Return of the Golden Treasure

Forty years ago, on February 20, 1982, $250 million in gold reserves of the Czechoslovak Republic, stolen by the Nazis after the occupation of Bohemia and Moravia in 1939, were returned to their rightful owner.

Photo: Czech National Bank

The state gold reserve was created when Czechoslovakia was founded in 1918 by the country’s National Bank. Even commoners were encouraged to contribute to the “treasure of gold” of the young states, as the reserve was sometimes called.

In 1938, on the eve of World War II, the state’s gold reserve was around 95 tons and the bank began moving some of it overseas in fear of a German invasion. This meant that there were only about six tons of gold left in Czechoslovakia when the invasion finally took place a year later. The Nazis acted with the utmost haste, sending a special man to move the gold to the Reichsbank on the day of the invasion. Threatening to shoot anyone who refused to comply, he forced the bank staff to send a transfer order for the Czechoslovakian gold which had meanwhile been sent to Britain. This money was then used by the Nazis to pay for their war effort.

Photo reproduction: Vladimír Diviš, Josef Vlček, 'Návrat zlatého vězně'/Ed.  Novinař

After the war ended, the Allies managed to find some of the gold. However, several European countries have raised their claim. Czechoslovakia, which estimated its losses at 45.5 tons of gold, only received 24.5 tons at the Paris peace conference that followed in 1947. A deposit of 6,070 kilograms of gold was then sent in the country the following year, but that was all for several decades. . The Communists had taken power in Czechoslovakia by then, and the United States demanded gold as compensation for property lost by Czechoslovaks living in America as a result of large-scale nationalization.

Negotiations dragged on until 1982, when three closely guarded TU-154 planes arrived in Prague, carrying the remaining 20 tons of gold. Along with 1.5 million gold coins, the National Bank also recovered two high-value US $10 bills from the Wild West era.

Berta D. Wells