Amber Room: Russia's Eighth Wonder of The World, Is It Found Yet?
Treasure Hunters Claim They Have Found the Long Lost Nazi Amber Room

Treasure Hunters Claim They Have Found the Long Lost Nazi Amber Room

Jennifer Conerly - June 23, 2017

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.

Treasure Hunters Claim They Have Found the Long Lost Nazi Amber Room
Peter the Great. Paul Delaroche. Wikipedia Commons

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.

Treasure Hunters Claim They Have Found the Long Lost Nazi Amber Room
Empress Elizabeth. Vigilius Eriksen. Wikipedia Commons

The Amber Room was the pride of the Russian royal family. Empress Elizabeth used it as a meditation room. Catherine the Great, the consort of Elizabeth’s successor Peter III, was one of the most famous Russian rulers to occupy the space, using it as a gathering chamber. Nineteenth-century Emperor Alexander II had a fascination with amber itself, and he used the space as a trophy room.

The Amber Room remained intact at the Catherine Palace until the 20th century. In 1941, the Nazis initiated Operation Barbarossa and invaded the Soviet Union. The Germans stole as many art treasures as they could find, but they had their eye on one treasure in particular.

The Nazis believed that it should be returned to German hands. It was originally installed in a German castle, and it was designed for King Frederick I of Prussia by a German sculptor. They moved into Pushkin, determined to find the great room. As the Nazis drew closer to the Catherine Palace, Soviet guards tried to take the panels apart and hide them. After all, the Amber Room had belonged to the Russians for almost 200 years. They couldn’t let the Germans just take it. The guards were unsuccessful: the amber was so fragile that it began to break.

Instead, they covered the walls with wallpaper, desperate to hide it from the Germans. The Nazis didn’t fall for the trick. With an art specialist present, they took the room apart piece by piece and sent the fragmented chamber to Konigsberg Palace in modern-day Kaliningrad for display.

Treasure Hunters Claim They Have Found the Long Lost Nazi Amber Room
Great Hall of Catherine Palace, 1944. The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Preserve

In April 1945, when the Allied Forces bombed Konigsberg, the Amber Room was initially believed to be lost forever among the rubble. Still, that hasn’t stopped historians and art curators from looking for it. Beginning in the ruins of Konigsberg, the search has reached as far as the mines underneath Wuppertal, Germany, as well as in the Harz Mountains in Eastern Germany. Except for one piece found in the late 1990s in possession of a descendant of a Nazi officer, the searches to find the room in its entirety has always turned up empty.

It seemed as though the Amber Room would always be one of the war’s most enduring mysteries. In 2003, a reproduction of the grand room opened in St. Petersburg, where it remains to this day. An in-depth investigation launched in 2004 by two British researchers became the definitive theory that the bombings of Konigsberg destroyed it, and the trail was lost.

Everything changed about ten years ago. A cook who worked in the kitchens of Frýdlant Castle in Bohemia, located in the present-day Czech Republic, claimed she had seen SS soldiers carting unknown crates into the cellar. The officers then mysteriously disappeared, and she never saw them again.

Two German treasure hunters, Erich Stenz and Georg Mederer, heard about this woman’s confession and were intrigued by the mention of hidden containers. They visited the palace in question and found something extraordinary. The basement was sealed shut! What was behind the wall of brick?

Treasure Hunters Claim They Have Found the Long Lost Nazi Amber Room
Frydlant Castle and Chateau. Zdeněk Fiedler. Wikipedia Commons

The two investigators documented the sealed wall and approached the authorities in the Czech Republic. If they were right, the Amber Room was just on the other side, but they needed permission to knock down the wall. At first, the officials refused to acknowledge that there was a cellar behind the wall.

Once Stenz and Mederer presented the pictures of the wall, the officials changed their story and claimed that there was a basement there that contained German books. Even though the investigators were allowed to return to the castle and continue their investigation, they could not bring in any extra equipment that would help them discover what was behind the brick walls.

The German investigators believe that the woman who reported the story stumbled upon the greatest art heist conspiracy in modern history. She worked in the palace in February 1945, right after Adolf Hitler commanded his men to remove the Amber Room from Konigsberg. She claimed that she saw soldiers bringing the crates into the basement of the castle for two weeks, and then she never saw them again. Were they hiding the containers that contained the panels?

Stenz and Mederer also argue that the Czech officials know that the Amber Room is behind the brick wall and that it has been part of a government cover-up. Why would they deny the existence of the basement and then change their story when confronted with evidence? Why would the officials block their investigation by refusing to allow them to discover what is behind the walls?

The Czech government’s suspicious behavior is not the only proof that the investigators have that the Amber Room lays closed up in the basement of Frýdlant Castle. They also have uncovered a document from Martin Bormann, a senior Nazi official, in which he writes an encrypted message that includes the phrase “where Matthias strokes the strings.” The Nazis were infamous for writing in code; Stenz and Mederer are confident that Bormann’s message is a reference to the site of the Amber Room by making a historical reference to Matthias Gallas, one of the palace’s previous owners.

The investigators are sure that the Nazis were successful in removing the panels from Konigsberg and hid it in the Czech castle in secret. Of course, the SS soldiers weren’t counting on a meddlesome cook to catch them in the act! If the investigators are ever allowed to investigate further, and the crates are still behind the brick wall in the basement of the castle, what happened in the Amber Room would finally be solved.

However, this theory begs the question: what are the Czech officials hiding? If the wall is ever knocked down, what other unrecovered priceless art treasures that were stolen by the Nazis would be found there?

 

Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

BBC Travel – Russia’s “Eighth Wonder of The World”

Live Science – Nazi Wreck May Hold Looted Treasures from Russian Palace’s ‘Amber Room’

The Art Newspaper – Forty-Five Years Later and They’re Still Hunting For The Legendary Amber Room

Medium – Will the Legendary Lost ‘Amber Room’ Ever Be Found?

The New York Times – Could Long-Lost Amber Room Be Stashed in a Nazi Bunker in Poland?

War History Online – A Brief History of the Amber Room – Does Anyone Know Where It Is?

Forbes – Mysteries of the Amber Room

The Independent – Amber Room: Priceless Russian Treasure Stolen by Nazis ‘Discovered by German Researchers’

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