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For the village of Wewelsburg see Village of Wewelsburg

Wewelsburg is a Renaissance castle located in the northeast of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, in the village of Wewelsburg (the same name as the castle) which is a quarter of the city Büren, Westphalia, in district of Paderborn in the Alme Valley. The castle has the outline of a triangle (aerial photo). After 1934 it was used by the SS under Heinrich Himmler and was to be expanded to the central SS-cult-site . After 1941 plans were developed to enlarge it to the so-called "Center of the World" .

Early history

In its current form the Wewelsburg was built from 1603 to 1609 as secondary residence for the prince-bishops of Paderborn namely Fürstbischof Dietrich von Fürstenberg (also see Bishopric of Paderborn) . Its location is near what was then believed to be the site of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest.

Predecessor buildings

Predecessor buildings existed: One used during the 9th and 10th century against the Hun invasions named Wifilisburg, another one was built in 1123 by earl Friedrich von Arnsberg After his death in 1124 the building was demolished by farmers who were oppressed by him. In 1301 earl von Waldeck sold the Wewelsburg to the prince-bishop of Paderborn. A document about this acquisition proves that two fortress-like buildings stood on the hill: the "Bürensche-" and the "Waldecksche-house".

The Castle in possession of the prince-bishops of Paderborn

From 1301 to 1589 the prince-bishops of Paderborn assigned the estate to miscellaneous liege lords .

The masonry of both predecessor-buildings was integrated in the now existing triangular Renaissance castle which was built from 1603 to 1609.

The Wewelsburg was destroyed several times during its history, during the Thirty Years' War in 1646 by the occupation of Swedish troops - namely by the army under the Swedish general Carl Gustav Wrangel. Since 1654 the widely destroyed castle was rebuilt by prince-bishop Theodor Adolf von der Recke and his successor Ferdinand von Fürstenberg He carried out some architectonic changes - the three towers of the castle got their baroque domes .

From 1589 to 1821 the castle was place of residence of a bursary officer . Two witch trials took place in the Wewelsburg in 1631 (a former inquisition room is placed in the basement next to the east tower). Legend suggests that the castle held thousands of accused witches during the 17th century, who were tortured and executed within its walls. During the Seven Years' War (1756–1763) the basement rooms were probably used as military prison. Till the end of the prince-episcopalian times in 1802 prison cells existed in a dungeon in the basement of the west tower .

The Castle in possession of the Prussian state

During the 18th and 19th century the castle became more and more a ruin. In 1802, the castle fell to the ownership of the Prussian state (Secularization). On 11 January 1815 - as a result of a lightning strike - the tower fell victim to a fire that gutted the North Tower. Only the outer walls remained. From 1832 to 1934 a rectory existed in the eastern part of the south-wing of the castle.

The Castle in possession of the district of Büren

In 1924 the castle became the property of the district of Büren. It was changed into a cultural center. In 1925, the castle had been renovated into a local museum, banquet hall, restaurant and youth hostel - at the end of the Twenties the North Tower again proved to be the weak point of the architecture, and had to be supported by guy wires in winter 1932/33. The preservation of the castle was supported by the "Club for the preservation of the Wewelsburg" (Verein zur Erhaltung der Wewelsburg). After 1925 the renovation activities decreased .

SS history


In 1934 SS-leader Heinrich Himmler signed a 100-mark 100-year lease with the Paderborn district, initially intending to renovate and redesign the castle as a "Reich SS Leadership School" ("Reichsführerschule SS") . Who called Himmler's attention to the castle is unknown . There is speculation that Karl Maria Wiligut advised him. Wiligut allegedly was inspired by the old Westphalian legend of the "Battle at the birch tree" (Schlacht am Birkenbaum). The saga tells about a future "last battle at the birch tree" in which a "huge army from the East" is beaten decisively by the "West". Wiligut supposedly predicted to Himmler that the Wewelsburg would be the "bastion". Himmler expected a big conflict between Asia and Europe. Another source reports that the NS district president of the city of Minden von Oyenhausen called Himmler's attention to the Wewelsburg. Nevertheless, it is sure that Himmler knew the apocalyptic saga of the "Battle at the birch tree", which takes place in the Wewelsburg region . Himmler wanted a castle in the "core-region of Hermann der Cherusker" for the SS. He was seeking for a castle for the purposes of the SS-Rasseamt (SS-race-office) . Originally he was interested in Castle Schwalenberg . Himmer visited the Wewelsburg for the first time on 3 November 1933. He was impressed by the triangular shape of the castle and the (e.g. in the building of churches unusual) north-south-axis of the castle. On the same day he decided to restore the castle. In January 1934 the voluntary labour service started with the rebuilding work . On 22 September 1934 was the ceremonial transfer to Himmler . It was to be enlarged to a SS-leader school (SS-Führerschule) . In the planned school, besides physical training, a uniform ideological orientation of the leading cadre of the SS was to be realized . Courses for SS-officers in pre- and early history, mythology, archeology, astronomy and art were intended as mental warehouse for an ideological-political schooling .

The Wewelsburg SS School

Actual instruction never took place. The first SS commandant of the castle, Manfred von Knobelsdorff, envisioned a kind of Nordic academy . Scientists in the SS practiced "Germanic applied research" ("germanische Zweckforschung") at the castle, with a purpose of supporting the racial doctrine of the SS. From the autumn of 1935, the projected work was called "SS-Schule Haus Wewelsburg" (that is, "SS Schoolhouse, Wewelsburg") . Wewelsburg castle was also a center for archaeological excavations in the region. Fields of activity included study of prehistory and ancient history (directed by Wilhelm Jordan, who led excavations in the region), study of medieval history and folklife (directed by Karlernst Lasch from March of 1935), build-up of the "Library of the Schutzstaffel in Wewelsburg" (directed by Dr. Hans Peter des Coudres), and strengthening the National Socialist worldview in the village of Wewelsburg (directed by Walter Franzius, this included such work as renovation of a timbered house in the center of the village of Wewelsburg - the "Ottens Hof" - between 1935 and 1937 for use as a village community center ; Franzius also undertook various other architectural tasks).

The castle crew consisted of members of both SS branches, the "General SS" ("Allgemeine SS") and the "Armed SS" ("Waffen SS") . Also working at the castle were proponents of a kind of SS esotericism consisting of Germanic mysticism, an ancestor cult, worship of runes, and racial doctrines : Himmler, for example, adapted the idea of the Grail to create a heathen mystery for the SS .

No proof exists that Himmler wanted a Grail castle, but redesign of the castle by the SS referred to certain characters in the legends of the Grail : for example, one of the arranged study rooms was named Gral ("Grail"), and others, König Artus ("King Arthur"), König Heinrich ("King Henry"), Heinrich der Löwe ("Henry the Lion"), Widukind, Christoph Kolumbus ("Christopher Columbus"), Arier ("Aryan"), Jahrlauf ("course of the seasons"), Runen ("runes"), Westfalen ("Westphalia"), Deutscher Orden ("Teutonic Order"), Reichsführerzimmer ("Room of the Leader of the Realm"; "Reichsführer-SS", or "SS Leader of the Realm" was Himmler's title), Fridericus (probably in reference to Frederick II of Prussia), tolle Christian (probably referring to Christian the Younger of Brunswick, Bishop of Halberstadt), and Deutsche Sprache ("German language"). In addition to these study rooms, the SS created guest rooms, dining room, auditorium, a canteen kitchen, and a photographic laboratory with an archive.

Oak was used to panel and furnish these rooms, though (according to contemporary witnesses) only sparely. All interior decoration was shaped by an SS sensibility in art and culture; the preferred elements of design were based on runes, swastikas, and Germanically interpreted sense characters . Tableware, decorated with runes and Germanic symbols of salvation, was manufactured specifically for Wewelsburg castle. And Himmler's private collection of weapons was housed in the castle . From 1939, the castle was also furnished with miscellaneous objects of art , including prehistoric objects (chiefly arranged by the teaching and research group "Das Ahnenerbe"), objects of past historical eras, and works of contemporary sculptors and painters (mainly works by such artists as Karl Diebitsch, Wolfgang Willrich, and Hans Lohbeck -- that is, art comporting with the aesthetics of National Socialism).

In 1934, the eastern castle bridge was built and the castle moat lowered . The following year, a smithy was established on the ground floor of the North Tower for manufacture of the wrought-iron interior decoration of the castle . The western and southern wings of the castle were rebuilt between 1934 and 1938; the eastern, between 1936 and 1938. The first new building, the guardhouse (Wachgebäude), was constructed next to the castle in 1937; historical documentation of "Wewelsburg 1933-1945" has been housed there since 1982. An SS sentry post and a small circular location (Rondell) were placed next to the guardhouse, as was a no longer extant SS staff building (SS-Stabsgebäude) . The North Tower was strengthened and rebuilt between 1938 and 1943 .

The first commandant of the castle (Burghauptmann von Wewelsburg), from August, 1934, was Obersturmbannführer (equivalent to Lieutenant Colonel) Manfred von Knobelsdorff ). He was affectionated to Karl Maria Wiligut's religious theories. The opinion of other SS-scientists about Wiligut were absolute negative. Von Knobelsdorff was succeeded by Siegfried Taubert on 30 January 1938. Because Taubert was consigned to various other tasks he was absent from the castle for longer periods .

So called "SS-marriage-consecrations" (SS-Eheweihen) took place at the castle .

Since 1936 Himmler (who was often present at the castle) wanted more and more to expand the Wewelsburg to be a representative and ideological center of the SS Order . For financing the project Himmler founded in 1936 the "Gesellschaft zur Förderung und Pflege deutscher Kulturdenkmäler e.V." (association for the advancement and maintenance of German cultural relics (registered association)) and assigned the association as building developer. In contrast to the SS the association was allowed to receive donations and loans. Till 1943 the project cost 15 million Reichsmark . In 1939 Himmler enacted a forbiddance to publish the castle .

After the Freiwilliger Arbeitsdienst FAD (volutary labour service) the Reichsarbeitsdienst RAD (Reich Labour Service) carried out the modifications of the castle. In 1938 the RAD was relocated to the "Westwall" (Siegfried Line) . Between 1939 and 1943 prisoners from the Sachsenhausen and Niederhagen concentration camps were used as labourers to perform much of the construction work on Wewelsburg, under the design of architect Hermann Bartels. Due to a decree of 13 Januar 1943 all building projects which were unimportant for the war - including the Wewelsburg - had to be stopped .

In 1938 after the Reichskristallnacht 17 Jews from the 10 km away Salzkotten were shut in the dungeon in the basement of the west tower before their further transport to the Buchenwald concentration camp .

Any recipient of one of Himmler's Totenkopfringe (English "Death's head rings") was to arrange to have the ring returned to the Castle upon his death. Those rings were stored in the castle. The whereabouts of the approximately 11,500 rings after the Second World War is unclear. In the middle of the Thirties Himmler had a private safe mounted in the basement of the west tower. Only the commandant of the castle knew about it. Also the whereabouts of its content after the Second World War is unclear .

SS future plans

Himmler's plans included making it the "center of the new world" ("Zentrum der neuen Welt") following the "final victory" . The monumental estate was never realized only detailed plans and models exist. The installation of a 15 to 18-meter-high wall in the shape of a three-quarter circle with 18 towers including the actual castle area centred on the North Tower of the castle, 860 m in diameter, was planned. The real purpose of the project was never clearly defined . Inside of this castle area buildings were planned for the exclusive purposes of the Reichsführung-SS (Reich leadership SS). The main road of an SS village was also to be centered on the North Tower of the castle with a diameter of 1270 m. This road was to be connected with three radial roads and gates with the castle area. The residential area was to be placed in the north-west, the center of the village in the north and the SS-barracks in the west of the castle area; between the barracks and village a villa colony for higher SS-leaders; in the southwest farmsteads. In the architectural plans from 1941 the estate had the shape of a spear pointing towards the north; the 2 km long access avenue with four tree rows road looks like a spear shaft with an access to the Reichsautobahn (freeway) Rhynern-Kassel in the south (see architectural drawing). The plan from 1944 shows the castle as the top of a triangular estate surrounded by further buildings (see another drawing and model from 1944). The plans also included a "hall of the High Court of the SS" (Saal des Hohen Gerichtes der SS), streets, parkways, magnificent buildings , a dam with a power plant, freeway accesses and an airport . From 1941 on (after Hitler's successful military campaigns against Poland and France) the architects called the complex the "Center of the World". It was to be finished within twenty years. The complex was to be a center of the "kind accordant" religion (artgemäße Religion) and a representative estate for the SS-Führerkorps (SS leader corps) . If the plans had been realized, the entire village of Wewelsburg and adjacent villages would have disappeared. The population was to be resettled. The valley was to be flooded . 250 million Reichsmark were budgeted for the estate .

Description of the North Tower

Inside the North Tower two mythologic designed rooms were created (1938-1943):

The "Obergruppenführersaal" (SS Generals' Hall) and the "vault" (Gruft). Their ceilings were cast in concrete and faced with natural stone. On the upper floors a further hall was planned. The axis of this tower was to be the actual "Center of the World" (Mittelpunkt der Welt). A preparation for an eternal flame in the vault, a swastika ornament in its zenith and a sun wheel embedded in the floor of the "Obergruppenführersaal" lie on this axis. Both redesigned rooms were never used. Nothing is known about the plans for designated ceremonies in the tower .

  • The "vault"

Where primary a cistern was a vault after the model of Mycenaean domed tombs was hewn into the rock which possibly was to serve for some kind of commemoration of the dead. The room is unfinished. The floor was lowered 4.80 meters . The fundament of the tower was firmed with concrete . In the middle of the vault probably a bowl with an eternal flame was planned. In the middle of the floor a gas pipe is embedded. Around the presumed place for the eternal flame at the wall twelve pedestals are placed. Their meaning is unknown. Above the pedestals wall niches existed . In the zenith of the vault a swastika (which ends run out in an ornamental way) is walled in. The swastika (Hakenkreuz) was understood as "the symbol of the creating, acting life" (das Symbol des schaffenden, wirkenden Lebens) and as "race emblem of Germanism" (Rasseabzeichen des Germanentums). The vault has special acoustics and illumination. (Photos of the vault: 1, 2)

  • The "Obergruppenführersaal" (SS Generals' Hall)

On the ground floor the "Obergruppenführersaal" (literally translated: Upper-Group-Leaders-Hall (refers to the original twelve highest ranking SS-generals)), a hall with twelve columns joined by a groined vault, twelve window- and door-niches and eight longitudinal windows was created (see photos of the room: 1, 2). The room was almost finished. The rebuilding work stopped in 1943 . Assumedly it was to serve as a representative hall for the SS-Obergruppenführer. In the center of the marbled whitish/grayish floor a dark green sun wheel (Sonnenrad) is embedded (see photo). The axis of the sun wheel consisted of a circular plate of pure gold, which was to symbolize the center of the castle and thus the entire "Germanic world empire" . After the Second World War the ornament was called the "Black Sun". It is not known if the SS had a special name for the ornament nor if they attributed a special meaning to it. Anyway the sun wheel is significant for the nature religious bias of the SS-cult. Today it is used as a symbol in Odinism and Neo-Nazism and in occult currents of Irminenschaft or Armanenschaft-inspired esotericism. The Latin inscription above the entrance "Domus mea domus orationis vocabitur" (My house is called a house of prayer) reminds of the prince-episcopalian chapel which was placed in the ground floor of the tower originally .

  • The upper floors

The upper floors were to be completed as a multi-storied hall with a big dome . It was to be a prestigious meeting hall for the entire corps of the SS-Gruppenführer. This room was only planned. In order to realize the hall the upper half of the tower was dismantled in winter 1941/42 .

Blasting operation

When the "final victory" failed to materialize, Himmler ordered Heinz Macher, with 15 of his men, to destroy the Wewelsburg (31 March 1945), only two days before the U.S. Third Infantry Division seized the grounds. Because Macher's company ran out of explosives, they placed tank mines only in the unimportant southeast tower, the guard-building and the SS-cadre-building which was completely destroyed. The castle was set on fire and - according to information of the village citizens - the castle was given free for looting (see photo of the castle after the blasting operation).


Legends, rumors and interpretations

  • The vault allegedly dubbed the Himmler Crypt, was (allegedly) dedicated to Heinrich I, founder and first king of the medieval German state (see East Francia), of whom Himmler reportedly believed himself to be the reincarnation, and where he hoped to be interred after his death. This assertion is unproven. In Himmlers's opinion Heinrich I protected Germany from invaders from the "East" .
  • Leading representatives of the Third Reich were fascinated by the myth of the "Holy Grail." Hitler admired Richard Wagner's Lohengrin and Parsifal. Hitler himself never visited the castle .
  • Himmler reportedly imagined the castle as a locus for the rebirth of the Knights of the Round Table and appointed twelve SS officers as his followers, who would gather at various rooms throughout the castle and perform unknown rites. As a matter of fact "spring conferences" were planned since 1939 . The only documented meeting was in June 1941. Also fact is that the SS had twelve main departments (SS-Hauptämter) with twelve leaders. The number twelve plays a major role in the design of the North Tower: twelve pedestals in the vault, twelve pillars and niches in the "Obergruppenführersaal" and twelve spokes of the sun wheel. The sun in general was interpreted in their study of sense characters as "the strongest and most visible expression of god," the number twelve as significant for "the things of the target and the completion" .

Quote of former SS-General Karl Wolff referring to the Obergruppenführersaal: "This was a part of the myth which was to be introduced here. These are the twelve compartments(*), they were created according to mystic-confused things with which Himmler liked to play, of the Round Table of King Arthur. In fact we were twelve main department leaders (Hauptamtchefs) who represented equally next to each other their service areas because Himmler didn't have the courage to appoint a Deputy-Reichsführer-SS or a Deputy Chief of the German police." (* German original sound record: "Postamente": this could refer to the twelve columns; there is also speculation about twelve heraldic emblems for the twelve leading SS-Generals which were to be placed inside the hall.)

  • Allegedly the "Obergruppenführersaal" has similarities with the Mausoleum of Theodoric in Ravenna
  • When one of the officers died, his ashes would be interred in the castle. There is speculation that the urns of dead SS leaders would have been placed on the pedestals in the vault. The vault is also named "consecration-hall" (Weihehalle) .
  • The exact quasi-religious meaning of the vault is unknown. A possible interpretation of the symbolic character of the eternal flame in general according to solemn believes which had established during the NS-era especially in SS circles : in the fire they wanted to feel the soul of ancestors. The symbol of the eternal flame stood for the aspiration of the ancestral soul from which man arises at his birth and which he reenters at his death. Consecration-sites and -events suggested the immortality of the people's soul .
  • In 1938, Siegfried Taubert was in charge of developing the castle, when Himmler inquired about the cost of installing a planetarium. To round off the subjects taught at the Wewelsburg SS school a teacher was sought who should draw cross connections between astronomy and history and the folklife of the ancestors so that the historical and ideological schooling was to be enhanced and deepened by the "cosmic view" (kosmische Schau) .

Niederhagen Camp

Just offsite of Wewelsburg was the smallest German KZ, Niederhagen prison and labour camp. Begun on June 17 1940, the camp was completed the following year and named after Niederhagen Forest, the name Himmler had given to the forest outside the castle several years earlier.

It began with 480 prisoners from Sachsenhausen, and grew to 1200, comprised chiefly of Soviet POWs and captured foreign labourers shipped to Germany, although early in its life it was also a gathering point for Jehovah's Witness prisoners. During the SS's December 1942 Korherr Report it was reported to have only housed 12 Jews all of whom had died.

Of the 3900 prisoners held during the camp's existence, 1285 of them died and 56 were formally executed. In August 1942, the Allies began deciphering death tolls transmitted from the camps, Niederhagen had reported 21 deaths for that month. The camp was dissolved in 1943 with most of the prisoners resettled in Buchenwald, though several dozen prisoners remained behind, housed directly in Wewelsburg .

Hauptsturmführer Adolf Haas, who had overseen the camp from its beginning, was transferred to a command position at Bergen-Belsen, while Schutzhaftlagerführer Wolfgang Plaul was transferred to Buchenwald. Untersturmführer Hermann Michl had last been recorded at the camp in 1942, and later appeared at the Riga ghetto.


In 1948/49 the castle was restored . On June 29, 1950 the castle was reopened as a museum and youth hostel, while the Niederhagen kitchen had been renovated into a village fire station.

In 1973, a two-year project was begun to restore the North Tower, and by 1977 it had been decided to restore the entire site as a war monument. It opened on March 20, 1982, with several survivors of the Niederhagen camp present. Karl Hueser of the University of Paderborn was considered influential in the reopening project, and Wulff Brebeck would become the curator through the 1990s.

Due to a local government reform the Wewelsburg became property of the district of Paderborn in 1975. In 1996 the Historical Museum of the Bishopric of Paderborn (Historisches Museum des Hochstifts Paderborn) opened in the east- and south-wing . The museum documents the history of the "Hochstift Paderborn" (Bishopric of Paderborn) which was one of territories of the Holy Roman Empire .

A memorial was built in honour of the deceased Niederhagen prisoners in 2000, four years later the Kreismuseum Wewelsburg was granted DM 29,400 for restoring and moving the remnants of the Niederhagen camp, as well as producing an educational film on the Ukrainian and Russian prisoners who were housed there. In 2006 and 2007 it hosted the annual Internacia Seminario, a meeting of Esperanto youth.

The youth hostel which is mainly placed in the east-wing of the castle is one of the biggest in Germany (204 beds)

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