I love international folklore, and have written about everything from a mystery island in Mexico, to conspiracy theories and the 2009 influenza pandemic. Few instances of folklore, however, have received as much attention over the last year as the “Polish Gold Train.” According to local legends in southwestern Poland, during the waning days of the Nazi regime in Germany, the Nazi party hid a train filled with gold in a tunnel system in what is now Silesia, Poland. Two Polish treasure hunters approached the government in 2015, with an offer to reveal the location of the train in return for a percentage of the value of the gold. When word leaked to the press, the result was a media frenzy. Jake Halpern has a great podcast episode “The Hunt for Nazi Gold,” which describes his own investigation of the mystery, and his travels into the very real tunnels that the Germans created underneath mountains during the war. I loved his interviews with Polish treasure hunters, who introduced him to dowsing, UFOs, and aging witnesses. As with the best folklore research, Halpern also placed the narratives into a regional and historical context, which was defined by the Polish settlement of an area from which the German population had been expelled. This experience, Halpern suggests, had a deep psychological impact on the region that has endured until today. If you’re in the mood for a quirky mystery, you might enjoy the podcast from the New Yorker Radio Hour. You can also read my own book on Canadian Indigenous folklore, or my blog post about the mystery ship called the Baltimore.
Shawn Smallman, 2016