The once East Prussian coastline along the Baltic is referred to as the a-political Amber Coast. Amber, fossilized tree resin—or Baltic Gold—is considered a semi-precious stone and before 1945, was one of the symbols of East Prussia.
The major processing centre for amber was Palmicken (Russian: Yantarny) —about forty kilometers from Kaliningrad (German: Königsberg). Its population hovers around five thousand…up from the three thousand during Nazi times. The mine is about 20 kilometers south of Rauschen (now Svetlogorsk). My character, Katya, and her friends, would definitely be in amber hunting territory.
The town was renamed Yantarny after the Soviet occupation in 1945. (Yantar means amber in Russian.) Today Yantarny is still a major amber processing facility with five to six hundred tons of amber produced annually. Visitors can tour the facility and I’d love to do this. Maybe they give out free samples?
The beautiful amber of this area, however, is forever tainted by Nazi atrocities which occurred in the last months of the war. I might have written about this before, but reviewing my notes, I’m overcome, again, by this particular brutality.
During the January evacuation of various concentration camps in the East Prussian area, Jewish prisoners (mostly female) were marched towards Palmicken’s open pit mine— and into a shaft called ‘Anna’. Many died there. The mine manager tried to disobey the SS and save the women from their fate of being buried alive in the mine…instead, he also died and the remaining women were brutally forced to march on…into the icy Baltic. Of the remaining 7000 Jewish prisoners, only a handful survived.
For years, the human remains found in this area were treated as Russian bones…and celebrated as Soviet heroes. It’s not until recently, (2011), that these bones were recognized as in fact Holocaust victims.
It seems the more I read about this, the more I’m sickened by what my people…the Germans…allowed to happen in those years. Can ignorance be a crime, too? I remember what Irmgard Hunt wrote in her memoir, On Hitler’s Mountain:
“But most- and worst- of all, as we and all the world slowly learned about the full extent of Hitler's Final Solution, we realized that all Germans, no matter what they had suffered or whether they had participated in any way in the atrocities, would bear guilt, shame and dishonor, probably forever.”
Photos: Top: unpolished amber on beach. Middle: Polished Amber (by James St. John). Lower: Amber Mine in Yantarny (by J Kossowski)