The Romanian Treasure is a collection of valuable objects the Romanian government sent to Russia for safekeeping during World War I. It was only partially returned as of 2010.
During World War I, since Bucharest was occupied by Germany, the Romanian administration moved to Iaşi, and with them, the most valuable objects which belonged to the Romanian state. Fearing an eventual German victory, the Romanian government decided to send the Treasure abroad.
Among the ideas considered was to send it for safekeeping to the vaults of the Bank of England or even to send it to the United States, but there was the problem of transportation, since Germany and its allies controlled most of Central Europe and sending it via Northern Europe was dangerous, as the Germans could have intercepted it.
The decision had to be taken by the Romanian Prime Minister Ion I. C. Brătianu. Although the banker Mauriciu Blank advised him to send it to London or to a neutral country, such as Denmark, Brătianu feared the German submarines of the North Sea and chose another ally of Romania in World War I, Russia, using the argument that “Russia would feel offended if we sent it to England”.
During World War II, the valuables of the National Bank of Romania were not taken outside of Romania, but hidden inside a cave near Tismana, Gorj County and from there, they were safely recovered after the war.
Sending the TreasureThe Romanian government signed a deal with the Russian government which stated that Russia would safe keep the Romanian Treasure in the Kremlin until the end of the war.
At 3:00 AM during the night of December 14–15, 1916, a train with 21 carriages, full of gold bars and gold coins (around 120 tonnes), departed the Iaşi train station eastward. In four other carriages, two hundred gendarmes guarded the train. The gold load of this train has as of 2005 a value of $1.25 billion.
Seven months later, in the summer of 1917, as the war situation was getting worse for Romania, another transport was sent to Moscow, containing the most precious objects of the Romanian state, including the archives of the Romanian Academy, many antique valuables, such as 3,500-year-old golden jewels found in Romania, ancient Dacian jewels, the jewels of the voivodes of Wallachia and Moldavia, as well as the jewels of the Romanian royalty, thousands of paintings, as well as precious cult objects owned by Romanian monasteries, such as 14th century icons and old Romanian manuscripts. It also contained various deposits of the Romanian people at the national banks. The value of this train is hard to estimate, especially because most of its contents are art objects, but most likely nowadays it could even surpass the value of the other train.
Soviet Russia and Soviet Union
After the Romanian Army entered Bessarabia, at the time nominally part of Russia, in the early 1918, the new Soviet government severed all diplomatic relations and confiscated the Romanian treasure. The Romanian government tried to recover the treasure in 1922, but with little success. In 1935, the USSR did return a part of the archives, and in 1956 paintings and ancient objects, most notably, the Pietroasele treasure.
All the governments of Romania since World War I, regardless of their political colour, have tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a return of the gold and of the culturally valuable objects, but all Soviet and Russian governments have refused. The Soviet Union tried to use the treasure in the dispute over Bessarabia, however no agreement was reached.
Romanian gold stocks were sent for safety into Tsarist Russia. Reclaimed but never returned, this remained a contentious issue with the Soviet Union and now with Russia.