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Is latest Amber Room ‘discovery’ real?

A German lawmaker and part-time treasure hunter claimed Thursday he may have found where the Nazis stashed pieces of the storied Amber Room treasure during World War II.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A German lawmaker and part-time treasure hunter claimed Thursday he may have found where the Nazis stashed pieces of the storied Amber Room treasure plundered from the Soviet Union during World War II.

Working from a map and notes that were among the possessions of a dead Nazi air force radio operator, Hans-Peter Haustein maintains he has now pinpointed the location of the treasure buried in the mountains in the state of Saxony on the Czech border.

"A scientific test of the soil has also proven that there is gold in the mountain," Haustein told The Associated Press.

Haustein said he would give more details about his discovery at a news conference Friday.

The claim, which was first reported by German media this week, has been met with skepticism by experts, who point out that stories of the Amber Room surface regularly, only to be proved wrong.

"We hear people saying they found the Amber Room three or four times a year," said Larisa Bardovskaya, director of the Tsarskoye Selo museum outside St. Petersburg which housed the original Amber Room and has displayed a copy of it since 2003.

"After a check, it all turns out to be wishful thinking," she said in televised comments.

Great walls moved to Kaliningrad
The Amber Room, completed in 1711 after a decade of work, was installed in a palace the czar built for his wife, Catherine I, outside St. Petersburg.

Retreating Nazi troops looted the palace in World War II and the Amber Room — named for magnificent wall panels of golden-brown amber that were a gift from Prussian King Frederick William to Czar Peter the Great — was moved to a castle in Koenigsberg, now the Russian city of Kaliningrad.

It disappeared in 1945, and though some pieces have been found, nobody has ever been able to locate the rest, despite massive search efforts.

Most experts suspect that the Amber Room probably spent the entire war in Kaliningrad, and many believe it could easily have been largely destroyed in the fierce fighting in the final weeks of the war.

Haustein is a member of the opposition Free Democratic Party in parliament and the mayor of the town of Deutschneudorf — near where he claims the treasure is thought to be buried. He was approached in October by Christian Hanisch, the son of a Nazi air force radio operator, with the map and notes that were in the possessions of Hanisch's late father.

Working together, the two have pinpointed where they think the treasure is buried, in a man-made cavern 20 yards deep in the mountainside.

Treasure hunters of all sorts — including the Stasi, the former East German security service —have scoured Germany in search of it only to come up with nothing.

In 1998, a German expert thought he had found the Amber Room's resting place in a blocked mine in Czech territory near to where Haustein is searching but turned up nothing.

Treasure with booby traps
But Haustein has long been convinced that Deutschneudorf has held the remnants of the Amber Room — a suspicion that he says was only strengthened by Hanisch's map.

Haustein is now hoping that he can find enough private investors to finance the costly effort to access the cavern he suspects holds the treasure — which he believes could be booby-trapped.

Were he to find anything, Haustein said, it would belong to the state of Saxony, but it would surely arouse the attention of Russia, which would want it back. A mosaic and a chest of drawers from the Amber Room that turned up in private collections in Germany were returned to Russia in 2000 as part of a swap of "trophy art" pilfered by both sides during the war.

Even if the cavern does not hold the Amber Room treasure, Haustein said he could very well have stumbled on to something else.

"There's still (a lot) of Nazi loot unaccounted for," he said.