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A Gem Has Been Lost to History

August 22, 1996|CAROL J. WILLIAMS

KALININGRAD, Russia — In this faraway corner of the Russian empire that was off-limits for most of the last half a century, theft and amber have a rich history in common.

This Baltic Sea territory once known as Koenigsberg is the last known venue of the famous Amber Room, an exquisite but now-missing collection of inlaid panels and ornate trinkets fashioned from the fossilized resin crystals and presented to Peter the Great by King Frederick William I of Prussia in 1716.

The treasures of the Amber Room were first installed at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, then moved to Catherine's Palace in the nearby village of Tsarskoye Selo, where they stayed until Nazi plunderers stole them during their 1941 invasion.

The Amber Room treasures were last seen at Koenigsberg Castle in 1945, crated and ready for evacuation by their German keepers as British bombers and Russian infantry closed in for conquest of this former capital of East Prussia.

Shipping records show no trace of the precious cargo having been exported before Koenigsberg fell to the Allies, and no sale of the priceless collection has been detected by international art sleuths.

Historians speculate that the packed treasures lie somewhere beneath the concrete jumble of Russian post-war construction in this remote region that was a closed military stronghold until 1991.

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