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THE AMBER ROOM by Adrian Levy Kirkus Star


The Fate of the World’s Greatest Lost Treasure

by Adrian Levy & Catherine Scott-Clark

Pub Date: June 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-8027-1424-2
Publisher: Walker

Two British journalists search for a legendary Russian treasure, missing since WWII.

The authors (The Stone of Heaven, 2002) begin in Leningrad, the former tsarist capital, where, in June 1941, Hitler's armies arrived. The staff of the Soviet museums made a valiant effort to rescue the artifacts from the looting Germans. Perhaps the greatest of those treasures was the amber room, given to Tsar Peter I in 1717 by Frederick William, King of Prussia. Made of the fossilized resin of prehistoric plants, the smoky panels of its walls stood 12 feet high, molded and carved in high baroque style. Anatoly Kuchumov, the young Soviet curator in charge of the room, decided to conceal it, hoping the Germans would miss it. No such luck: within three days, the Germans found and dismantled it, shipping it back to Königsberg, the Prussian city near which much of the world's supply of amber is found. There it lay until 1945, when the Red Army came, seeking the return of looted Russian treasures. There the mystery begins. The first Soviet authority sent to investigate reported that the amber room had been destroyed; Kuchumov, following up shortly afterwards, claimed to find evidence that the Nazis had removed it to a safe place—but where? The authors interviewed witnesses and experts in Russia, Germany, and Königsberg. The trail led through archives of the hated East German Stasi, hard-to-obtain documents in Russian research libraries, and to various shadowy figures willing to trade their questionable information for hard cash. In the end, they arrive at a conclusion that challenges the official versions (there are several) of the amber room's final fate. Their answer may disappoint, but their account of the strange and twisting journey is well worth it.

A fascinating look into Soviet-era politics, through the lens of art history.