What happened to the priceless amber panels...and is there a curse on the people who try to find them?
First came the air raids. Bombs dropped on sleepy cities at 3 in the morning of Sunday 22 June, 1941.
Then came the soldiers. Three million of them pouring across the borders into the Soviet Union.
Operation Barbarossa had begun. With it, Adolf Hitler’s plans to bring the Soviet Union to its knees.
Soon, Hitler’s army had the city of Leningrad in its grip.
And then the looting started.
Thousands of paintings, statues, jewels – all stolen from Russian museums, packed up to be taken back to Germany.
Among them, the Amber Room of Leningrad’s Catherine Palace.
Tsars and kings, princes and emperors had called the room the eighth wonder of the world. But now, its panels of pure amber had been loaded onto the back of a van and driven to Germany.
The room had been a gift from the Prussian King Frederick William I to Russia’s Peter the Great back in 1771.
A gift to celebrate a peace deal between the two nations…and a gift that was said to have nearly bankrupted its giver.
It was made of 6 tons of amber panels and gems inlaid with gold and mirrors, covering walls 17 meters long. There were mosaics made of precious stones and gold, and mounts for 565 candles.
The room had been installed at the Catherine Palace, just outside Leningrad, where it was used as a private room for Tsarina Elizabeth, then a party room for Catherine the Great and a trophy room for Tsar Alexander II.
Its value would be impossible to guess.
For the Nazis, it was a magnificent prize.
The pieces of the room were hurried back to the German-controlled city of Königsberg.
And then, after two years, they disappeared.
Many believed the Amber Room must have been destroyed when Königsberg was bombed by Allied Forces in 1943.
Amber may appear to be like a precious stone, but it is solidified tree resin. It burns like incense.
If it had caught fire during the bombing of Königsberg, people would have been able to smell it for hundreds of miles due to its vast weight.
And that has led some to believe it was smuggled out of Königsberg before the attack, or even that it was hidden deep underground somewhere within the city.
Hidden, perhaps, by Nazi generals who hoped that one day they’d be able to come back for it.
Although hiding the Amber Room would be no easy feat. It filled two-dozen shipping crates.
And then in 1997, one of the room’s four jewelled Florentine mosaic panels turned up in Germany. A man was trying to sell it.
He claimed it had been passed onto him by his father, who’d been a German soldier…in Königsberg.
But how his father had come by the panel, the man couldn’t say.
The discovery fuelled speculation that the room hadn’t been destroyed, that it had been saved…and that it’s still out there somewhere.
But anyone who’s tried to uncover the true fate of the Tsar’s Amber Room has met and untimely, and unexplained, end.
There was museum director and amber expert Alfred Rohde. When the Amber Room arrived in Königsberg in 1941, he’d been put in charge of it.
But shortly before the Allied attack of 1943, Alfred Rohde and his wife died of typhus. Or so it’s said.
Their bodies disappeared. And so did the doctor who signed their death certificates.
Did they escape with the Amber Room somehow? Or were they killed so that someone else could get their hands on it?
There was Russian intelligence officer General Gusev. Shortly after the war, he told a journalist he knew the whereabouts of the Amber Room. But on his way to meet with that journalist, he was killed in a mysterious car crash.
And then there was Georg Stein.
Georg was fascinated by the Amber Room and was determined to find it.
But then in 1987 he was found dead and naked in the middle of a forest in Germany, his stomach split open with a scalpel.
The murder was never solved.
Had someone been worried Georg was getting too close to finding out the truth?
If so, who? Some powerful individual? Or perhaps a secret organization?
There are those who believe the Amber Room never actually left Russia in the first place. Could leader Stalin have had the room dismantled before Operation Barbarossa in 1941, and had it hidden somewhere?
The question is where. And who, if anyone, knows.
Today, replica Amber panels and replica jewels cover the walls where once stood the real Amber Room. Thousands visit it every year on tours of the Catherine Palace complex.
It took 25 years to make, and cost $11million.
But the whereabouts of the real Amber Room remains a mystery. One you can only attempt to solve at your own risk…
Beyond The Amber Room…
Catherine the Great was one of many Russian leaders who enjoyed the Amber Room. She threw parties and get-togethers in it. When she was Tsarina, she had a secret door installed in the Catherine Palace…a secret door that led to an even more secret room. The room was used by Catherine for carnal acts with her many lovers – men, women and animal, and it was furnished with tables and chairs made up of wooden phalluses and marble pudenda, decorated with pornographic art. During Operation Barbarossa, German soldiers found Catherine’s secret room. Amazed by what they saw, they took photos of the erotic furniture. But the furniture then went missing, vanished like the Amber Room. Where could it be now? Is someone, somewhere, sitting on a giant penis chair reading this right now?