Stolen World War II Wine
In May 1940, during World War II, German troops invaded France and began looting all the valuables they could lay their hands on. Some items illegally carted away included gold, art, and some of France’s most prestigious wines. The Germans relished fine wine, and most of the Nazi elite, including Hermann Göring (the daunting military commander), were wine collectors. Hitler took the prized bottles as medals for his beloved Eagle’s Nest castle in Germany. More than 2 million bottles of the finest wines were looted and squandered. Of course, these lost World War II wines were presumed to stay lost forever until fate decided they were not.
Road to Discovery and Recovery
One morning on May 4, 1945, soldiers from the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment under the 101st Airborne Division embarked on a new mission; to capture the Bavarian town of Berchtesgaden. The charming little town was home to most of the Nazi elite. However, one area of interest and focus was Obersalzberg, nestled in the mountains above Berchtesgaden. The hilly settlement housed Hitler and his right-hand men, including Albert Speer, Martin Borrman, and Herman Goering.
The Eagle’s Nest stood 3,000 feet above Obersalzberg; it was a magnificent sight, but what lay within was even more magnificent. The stately fortress was filled with Nazi loot — luxury cars, cash, jewelry, gold, artwork, and the world’s finest wines. The mission to take over Berchtesgaden was necessary to dissuade German forces from organizing resistance to the invasion.
Motivated by the riches within Berchtesgaden’s walls, other forces were also targeting the quaint town. General Leclerc ordered the French 2nd Armored division to join the 101st division. The US 3rd Infantry Division was also advancing. Moreover, acting on their own accord without a directive from SHAEF, the 7th Infantry Regiment from the 3rd ID was also making a beeline for Berchtesgaden. The race to discovery and recovery had begun.
Discovering the Lost World War II Wines
The reckless 7th Infantry division was the first to reach the town on May 4, while the sun was at its peak. To their credit, no shots were fired to capture Berchtesgaden; instead, they scattered across town. Then came the 3rd ID soldier who decided to go up Obersalzberg. Upon arriving at Berghof, they discovered Hitler’s home in ruins — no thanks to a bombing raid set off by the RAF on April 25.
However, the biggest surprise for the 3rd ID soldiers was not the ruin, but the well-stocked pantries that miraculously escaped the bombing. The pantry was a haven, showcasing incredible wine and liquor, canned foods, and cheese. The men wasted no time having a party; they drank a substantial percentage of the wine before returning to Berchtesgaden.
What is Lost is Never Truly Lost
The French 2nd Armored division arrived at Obersalzberg on a hot afternoon. Exhausted and needing rest, they held off visiting the Eagle Nest until early the following day. The Fortress was intact and wholly unaffected by the Allied bombing. Furthermore, the men chanced upon a shocking discovery — a wine cellar brimming with about half a million bottles of the finest French wines. The cellar had everything from the best Champagne to the finest Cognac. Most notable amongst the wines was Chateau Lafite Rothschild, deemed one of the most expensive wines on earth. Furthermore, there were thousands of these wines in this cellar of dreams.
The French righteously elected to recover what was originally theirs, but the cunning Germans had disabled the elevators before they escaped the Fortress. However, the French soldiers were an innovative and creative bunch, and they engaged medics who brought their stretchers as a transportation medium for the wines. The stretchers transported the wine down the mountain to a car park stationed below. The French soldiers made makeshift storage equipment for the premium stash.
They went as far as discarding water from their canteens to make room for the wines. The 101st came late to the party on May 5. However, they enjoyed a long reign in Berchtesgaden. The 7th Infantry Regiment was relieved of its duty by the 101st and ordered back to its base by the SHAEF. However, before they left, they made yet another shocking discovery — it was Goering’s wine cellar containing another 16,000 bottles of precious wine.
Did You Know: French soldiers even filled their canteens with some of Hitler’s stolen wines to enjoy later.