Do you know what’s lurking in the dark corners of your attic? For one elderly man a visit to his childhood home many decades since he had last set foot there – amid the throes of war – revealed something as poignant as it was amazing.
Rooting around the attic of his childhood home – many years since he’d last seen it – 83-year-old German Rudi Schlattner was about to unearth something astonishing. After all, so much had happened since he’d last been there practically a whole lifetime ago. And the discovery that the man was about to make would transport him right back there.
At the age of 13, following the end of World War II, Schlattner and his family had been forced to leave their Czechoslovakia home. Their exit, you see, had been a result of the Czech government’s policy to remove Germans from its country in the wake of the conflict.
The expulsion of Germans from Czechoslovakia was essentially a backlash against the country’s occupation by the Nazis, which lasted until 1945. As you will no doubt know, many thousands were killed. And in some ways, Schlattner was one of the lucky ones.
Approximately 1.6 million individuals were uprooted to Allied-controlled West Germany; another 800,000 were exiled to Soviet East Germany. But luckily for Schlattner and his family, they were sent to an American-occupied zone.
Remarkably, it was seven decades after this uprooting that Schlattner decided to finally return to his family home. And so he got in touch with officials from his boyhood village, Libouch – in what is now the Czech Republic – and arranged to visit his old house. But what would it be like to go back after so many years away?
Well, things had changed; that’s for sure. For one thing, Schlattner’s home was now a kindergarten. Parts of the house had been refurbished, too. But the pensioner was looking for something in particular – a special treasure. And it would shock and amaze those who had accompanied him. So, who was along for the ride?
Well, Schlattner was joined on his homecoming by representatives of the museum in Libouch, the local mayor, the kindergarten manager and an archaeologist. There was a good reason for the turnout, too. And as Schlattner made his way around the attic, they were about to find out what it was.
So, Schlattner began tapping the boards on the attic ceiling with a hammer, listening to the sound. The octogenarian then started searching for a length of thread that his father had told him about many years ago. And when he found it, he pulled it down – and, as if my magic, a couple of boards came loose.
It’s fair to say that the team were nervous; they wondered if maybe the secret had already been discovered. But as Schlattner took hold of the string and pulled, a treasure trove of amazing historical artifacts was miraculously revealed to them.
Yes, Schlattner’s instructions from his father had been perfect. “When he pulled it, two boards detached, and the shelter full of objects, untouched for 70 years, appeared,” museum employee Tomas Okurka told Czech newspaper Blesk.
You see, before fleeing to West Germany, Schlattner’s father hid the family’s possessions in the roof of their home. And after so many years, it was incredible that they were still there. “My father built the villa,” Schlattner told the Daily Mail. “He always thought that one day we would return and get it back.”
Among the packages hidden in a skylight vault were a set of skis, hats and clothes hangers – but these were just the tip of the iceberg. Although simple and not worth a lot of money, the items were a fascinating glimpse into the past.
Schlattner and co. took the packages to a museum in Usti nad Labem, a nearby city, where they set about unpacking them. Among the things they discovered were paintings, cigarettes in their original packaging and sewing kits. Everything was in remarkably good condition.
Incredibly, some of the paintings were by acclaimed landscape painter Josef Stegl. Apparently, you see, during the Second World War the artist had lived in this very house.
But while it had been 70 years since his father had stashed away the family’s belongings, Schlattner and his family hadn’t given up hope. “We thought we would one day return,” he told the Daily Mail, “and that [we] would find a property there.”
However, Schlattner couldn’t actually claim back his long-lost possessions, for when the Czech government expelled the Germans, they also confiscated their property. And so, the items in the attic technically belonged to the Czech government.
But apparently, Schlattner is okay with not being able to stake a claim on his family’s belongings. And despite poor health, he’s promised the museum that he will help with the daunting task of identifying the huge number of objects discovered.
It’s worth pointing out just how incredible it is that after so many years any of these belongings were recovered at all. “Such a complete finding of objects hidden by German citizens after the war is very rare in this region,” explained museum manager Vaclav Houfek to the Daily Mail.
And after seven decades of the items being hidden away in the roof, the rediscovery is an amazing glimpse into an era that’s slowly getting further away. For Schlattner it must have been incredibly emotional; for others, meanwhile, it’s a sobering reminder of how World War II affected so many lives in so many ways.
But as you might expect, Schlattner’s is far from the only remarkable discovery of this kind. When a mysterious object was uncovered from below the floorboards of an old Iowa movie theater, nobody could have imagined the secrets that it would reveal about a bygone era – or the profound effect that it would have on one elderly gentleman.
When a group of workers were sent to renovate the old building, none of them could have predicted the incredible find that they would make just below the floorboards. And what’s more, the discovery of this intriguing object would have an enormous impact on the life of one old man.
In 2016 the Talent Factory comedy club in Nevada, Iowa, was owned by Larry Sloan. And he was responsible for ordering the renovation of the place. But decades ago, this popular haunt for comedians, illusionists and singers was used for a different purpose.
Originally, you see, the club was a movie theater. Sloan told KCCI’s 8 News in 2016, “It was built in the 1920s, so many people saw their first movie here and had their first kiss on the balcony. I like thinking about what kind of history that made for those people.”
You might imagine that renovating a building this old would throw up a few surprises – and you wouldn’t be wrong. However, no one could really have predicted just how incredible the discovery that the workmen toiling away on the third floor of the building would make.
You see, as the men were going about their work, they came across an object that had fallen between the gaps of the floorboard. And to their surprise, it was a wallet. But how had the item gotten there, and to whom did it belong? Well, the truth would turn out to be pretty amazing.
Sloan said of the wallet, “It was plastic. The first thing that went through my mind was, ‘This must be a child’s wallet.’” But as the building owner studied the object more carefully, he began to unravel its true origins.
After peering inside the wallet, Sloan realized that the item was much older than he had first thought. There were a number of clues that pointed to its owner being a child, but if the contents were anything to go by, this kid would definitely have grown up by now.
Yes, inside the wallet was an interesting selection of historical items. There were old and faded photos, for instance, an antique Boy Scouts of America card and – surprisingly – ration stamps. Could this object really date back as far as World War Two?
Well, this was an easy question to answer, as it turned out. That’s because the wallet also contained a pocket calendar, which dated way back to 1944. Yes, this tattered old object had been sitting beneath the floorboards of the theater for more than 70 years. But who on earth did the thing belong to?
Fortunately, this was a fairly easy question to answer too. Inside the leather wallet, you see, was a handwritten I.D. with the name Clare McIntosh scrawled at the top. But after seven decades, the telephone number that was written on the card probably wasn’t going to be much use…
Sloan recalled of the phone number, “It said, ‘In the event of an emergency contact R.E. McIntosh Colo, Iowa 8.’ Just eight. And I thought, ‘Wow, that’s old.’” But surely, after all these years, it would be totally impossible to track down McIntosh?
But nevertheless, the search was on – even if Sloan wasn’t very confident that they’d find the owner of the wallet. The building owner explained, “The hopes of finding him alive and well were kind of small. However, Sloan had a trick or two up his sleeve – and it was all thanks to his former profession.
Before renovating the theater, you see, Sloan had worked as a private investigator. And using some of the skills that he’d picked up on this job, he was able to track down a man called Clare McIntosh, who happened to be living near Des Moines, Iowa.
Naturally, Sloan decided to try giving McIntosh a call. He told the mystery man, “I think I found your wallet. But the individual on the end of the line replied that he hadn’t lost his wallet. So, could it be that Sloan had located the wrong Clare McIntosh?
In a 2016 interview with KCCI, McIntosh recalled, “I thought at first it must have been some sort of a joke; it couldn’t be.” But little did the 85-year-old know, he was in for a shock. And despite his skepticism, he arranged to visit the theater.
When McIntosh arrived at the old theater, he was shown the long-lost wallet. And incredibly, the elderly gentleman confirmed that it had indeed belonged to him. And not only that, but it was the first time that he’d clapped eyes on it since he was 15 years old. He said of the feeling, “It’s unreal.”
That’s right: McIntosh had been reunited with his wallet a whopping 70 years after losing it at a movie theater. And for Sloan, the secrets of this unexpected discovery were gradually revealed as the item’s owner pored over its long-hidden contents. Both men, it seems, could hardly believe it.
Pointing to a photo that had been found in the old wallet, McIntosh identified his sister. It must have been a highly emotional moment for the elderly man to once again look at and hold these old snapshots. After all, he had last held them in his hands seven decades previously. But now McIntosh had finally been reunited with his treasured memories.
Yes, the wallet and its contents – which had been lost by a 15-year-old almost a lifetime ago – were finally returned to their now-85-year-old owner. And in the interim period, the world had become a very different place: World War Two had ended, man had walked on the moon, the Soviet Union had collapsed and the age of the computer had dawned.
But throughout it all, McIntosh’s wallet had sitting been under those floorboards, just waiting to be discovered. And when asked about what he was going to do with his long-lost mementos, his answer was simple: “I’m just going to cherish them.”
For others, meanwhile, discoveries of this kind aren’t merely pleasant reminders of the past. Sometimes the dusty corners of our homes can hide huge secrets – the implications of which can extend far beyond our own lives. When Grete Winton was hunting through her attic in Maidenhead, England, for instance, she uncovered a cache of incredible items that her husband had kept under wraps for half a century.
Clouds of dust spring from old crevices as Grete Winton treads the creaky floorboards of the attic in her home in Maidenhead, England. In the gloom her eyes fix on a stack of yellowed papers in the corner. Casting her gaze over the contents of the documents – which detail hundreds of names, personal details and photographs – she uncovers a secret hidden by her husband for half a century.
Her husband Nicholas Wertheimer was born in London in 1909. His parents, Rudolph and Barbara, were of German-Jewish descent but converted to Christianity in order to assimilate into British society. They even changed their family name to Winton in the process.
The newly christened Nicholas Winton, then, was sent to the independent Stowe School in Buckinghamshire. He later embarked on a career in international banking, and – after stints of employment in Hamburg, Berlin and Paris – he came back to the U.K. a fluent speaker of French and German.
In 1938 Winton became a stockbroker, but despite his capitalist career path he was attracted to socialism and Britain’s left-of-center Labour Party. At this point, however, the clouds of war were beginning to gather over Europe.
Hitler’s systematic abuses toward Jews in Germany were by then no secret, and one episode of terror made his stance abundantly clear. It came in November 1938 when the Nazis oversaw a series of riots and attacks against Jewish people and property.
The violent events became known as Kristallnacht, or “Night of Broken Glass.” It saw Jewish businesses attacked and Synagogues destroyed, with the assaults forcing other European governments to sit up and take notice.
Shortly afterward, thousands of German Jews escaped into neighboring European countries. And the U.K., for example, permitted entry to all Jewish children aged 16 and under who sought sanctuary there.
The decision sparked the beginning of Kindertransport, or “Children’s Transport.” So, under the direction of Jewish groups working within the Third Reich, Jewish children were moved across Europe by train to the U.K.
Many of those fleeing had already been orphaned; others’ parents had been sent to concentration camps. Regardless, though, they were brought into the U.K. on the condition that their schooling and care would be paid for by charities or individual citizens.
The first refugees to arrive in December 1938 were 200 children whose Berlin orphanage had been wrecked in the Nazi-orchestrated attacks. But while Jewish children from Germany and Austria were being rescued, those in the recently annexed Czechoslovakia were still stranded.
By contrast, as these events were unfolding, Nicholas Winton was planning a skiing holiday. A letter from a friend, however, changed everything. Martin Blake had traveled to Czechoslovakia to help organize the movement of Jewish refugees, and his message read, “I have a most interesting assignment and I need your help. Don’t bother bringing your skis.”
Winton took up the challenge. And, on arrival in Czechoslovakia, where huge numbers of refugees were packed into camps, he was shocked into action. Sensing the plight of the Jewish children, then, Winton set to work.
Working from a hotel room in Prague, Winton and his associates began registering the names of the Jewish families who had asked for help. Their actions didn’t, however, go unnoticed.
Indeed, as desperate families flocked to Winton and his colleagues, the Gestapo started taking an interest. And while their initial enquiries were staved off with numerous bribes, Winton knew he was working on borrowed time.
So, leaving pals Bill Barazetti and Trevor Chadwick to oversee operations in Prague, Winton returned to the U.K. to make preparations for the refugees’ impending arrival. His mission was about to begin in earnest.
The U.K.’s Home Office, though, was slow to issue the documentation necessary for the children’s resettlement. Therefore, Winton subsequently felt compelled to forge the required entry permits.
By March 1939 the stage was set: for the next six months Winton and his colleagues organized the movement of children on nine trains. The dangerous route went through Nazi Germany, but after Hitler’s invasion of Poland in September, the final train sadly failed to make it through.
However, due to the efforts of Winton and his friends, 669 Jewish children made it safely to England. On arrival, they were taken in by willing foster families.
Furthermore, not only did Winton save so many lives from the Nazis, but he also served in Britain’s Royal Air Force during the war. And in the years afterward, he went on to work for charities helping refugees and the elderly.
Yet Winton’s heroic actions in Czechoslovakia may well have been forgotten had his wife Grete not stumbled upon a scrapbook of pictures and details that documented the operation. An incredibly modest man, he never spoke of the episode until his wife made the discovery in 1988.
That year, Winton was honored in a surprise TV program, which brought together many of those he had rescued. He received a knighthood in 2003 and lived to the ripe old age of 106, only passing away in 2015. His story is an inspiring example of humanity in the face of unspeakable barbarism, and that, surely, is the epitome of awesome.