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Outrage At Amber Room Book

Published: June 15, 2004 (Issue # 977)



  • A wall of the recreated Amber Room in the Catherine Palace. It reopened last year during the city's 300th anniversary.
    Photo: Alexander Belenky / The St. Petersburg Times

Russian cultural figures have reacted with outrage to a new book on the fate of the Amber Room, which the book says was destroyed in Koenigsberg during World War II.

It is not clear that any of the critics have read the book and none of them have presented any evidence that the book is wrong.

The book, "The Amber Room: The Untold Story of the Greatest Hoax of the Twentieth Century", was published this month.

Russians have heavily criticized the book, with former Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi accusing the authors of trying to rewrite history.

Even the thought that the Red Army could, willingly or not, be behind the destruction, is perceived as blasphemy in Russia.

British journalists Catherine Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy spent several years researching Russian archives, most of them in St. Petersburg. Their conclusions are largely based on the diaries of Anatoly Kuchumov, former curator of the Amber Room, who was involved in the search of the room after the war, and the evidence of several witnesses.

But Russian scholars argue that Kuchumov's diaries contain no speculations of the kind made in the book.

"Kuchumov's diaries have been well examined, and there is nothing in them alluding to the idea that the Amber Room could be destroyed by the Soviets," said Adelaida Yolkina, senior researcher at the Pavlovsk Museum Estate. "He also never made oral or written statement suggesting that the Red Army was to blame."

Yolkina said she found the accusations insulting.

"Back then it was a principle of the state to find and preserve cultural valuables that perished during the war," she said.

"Every little thing was looked after and returned, even a small fragment of a toe of a sculpture wouldn't be thrown away. It is impossible to see the Red Army being so careless that they let the Amber Room be destroyed."

But the authors insist they weren't trying to make a political point with the book.

"It was about reporting the evidence only," Scott-Clark said Monday in a telephone interview from Albany in the United States. "Furthermore, when we started working on this issue we were hoping to be able to find the Amber Room. But eventually, through the evidence that we received it became obvious that the Amber Room was gone in the fire."

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Friday, Jan. 30 through Wednesday, Feb. 4



A retrospective of the films of Roman Polanski starts today at Loft-Project Etagi, 74 Ligovsky Prospekt, with a screening of ‘Repulsion’ at 7 p.m. and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ at 9:15 p.m. The series runs through Feb. 4 and will include Polanski's eminently creepy ‘The Tenant,’ the cult comedy ‘The Fearless Vampire Killers’ and ‘Cul-de-sac’ among others. Tickets are 150-200 rubles and the complete schedule is available at www.vk.com/artpokaz/



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