Nuremberg’s Secret Vault

The Holy Lance in the Schatzkammer of Vienna Photo Credit- www.penhook.org

The Holy Lance in the Schatzkammer of Vienna Photo Credit- www.penhook.org

Walter W. Horn was exactly the kind of man the Nazis wanted to recruit-  good looking, educated, athletic and descended from five generations of Germans.  However, Walter Horn wanted no part of them.  As a professor of art history at the University of Heidelberg, he watched the rise of the Nazis with horror.  As a historian, he was being called upon to declare the superiority of the German race.  He hedged.  Academics at that time were being forced into a special branch of the SS to dedicate themselves to proving German superiority.  Horn was on their list to press gang next.  In 1934, he took the chance and attempted to flee Germany to Italy.  Horn was stopped by an SS officer on the train, who told him he was being watched and not to come back, but let him go.  From Italy, Horn made his way to America and became a naturalized citizen.  He joined the army, and was promoted to lieutenant in the 3rd Army.  As a native German speaker, his job was to help question German prisoners.

Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire, displayed in the Imperial Treasury at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna Photo Credit- By Bede735c

Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire, displayed in the Imperial Treasury at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna Photo Credit- By Bede735c

In 1945, Horn was questioning an older man, Private Fritz Huber.  Pvt Huber did not seem to have any great information at first and Horn felt sorry for him.  He got the older man a cup of coffee and a cigarette and they sat chatting amiably when Huber dropped this bombshell.  “How would you like to know about a secret treasure?”  Horn pricks up his ears, and Huber goes on to ask him of he knows anything about art history.  Huber had come to the right place.  He tells Horn about a bunker underneath Nuremberg Castle containing untold treasure looted by the Nazis.  Treasures he mentioned were a crown, a scepter, an orb and a spear.  Horn right away recognized the Crown Jewels of the Holy Roman Empire, including the spear of destiny, which was thought to be the spear which pierced the side of Christ after the crucifixion.  

Excitedly, Horn got as many details as he could about the secret vault.  Huber said his father had been hired by Heinrich Himmler himself to install a ventilation system in the vault.  His mother was charged with checking the treasure in the vault each week, making sure there was no excess humidity or environmental factors to damage the treasures.  Horn typed all this up in a report, including a map of where the entrance to the vault is in the city, and turned it into his superiors.  An attack on Nuremberg was imminent and he was afraid the entrance to the vault could be lost.

The report found its way to General George Patton, head of the 3rd Army.  Patton was obsessed with the spear of destiny, and was afraid it could be used as a focus for Nazi resurgence.  Patton was so focused on the spear, he had written a poem about it.  Recognizing what was in Horn’s report, he allocated a squad of crack soldiers to break off from the attack and search for the vault.

The attack on Nuremberg was vicious with tons of ordnance dumped on the medieval city.  German soldiers were instructed to fight to the last man for the spiritual capital of the 3rd Reich.  Children ran through the carnage as scouts for the defenders of Nuremberg.  It was horrific.  Patton’s special unit looking for the vault had to fight hand to hand through the streets and many men were killed.  They came to the place on Horn’s map where the vault entrance was supposed to be, but there was so much devastation they could not find it.  Finally one man found a crevasse in the stone that led to a tunnel with a 12 inch steel vault door.  The doors were locked and they were ready to blow it with dynamite, but a representative of the mayor gave them the combination so the treasures would not be harmed.  When it was opened, they were amazed.  It was not one vault, but a series of tunnels and rooms created by connecting old beer cellars beneath the castle.  It had its own generator, living quarters and air purification system. This was as high tech as it got for the 1940’s.  All the rooms were jam packed with treasures looted by the Nazis.  The extent of the looting had not been realized before.  Horn was sent for to identify the contents.  He confirmed the Crown Jewels were there.

Imperial Orb (Reichsapfel) Photo Credit- Michal Maňas

Imperial Orb (Reichsapfel) Photo Credit- Michal Maňas

There was some argument as to where these would go now.  Horn thought they would return to a Viennese museum, but Patton wanted to keep the spear of destiny.  He had become obsessed with the legendary power of the spear.  Eisenhower had to intervene and the two generals fought over the spear.  However, before it could be resolved, Patton was killed in a car wreck.  The full set of Crown Jewels were returned to Vienna.

Later scientific tests were conducted on the spear of destiny and it was found it dated to the 7th century.  It could not be the spear that stabbed Christ, but it was the spear held by Charlemagne.  

ER

Sources available on request