Adolf Hitler is once again making headlines – or, more accurately, the millions of pounds worth of treasure he may have left hidden in northeastern Poland is, thanks to an ambitious group of hunters who claim to have a lead to the whereabouts of the ill-gotten gains.
The backstory is part legend, never completely proven, that Hitler found, claimed and hid the goods of the Amber Room, a chamber filled with riches built for Peter the Great of Russia in the 1700s.
The room was loaded with gems, gold, and other valuable treasures that Hitler discovered during World War II, during his doomed attempt to invade and conquer the Soviet Union in 1941.
The entire treasure vanished in 1945, because the Nazi leaders made off with it all and stashed it. Experts believe it was loaded onto a train and sent to what was then East Prussia.
It may all sound like the plot of a sequel to Raiders Of The Lost Ark, but museum officials in Poland insist not only is the story true, but that they now have an idea where the loot is hidden.
Bartlomiej Plebanczyk, of the Mamerki Bunker Museum near the Polish town of Wegorzewo, said recently that, “We can say categorically we’ve made a breakthrough in the search.
Thanks to the use of professional geo-radar, we were able to determine the location of an underground tunnel.” And that tunnel, he said, may lead to the precise spot where Hitler and his minions buried the loot.
The story – a bunch of otherwise sensible historians and experts, running around Europe frantically seeking treasure – is not as far-fetched as it may sound on its face.
Hitler did indeed invade Russia, of course, and made his way to the White Palace of Catherine the Great, near St. Petersburg. There the Nazis discovered the Amber Room, and promptly tore down and made off with every valuable item they could lay their hands on.
The contents were put on a train to Koenigsberg Castle, a couple of hours from East Prussia, as the area was called then.
During the war, Hitler had quarters in the region called the “Wolf’s Lair,” a bunker in which he planned war strategies. It was there, experts believe, that he may have stored some, or all the contents of the Amber Room. The castle was only two hours away from the lair.
In 1945, as the Allies neared and destruction rained down on most of the region, it was largely destroyed. The fate of the treasure has largely been one of supposition and speculation for almost eight decades.
At the time, however, witnesses claimed to have seen more than three dozen wagons leaving the castle after darkness fell, theoretically all of them filled with the ill-gotten gains from the Amber Room. St. Petersburg had by then fallen to the Soviet Army, wrested from the Nazi invaders who fought so hard to occupy it.
Since that time, men have been on a mission – a crusade, really – to find the treasure and lay claim to it for the Bunker Museum.
And what a find it would be. The room was a gift to Peter the Great from the King of Prussia. Not long after, Catherine the Great requested that artisans and craftsmen make it even more luxurious and splendid, and by the time it was complete Russian historians deemed it “dazzling.” It was moved to the czars summer retreat in Tsarskoye Selo for them to enjoy during the warm months.
Thanks to the geo-radar used in this current search, the tunnel will, Plebanczyk suspects, lead to great finds of profound importance.
Even if the Amber Room contents are not there, he thinks historical documents and other artifacts will be. But first the team needs permission from the government to remove a massive tree that is hindering the search and preventing them from excavating further.
“After digging up the place indicated by the device, we actually found a hatch, which has almost certainly not been opened since the war,” Plebanczyk explained.
And what lies beyond that hatch? What will be discovered when the tree comes down and men get past the hatch?
Although Plebanczyk can’t say yet with absolute certainty what he will find, he is hopeful. Hopeful that the mystery will finally be solved but treasure hunters have said that before.
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Hopeful that the Amber Room legend will finally be put to rest. And most of all, he’s hopeful his museum can lay claim to whatever does lie just beyond his reach.