News, WW2

The Unexplained War: Mysteries of WW2

The Second World War was the largest conflict in the history of mankind. It massively altered the course of the 20th century and the world we know today.

While most of what happened during WW2 is a distant memory to us now, a number of mysteries with origins in the conflict remain unsolved. They continue to mystify and amaze to this day. 

The Peking Man Fossils

Peking Man (Homo erectus pekinensis) was a subspecies of Homo erectus which inhabited the Zhoukoudian Cave. These were found in northern China, at some stage during the Chibanian Era. Deeply significant for the field of Chinese anthropology, the first fossils of Peking Man were discovered near Beijing . They were discovered in 1921 by visiting archaeologists from Europe.

Over the next 20 years, further digs were carried out in the surrounding region. More and more remains of Peking Man were eventaully found. By 1941, China and Japan were at war, and it was decided that the fossils of Peking Man that had been gathered thus far should be relocated for safekeeping. 

So, the US Marine Corps were tasked with moving two footlockers full of fossils. These contained various remains from at least 40 different specimens. The plan was for the fossils to be transported to, and stored in, the American Museum of Natural History. These were supposed to be taken to New York City via the SS President Harrison

Tragically, the ship was attacked by Japanese forces en route to Qinhuangdao and eventually ran aground. The footlockers containing the fossils of Peking Man were presumably destroyed or lost at sea. Mysteriously, are still missing to this day. Generous rewards have been offered to anyone able to locate the fossils, but to no avail. 

Peking Man
Franz Weidenreich’s reconstruction of one of the ‘Peking Man’ skulls. The bones disappeared in 1941

Naturally, theories abound regarding the fate of the remnants of Peking Man. Allegations of theft have been levied against both the Japanese and American forces by the Chinese Communist Party as part of propaganda campaigns. 

The Amber Room

Once dubbed ‘the Eighth Wonder of the World’ and easily one of the most valuable artefacts in Russian history, the Amber Room, was a collection of amber panels. These decorated the walls of part of Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg. 

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Taking a total of 15 years to complete, the Amber Room was crafted by a number of master craftsmen. These came from Italy, Germany, and Russia. It covered an incredible 590 square feet, and used 6 whole tonnes of amber. Modern estimates place the value of the Amber Room at somewhere between £120-240 million in today’s money. 

During the Second World War, the Amber Room was seized by the Nazis. This was part of their invasion of Leningrad/St. Petersburg during Operation Barbarossa. Initially, the panels were installed inside Königsberg Castle near the Baltic Sea. A number of other valuable, looted artefacts from around Europe were also kept there.

However, by 1944, the Allies were having considerable success in the conflict. Hitler, sensing the danger, arranged for the Amber Room to be relocated to somewhere safer.

Amber Room
The amazing Amber Room in Catherines Palace near St. Petersburg. Hitler took a shine to it and had it removed. It was never seen again!

Later that year, the city of Königsberg was nearly levelled by RAF bombings. By the time the Soviets entered the picture, the location of the Amber Room was a mystery. It’s unknown whether or not the artefact was successfully moved before the RAF bombings. Regardless, nobody has found the Amber Room, intact or otherwise, to this day. 

Die Glocke 

Die Glocke, which means ‘The Bell’ in English, was the name of a purported Nazi superweapon. It has been described by some as nothing more than a conspiracy theory. Its supposed existence was first reported in the 2000 book Prawda o Wunderwaffe, literally ‘The Truth About the Wonder weapon’ by the Polish author Igor Witkowski.

Witkowski claimed that Die Glocke was a device that the Nazis developed as part of a larger weapon that had some form of effect on gravity. This was perhaps as a time machine or similar. Reportedly, the instrument was several metres tall. It contained two large cylinders filled with a mysterious, metal-looking purple substance, and rotated at high speeds. 

The substance in these cylinders was, allegedly, a very radioactive material referred to as Xerum 525. Reportedly, many of the scientists involved with the development of Die Glocke died. Perhaps as a result of their exposure to radiation. Those who survived were later killed by the SS before the conclusion of the Second World War. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, credible evidence for the existence of die glocke is, thus far, yet to be found. Claims have been made that the weapon may be stored somewhere on the fabled Nazi Gold Train. The train is covered in greater depth later in this article. 

Critics of the authors who have discussed Die Glocke in their works have generally noted that, in addition to the paucity of evidence, there’s also something of a mystique surrounding the Nazis which depicts them as having unrealistic or unprecedented technology and power at their disposal. The ‘Nazis on the Moon’ trope is just one example of this. 

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Anyway, while it may be little more than a myth or urban legend, it’s hard to deny that Die Glocke makes for a great story all the same. 

Rommel’s Gold Stash 

Throughout the Second World War, the Nazis developed something of a reputation for stealing and looting, and their stashes of stolen gold have become almost legendary. Perhaps best-known of all is a cache of gold that the Nazis allegedly stole from the Jewish peoples of an island called Djerba, which is off the coast of Tunisia. 

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The cache is known colloquially as ‘Rommel’s Gold’ after Erwin Rommel, the Nazi commander who was responsible for terror campaigns against the Jewish people of North Africa. With that being said, it’s disputed that Rommel was, himself, involved in the theft of the gold in question. Indeed, while he was a general in the German Army and fought for Hitler, Rommel was never actually an official member of the Nazi Party. 

Nazi stashes of stolen gold have become legendary. Rommel was never a member of the Nazi Party however!

Nevertheless, this cache of gold has never been seen again since it was reportedly first stolen in Djerba. Rommel’s Gold has since become a thing of legend, even inspiring events in Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel, In Her Majesty’s Service, where a pair of divers are killed whilst on the hunt for ‘Rommel’s treasure.’

Raoul Wallenberg’s Disappearance 

Originally from Sweden, Raoul Wallenberg was based in Budapest during the Second World War, where he was able to save thousands of Jews from the Nazis, as Hungary was occupied by Germany at the time.

Prior to the outbreak of the Second World war, Wallenberg was living in Stockholm, where he was employed by Kálmán Lauer, who was a Hungarian Jew. Once the war began, Wallenberg made increasingly frequent trips to Budapest and eventually learned to speak Hungarian, too. 

Fairly quickly, Wallenberg was also promoted by Lauer to the role of international director and co-owner of his company. Because of this, Wallenberg was also required to travel to Germany on business trips, something that allowed him to observe how the Nazis operated at the time. He would use this to his advantage later as part of his resistance efforts in Budapest. 

Raoul Wallenberg
A Bronze memorial statue of Raoul Wallenberg in Tel Aviv. He disappeared in 1945

Indeed, Wallenberg was recruited by the Swedish Foreign Ministry to protect the Jews of Budapest, in the face of Nazi attempts to expel Jews from the country en masse and send them to Auschwitz.

Wallenberg set up sham administrative buildings in Budapest, declaring them to be extraterritorial as they were under Swedish jurisdiction.

He used these buildings to house and protect Hungarian Jews – up to 10,000 stayed in them between 1944 and the end of the War.  

Unfortunately, by 1945, Wallenberg’s luck had run out. During the Soviet invasion of Budapest, he was detained by SMERSH, the Red Army’s counterintelligence organisation. SMERSH suspected that Wallenberg was engaged in espionage, and, once he had been seized, Wallenberg quickly disappeared and was never seen publicly again.

Eyewitnesses have claimed to see him in Soviet gulags, but investigations into Wallenberg’s whereabouts have remained inconclusive. 

In fact, it wasn’t until the 26th of October 2016 that Wallenberg was declared dead; a full 71 years after he initially disappeared. 

The Nazi Gold Train 

Perhaps the greatest mystery associated with the Second World War is that of the Nazi Gold Train. The existence of which has never actually been confirmed. According to legend, in the last days of the War, the Nazis filled a train with gold and treasure and hid it in a tunnel or mine. This was supposedly in the Central Sudetes mountain range, located in the south of Poland. 

Read More: Treasure Hunters Still Searching for WW2 Gold

Multiple claims have been made as to the train’s location. It probably goes without saying that it hasn’t been found as yet. Nevertheless, historians note that the train’s existence hasn’t been disproved, either. 

Gold Train
Stories are abound of Nazi gold trains. Some real, some not. The hunt goes on.

In 2016, Piotr Koper and Andreas Richter, who are from Poland and Germany respectively, claimed to have found the train, and submitted radar images to the Polish government, which appeared to depict a train 100 metres in length under the ground near the town of Wałbrzych.

The Polish Deputy Culture Minister at the time, Piotr Żuchowski, even claimed that there was a 99% certainty that the images showed a train.

Ultimately, the Polish government declined to fund or participate in attempting to dig for the train, as their own surveys of the area suggested that there was, in fact, nothing there.

Koper and Richter managed to secure private funding for the dig and began trying to locate the train, but the excavation attempt was called off after a week when no evidence of a train or tracks was found.