A World War II shipwreck lately situated off the coast of Poland may hold the dismantled items of the Amber Room, a Russian treasure looted by the Nazis and lost since 1945.
The wreck of the German steamship Karlsruhe lies 88 meters (290 ft) beneath the floor of the Baltic Sea and some dozen kilometers north of the resort city of Ustka, Poland. It’s in glorious form after 75 years on the backside, in line with the group of 10 divers from Baltictech who situated the wreck in June and introduced the discover in early October.
“It is practically intact,” Baltictech diver Tomasz Stachura advised the press in an announcement.
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In peril on the sea
In April 1945, the Karlsruhe sailed from Königsberg whereas carrying a whole bunch of tons of cargo and 1,083 passengers determined to evacuate forward of a Soviet army advance into Prussia and Poland. (The German civilian steamship Karlsruhe is to not be confused with the German cruiser Karlsruhe, sunk by a British torpedo in 1940 and found in early September off the coast of Norway.)
Karlsruhe and the different ships in its convoy had been half of Operation Hannibal, one of the largest evacuations by sea in historical past. In an escape that sounds paradoxically reminiscent of the British evacuation of troops from Dunkirk 5 years earlier, the Germans used a mixture of warships, service provider vessels, and fishing boats to ferry about 350,000 Nazi troops and 800,000 civilians throughout the Baltic Sea to Germany and Nazi-occupied Denmark.
Most of the 150 troops and 913 civilians aboard the Karlsruhe didn’t make it. On April 13, Soviet plane bombed the convoy, and the Karlsruhe took simply three minutes to sink. Other ships in the convoy pulled solely 113 survivors from the sea.
Baltictech divers started their seek for the Karlsruhe in 2019, utilizing surviving paperwork from either side of the warfare to information their search. The odd assortment of cargo the divers present in the wreck underscores the combined nature of the German evacuation. “In its holds, we discovered military vehicles, porcelain, and many crates with contents still unknown,” mentioned Stachura.
And these crates are particularly tantalizing. There’s a slim probability they may hold no matter is left of the Amber Room, one of the best treasures the Nazis looted throughout World War II.
Taking “loot the room” manner too actually
“Finding the German steamer and the crates with contents as yet unknown resting on the bottom of the Baltic Sea may be significant for the whole story,” Baltictech diver Tomasz Zwara mentioned in the identical assertion to the press. (The divers named Tomasz, very similar to the ships named Karlsruhe, will not be interchangeable.)
The port from which the ailing-fated Karlsruhe and its convoy sailed in April 1945, Königsberg, can also be the final identified location of one of the largest and most well-known treasures Nazi Germany ever had the audacity to loot: a whole room from an imperial Russian palace exterior St. Petersburg. If you go to the Catherine Palace right this moment, you’ll see a shocking duplicate of the unique room, however nobody alive right this moment is aware of what occurred to the unique.
In 1701, German sculptors and amber craftsmen constructed a 55-sq.-meter (590-sq.-foot) room, paneled from flooring to ceiling in amber of a number of hues, with every panel backed with gold leaf or a mirror. Although the room was put in in the Berlin City Palace, residence of the Prussian king, King Frederick William I gave the room as a present to Tsar Peter I of Russia in 1716. Peter I put in it in the Catherine Palace, which he had given as a present to his second spouse, Catherine I (to not be confused with Catherine the Great, who dominated a number of a long time later).
Despite a 3-yr siege that price practically 2 million civilian lives, Nazi forces did not seize St. Petersburg (then known as Leningrad). But in 1941, they acquired shut sufficient to seize the Catherine Palace, 30km (19 miles) south of the metropolis. Soviet curators had tried to take away and conceal the amber and panels earlier than the Nazi looters arrived—a narrative which performed out throughout Europe in the early Nineteen Forties—however centuries of drying had left the 6 tons of amber too brittle to maneuver safely.
The Germany Army Group North didn’t fall for the curators’ final-ditch effort to cover the amber panels behind wallpaper. They disassembled the panels inside about 36 hours and shipped them to Königsberg, the place the Nazi regime deliberate to reconstruct the Amber Room and put it on show.
Throughout the warfare, Hitler was obsessive about the thought of constructing a museum to show Germany’s wartime artwork and archaeological loot. It by no means got here to move, and a formidable quantity of that loot has since been recovered and repatriated, though many objects, like the Amber Room, stay lost.
The fog of warfare smells identical to smoke
In August 1944, British Lancaster bombers dropped incendiary bombs on Königsberg in a sequence of raids. Nearly half the metropolis’s residential areas and most of its historic metropolis middle, together with a medieval cathedral, had been lowered to charred rubble. By the spring of 1945, Soviet artillery had additionally wrecked massive elements of the already-battered port metropolis. And in that fog of warfare, the Amber Room vanished.
Of course, if the panels had been destroyed throughout the British firebombing or the subsequent artillery barrages, we’ll most likely by no means discover proof of that. But that kind of uncertainty tends to maintain hope and thriller alive. If the Amber Room did survive the bombing, its disassembled panels may have been amongst the looted artwork and historic objects Hitler ordered faraway from Königsberg in early 1945.
A mixture of rumor and unofficial paperwork has recommended that the amber and gold panels may have been hidden in mine shafts in the Ore Mountains, on the border between the Czech Republic and Germany. No hint of the panels has been present in the space thus far, however the Nazis had a behavior of hiding stolen cultural treasures in mine shafts towards the finish of the warfare.
The British and American unit known as the Monuments Men, tasked with retrieving looted artwork as the Allies reclaimed territory from the Nazis, discovered a number of stashes of artwork and artifacts in salt mines in the Austrian Alps. Some of these mines had been rigged with explosives so as to destroy the treasures quite than allow them to be retaken. That may not bode properly for the Amber Room if it did find yourself in a mine.
But there’s nonetheless the probability that the room’s panels may have been one of the final objects to go away Königsberg in April 1945. The official who was imagined to smuggle the looted items out of the metropolis fled his publish forward of the Russian advance, so the Amber Room’s departure may have been delayed. And these sealed crates aboard Karlsruhe may hold practically something.
“We don’t want to get too excited, but if the Germans were to take [the Amber Room] across the Baltic Sea, then Karlsruhe steamer was their last chance,” Baltictech wrote in a recent Facebook post asserting the discover.
A dose of realism
However, that’s actually all the proof there may be to recommend the Karlsruhe’s 75-yr-previous sealed crates include the priceless panels of the Amber Room: the panels haven’t turned up anyplace else but, and the steamship would have been their final trip out of Königsberg. It’s not lots to get enthusiastic about. Those crates actually may include something: classic family items, weapons, paperwork rendered unreadable by waterlogging, extra porcelain, or perhaps a completely different set of looted artwork treasures solely.
We received’t know till somebody opens them up, and at this level, no plans for an excavation have been introduced.
We additionally received’t know what situation the panels are in in the event that they had been aboard Karlsruhe. Were they broken by their disassembly, transport, and storage throughout 4 years of warfare? Their situation was already fragile, in spite of everything. Although the deep, chilly waters of the Baltic are glorious at preserving most of the artifacts people drop into them, 75 years underwater may not have completed the panels any favors, both.
On the different hand, the Karlsruhe is a tremendous discover in its personal proper, with or with out the Amber Room. It’s a time capsule of Germany’s frantic scramble in the closing days of World War II, when the Nazi regime had begun to acknowledge that it was dropping. It’s additionally the closing resting place of a number of hundred wartime casualties.