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6 Legendary Lost Treasures of World War II

April 17, 2020 in History

By Becky Little

Human fossils, an amber room and a Raphael masterpiece all went missing during WWII.

War has always brought chaos, and with it an opportunity for pillage and plunder. This was especially true during World War II, when countless pieces of priceless art, artifacts and other treasure were destroyed and spirited away from both Europe and the Asia Pacific. Nazis, in particular, systematically looted cultural property from museums, private homes and royal palaces, some of it to help Adolf Hitler build his proposed Führermuseum, but other armies carried away their own spoils as well.

When the war ended, tales of real and imagined lost treasures blended together, especially when it came to rumors of stolen Nazi gold. Some of the items on this list are more verifiable than others, but all of them have motivated treasure hunters to seek them out.

1. Yamashita’s Gold

Dictator Steals Treasure (TV-PG; 2:42)

WATCH: Dictator Steals Treasure

Yamashita Tomoyuki was a general in the Japanese Empire who defended Japan’s occupation of the Philippines in 1944 and 1945. According to legend, he also carried out orders from Emperor Hirohito to hide gold and treasure in tunnels in the Philippines, booby-trapped with trip mines, gas canisters and the like. The plan, apparently, was to use the treasure to rebuild Japan after the war.

Since then, there have been many claims about where the gold ended up. In a United States court case, a Filipino locksmith named Rogelio Roxas claimed he discovered some of the hidden gold in the 1970s and that Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos later sent strongmen to steal it from him. The legend has also prompted treasure hunts for “Yamashita’s gold” in the Philippines that continue to this day.

The new season of Lost Gold of World War II, which documents one such hunt, premieres Tuesday, April 28 at 10/9c on HISTORY.

2. The Amber Room

The Amber Room replica in Catherine Palace, circa 2003.

Designed in the early 18th century, the Amber Room was an ornate set of floor-to-ceiling wall panels decorated with fossilized amber, semi-precious stones and backed with gold leaf. In 1716, Prussian King Frederick William I gifted the panels, designed to cover 180 square feet, to Russian Emperor Peter the Great as a symbol of Prussia and Russia’s alliance against Sweden.

When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union during Operation Barbarossa in 1941, the Amber Room occupied …read more