The Golden Train? Which one?
It sounds like an urban legend but the story of coins of Fertőboz, a tiny village on the border between Austria and Hungary, are true.
Having risen to notoriety as the biggest theft of the 20th century, the story of the golden train, due to the damage the nation and its cultural heritage suffered, is one of the painful memories of Hungarian history. While Ferenc Szálasi's national-socialist government labelled and justified it as an action to save the nation's wealth, the journey ended at Werfen in Austria, where the US Army confiscated the 44 freight carriages, the exact content of which is open to speculation even 70 years after the war. Still in 2005 claims for compensation submitted in the USA fascinated the media in Hungary.
Nevertheless, the stories of the golden trains, since there was more than one, are blurred and mixed up in the collective memory of Hungarians. The Hungarian Committee of National Remembrance created some info-graphic on its thematic website to dispel the misunderstanding around these enigmatic trains.
The website, first of all, mentions a train, which travelled around the country, even before the Second World War, in 1938, to celebrate the anniversary of King Saint Stephen, the state founder. The train transported the so-called Holy Right, the mummified right hand of the king, to many towns in the country where it was put on display. It received the name Golden Train in popular language, just like a second one (indeed two), which transported the values of the National Bank to Spital am Phyrn in Austria in 1945. A third train, the one mentioned in the first paragraph, also received this name, however, this one was carrying the confiscated valuables of Hungarian Jewish families. This piece of writing recalls a tiny incident related to the second train, the one packed with the wealth of the National Bank.
The story begins at the end of 1944 when the Red Army was already approaching Budapest and the government decided to put the wealth of the National Bank, the Hungarian Mint Ltd. and the Hungarian Academy of Science under protection. The valuables were collected and transported first to Veszprém, a western Hungarian town, and, then due to the progress of the Soviet army, on 10 December 1944, to Fertőboz, a little village 20 km from the Austrian border. While the train was waiting for the government's final decision, newer and newer wagons were arriving at the station with more and more confiscated valuables or items form public collections. The Szálasi government's intention was clearly to take everything possible to the West, as, by that time it was clear that on the side of Germany, Hungary had lost the war.
By January 1945 the train numbered 77 wagons and three more were attached to it full of silverware. Later on the wagons were split into two trains and in mid-January within six days both trains left the country. In a little more than a week they arrived at Spital am Pyhrn were the consignment was deposited in the monastery's cellars. It was guarded there until 7 May 1945 when a handover was enforced by the US Army. Later the valuables were transported to Frankfurt am Main to the cellar of the Reichsbank, which was at that time already in American hands. In 1946, Prime Minister Ferenc Nagy started to make efforts to reclaim the nation’s wealth.
Fertőboz also became a subject of speculations and legends. It was here that the commander of the train ordered to select the assets due to lack of space. During this, the carriages filled with seemingly less valuable items were detached from the train, and this way the Hungarian Mint Ltd.'s blank coins were also left behind in Hungary. For weeks the carriages were being moved from one track to another and then back until the front line reached the village.
Immobile objects were easy targets for the Red Army, so no wonder it was hit by a grenade in February. The blank, unminted coins were scattered around in a large distance, the heavier zinc coins landing closer and the lighter aluminium ones further from the train and the tracks.
When the fights finally ceased, the inhabitants of the village came out to first see and then collect the remnants. Even 70 years later collectors frequent the site trying to find coins which are even today and even underground are the possessions of the Hungarian Mint Ltd.
A detailed inventory of the trains’ consignment is available in US National Archives, but it is incomplete often dooming researchers to speculations concerning the content of the trains. The coins found in Fertőboz definitely support the legend documenting some of the darkest days of Hungarian history.