dive would cost over $600,000,
with major funding provided by
the World Jewish
55 years, Nazi Secrets Discovered in
Money Created To Crash British, American
21, 2000 (CBS) Imagine a lake more
mysterious than Loch Ness - a lake that
hides a secret no one was meant to
discover. There is such a place high up in
the Austrian Alps. It is a lake
Early one morning in 1945, Nazi S.S.
officers sank a number of wooden boxes in
Toplitz. Legend has it that the lake
conceals everything from Nazi gold to the
darkest secrets of Hitler's Reich. This
summer, 60 Minutes II led an underwater
expedition in search of those boxes. They
found evidence of a Nazi plot you didn't
read about in your history books. What's
in Hitler's lake? CBS News Correspondent
Scott Pelley reports on the secrets
at the bottom of Lake Toplitz.
It is hard to imagine a better place to
hide. In a dense mountain forest, Lake
Toplitz lies secluded, folded deep into
the Alps of western Austria. It isn't
large - just a mile long. What is daunting
is the depth.
Getting to the bottom of Toplitz is a
journey. After 30 feet, the sun goes dark.
Below 100 feet, the water is nearly
freezing. At 348 feet, the bottom comes
into view. There is no life (no plants and
no fish) because there is no oxygen in the
water. In 1945, Toplitz was practically as
remote as the moon. And with secrets to
keep, Toplitz was just what the Nazis were
Feb. 23, 1945: Hitler's Reich was
tumbling down. The Allies were closing in
and, in bombed-out Berlin, the Nazis were
scrambling to truck their most valuable
secrets out of town.
Adolf Burger was expecting to
die at the Sachsenhausen concentration
camp. He was the man who knew too much - a
Jew who had been forced to work on a
top-secret Nazi plot. "That means I am
someone who is privy to state secrets,
they always end up dead; they were always
liquidated," said Burger.
He and several other prisoners were
forced to participate in a covert Nazi
project creating fake currency to crash
Allied economies - including that of the
When the project was abruptly ended,
Burger was told to pack the counterfeit
currency into boxes. He didn't know at the
time, but the product of his work was
taken to the Nazis' last holdout: the
Austrian mountains called the Alpine
Fortress. The Nazis planned to evacuate
Hitler and a guerrilla army to the region
around Lake Toplitz.
In the Alpine Fortress, time ran out on
the Reich. By April 1945, Hitler was dead
in Berlin, and the Allies were closing in
all around. You could actually hear the
artillery echoing in the mountains. Many
of the last leaders of the Nazi regime
fled there - some to make a last stand,
others to try to save some remnant of the
Reich in hope of starting over one
And Adolf Berger's work was essential
to that plan.
The cargo was so well hidden that,
chances are, no one would have ever seen
the boxes again if it weren't for a
21-year-old Austrian farm girl. Ida
Weisenbacher saw where the boxes went.
She lives in the same house near Lake
Toplitz where Nazi soldiers found her 55
"It was five o'clock in the morning, we
were still in bed when we heard the knock
on the door," remembered Weisenbacher.
"'Get up immediately hitch up the horse
wagon, we need you.'"
They needed the wagon because the truck
had reached the end of the road. Only
horses could make it to Toplitz. "A
commander was there. He told us to bring
these boxes as fast as possible to Lake
Toplitz," added Weisenbacher.
She said each box was labeled with
bold-painted letters and a corresponding
She carried three wagonloads to the
lake. "When I brought the last load, I saw
how they went on to the lake and dropped
the boxes into the water.... The S.S. kept
shoving me away but I saw the boxes were
sunk into the lake," said
The Nazis knew that searching a place
so cold, so dark, and so deep wouldn't be
possible with the technology of the time.
But they couldn't have foreseen a phantom
in the future.
The Phantom is a deep-diving robot
operated by Oceaneering Technologies in
Maryland connected by a tether to a pilot
on the surface. Jeff Kowalishen is
one of the pilots of the underwater craft:
"It's hard to hide something from this
type of equipment."
Oceaneering uses The Phantom around the
world on some of the toughest jobs
imaginable. It was Oceaneering that
recovered the wreckage of the Space
Shuttle Challenger, lifted TWA Flight 800
off the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and
located the aircraft of John F. Kennedy
60 Minutes II hired Oceaneering to
search every inch of Lake Toplitz and
recover the boxes if they could be found.
"No one has tried at Toplitz to do this,
but we have done this type of work all
over the world," said Kowalishen.
But in that part of the world, the
project wasn't entirely welcome. The
region once known as the Alpine Fortress
still celebrates its traditions, but many
Austrians don't like dredging up reminders
of a Nazi past.
It was in the winter of 1999 that
negotiations were started with the
Austrian government and the country's
forestry service. After being assured the
project wouldn't hurt the environment, the
Austrians agreed to lease the lake for 30
days - an incredibly tight schedule for
what the Oceaneering team was about to
There had been
other dives in Lake Toplitz over the
years, and artifacts related to the
project had been raised before. But
this expedition was to be the first
comprehensive search of Toplitz. The
dive would cost over $600,000, with
major funding provided by the World
Toplitz doesn't seem large until you
search it inch by inch. The video image
relayed from the remote submarine is only
three feet wide. The first thing
Oceaneering found was a layer of silt on
the bottom that often blew like a
blizzard, blinding the camera.
Team member Ian Griffith of San
Francisco is an expert on the
remote-controlled subs. "If we are too
high, we are not going to see anything. If
we are too low, we are going to destroy
the visibility and not see anything," he
For 12 hours a day, the crew strained
for some familiar shape. "We have four
pilots. You can only do it for so long,
and then it really becomes monotonous,"
But there was no hint of anything like
Adolf Burger's boxes. It was possible the
boxes were buried or covered in silt. It
was also possible, after 55 years, they
had just crumbled away.
The long days turned into weeks -
nearly three weeks of searching. The
submarine would cover more than 35 miles
altogether. The 30-day deadline imposed by
the Austrians was getting closer. And
Oceaneering couldn't get a break from the
To the tethered mini-sub, the lake
floor was a minefield. Oceaneering
expected trees but not underwater forests.
Trees had fallen from the mountain and
were stacked 60 feet high in some places.
The Phantom would spend days lost in the
And when it wasn't the trees, it was
The picture-postcard lake often
developed a foul mood. There were
hailstorms and lightning.
The crew figured it was out of luck
when a bolt of lightning struck the
navigation system, and the search pattern
wasn't reliable anymore. But Kowalishen
wanted to press on, guiding The Phantom by
dead reckoning and as it turns out, dumb
Then a discovery was made -- not the
intact boxes the crew hoped to find, but
the remains of something decades old,
pieces of wood that might have come from
the Nazi crates.
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