One of many biggest artwork treasures of Imperial Russia disappeared with the Nazis and has but to be discovered.
By Chuck Lyons
In September 1941, in the course of the siege of Leningrad, because the Soviets then referred to as St. Petersburg, Nazi troops overran the Tsarskoye Selo Palace, the previous summer time residence of the czars within the suburban city of Pushkin. Contained in the palace, these German troops found one thing that should have appeared otherworldly to them after that they had spent the previous 10 weeks marching and preventing within the mud and warmth of the Russian summer time.
It was a Baroque chamber made utterly of amber and adorned with giant mirrors and amber carvings of cupids and household crests, nymphs, and monograms. Referred to as, fittingly sufficient, the Amber Room, the chamber had been created in Prussia within the early 16th century and was later given to Russia’s Czar Peter the Nice. In its two and a half centuries of existence it had develop into well-known all through Europe and had been referred to as, amongst different issues, the “Eighth Marvel of the World” and “one of many world’s most extraordinary artistic endeavors.” Its estimated worth at present is greater than $180 million.
The Nazis rigorously dismantled the chamber, packed it in crates, and shipped it to Königsberg Citadel in japanese Germany, the traditional seat of the Teutonic Knights and the guts of their medieval amber commerce. There Erich Koch, head of the Nazi Get together in East Prussia, had the room reassembled and marketed it as a “German possession, now eventually restored to its rightful house owners.” In 1945, nevertheless, as Germany’s conflict was ending with the Allies squeezing the Nazis from the east and west, the room was as soon as once more dismantled, packed in 24 crates, and stacked within the courtyard of the fort. From there it disappeared, and it has not been seen since.
Amber is fossilized tree resin that’s about 44 million years previous. As much as 90 % of the world’s provide is mined alongside the southern shore of the Baltic Sea.
For millennia, resin had flowed from coniferous timber and settled on the forest flooring in Japanese Europe. Then because the Earth’s plates moved and ice sheets shaped and melted, the world turned flooded and the Baltic Sea shaped. From early occasions, bits and items of amber, which has been referred to as the “gold of the North,” have been torn from the ocean flooring and washed ashore to be picked up and treasured. It has been discovered most frequently on the east coast of the Baltic Sea from the present website of Danzig in Germany north to Estonia.
Ultimately an amber commerce grew, and mining operations, first by males wielding giant nets, have been developed. Typically these internet wielders have been slaves within the make use of of the Teutonic Knights, an order that grew wealthy on amber. By the 13th century, the knights managed the commerce and had centered their amber commerce on the newly constructed Königsberg Citadel on the Pregel River. By the 16th century, nevertheless, with the Protestant Reformation sweeping Europe, the Teutonic Knights renounced their Catholicism, turning into Lutherans and forming the Teutonic order’s Prussian territories into the Duchy of Prussia as a Polish fief. Ultimately Prussia gained independence from any feudal obligations, and in 1701 Elector Frederick III was topped as Frederick I, the primary King of Prussia.
Frederick married his second spouse, Sophie Charlotte, a terrific granddaughter of England’s James I, in 1684, and she or he invested most of her effort and time in inventive pursuits, certainly one of which was to make the Prussian capital of Berlin shine. In 1696, when Frederick was nonetheless Elector, she requested the sculptor Andreas Schluter to work on the inside redesign of the royal palace. Schluter started looking within the palace’s storage cellars and located quite a few chests full of amber. He later claimed it was the most important assortment of amber he had ever seen in a single place.
After discovering the amber within the palace’s cellars, Schluter conceived the thought of utilizing it to create a whole room manufactured from the valuable substance. He developed a design for such a room, an entire chamber adorned flooring to ceiling with amber panels backed with gold leaf and coated with mirrors, polished mosaics, carvings of nymphs, cupids, and angels, coats of arms, monograms, and inlays, some so small the observer wanted to make use of a magnifying glass to view them. He employed the Danish carver Gottfried Wolfram and put him to work creating the Amber Room. Over the subsequent a number of years, Wolfram advanced a way of bonding amber slivers into bigger items and created some 46 large amber panels, a dozen of them 12 ft excessive.
In 1705, nevertheless, Sophie Charlotte died, and Schluter fell out of favor. He was banished from courtroom, and the carver Wolfram was fired. In 1713, Frederick I died and was succeeded on the throne by his son, Frederick William I, a no-nonsense man rather more considering constructing a robust Prussian military than he was in tinkering with amber panels.
The unfinished Amber Room remained on the Berlin Metropolis Palace till 1716, when Russia’s Peter the Nice entered the story.
That yr Peter visited the courtroom of Frederick William and talked of the unfinished Amber Room. Peter had all the time been an admirer of the gold of the north, and Frederick, uninterested within the amber anyway, gave the amber panels Wolfam had assembled and carved to Peter as a present.
The amber panels have been rigorously disassembled, packed in crates, and loaded on eight carts that slowly moved their valuable cargo to Peter’s summer time palace within the Russian capital of St. Petersburg. When the panels arrived, some items have been damaged and others have been lacking.
Apart from the damaged and lacking items, nobody might appear to determine how the remaining panels ought to match collectively, and no directions from the banished Danish carver who had created the panels or the Prussian sculptor who had conceived them might be discovered.
The amber was saved within the palace and languished there for nearly 20 years after Peter’s dying in 1725.
In 1743, nevertheless, Empress Elizabeth ascended the Russian throne, and one among her first acts was to have the amber transferred to her new winter palace on the River Neva the place the Italian sculptor Alexander Martelli was put answerable for assembling the panels and putting in them in a big corridor on the palace. By some means, Martelli solved the puzzle of assembling the chamber.
Elizabeth was nonetheless dissatisfied and had the room moved three extra occasions and embellished with further mirrors and amber mirror frames. Ultimately the chamber coated greater than 55 sq. meters, or 188.four sq. ft, and contained over six tons of amber. In 1755, nevertheless, it was once more moved, this time to the palace of Elizabeth’s favourite niece, Catherine, at Tsarskoye Selo. Catherine, who got here from the amber mining area on the Baltic Sea, ascended the Russian throne herself in 1767 and ultimately turned recognized to historical past as Catherine the Nice.
Czarina Catherine added one other 900 kilos of amber to the room, changing some sections with giant home windows. She additionally commissioned 4 stone mosaics comparable to the senses of sight, style, contact, and listening to. Guests to the finished chamber stated it “got here alive” in candlelight.
The Amber Room remained in splendor till shortly after June 22, 1941, when 99 German divisions, together with 14 panzer divisions and 10 motorized divisions, stormed into the Soviet Union alongside a entrance from the Baltic to the Black Sea. For a month, the Nazi blitzkrieg was unstoppable, and within the north the military group underneath Area Marshal Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb moved nearer to its goal, the Soviet Union’s second metropolis of Leningrad.
By mid-August, German troops have been approaching the town, their artillery and plane attacking it. By the top of the month, the battle for Leningrad had grow to be a siege.
A Soviet counterattack in January 1942 failed to interrupt the siege, and the preventing continued till January 1943 when Soviet forces executed a plan to open a land hall to the besieged metropolis. After six days of heavy preventing, the hall was established with German forces cleared from the southern shore of Lake Ladoga for a number of miles, however it was not till a yr later that the Germans have been pushed 50 miles from the town and the siege was thought-about damaged.
By then, nevertheless, it was too late for the Tsarskoye Selo palace and the Amber Room.
Tsarkoye Selo, translated as “Czar’s Village,” is a part of the city of Pushkin located 24 miles south of Leningrad’s middle. In September 1941, in the course of the early levels of the siege, German forces overran Pushkin and plundered quite a few Soviet and Russian nationwide monuments there. Amongst them was the czarist place that Catherine the Nice had constructed within the 18th century. Pushkin remained in German palms till its liberation by the Pink Military on January 24, 1944.
Because the Germans approached Pushkin and Leningrad in 1941, the Soviets took steps to save lots of as most of the treasures housed within the cities as potential, together with the Amber Room. The curators of the chamber first tried to disassemble the room’s panels, however through the years the amber had dried and grow to be brittle. As makes an attempt to take away it have been undertaken, the delicate amber started to crumble. Quite than shifting it and subjecting the amber to additional injury, a false room was constructed contained in the amber room’s partitions in an try to cover it. Some sources assert that the amber was merely coated by wallpaper.
When the Germans occupied Tsarskoye Selo, in all probability already conscious of the well-known chamber and its location, they found the Amber Room and have been capable of disassemble it underneath the supervision of a pair of specialists. The amber panels, mirrors, cherubs, and nymphs have been rigorously packed. On October 14, 1941, Rittmeister Graf Solms-Laubach, who was answerable for the disassembly and packing, ordered the 27 crates shipped to Königsberg for show within the city’s citadel.
The Amber Room, he concluded, was going residence.
The chamber was rigorously reassembled at Königsberg and have become one other trophy of the Third Reich’s army prowess. On November 13, 1941, the newspaper Königsberger Allgemeine Zeitung reported on the opening of an exhibition of a part of room on the fort.
By the top of 1943, nevertheless, Königsberg was coming underneath more and more frequent Soviet bombing assaults. The room was once more disassembled, and the crates have been saved within the citadel’s cellar. In January 1945, because the struggle continued turning towards Germany, Koch acquired directions to load the amber panels into 24 strongboxes and put together them for cargo.
“As quickly as that is finished,” Koch wrote, “I shall evacuate the panels to Wechselburg, close to Rochlitz in Saxony.”
It’s recognized that the packing was accomplished on January 15, 1945, and that the crates have been piled within the courtyard of the citadel. However the path ends there. The crates are believed to have by no means arrived in Wechselburg, and whether or not they even left Königsberg is unclear, though some eyewitnesses have reported seeing them stacked at a railroad station.
Through the years numerous in depth searches, together with a number of by the Soviet Union, have proved fruitless. In 1997, a bit of the room was discovered. An Italian stone mosaic recognized to have been a part of the room turned up in western Germany. It was owned by the household of a soldier who had helped pack the Amber Room at Königsberg in January 1945, and this soldier’s memento sheds some mild on the destiny of the Amber Room. In 1998, two separate groups additionally claimed to have discovered the Amber Room, one in a German silver mine and the opposite in a lake in Lithuania, however neither was capable of produce the room itself.
As lately as 2008, one other alleged discovery of the Amber Room was introduced. Radar scans have been reported to have detected a considerable amount of metallic believed to be too dense for copper in an deserted copper mine in Deutschneudorf, Saxony. Some observers, together with Hans-Peter Haustein, mayor of Deutschneudorf, claimed the mine was the burial website of the Amber Room.
One other concept put forth is that the amber was taken from the citadel’s courtyard in early 1945 and once more hidden in its cellars. It was then destroyed when the citadel was closely bombed by the Royal Air Drive. This concept is supported by the conclusions of two research made by British investigative journalists Catherine Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy and by Soviet investigators. Each research concluded that the Amber Room was more than likely destroyed when Königsberg Fort was burned shortly after its give up.
One other concept means that the room lies with different Nazi-plundered treasure on the backside of 350-foot-deep Lake Toplitz within the Austrian Alps, the place senior German officers are recognized to have retreated because the Allies superior by means of Germany. It has been claimed that these officers transported giant bins by truck and horse-drawn carriage to the sting of the lake and sank them.
Different investigators have speculated that the Amber Room was hidden 2,000 ft under floor in a salt mine close to Gottingen, Germany, that has since been flooded. Supporting this final principle is a coded message despatched to Berlin in January 1945. It reads, “Amber Room, operation accomplished, object is saved in B. Sch. W.V.” This message might check with the B shaft of a mine close to Gottingen referred to as Wittekind Vollpriehausen.
After the conflict, a full reconstruction of the Amber Room was created at Tsarskoye Selo based mostly on 86 black and white pictures taken of varied fragments of the room. The challenge was begun in 1979, and by 2003 the work was largely accomplished. Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder devoted the room at a celebration of the 300-year anniversary of the town of St. Petersburg. A miniature mannequin of the room, manufactured from unique East Prussian amber, has additionally been constructed and is on show at Kleinmachnow, Germany.
The destiny of the unique Amber Room, nevertheless, stays one of many nice mysteries of World Warfare II.
Writer Chuck Lyons has contributed to WWII Historical past on quite a lot of subjects. He resides in Rochester, New York.