Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Amber Room - World War II's Greatest Mystery

I recently watched a TV show that focused on the hunt for the Amber Room, an ornate masterpiece of Russian craftmanship that was lost during World War II. Worth upwards of a quarter billion dollars in today's money, the Amber Room was built in the 18th century and placed in an imperial palace in St. Petersburg, Russia.

During the German invasion of Russia in 1941, the Amber Room was deconstructed by the Nazis, placed in 26 shipping crates, and taken to a castle in East Prussia (modern-day Poland). It was apparently moved again in 1944 right before the Soviets conquered East Prussia and was never seen again. The whereabouts of the Amber Room now constitutes one of the greatest unsolved mysteries from the Second World War. Here is a short article on it from U.S. News Online:

Not Forever Amber - Treasure Hunters Seek Missing Room

BY CHRISTIAN CARYL

It vanished in the wake of World War II–an 11-foot-square hall walled with amber and other semiprecious stones and worth $142 million in today's dollars. One of the only pieces to be found is a small mosaic of jasper and onyx.

In 1716, the king of Prussia presented the Amber Room, a masterpiece of Baroque art, to Russian Czar Peter the Great. Catherine the Great later commissioned a new generation of craftsmen to embellish the room and moved it from the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg to her new summer abode in Tsarskoye Selo, just outside the city. "When the work was finished, in 1770, the room was dazzling," wrote art historians Konstantin Akinsha and Grigorii Kozlov. "It was illuminated by 565 candles whose light was reflected in the warm gold surface of the amber and sparkled in the mirrors, gilt, and mosaics."

This opulent gesture of friendship between Russians and Germans would come to serve as a potent symbol of their divisions. When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, his troops overran Tsarskoye Selo, dismantled the panels of the oversized jewel box, packed them up in 27 crates, and shipped them to Königsberg, Germany (today's Kaliningrad). In January 1945, after air raids and a savage ground assault on the city, the room's trail was lost.

After the war, the German official in charge of the amber shipment said the crates were in a castle that burned down in an air raid. A Soviet investigator found a charred fragment from the room. Others think the palace sank to the bottom of the Baltic Sea in a torpedoed steamer or was stashed in an abandoned mine in Thuringia. Serious historians of the subject have little hope that the room will ever be found. Nonetheless, the Internet bubbles with Amber Room-related theories. A German film company even made an Indiana Jones-style movie based on the story.

War trophy. Reality caught up with the fantasies in 1997, when a group of German art detectives, including a former Stasi agent, heard talk that someone was trying to hawk a piece of the Amber Room. Police raided the office of a lawyer in Bremen who was trying to sell the work for a client–the son of a German officer who had accompanied the wartime convoy to K√∂nigsberg. The son said he had no idea how his father got the mosaic. One theory is that the crates of amber were bombed on the road and the father swiped a chunk of the room as a war trophy, figuring no one would be the wiser. In April, officials from Berlin presented the recovered mosaic to Russian President Vladimir Putin–along with an intricately inlaid chest from the Amber Room that had also turned up–in a goodwill ceremony faintly and oddly reminiscent of that first kingly gift just under 300 years ago.


5 comments:

  1. If anyone is aware of any good books or articles on the Amber Room, please share them here. Thanks!

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  2. Sean,
    New book on Amber Room mystery (novel based on historical and other facts)you might find intriguing. Would like to know what you think of it - here's the link below:

    http://www.amazon.com/Death-Keeps-Secrets-Story-Discovered/dp/1461007453/ref=sr_1_10?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1302837595&sr=1-10

    Regards,
    Tom Guest (tjguest@msn.com)

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  3. The Amber Room was 11 feet square? Looks a bit larger than that in the photo.

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  4. Sorry, another question: the information given here states two dollar amounts for the value of the Amber Room: a quarter billion dollars, and 142 million dollars. Which is it?

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  5. Amber Room is a part of Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo that is located near St. Petersburg in russia. Russian craftsmen created amber room in 18th century.The room was very beautiful it was preserved in the country for over 200 years.Amber Room was found in Germany in 1997, and it was discovered by a German cop.

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