The Hunt for the Stolen Amber Room

The Hunt for the Stolen Amber Room

During World War II the German army invaded country after country throughout Europe. As they gained new territory, two things happened to the riches of the nations they invaded. The most common was that the Nazis would seize the art, valuables and wealth, catalog them and eventually ship their looted treasures back to Germany.

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The other thing that tended to happen is the locals, knowing the German army was over the hill, and knowing where all the good hidey holes were in their own backyards, hurriedly buried their treasures of gold, silver, jewels and porcelain before the Nazis arrived. Many of the people hiding that treasure subsequently died and the secret locations of tons of buried treasure were buried with them. With the breadth of Nazi plunder that’s already been recovered, it’s not at all hard to imagine that there’s that much and more still buried in the rugged mountains of Eastern Europe and waiting in the deep, cold waters of Bavarian lakes.

One of the treasures that’s still lost to time is one of the greatest artworks ever created: the Amber Room of Peter the Great. Six hundred feet square, the legendary chamber was constructed in 1701 from six tons of elaborately carved amber and lavishly decorated with gold. It was so glorious it’s been called the 8th Wonder of the World. Originally housed in an 18th century palace near St. Petersburg, Russia, when the Nazis descended they dismantled the storied room, shipping the precious cargo to Königsberg Castle in East Prussia. From there the room is lost to history.

Most investigators believe the Amber Room was destroyed by a combination of Allied bombing and Russian artillery. Yet one tantalizing panel from the room mysteriously surfaced years after it was allegedly destroyed. With the conservative value of the work in the range of $500 million dollars, it’s likely our universal passion for riches will continue to fuel the hunters.

The Latest Theories

Bartlomiej Plebanczyk, the unassuming director of the Mamerki Museum in Poland, believes the final resting place of the Amber Room, and possibly many other Nazi treasures, is in sealed caverns under an old Nazi bunker complex.

This theory is based on the testimony of a former Nazi guard who claimed to have seen a convoy of heavy trucks unload a large amount of cargo into the bunker. Before taking this tale at face value, however, it’s good to remember that Nazi soldiers at the war’s closing would want to tell a story that would keep them alive, particularly if they’d been captured by the Russians. Many such accounts exist of the Amber Room being moved to a shipyard, or loaded on an armored train or possibly buried in a variety of alleged locations in Poland.

Although the Nazi bunker complex has been thoroughly searched previously, Plebanczyk’s theory is based on GPR, or Ground Penetrating Radar, surveys; technology that didn’t exist when the original search was carried out. So far, test bore holes have turned up nothing but rotted wood. But Plebanczyk remains hopeful and even rotting timbers would seem to indicate something is buried under the bunker.

Is There Anything Left to Find?

Gemologists speculate that, even if the remains of the Amber Room are discovered, after more than seventy years underground there wouldn’t be much of the original room left to recover. If it was stored in such a way that moisture could get in, the supporting wooden structures would rot and, they tell us, amber does not store well in the damp. It should also be noted that the Amber Room was in need of repair and restoration even before the Nazis plundered it. Pieces were missing and chunks of amber were already falling out of the original. That said, if the reconstructed version of the Amber Room created by the Soviets in 1979 (pictured above) is any indication, there’s still quite a lot of gold treasure to be recovered.

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But as with most mysteries, it’s not so much the promise of riches as much as the thrill of the hunt that drives those still searching for the Amber Room and other missing Nazi plunder. No matter how far our technology advances, it’s still the unique lure of lost gold that drives people to spend their leisure hours in the bottom of mine shafts and stomping through the Polish woodlands, doggedly searching. Even if the remains of the Amber Room are finally discovered someday, it’s likely the legends surrounding its journey will never die.