Janitor Discovers Hidden Treasure Trove Worth Six Figures, Gets Pat On The Back

Tanja Höls’ curiosity has earned her a big 'thank you' from the State Library in Passau Germany, where the 43-year-old janitor discovered more than 170 valuable old coins worth somewhere in the six figure range. The head of the library h

Winter sun in Passau, Germany
Winter sun in Passau, Germany
Ulrike Heidenreich

PASSAU -- It's not that it went unnoticed. After all, staff at the State Library in Passau had been giving the wooden box regular dustings for years. It's just that until recently, nobody ever thought to pop the lid and take a peek inside.

Recently, though, curiosity got the better of Tanja Höls, who had worked at the State Library for a year and a half. The 43-year-old janitor turned the key on the coffer, opened the box's top and, to her astonishment, discovered a veritable treasure trove of valuable old coins. In total, the box contained 172 coins with an estimated worth in the low six figures.

The coins and heavy medallions are made of silver, bronze and copper and are of Greek, Roman and Byzantine origin. Some date from the Baroque and the Napoleonic eras. Höls reports that they were organized inside the box in a very orderly manner.

The director of the State Library, Markus Wennerhold, still can't quite believe that the trove had just been sitting there, in a fourth floor stock room in the former Jesuit boarding school on Michaeligasse that now houses the library. The building dates back to the 17th century – it was constructed between 1630 and 1639 – and is stuffed with valuable old items. The librarian says that this, however, is a first.

"Sometimes we come across books that haven't been electronically catalogued yet, but never a trove like this," he says. The "absolutely beautiful pieces' are in very good condition, and vary in size and weight. So-called bracteates dating back to late classical antiquity and the Middle Ages are no larger than a finger nail. Made of rolled silver, stamped on one side, they were used for payment purposes. They weigh between one half and one gram. The showpiece of the collection, a silver commemorative medallion the size of a small plate, weighs 200 grams.

The stock room where the light wood coffer was stored contains all sorts of other antiques. "But our stock rooms are by no means a jumbled mess," library head Wennerhold stresses. Tanja Höls said she was curious about it because "ever since I was a kid I have collected little boxes and coffers, so this quite naturally interested me." When she saw what was inside, she brought it immediately to the astonished director.

A case of 17th century tax evasion?

Mr. Wennerhold believes the contents of the box are part of a valuable coin collection that belonged to Passau's Bishop-Princes. It had perhaps been hidden, as many Church treasures were, to avoid being carted off to Munich during the 1803 secularization -- which in this case would have meant that the Elector of Bavaria's tax officers missed the most valuable pieces in the collection. The decorative medallions and a unique piece minted in honor of the founding of Passau's Jesuit church show virtually no signs of wear and tear.

Wennerhold contacted his predecessors and found out that the trove was literally forgotten. "Some of them who held the job in the last few decades knew about the coins, but didn't realize their significance." So the coins were left undisturbed in the little box. But that also means, says Wennerhold, that Höls's find is not a discovery but a re-discovery. The janitor is not, therefore, entitled to a reward. Wennerhold say she does, however, plan to ask her out to dinner one of these days.

For Tanja Höls, the incident is just further proof that hers is a "dream job." "I know every corner of this building, and in the future my eyes are going to be more peeled than ever for interesting finds."

The library in Passau – which is located in Lower Bavaria – is one of Germany's oldest public book collections and possesses major old works on theology and Jesuitism. Next year it celebrates its 400th anniversary – and the trove of coins will be on exhibit. By then, Wennerhold says, experts in numismatics will have had the time to value the collection at its exact worth.

Meanwhile, everyone at the library has been infected with treasure fever. In among old manuscripts and thousands of publications someone has located a stuffed crocodile. It was originally in the nature collection of the St. Nikola cloister. When church treasures were carted off in 1803 it turned out to be too large for the cart. But nobody knows anything more about the crocodile than that.

"We'll check out its stomach, maybe it swallowed a missionary or something," jokes Wennerhold.

Read the original story in German

Photo - erix!

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Where Lockdowns For LGBTQ Meant Moving Back In With Homophobic Relatives

The confinement experience could turn brutal for those forced to live with relatives who would not tolerate a member of the family living their sexual orientation openly as a young adult. Here are stories from urban and rural India.

At a Rainbow pride walk in Kolkata, India

Sreemanti Sengupta

Abhijith had been working as a radio jockey in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020. When the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, Abhijith returned to the rural Pathanamthitta district , where his parents live with an extended family, including uncles, cousins and grandparents.

Eighteen months later, he recalled that the experience was "unbearable" because he had to live with homophobic relatives. "Apart from the frequent reference to my sexual 'abnormality', they took me to a guruji to 'cure' me," Abhijith recalled. "He gave me something to eat, which made me throw up. The guru assured me that I was throwing up whatever 'demon' was possessing me and 'making' me gay."

Early in 2021, Abhijith travelled back to Thiruvananthapuram, where he found support from the members of the queer collective.

Inspired by their work, he also decided to work towards uplifting the queer community. "I wish no one else goes through the mental trauma I have endured," said Abhijit.

Abhijith's story of mental distress arising from family abuse turns out to be all too common among members of India's LGBTQ+ community, many of whom were trapped in their homes and removed from peer support groups during the pandemic.

Oppressive home situations

As India continues to reel from a pandemic that has claimed more lives (235,524) in three months of the second wave (April-June 2021) than in the one year before that (162,960 deaths in March 2020-March 2021), the LGBTQ community has faced myriad problems. Sexual minorities have historically suffered from mainstream prejudice and the pandemic has aggravated socio-economic inequalities, instigated family and institutionalized abuse, apart from limiting access to essential care. This has resulted in acute mental distress which has overwhelmed queer support infrastructure across the country.

Speaking to queer collective representatives across India, I learned that the heightened levels of distress in the community was due to longstanding factors that were triggered under lockdown conditions. Family members who are intolerant of marginalized sexual identities, often tagging their orientation as a "disorder" or "just a phase", have always featured among the main perpetrators of subtle and overt forms of violence towards queer, trans and homosexual people.

Calls from lesbians and trans men to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns.

Sappho For Equality, a Kolkata-based feminist organization that works for the rights of sexually marginalized women and trans men, recorded a similar trend. Early in the first wave, the organization realized that the existing helpline number was getting overwhelmed with distress calls. It added a second helpline number. The comparative figures indicate a 13-fold jump in numbers: from 290 calls in April 2019-March 20 to 3,940 calls in April 2020-May 2021.

"Most of the calls we have been getting from lesbians and trans men are urgent appeals to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns," said Shreosi, a Sappho member and peer support provider. "If they happen to resist, they are either evicted or forced to flee home. But where to house them? There aren't so many shelters, and ours is at full capacity."

Shreosi says that the nature of distress calls has also changed. "Earlier people would call in for long-term help, such as professional mental health support. But during the pandemic, it has changed to immediate requests to rescue from oppressive home situations. Often, they will speak in whispers so that the parents can't hear."

Lack of spaces

Like many of his fellow queer community members, life for Sumit P., a 30-year-old gay man from Mumbai, has taken a turn for the worse. The lockdown has led to the loss of safe spaces and prolonged residence at home.

"It has been a really difficult time since the beginning of the lockdown. I am suffering from a lot of mental stress since I cannot freely express myself at home. Even while making a call, I have to check my surroundings to see if anybody is there. If I try to go out, my family demands an explanation. I feel suffocated," he said.

The pandemic has forced some queer people to come out

Sumit is also dealing with a risk that has hit the community harder than others – unemployment and income shortage. He's opened a cafe with two other queer friends, which is now running into losses. For others, pandemic-induced job losses have forced queer persons from all over the country to return to their home states and move in with their families who've turned abusive during this long period of confinement.

Lockdowns force coming out

According to Kolkata-based physician, filmmaker and gay rights activist Tirthankar Guha Thakurata, the pandemic has forced some queer people to come out, succumbing to rising discomfort and pressure exerted by homophobic families.

"In most cases, family relations sour when a person reveals their identity. But many do not flee home. They find a breathing space or 'space out' in their workspaces. In the absence of these spaces, mental problems rose significantly," he said.

Not being able to express themselves freely in front of parents who are hostile, intolerant and often address transgender persons by their deadname or misgender them has created situations of severe distress, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

Psychiatrist and queer feminist activist Ranjita Biswas (she/they) cites an incident. A gender-nonconforming person died under suspicious circumstances just days after leaving their peer group and going home to their birth parents. The final rites were performed with them dressed in bangles and a saree.

"When a member of our community asked their mother why she chose a saree for someone who had worn androgynous clothes all their life, she plainly said it was natural because after all, the deceased 'was her daughter,'" Biswas recalls.

The Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling

David Talukdar/ZUMA

"Correctional" therapy

In India, queer people's access to professional mental healthcare has been "very limited," according to community members such as Ankan Biswas, India's first transgender lawyer who has been working with the Human Rights Law Network in West Bengal.

"A large majority of the psychiatrists still consider homosexuality as a disorder and practice 'correctional therapy'. It's only around the big cities that some queer-friendly psychiatrists can be found," Biswas said. "The pandemic has further widened the inequalities in access to mental health support for India's LGBTQ community."

Biswas is spending anxious days fielding an overwhelming amount of calls and rescue requests from queer members trapped in their homes, undergoing mental, verbal and even physical torture. "We don't have the space, I just tell them to wait and bear it a little longer," he said.

Medical care is dismal

Anuradha Krishnan's story, though not involving birth family, outlines how the lack of physical support spaces have affected India's queer population. Abandoned by her birth family when she came out to them as a trans woman in 2017, Anuradha Krishnan (she/they), founder of Queerythm in Kerala who is studying dentistry, had to move into an accommodation with four other persons.

Isolation triggered my depression

"I am used to talking and hanging around with friends. Isolation triggered my depression and I had to seek psychiatric help." Living in cramped quarters did not help with quarantine requirements and all of them tested positive during the first wave.

What is deeply worrying is that the Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling, placing more and more pressure on queer collectives and peer support groups whose resources are wearing thin.

During the 10 months of the first wave of the pandemic in India in 2020, Y'all, a queer collective based in Manipur, received about 1,000 distress calls on their helpline number from LGBTQ+ individuals. In May 2021 alone, they received 450 such calls (including texts and WhatsApp messages) indicating a telling escalation in the number of queer people seeking help during the second wave.

As India's queer-friendly mental health support infrastructure continues to be tested, Y'all founder, Sadam Hanjabam, a gay man, says, "Honestly, we are struggling to handle such a large number of calls, it is so overwhelming. We are also dealing with our own anxieties. We are burning out."

Sreemanti Sengupta is a freelance writer, poet, and media studies lecturer based in Kolkata.

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