80 years ago, in October 1941, from the Catherine Palace in the city of Pushkin near Leningrad, German invaders stole a masterpiece of decorative and applied art of the 18th century – the Amber Room… In the spring of 1945, the work, transported to Königsberg, disappeared without a trace. Some historians are increasingly falling into pessimism: if the Amber Room is found, it will be in a state unsuitable for display, Izvestia’s interlocutors suggested. However, Kaliningrad experts believe that the first thing to look for is where the work has disappeared – that is, within the boundaries of their city.
Art critics in civilian clothes
On October 14, 1941, in the documents of the 50th Army Corps of the Wehrmacht, a record was made about the transportation of works of art from the city of Pushkin captured by the Nazis, including the facing of the Amber Room Catherine Palace.
By the arrival of the Germans, a significant part of the values u200b u200bof Tsarskoye Selo was evacuated to Novosibirsk – in accordance with the 1936 evacuation plan. Such plans were developed in every museum, especially in Leningrad – until 1940 the Finnish border passed only 32 km from the city. The Amber Room was not listed in that plan.
The looted and partially burned down Catherine Palace after the German occupation
According to the assumption of a senior researcher at the Institute of General History of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Associate Professor Dmitry Surzhik, it was decided not to touch the Amber Room due to its fragility.… Irina Nacharova, head of the public relations department of the Tsarskoye Selo Museum-Reserve, clarified that even before the war the precious decoration needed restoration – the amber was crumbling. True, the Amber Room was mentioned in the 1938-1939 evacuation plan, but this document was lost. The museum workers wrapped the amber panels and objects in paper, then in gauze and cotton wool and left them in place.
— Not having permission to evacuate such a significant work of art, it was decided to leave it in place. Nobody imagined that the Germans would advance so quickly, – said Dmitry Surzhik. – In addition, in July 1941 there were only five people left on the staff of the museum. They could not physically evacuate such a fragile and voluminous thing.
The Germans entered Pushkin on September 18 with a pre-prepared plan for the theft of cultural property.
“In the late 1930s, the Kunstkomissia arrived in the USSR — a group of German art critics led by Niels von Holst, who managed the external relations of Berlin museums,” Dmitry Surzhik told Izvestia. – Based on the results of the work of this commission in particular, the Minister of Propaganda Josef GEbbels ordered to prepare a list of German cultural property, which, from his point of view, illegally ended up in the possession of foreigners. The Prussian king Frederick I presented the amber room to the Russian emperor Peter I, and the Soviet government has nothing to do with the emperor – that was the logic.
Amber room after the war
The Amber Room was on the list of 60 items that were ordered to be delivered to the Reich.
On September 29, two art critics arrived in occupied Pushkin, who personally supervised the dismantling and transportation of the work. This work was carried out by six soldiers from a construction company under the command of a non-commissioned officer.
After some time, the image of the Amber Room appeared in German propaganda photographs – it was taken to its “homeland”, in East Prussia, and made an exhibit of the museum in the former royal castle in Konigsberg.
Lost and Found
It is not possible to establish the exact date and circumstances of the disappearance of the Amber Room from the Konigsberg castle: it is only known that it happened between February 19 and April 5, 1945.
Part of the amber decoration delivered from Pushkin to Konigsberg remained unopened – according to Anatoly Valuev, deputy director of the Kaliningrad Regional History and Art Museum, about 20%. Frederick presented Peter with his amber study, which was located in the castle hall, where the ceilings were lower than in the Catherine Palace in the Imperial Village.
Königsberg Royal Castle – the last known storage site of the Amber Room
— Items left in the boxes, which were carried out under the leadership of Rastrelli, in order to fill the free space in height: amber panels, mirror pilasters, various decor, – said Anatoly Valuev.
Items from these boxes, says Dmitry Surzhik, come up at auctions from time to time. In particular, on April 29, the German authorities handed over to the Russian Federation some of the exhibits that they managed to catch at private auctions. It doesn’t always work out. In the early 1990s, an amber gem with a warrior flashed across – it went to an unknown buyer. The salvaged finds returned to the modern Amber Room, which was recreated by Russian restorers on May 31, 2003.– Today in the exposition of the Amber Room genuine clock and chest of drawers, – said the head of the public relations department of the Tsarskoye Selo Museum-Reserve Irina Nacharova. – The restorers of the Tsarskoye Selo amber workshop have been working on the reconstruction of the room for 20 years. In the 1990s, an authentic Florentine mosaic from the Amber Room “Touch and Smell” was discovered in Germany. When it was compared with the reconstructed one, they came to the conclusion that this is an exact copy, which is no different from the original, which proves the highest skill of our restorers. Today the original is kept in the funds of the museum, participates in exhibitions.
An element of decoration from the amber room in the State Museum-Reserve “Tsarskoe Selo”
Photo: RIA Novosti / Dmitry Korobeinikov
Anatoly Valuev considers it a huge mistake that the Soviet leadership did not save Alfred Rode, the keeper of the amber collections of the Konigsberg Castle, who could not only know, but also personally participate in the dismantling and removal of the Amber Room. This man, along with his wife, remained in the city after the arrival of the Red Army, but died in December 1945.
Under ground and under water
Izvestia’s interlocutors call the disappearance of the Amber Room one of the main mysteries of the 20th century… The search for her began in 1945 and has not stopped to this day. There are dozens of versions about the location of the masterpiece. However, all of them, one after another, turned out to be untenable. Several basic versions are in use today.
— In 2013, former Wehrmacht soldier Wilhelm Kraft said that the treasure was buried on the outskirts of the Asa settlement in the north of Jutland., – recalled Dmitry Surzhik. – Considering that Hitler’s sea communications were at gunpoint of the Allies, the Enigma codes were deciphered and the logbooks of most ships are available, the version seems unlikely. In March 2019, the diary entry of SS officer Egon Olenhauer was discovered, according to which Hitler ordered to hide 260 trucks with various values in 11 places in Poland.
Steamer “Karlsruhe” at the bottom of the Baltic
In the fall of 2020, Polish underwater archaeologists discovered the German ship “Karlsruhe” in the Balticsunk by the Allies on April 13, 1945. He participated in Operation Hannibal, when the Germans evacuated people and valuables from East Prussia. According to eyewitnesses, “Karlsruhe” carried an incredible weight of cargo – 300 tons of some boxes, because of which it lost its speed and became an easy prey for British pilots.
– British divers surveyed the ship. Allegedly, a broken box was found, in which an amber frame and a rotten painting are visible, – Dmitry Surzhik noted. – If there really are fragments of the Amber Room, then they, most likely, died in an aggressive environment and turned into a shapeless mass.
The expert believes that one should not cherish special hopes for the success of the search. Irina Nacharova from the Tsarskoye Selo Museum is also rather skeptical.
– Think, under improper storage conditions, fragments of the Amber Room have already turned into amber sand… In any case, it is unlikely to be suitable for exhibiting. Although, of course, if the room is found, it will become a global event – said the specialist.
Deputy Minister for Culture and Tourism of the Kaliningrad Region Angela Khokhlova suggests trusting only verified information.
“As far as I know, no serious research is being carried out now,” the official said. – Assumptions are one thing, but we have to follow the scientific evidence base, and there is none. For this reason, when evaluating versions, we are extremely restrained.
There is more optimism in the Kaliningrad Museum of History and Art – here they hope that the masterpiece has survived and will be found.
– Why not? After all, Schliemann still found Troy, – said the head of the press service Maria Teplysheva.
Visitors in the Amber Room of the Catherine Palace on the territory of the Tsarskoye Selo Imperial Residence “Tsarskoe Selo”
Photo: RIA Novosti / Alexey Danichev
Anatoly Valuev believes that you should look first of all in the city itself, the historical center of which is dotted with secret dungeons and tunnels.
“Unfortunately, for a long time in Kaliningrad, searches were carried out without the participation of archaeologists,” the scientist noted. – The main expeditions were working when the royal castle was already destroyed and razed to the ground. Time has passed. Purposefully, the Amber Room can no longer be found. But by chance you can. For example, if in the course of new construction works archaeological surveys will be carried out. It cannot be ruled out that deep cellars, secret passages will lead to some bunkers, and in them we will see boxes with works from the Amber Room.
The historian suggests that the masterpiece with a high degree of probability is still located on the territory of Kaliningrad.