorities contacted the German Ministry of Finance but they weren’t interested in claiming the coins either. Finally the orphaned gold was adopted by Lower Saxony which of course had wanted it all along.

England’s Treasure Act has a mechanism that gives finders and landowners a reward in the amount of the discovery’s market value as assessed by a valuation committee. German monument protection laws (they differ from state to state) have no such mechanism, so while the estimated value of the coins is €45,000 ($49,000), Florian Bautsch will receive a €2,500 ($2,710) reward from the state of Lower Saxony. He’s a proper history nerd, bless his heart, so the money isn’t what matters to him. The archaeological significance of the find is reward enough.

The gold coins went on temporary display at the Lüne­burg Museum yesterday. Curators are now discussing how best to integrate the hoard into the museum’s permanent display in the future.

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9 Comments »

Comment by Jeff Wood
2015-07-20 17:04:46

I thought immediately of Len Deighton and John le Carre.

Actually, I have met a few of their characters, now all dead. I must consult my memory and record what I recall of their stories.

 
Comment by SAM
2015-07-20 17:52:06

I’ll claim them if no-one will! My, urm, grandfather left them there. Stole them from Nazi’s. Yes. Thats it. He did I swear!!!

 
Comment by Michael Loth
2015-07-20 21:24:06

My opinion..Florian is a nice guy for what he did But I think he Bautched it

 
Comment by Hels
2015-07-20 21:27:09

A person who is lucky enough to find buried treasure would not normally expect to find gold from different dates (1831-1910) and from different countries (Belgian, France, Italy etc). Investment yes, but how might a bank employee gather these diverse coins? There is more research to be done here, I think.

England’s Treasure Act seems much fairer to finders and landowners than the German system. Germany is fortunate that Florian Bautsch is a decent, historically minded citizen.

 
Comment by mike
2015-07-20 21:56:00

Shouldn’t they be returned to the countries of origin?

 
Comment by Jasmine
2015-07-21 02:44:13

As far as the ‘Leopold II’ coins are concerned, returned to Congo maybe ? Leopold II and the ‘Abir Congo Company’ (founded as the ‘Anglo-Belgian India Rubber Company’), a company which harvested natural rubber in the ‘Congo Free State’ as the private property of King Leopold II of Belgium, were involved in the ‘desolation of villages, murder, rape, mutilation, hostage taking and excessive flogging‘ – Does that possibly ring a bell ?

 
Comment by C A
2015-07-21 06:03:26

Bless his Heart indeed! Amazing. We can’t return them to the country of origin because they may have been traded back and forth across Europe. We don’t know where they were looted from, or if they were actual loot and not the gold savings of a German bank. Bless the finder though. It helps us with the bigger picture of the fracture of the world during WWII

 
Comment by dearieme
2015-07-21 10:11:01

The English law is far more intelligent than the Saxon law.

 
Comment by Lauriana
2015-07-22 04:30:52

Great action from the finder indeed, especially since it’s likely he knew he wasn’t going to get a lot of money based on the German laws.
And nazi gold… It has been the subject of so many books and movies that you’d never expect to come across the real thing just like that…

And about ownership: What are the chances of someone legitimately owning coins which were in Reichsbank coin bags? Although I don’t know what Germany’s laws are on legitimate ownership…

(on that topic, I recently learned about an old English law which was still in use until 1995. The concept of “Market ouvert” meant that stolen goods could be legitimately acquired if they were traded at specified markets at specified times… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Market_ouvert )

 
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