The Romanian Treasure that was sent to Russia for safekeeping during World War I is a collection of the Romanian government that is comprised of 120 tons of gold reserves and valuable art objects.
As of 2015, none of the gold has been returned to Romania, and only a small portion of the objects have been returned.
Bucharest was captured by Germany during World War I, so the Romanian government moved to Iaşi. When they moved, they took the most valuable objects of the Romanian state with them.
The government administration had to make a quick decision to safeguard the treasure. As there was a legitimate fear of a German victory, they decided to send the treasure abroad.
The Bank of England and the United States were considered among the places for safe keeping of the treasure. One of the problems they would incur was transporting the articles.
Most of Central Europe was controlled by the Nazis, so anything traveling across Europe could be seized by them.
The Romanian Prime Minister was advised by banker Mauriciu Blank to move it to England or some other neutral country.
After some careful soul searching, Prime Minister Ion I. C. Brătianu chose another WW I Romanian ally to guard the treasure – Russia. He chose Russia because he thought they would be insulted if it was sent to London.
When World War II arrived, the insight of the Romanians was not to take any of their valuables outside of Romania but to hide everything inside a cave near Tismana, Gorj County.
When the war was over, everything was safe and recovered from the cave.
Sending the Treasure
In 1916, the Romanian government endorsed an agreement with the Russian government that stated Russia would keep the Romanian valuables safe in the Kremlin until the end of the war.
On the night of December 14–15, 1916 at 3:00 a.m., a train that was headed east left the Iaşi train station with 21 rail cars, carrying a payload of one hundred twenty tons of gold bars and gold coins.
In another four rail cars were two hundred government policemen guarding the valuable train. In 2005 dollars, this payload of gold had a value of $1.25 billion.
In the summer of 1917, seven months after the first train, the war was affecting the situation in Romania adversely. The government decided to send the country’s most valuable objects on another train to Moscow.
This transport contained including the archives of the Romanian Academy and several antique valuables, such as the gems of the Governor of Wallachia and Moldavia, ancient Dacian jewels, golden gems found in Romania that were 3,500 years old, and the jewels of the Romanian royalty.
The transport also carried thousands of paintings, precious items owned by Romanian monasteries, such as 14th-century symbols and old Romanian manuscripts. The train also carried the money deposits of the Romanian people held at the national banks. The dollar value of this train is difficult to appraise, especially because most of its contents are art objects, but most likely it even exceeded the worth of the gold on the first train.
In early 1918, the Romanian Army entered Russian territory; specifically Bessarabia, which at the time was part of Russia. Consequently, the new Soviet government severed all diplomatic ties and seized the Romanian treasure.
In 1922, the Romanians made an effort to get the treasure back but were unsuccessful. The Russians returned some of the Academy Archives in 1935 and in 1956 the Romanians recovered some of the paintings and some of the items of the ancient Pietroasele treasure.
Since World War I, every Romanian government, regardless of their political stripe, has attempted negotiations with the USSR for the return of the valuable treasure items and, of course, the gold as well, but all of the Russian governments have steadfastly refused.
The Soviet Union has always used the incursion of Bessarabia as leverage over the Romanians; therefore, no agreement has ever been reached.
The Treasure since 1917
Since the October Revolution in 1917, very little is known about the Romanian Treasure, but it seems that all the Romanian valuables held by the Soviet state during World War II were removed from Moscow and sent to areas that the Russians deemed not in danger.
However, it is clear that the Russians breached the agreement with the Romanian government, which said that the containers of the Archives must be kept sealed.
They were not kept sealed, as the chests that were returned in 1935 had clearly been ransacked and many documents and items had disappeared.
The position toward the Romanian Treasure by the Russian governments since the fall of the USSR has remained the same, and various negotiations have failed to reach a settlement.
The treaty of 2003 between the two countries did not mention the Treasure.
President Ion Iliescu of Romania and President Vladimir Putin of Russia decided to create a committee to examine this problem between the two countries, but there have been no significant advances.