Skip to comments.Fate Of Russia's Lost Art Treasure Revealed After 60-Year Cover-Up (Amber Room)
Posted on 05/21/2004 7:47:39 PM PDT by blam
Fate of Russia's lost art treasure revealed after 60-year cover-up
John Ezard, arts correspondent
Saturday May 22, 2004
The Guardian (UK)
Steven Spielberg would have called it Indiana Jones and the Eighth Wonder, and supplied a happy ending. In a damp cellar, guarded by deadly snakes and senile but savage SS men, the holy grail of Russian art treasures would triumphantly have been liberated. According to evidence disclosed today in Guardian Weekend, the truth is more squalid. Peter the Great's 18th century Amber Room, rated as the world's prime missing art treasure, valued at £150m, perished in the chaos of the wartime collapse of Nazi Germany.
Sixty years of looking for it have been futile. And it was not destroyed or hidden as loot by the Germans who had stolen it, as often assumed. It was lost in a fire while in the hands of occupying Red Army troops in a castle they captured in Königsberg, Germany.
Russia - according to the Weekend article - inadvertently destroyed one of its finest artefacts and officials have been trying to conceal the fact ever since.
The room, fully panelled and ornamented in amber, then 12 times more precious than gold, was built by German craftsmen as a present for Peter the Great in 1717.
When Germany invaded Russia, craftsmen at the Catherine Palace tried to mask the amber with gauze and fake wallpaper. But when enemy troops captured the palace - just outside what was then Leningrad, now St Petersburg - they penetrated the disguise and dismantled it. It was known to have been stored at Königsberg. But there, after the war, its trail vanished.
The mystery of the disappearance of what was once called the eighth wonder of the world produced a welter of searches, books, conspiracy theories and, in Germany, an Indiana Jones-style film.
Last year the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and the German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, attended an unveiling of a replica of the room at the Catherine Palace, named after Catherine the Great.
Guests were given a brochure expressing confidence that the original amber room "has not perished and will be found as a result of properly organised searches".
But the authors of the study say they have found previously unused archive papers kept by the chief official postwar searcher for the Amber Room, Anatoly Kuzumov.
These show Kuzumov was told by a castle staff member in 1946 that the hall where the stolen room was kept had burned down after Red Army artillerymen occupied the building. However, the authors add, Kuzumov omitted this account from his report to his government.
This, they suggest, was because he felt responsible for failing to hide the room from the Germans and had an interest in perpetuating the myth that it still existed.
But Russian officials appear to be accepting its loss. "It doesn't exist any more," Professor Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the Leningrad Hermitage museum, told the authors. "It's dead, destroyed. The thing was burned during the Königsberg fire."
I'm betting that it is hidden, but, lost. All who know/knew where it is hidden are now dead.
For visitor information, hours and lots of Amber Room-iana, check www.tzar.ru/eamber. There's a virtual tour of the Catherine Palace Museum at www.alexanderpalace.org/catherinepalace. For a look at the gorgeous amber pieces for sale from the Catherine Palace craftsmen, visit www.bernsteinzimmermythos.de. (The English-language version is under construction.)
In St. Petersburg, the sleekly refurbished Hotel Astoria on St. Isaac's Square is the place to be (7-812-313-5757, www.astoria.spb.ru). Many frequent St. Petersburg travelers I spoke to favor going the Lufthansa route through Frankfurt. An added incentive to visit: During the Stars of the White Nights Festival (May 30-July 18), the Mariinsky Theatre's three companies, the Kirov Ballet, Opera and Orchestra, will present nearly 60 performances (www.mariinsky.ru/en).
Great Kielbasa - Surrounded by Detroit - Better-off than Highland Park!
If they blaze a trail South to the river, they'll have a way to escape..............FRegards
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