The fate of Russia’s Amber Room is one of World War II’s greatest mysteries. Many historians think that Allied forces destroyed it when they bombed Konigsberg, yet there are still theories that the Nazis secretly hid the room. If this is true, then where is it? It has been missing for almost eighty years, with many missions to find it turning up empty. Two German investigators believe they have found it, and in doing so, unearthed a massive cover-up in the Czech Republic that dates to the last days of the war.
It was one of the greatest treasures of all of Europe: a room built of nothing but amber, gold, and priceless jewels. Renowned for its beauty and its elegance, royalty and diplomats came from all over Europe just to take a glimpse inside. Today, the Amber Room is a legend, shrouded in mystery, spoken of in whispers by historians, treasure hunters, and archaeologists alike. Along with many other stolen works of art that have never been recovered, it is one of the greatest cultural losses of World War II, proof that the casualties of war do not always mean the loss of life.
Scholars have been trying to either find the Amber Room or discover its whereabouts ever since it went missing at the end of World War II. It seems as if there are as many theories on its location as people are looking for it. A British newspaper recently reported that excavations have begun near the site of the former Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp, where new evidence has come to light that this may be where the legendary treasure is hidden.
This excavation is only the latest attempt to find the Amber Room. Last year, using an eyewitness account and a coded message from a Nazi officer, two German treasure hunters followed the trail to a Czech castle with a sealed-up basement. Their excitement has been short-lived. Czech authorities will not unseal the wall to prove their theory, only adding to the secrecy of what they found.
The history of the Amber Room is just as fascinating as the search to find it. Originally constructed in 1701 by King Friedrich I of Prussia, it was installed at his home at Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin. While on a diplomatic visit, Peter the Great of Russia greatly admired the Prussian king’s chamber. In 1716, King Friedrich I’s son, King Friedrich Wilhelm I, signed a peace treaty with Peter the Great, giving the Russian czar the panels of the room to cement the alliance.
The room was disassembled and packed into 18 boxes and sent to St. Petersburg after the agreement was signed. In 1755, Peter’s daughter, Empress Elizabeth sent the pieces to the Catherine Palace in Pushkin. Architects added more amber, gold, and precious stones to the original amber panels, making the room bigger to fit its new surroundings. By the end of remodeling, the Amber Room covered almost 600 square feet and used approximately 12,000 pounds of amber.