When the Germans occupied Tsarskoye Selo, probably already aware of the famous chamber and its location, they discovered the Amber Room and were able to disassemble it under the supervision of a pair of experts. The amber panels, mirrors, cherubs, and nymphs were carefully packed. On October 14, 1941, Rittmeister Graf Solms-Laubach, who was in charge of the disassembly and packing, ordered the 27 crates shipped to Königsberg for display in the town’s castle.
The Amber Room, he concluded, was going home.
The chamber was carefully reassembled at Königsberg and became another trophy of the Third Reich’s military prowess. On November 13, 1941, the newspaper Königsberger Allgemeine Zeitung reported on the opening of an exhibition of part of room at the castle.
By the end of 1943, however, Königsberg was coming under increasingly frequent Soviet bombing attacks. The room was again disassembled, and the crates were stored in the castle’s cellar. In January 1945, as the war continued turning against Germany, Koch received instructions to load the amber panels into 24 strongboxes and prepare them for shipment.
“As soon as this is done,” Koch wrote, “I shall evacuate the panels to Wechselburg, near Rochlitz in Saxony.”
It is known that the packing was completed on January 15, 1945, and that the crates were piled in the courtyard of the castle. But the trail ends there. The crates are believed to have never arrived in Wechselburg, and whether they even left Königsberg is unclear, although some eyewitnesses have reported seeing them stacked at a railroad station.
Over the years a number of extensive searches, including several by the Soviet Union, have proved fruitless. In 1997, a piece of the room was found. An Italian stone mosaic known to have been part of the room turned up in western Germany. It was owned by the family of a soldier who had helped pack the Amber Room at Königsberg in January 1945, and this soldier’s souvenir sheds some light on the fate of the Amber Room. In 1998, two separate teams also claimed to have found the Amber Room, one in a German silver mine and the other in a lake in Lithuania, but neither was able to produce the room itself.
As recently as 2008, another alleged discovery of the Amber Room was announced. Radar scans were reported to have detected a large amount of metal believed to be too dense for copper in an abandoned copper mine in Deutschneudorf, Saxony. Some observers, including Hans-Peter Haustein, mayor of Deutschneudorf, claimed the mine was the burial site of the Amber Room.
Another theory put forth is that the amber was taken from the castle’s courtyard in early 1945 and again hidden in its cellars. It was then destroyed when the castle was heavily bombed by the Royal Air Force. This theory is supported by the conclusions of two studies made by British investigative journalists Catherine Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy and by Soviet investigators. Both studies concluded that the Amber Room was most likely destroyed when Königsberg Castle was burned shortly after its surrender.
Another theory suggests that the room lies with other Nazi-plundered treasure at the bottom of 350-foot-deep Lake Toplitz in the Austrian Alps, where senior German officers are known to have retreated as the Allies advanced through Germany. It has been claimed that these officers transported large boxes by truck and horse-drawn carriage to the edge of the lake and sank them.
Other investigators have speculated that the Amber Room was hidden 2,000 feet below ground in a salt mine near Gottingen, Germany, that has since been flooded. Supporting this last theory is a coded message sent to Berlin in January 1945. It reads, “Amber Room, operation completed, object is stored in B. Sch. W.V.” This message may refer to the B shaft of a mine near Gottingen known as Wittekind Vollpriehausen.
After the war, a full reconstruction of the Amber Room was created at Tsarskoye Selo based on 86 black and white photographs taken of various fragments of the room. The project was begun in 1979, and by 2003 the work was largely completed. Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder dedicated the room at a celebration of the 300-year anniversary of the city of St. Petersburg. A miniature model of the room, made of original East Prussian amber, has also been constructed and is on display at Kleinmachnow, Germany.
The fate of the original Amber Room, however, remains one of the great mysteries of World War II.
Chuck Lyons has contributed to WWII History on a variety of topics. He resides in Rochester, New York.
This article first appeared at the Warfare History Network.