Return of the golden treasure

Forty years ago, on February 20, 1982, USD 250 million worth of Czechoslovak Republic's gold reserves, which were stolen by the Nazis folowing the occupation of Bohemia and Moravia in 1939, was returned to its rightful owner. 

Photo: Czech National Bank

The state's reserve of gold was established during the founding of Czechoslovakia in 1918 by the country's National Bank. Even commoners were encouraged to contribute the young states “golden treasure", as the reserve was sometimes referred to.

In 1938, on the eve of World War II, the state's reserve of gold was around 95 tons and the bank started moving some of it abroad amid fears of a German invasion. This meant that only around six tons of gold remained within Czechoslovakia when the invasion finally did take place a year later. The Nazis acted with outmost haste, sending a man especially tasked with moving the gold to the Reichsbank on the day of the invasion. Threatening to shoot anyone who refused to comply, he forced the bank staff to send an order of transfer of the Czechoslovak gold that had meanwhile been sent to Britain. This money was then used by the Nazis to pay for their war effort.

Photo repro: Vladimír Diviš,  Josef Vlček,  'Návrat zlatého vězně'/Ed. Novinář

After the end of the war, the Allies managed to find some of the gold. However, several European countries raised their claim to it. Czechoslovakia, which estimated its losses at 45.5 tons of gold, only received 24.5 tons at the subsequent Paris Peace Conference in 1947. A deposit of 6,070 kilograms of gold was then sent to the country the next year, but that was it for several subsequent decades. The Communists had seized power in Czechoslovakia by then and the United States were demanding gold as compensation for the property lost by Czechoslovaks living in America following large scale nationalization.

Negotiations dragged on until 1982, when three tightly guarded TU-154 planes arrived in Prague, carrying the remaining 20 tons of gold. Aside from 1.5 million gold coins, the National Bank also recovered two highly valuable US 10 dollar bills from the period of the Wild West.