Monday, 21 September 2015

Polish Nazi Ghost Trains: The Walbrzych Sanction (Night's Black Agents)

If you've been paying any sort of attention to things that go bump in the news, you've probably heard of the Mysterious Nazi Ghost Train buried somewhere near Walbrzych, Poland. Treasure hunters, historians, and other crazy people have been flocking to this tale like flies to honey, and it occasionally resurfaces in Western media.

Briefly, at some point late war the Nazis are supposed to have hidden a train packed full of goodies in an underground railway embankment, and then sealed off the embankment. As to what the goodies are supposed to be, it could be almost anything, but naturally everyone's hoping it's looted artwork, gold, and other valuables. Not, say, mothballs, dust, and rubble, which is possibly the more likely, if less romantic, scenario. Is the burial site sealed off with deadly, explosive traps? Will Israel lay claim to the booty on behalf of the Holocaust dead? Are the treasure seekers who claim to have found the train telling the truth, or perpetuating a grand hoax?

Buried treasure always gets people salivating. Rumors of lost pirate gold, or whatever the hell it's supposed to be, have kept idiots digging at Oak Island for time out of mind, and repeated, ignominious failure hasn't dissuaded any of them yet. So too with Nazi trains, lost Armada galleons, lost cities, and far too many other tropes to count. It doesn't matter if there's no proof. So long as somebody's granny remembers somebody's granny telling the tale of the Dread Pirate Salty Drawers' treasure, or whatever it may be, there will be a buffoon out there somewhere with a shovel and a dream, ready to dig it up.

However the fun thing about this particular ghost train is that it draws on old tales of Project Riese, which is worth discussing.

Project Giant, to give it its translated name, began in 1943, and was still in progress at war's end. It was meant as an air raid shelter for important, strategic targets, and consisted of seven separate installations in the Owl Mountains of Lower Silesia, now part of Poland. The project, though ambitious, never really got off the ground, because the Germans insisted on using forced labor, POWs and concentration camp workers. Kept in insanitary conditions and worked to death, these poor souls proved less than efficient, particularly since typhus was rife among them. This meant that the projects never really went anywhere, and by 1945 the Red Army was on the doorstep. All seven projects were left unfinished, as the Nazis withdrew.

The ghost train story is part of the Walbrzych network, centered on what was then known as Schloss Fürstenstein, or to give it its current name, Książ Castle, part of the Książ landscape park and nature reserve. The castle was taken over by the Nazis in 1941, and later made part of the Giant network in 1943. What wasn't destroyed or taken by the Nazis was looted by the Reds, so the castle was pretty much stripped bare during the war. It is currently a tourist attraction, and the upper levels of the tunnel network are open to tourists. The lower levels are used by the Polish Academy of Sciences, for seismological research, among other things. The remains of the old concentration camp, AL Fürstenstein, may or may not be there yet; I've been unable to confirm one way or the other.

Dracula Dossier Directors may already be making the leap to telluric vampires - I mean, there's an Academy of Sciences right there just begging to be taken advantage of - and that's certainly one way to go. But what about:

  • The Nazi connection. An elder vampire, seeing the Reds on the doorstep, decided to pack a train full of snacks and push it into an abandoned railway siding, thinking to wait it out for, say, six months or a year. Then the vampire would escape after the Red Army had pushed though. Except that things didn't go according to plan, and the vampire ended up trapped down there for many decades. Now it's on the verge of release, which may or may not please the Conspiracy. After all, there's no real vacancy in the Cospyramid for it to fill, but at the same time the Conspiracy can't afford to be unwelcoming. For that matter, what kind of mental shape is this elder likely to be in, after several decades with nothing but dust-dry corpses for company?
  • The Edom connection. One of the Hochberg dynasty that owned the castle before it was seized by the Nazis joined Edom, and after the war the information about the castle that he provided was very useful in defusing Soviet attempts to reactivate the Nazi vampire program that Project Giant was the cover for. After Poland joined the EU, Edom quickly established itself at Książ Castle, hoping to discover secrets buried in the lost tunnels. However Edom was to be disappointed; any such secrets had, apparently, been relocated back to Russia shortly before Solidarity brought Poland out from under the Soviet umbrella. Continued efforts occasionally uncover tempting prospects, but so far Edom considers Project Fürstenstein a bust. But is it? This train discovery could change everything, and nobody's more anxious than Edom to find out what's really down there. 
  • The Conspiracy Connection. The vampires established themselves at Książ soon after Project Giant began, using Nazi cut-outs to cover for their own fiendish experiments. However the advancing Red Army forced them to withdraw, burying whatever they couldn't carry away. For a time their secrets remained safe, deep beneath the earth. When Poland regained its independence, the Conspiracy moved back in, suborning the Academy of Sciences to ensure that its secret installations would remain secret. Now the tunnels beneath Książ are its private preserve, and its plans are well advanced. If only those blasted treasure hunters would stop looking for Nazi ghost trains laden with loot, all would be well!
 Of course, that's just a sampling. No doubt you can come up with a few twists of your own, to plague your players. Just remember, secrets that have been buried for decades can still kill you. Or at least give your tourist trade a welcome bump. Nazi Ghost Train T-Shirts, anyone?


Edit added 21 Dec 2015: According to that same Academy of Sciences mentioned above, the whole thing is a massive hoax. Or possibly an understandable mistake, depending on how you look at it.  The difference in the amateur train hunters' readings may be down to overhead power lines messing with their cheap equipment. Alas! No glittering hoard of gold and Nazi knickknacks. However the Discovery Channel is sniffing around, so it's likely we'll see the whole sorry story on one of those Godawful reality history shows before long.

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