The soldier who first discovered the information on the contents of the Merkers salt mine, Private Richard Carl Mootz was born on 29th January 1925 in Wilmington, Delaware, to Eric and Madeline Mootz. He was drafted into the US Army in 1943 into the 90th Infantry, 7th Division. He fought in Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge before being assigned to a civil control squad in the town of Merkers.
By April 1945, Merkers had been liberated by the 90th Division, and Mootz and the other three members of his team’s role was to enforce curfew and the controlled movement of the locals throughout the town. On April 6th, his team came across two women seated outside a house. As they were breaking curfew, they were escorted to the team headquarters, where it was discovered that they only spoke German, Italian, and French. As Mootz was the only member of the team to speak German, he began interpreting.
It was discovered that the two women were French citizens who had been evacuated from their town by the German Army and had lived close by to where Mootz’s French-born mother had grown up. This coincidence broke the ice, and helped the women feel more comfortable. One of the women was pregnant, so the team offered to drive them both to the local midwife. It was on the way to this appointment that Mootz asked the women about the local Kaiseroda mine. To his surprise they told him what it contained.
According to the official US Army documents, “…the women stated that it was the mine in which the German gold reserve and valuable property of the National Art Museum in Berlin had been deposited. [The] gold was stored 700 meters deep in the mine and … that it took 72 hours to unload and store the gold and currency and that local civilians and displaced persons had been used for labor on the project.” After learning this incredible information, Pfc. Mootz immediately drove to tell his superiors. The division commander then told two senior officers, and one, Lt. Col. Russell, immediately left for the mine. By the end of the day, he had a tank battalion and military police guarding it.
After a day of corroborating this information, on April 8th a hole was blasted through the masonry wall, and the mine was entered. They found gold bullions worth $250 million, billions in paper currency, priceless art treasures from museums and private collections, and the material loot of the Holocaust – gold and silver from teeth fillings, precious-metal glasses frames, watch cases, strings of pearls and wedding rings. It is highly likely that if Pfc. Mootz had not learnt this information, the contents of the Merkers salt mine would have fallen into the hands of the Russian Army. At the end of the war, a month after the discovery, the area surrounding Merkers was handed over to the Soviets. Thankfully the contents of the mine were dispersed amongst the Allies and were properly restituted.
Richard Mootz earned the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and the Good Conduct Medal of Honor for his service. After being discharged he returned to the United States and studied at the University of Delaware and Goldey Beacom College, before realizing he preferred working with his hands to sitting behind a desk. He would become a well-known carpenter and metalworker in the county, with his private commission building him a reputation for passionate craftsmanship.
For decades he tried to put the record straight of his involvement in the discovery of the treasures of Merkers. After multiple requests to the US Army, they only gave him mixed signals. It was not until the papers were declassified sixty years later that he saw his name recorded in history.
Richard Mootz died Febuary 11th 2020 in Georgetown, Delaware.