WARSAW, Poland -- A Polish official said Friday he has seen an image made by ground-penetrating radar that seemed to prove the discovery of an armored Nazi train missing in southwestern Poland since World War II.
Local lore says a German train filled with gold, gems and armaments went missing around the city of Walbrzych while it was fleeing the Red Army in the spring of 1945. Fortune-hunters have looked for the so-called "gold train" for decades, and in the communist era, the Polish army and security services carried out apparently fruitless searches for it.
During the war, the Germans built a system of underground tunnels in the mountainous region of Walbrzych and the city of Wroclaw, from where the train is believed to have departed. The area was German territory at the time, but became part of Poland when the war ended.
Recently, a Pole and a German, acting through lawyers, told local authorities they had found an armored train with valuables in a disused tunnel and demanded a financial reward.
Deputy Culture Minister Piotr Zuchowski told reporters the lawyers had been informed the train was over 100 meters long and called it an "exceptional" discovery.
He said he was shown an image - albeit blurred - from a ground-penetrating radar that showed the shape of a train platform and cannons, and added he was "more than 99 percent certain that this train exists."
"We will be 100 percent sure only when we find the train," Zuchowski said.
Zuchowski earlier released a statement urging treasure hunters to stop foraging in the area.
"I am appealing to people to stop any such searches until the end of official procedures leading to the securing of the find. Inside the hidden train - of whose existence I am convinced - there could be dangerous materials from the time of World War II," Zuchowski said. "There is a great chance that the train is mined."
Walbrzych regional authorities will conduct the search, using military explosives' experts, in a procedure that will take "weeks," he said.
A person who claimed he helped load the gold train in 1945 said in a "deathbed statement" the train is secured with explosives, Zuchowski said. The person, who was not identified, had also indicated the probable location of the train, he said.
Meanwhile, as Polish river levels fall to record lows amid a prolonged drought, the material remains of Poland's tortured 20th-century history are coming to light on newly exposed riverbeds, with Jewish tombstones and the human remains of Soviet fighter pilots and their plane being found in recent days.
On Sunday, explorers found the remnant of the Soviet fighter-bomber plane in the Bzura River, a tributary of the Vistula, near the village of Kamion in central Poland. The pieces have been moved to a museum in nearby Wyszogrod for examination, with more recovery work planned for Saturday.
The head of the museum, Zdzislaw Leszczynski, told The Associated Press that parts of Soviet uniforms, a parachute, a sheepskin coat collar, parts of boots, a pilot's personal TT pistol and radio equipment were found, along with a lot of heavy ammunition. The inscriptions on the control panel and on the radio equipment are in Cyrillic.
The uncovered remnants are part of the larger story of a devastating war that played out across Poland from 1939-1945: a German invasion from the west, a Soviet invasion from the east, the murder of Jews across occupied Poland and fighting between the Soviets and Germans after Adolf Hitler turned on former ally Josef Stalin.