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Treasure of Dead Saxon Prince Found in East German Swamp

October 9, 1996

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) _ Armed with metal detectors and a recent book as a guide, a couple digging through an east German swamp uncovered what the Red Army missed in its search for war booty: crates of priceless silver and gold artifacts from the chamber of Germany’s oldest royal family.

Now that the treasure has been found, negotiations began Wednesday between the heirs of Prince Ernst Heinrich of Saxony and the state government over who gets to keep it.

In 1944, Prince Ernst _ a member of the royal Wettin family that ruled Saxony for eight centuries _ took the family’s famed silver and gold collection and buried it before fleeing the approaching Red Army.

Soviet troops uncovered most of the items and carted them away in 1947, said Werner Schmidt, director of the State Art Collection in Dresden, the capital of Saxony state.

Some of those valuables later turned up in private collections. Many others wound up in storage at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, Schmidt said.

Prince Ernst apparently took the secret of where the rest was buried with him to the grave.

Last year, journalist Georg Kretschmann published a book called ``The Wettins’ Silver,″ in which he speculated that more valuables could be found in the area where the Red Army did its digging.

On Monday, museum curator Dirk Syndram announced in Dresden that Kretschmann was right.

A man and a woman last week uncovered two munitions crates and a metal cigar box brimming with gold and silver coins, a 16th-century silver trophy, an ornate table service and other valuables, he said.

``Four of the discovered items are among the most valuable pieces in the history of European goldsmithing, and their worth cannot be calculated,″ said Syndram, whose museum, The Green Vault, is home to other treasures of the Wettin royal house.

The pair told Syndram about their discovery last Friday, he said. The items are being stored at his museum.

Syndram won’t identify the couple, and the exact location of the find _ a swamp near the prince’s Moritzburg Palace _ is being kept secret. But he said they used metal detectors and Kretschmann’s book as a guide.

Police are patrolling the area in case the swamp may be concealing more treasures.

Who gets to keep the valuables is unclear.

After abdicating in 1919, the Saxon royal family was allowed to keep its assets.

But much Wettin property _ including Palace Moritzburg _ was confiscated by the communists during their four-decade rule of East Germany, which united with West Germany in 1990.

Prince Ernest’s heirs have laid claim to the missing treasure, but two other lines of the royal house might do likewise, complicating the puzzle.

The three sides began negotiations with Saxony state about the treasure’s return Wednesday.

As for the two mysterious treasure-hunters: they dug without an official permit, which means they could face a fine or theoretically even a jail sentence.

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