The secret contents of the Nazi gold train located in Poland is fast becoming the centre stage of an international row even before any treasure has been retrieved. The Kremlin could claim any valuables in the locomotive as compensation for wartime losses, according to reports.
"Representatives of Russia should undoubtedly be involved in determining the value of the items discovered if the train is located," lawyer Mikhail Joffe told Sputnik News. "In this case, Poland is obliged to engage international experts to clarify what is in the cargo.
"If the property has been taken from territory, including USSR, then the cargo, in accordance with international law, must be passed to the Russian side," he added.
Yesterday (29 August), it was reported that the train could contain the ornate "Amber Room" crafted from amber, gold and precious jewels. Now thought to be worth about £250m, the Nazis dismantled the chamber from Catherine Palace, near St Petersburg in 1941 and took it to Konigsberg (now Kaliningrad) before it vanished. The valuable chamber was gifted to Tsar Peter the Great by the King of Prussia in 1716.
Rival claims over treasure train
Despite Russian claims to the treasure trove, Poland has insisted that any riches belong to the state. "The analysis we have conducted with our lawyers quite clearly states that if the train is found it will be owned by the State Treasury," Piotr Zuchowski, a vice minister for conservation, told Poland's Radio Jedynka. It will take months for the train to be reached as it is thought to be buried in a tunnel laden with booby-traps.
"We do not know what is inside the train," he added. "Probably military equipment but also possibly jewellery, works of art and archive documents. The train is 100 metres long and is protected."
Tensions are mounting over the ownership of the lost historical prize with some saying that any items confiscated from Jews who were sent to concentration camps must be returned to their rightful heirs. "To the extent that any items now being discovered in Poland may have been stolen from Jews before they were sent to death, concentration or forced labor camps, it is essential that every measure is taken to return the property to its rightful owners or to their heirs," World Jewish Congress chief executive Robert Singer said.
"We very much hope that the Polish authorities will take the appropriate action in that respect. If no such survivors or heirs can be found, any gold or other property that is found to have belonged to Jewish families or businesses must now inure to the benefit of Polish Jewish survivors, who unfortunately have never been adequately compensated by Poland for the unspeakable suffering they endured and their catastrophic economic losses in the Holocaust," Singer said.