Mystery of priceless ‘Amber Room’ looted by Hitler’s troops to finally be solved

A 77-year mystery of a priceless artwork made of amber panels backed with gold leaf and mirrors, may, at last, be solved.

The Amber Room, a unique set of panels, designed to line a room in a royal palace, was given to Russian Tsar Peter the Great by his ally Frederick William I of Prussia in the 18th Century.

It was looted by advancing German troops as they took possession of Leningrad in 1941 and shipped to Königsberg Castle in eastern Prussia.

As the tide of the Second World War changed, and Russian troops began closing in on Hitler’s Germany, the irreplaceable artifact disappeared and its whereabouts remain unknown.

Some believe it was destroyed when the RAF bombed Königsberg in 1944, or that it might have been obliterated by Russian artillery fire in the closing stages of the war.

But there has long been a legend that the room’s panels were loaded onto the German steamer Karlsruhe as part of Operation Hannibal, a bid to get German personnel and equipment out of besieged Königsberg by sea.

But on April 13, 1945, Soviet planes sank the Karlsruhe in the Baltic Sea, killing almost 1,000 people and sending it 300 feet down somewhere off the coast of Poland.

And now a team of divers has located the ill-fated ship and is preparing to investigate its cargo.

Expedition leader Tomek Stachura says he’s not certain that the panels are on the wreck, but the underwater drones he has used to inspect the cargo hold have image several locked boxes.

He describes the fate of the Amber Room as "one of the last unresolved mysteries of the Second World War".

Divers who have visited the wreck found a picture frame and the remains of a painting in a broken crate, suggesting that there could be similar treasures that remain intact deeper within the ship.

Klass Weyj, the owner of the ship that Stachura is using to stage the expedition, says he’s assuming a "90% chance of finding the room, otherwise such an effort would not be made here.

"They already know what they're doing," he added.

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Historian Piotr Michalik says the ship was "very heavily loaded with 306 tons, two minesweepers protected it, so it could have been valuable cargo on board".

In a statement, Stachura's team said: "Karlsruhe was an old small ship, but in those days, any ship capable of evacuating people to the west was important.

"She set off on her last voyage under extremely tight security with quite a heavy load."

It was the heavy cargo that spelled the Karlsruhe’s doom. It was so laden down that it fell behind the rest of the Operation Hannibal convoy, making it an easy target for Russian bombers.

As yet, there’s no certainty that Karlsruhe’s cargo hold contained the panels once called "The Eighth Wonder of The World", but no one has seen any sign of the priceless Amber Room since it was proudly exhibited by the Nazis in 1944.

"We do not have any hard evidence that the Amber Room is there," Stachura told Atlas Obscura, but nobody has any hard evidence that Amber Room is elsewhere.

"The truth is that the Germans wanted to send something valuable to the west could only do it by means of Karlsruhe, as this was their last chance."

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