WWII was a gargantuan affair that saw more than just copious combat, massive mayhem, and mind-boggling amounts of deaths and atrocities. It also saw plenty of opportunities for corruption and crime, like that time when American GIs stole hundreds of bars of gold from a secret Nazi stash. The heist, described by Guinness as the “Greatest Robbery on Record”, formed the basis for the movie Kelly’s Heroes. Below are thirty things about that and other fascinating but lesser known WWII events and figures.
A Movie About a Fictional WWII Gold Heist Based on a Real WWII Gold Heist
1970’s comedy action flick Kelly’s Heroes, starring Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland and Don Rickles, was an unexpected Hollywood hit that became a cult classic. It depicts the antics of some WWII ne’er do well GIs who go AWOL to track down – and steal – a stash of Nazi gold behind enemy lines. After a series of madcap adventures, the GIs track the gold to a bank guarded by Tiger tanks. It is not much of a spoiler to reveal that GIs get the gold by the time the movie ends and the credits roll. Screenwriter Troy Kennedy Martin relied heavily a Guinness World Record entry titled the “Greatest Robbery on Record”. In relevant part, it stated: “The greatest robbery on record was of the German National Gold Reserves in Bavaria by a combine of U.S. military personnel and German civilians in 1945“.
For years, there was little solid support for that assertion. Then British researcher Ian Sayer began to dig into it in 1975. Nine years later, he published Nazi Gold – The Sensational Story of the World’s Greatest Robbery – and the Greatest Criminal Cover Up. In early 1945, Allied bombers wrecked the Reichsbank in Berlin, where the Nazis stored their gold reserves. So Dr. Walther Funk, Germany’s minister of economics, ordered the gold – about $25 billion worth of it in 2022 dollars – moved to various locations, where they were eventually seized by the Allies at the end of WWII. American GIs, aided by German soldiers and civilians, boosted a whole lot of that gold. By the time Sayer published his book, most of the stolen gold had vanished. However, his investigation led to the recovery of at least stolen two gold bars, worth more than $1 million today, still with swastika marks.