Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Search for Nazi Gold and Computer Animation

On the occasion of a very disappointing Siggraph for those of us struggling to make a living with computer animation and failing, as so many do, several colleagues have suggested the idea that searching for Nazi gold could be a viable career alternative.

Of course, they are responding to the recent events in Europe where two different stories about Nazi gold have been in the press. In one case, a young woman found a mysterious ingot of gold at the bottom of a shallow lake in the German alps with its identifying marks scratched off. And in the other, two people in Poland claim to know the location of a train that was allegedly hidden by the Nazis in a labyrinth of railroad tunnels at the end of World War 2.

At first glance, this activity might seem a promising way to make a living, at least in comparison with the disaster of computer animation, but I think when we review all the facts it will become clear that there are other potential career paths, like art fraud or laundering money, which have a better chance of being successful.

Its hard for Americans to relate to the European concept of treasure hoards littered around the countryside, left behind by invading hordes as it were, hoards from the hordes, whether  Roman hordes, Anglo Saxon hordes, Crusaders acting like hordes, Moors, Normans, Danish, Vikings and what-have-you raping and pillaging and stealing everything they can get their hands on, only to melt it all down and bury it for safe keeping, there to be found by a nerdy but sincere metal detection wielding citizen who has been searching relentlessly every weekend for the last 30 years.  The facts are that some people do this in Europe (search every weekend) and every once in a while they really do find something. (1) 

Aside from these more official discoveries, there are also signs that other, less formal, activities are taking place behind the scenes with good results. An annoying number of previously unknown fine art objects regularly show up on the antiquities market having been plundered from an ancient grave by some scumbag who has been tempted by an evil antiquities broker. Some of these dastardly folks only pretend to plunder graves, they dishonestly forge ancient art items and shamelessly sucker some corrupt collector or curator into buying them in a variation of the famous adage “you can not cheat an honest curator”.

But as romantic as these more ancient hoards are, the real action is in caches of art and gold left behind by everyone's favorite, the National Socialists in the period roughly 1944-1945. As thieves and murderers, the National Socialists of the last world war were in a class all to themselves. First they would roll the Wehrmacht in, then they would roll the gold out of national treasurys, the art out of the museums, and the Jews into the camps stealing everything they ever had along the way. When you melt down a million gold dentures, it just looks like gold bars to those helpful Swiss bankers who are always happy to launder money for the criminal du jour. Some things never change.

But do we really think that there is a lot more to find out there? The problem is that it is very hard to tell. Officially, we know of lots of things that are still missing. But who is to say that some of this missing gold was found but no formal press release issued? Who is to say which famous trainloads of decadent art were hidden in an abandoned mine instead of being destroyed by aerial bombardment on its way there? What 100 tons of gold were processed by the Swiss, what disappeared into the Tsar's vault in Moscow, what treasure from Troy now lies in the basement beneath the Hermitage waiting a year, a century, a millinnia before it sees the light of day?

Keep in mind also, that while the average computer animator knows hardship and rough working conditions, he or she has rarely dealt with abandoned mines, networks of crumbling railroad tunnels filled with unexploded munitions, or deposits at the bottom of very deep, very cold lakes. Yes a computer animator knows how to endure hardship only to be disappointed. But for every hoard found by a metal detection practitioner, how many others work for decades for a handful of copper?

The odds are as likely that you will write a screenplay that gets made into a successful movie. Or that you will be recognized for your talent and invited to direct a film. One seems about as likely as the other, being successful in the motion picture industry or finding a cache of Nazi gold. If you have to go through the trouble of changing your career, I recommend finding something with more likelihood of success.


1. The most famous recent example of this is the fabulous story of Maj (ret) Tony Clunn of the British Army, MBE, who discovered the location of the famous battle of Teutoberger Wald in Germany.  See


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