If you’ve ever been curious about the unsolved mystery of the Amber Room, now there’s a new development that will increase your curiosity. A shipwreck of the non-military vessel Karlsruhe has been discovered off the coast of Poland and there’s a small chance some of the cargo could be pieces of the Amber Room that went missing around 1945 when the Nazis took a remarkable work of art and beauty apart, hiding it from the world presumably forevermore.
Steve Berry, one of my favorite novelists, did his first book on that mystery. I broke with some reviewers as to the quality of his novel The Amber Room—it was a page turner. That in my opinion is the greatest response an author can hope for. Berry’s novel is one of a number of works, both fiction and nonfiction, on the room some have called “the Eighth Wonder of the World.”
Kiona N. Smith wrote a fascinating account of the shipwreck find for Ars Technica. Smith gave some background info for those unfamiliar with one of the greatest mysteries related to the fall of the Third Reich:
“The port from which the ill-fated Karlsruhe and its convoy sailed in April 1945, Königsberg, is also the last known location of one of the largest and most famous treasures Nazi Germany ever had the audacity to loot: an entire room from an imperial Russian palace outside St. Petersburg. [and]
In 1701, German sculptors and amber craftsmen built a 55-square-meter (590-square-foot) room, paneled from floor to ceiling in amber of multiple hues, with each panel backed with gold leaf or a mirror. Although the room was installed in the Berlin City Palace, home of the Prussian king, King Frederick William I gave the room as a gift to Tsar Peter I of Russia in 1716.”
When the Karlsruhe sailed approximately one month before Allied Troops ended Nazi occupation of Denmark, she was heading to that small country with a large amount of cargo and more than 1,000 passengers. The ship was bombed by the Soviets; it sank in minutes. By that time even Denmark had mounted a resistance to the Nazis, in sharp contrast to the capitulation by the Danish government in April, 1940.
Initially Denmark’s leaders thought it a good idea to cooperate with the Hitler regime. William L. Shirer, in his definitive work The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, noted the Danes’ “hopeless position”:
“Their pleasant little island country was incapable of defense…It has been said that the Danes were too civilized to fight in such circumstances; at any rate, they did not.” [Pg. 698-700]
Denmark’s citizens did mount a resistance as the war progressed and once the tide began to turn against the Germans. The conflicted state of the country’s people—the overwhelming majority voted for parties agreeing to cooperate with the Nazis in the 1943 general election—has been portrayed unrealistically in a number of works about resistance movements during the war. Shirer, an eye witness to Hitler’s rise, provides an excellent assessment of Denmark’s fate as the Nazis took over under the guise of protecting the country from an Anglo-French invasion.
Does the shipwreck of the Karlsruhe hold parts of the Amber Room? Perhaps we’ll learn the answer to the mystery when the wreck is explored further. For now, it’s a tantalizing possibility for a mystery that has intrigued so many for years. If the wreck doesn’t hold any answers, it raises another question. Was there a route to or through Denmark for the amber?
As an aside, if you’re interested in the history of the Nazi regime, Shirer is that rare historian who witnessed much of what he wrote about. Considering constant use of the term ‘Nazi’ by celebrities in the political realm, I’d recommend anyone tempted to call someone by that name today read Shirer’s work because at least 90 percent of those who’ve used it have no idea how the Third Reich actually came to power after rising from tiny roots few took seriously and many dismissed initially as rabble rousers.
Featured Photo: The Amber Room as photographed (autochrome) by Andrei Andreyevich Zeest in 1917. [Public domain; via Wikipedia]
(Kay B. Day/Oct. 8, 2020)
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