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" .
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.
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 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 .
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 .
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)
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 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 .
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.)
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 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)