Treasure hunters are descending upon a tiny Dutch village in search of loot believed to have been buried by the Nazis during World War Two, Reuters has reported.
Despite being ordered by the local authorities to stay away, over a hundred treasure hunters from across Europe have already been caught in Ommeren, in the central Netherlands, searching for €18 million worth of gold, silver, and diamonds. Fifteen people have since been issued official police warnings.
The search was sparked by the recent release of a World War Two-era map of Ommeren by the Dutch National Archive – which included a conspicuous red 'X' mark where the gold is allegedly buried – as well as accompanying testimony from former Nazi soldier Helmut Sonder, a furniture-maker from Baden-Baden who was stationed near the village during the latter stages of the war.
According to Sonder's testimony, he and several other soldiers pocketed the loot after a bank in Arnhem, located 40 kilometres east of Ommeren, was blown up during an Allied air raid in August 1944. The soldiers subsequently decided to bury the booty as the Allies began their inexorable advance toward their front lines in April 1945.
Wild goose chase?
Many experts remain deeply sceptical as to whether the treasure ever existed. Moreover, those who do believe it existed strongly suspect that it was dug up soon after the Allies liberated the area in 1945.
"It is very plausible that something was buried in Ommeren, but the chance that the Germans didn't pick it up or that it wasn't found by Canadians, Americans or the Dutch, I think, is relatively small," Dutch historian Joost Rosendaal told LBC.
The municipality of Buren, of which Ommeren is a part, has warned treasure hunters about the inherent dangers of digging for treasure in and around a former wartime front line.
"Experts point out that the area is near the front line of World War II," the municipality stressed on its website. "Searching there is dangerous because of possible unexploded bombs, land mines or shells. Therefore, we do not advise searching for the Nazi treasure."
The presence of more than a hundred treasure hunters in the sleepy village has also deeply exasperated many local residents.
"I moved here for the peace and tranquillity," local resident Sander told BBC. "Now the whole world knows about us."