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Historical Background

Kreismuseum Wewelsburg

Burgwall 19
D-33142 Büren-Wewelsburg
Tel.: 0049-(0) 2955/ 7622-0
Fax: 0049-(0) 2955/ 7622-22
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Historical Background

The SS was developed by its „Reichsführer“, Heinrich Himmler, into one of the most powerful organizations in the Third Reich. They saw themselves as both political and racial elite in the Nazi party. The implementation of these standards and their radical ideology in Germany and throughout the continent brought millions of people to their death.

From 1933 on the “Reichsführer SS” Heinrich Himmler planned to construct an ideological center for his SS at Wewelsburg. Originally intended to be a training school for SS officers, it was later decided to remodel the castle and turn it into a more exclusive meeting site for the highest SS officers. The plaster was knocked off and the moat deepened so the castle would look more foreboding and fortress-like. Nordic symbols and other ornamentation were soon adopted in the rooms of the Wewelsburg.

Himmler stayed quite often – alone or with guests – in the castle. He wanted to hold annual meetings with the highest SS officers in Wewelsburg, along with initiation ceremonies. Even towards the end of the war, Himmler was trying to make Wewelsburg the “empire house of the SS-Gruppenführer”.

„Reichsführer SS“ Heinrich Himmler (r.) with his architect for Wewelsburg, Hermann Bartels

„Reichsführer SS“ Heinrich Himmler (r.) with his architect for Wewelsburg, Hermann Bartels


A place of ideological justification

Wewelsburg’s function as the ideological gathering point for the SS is illustrated by the Gruppenführer-meeting between June 12-15, 1941. Himmler assembled the highest SS officers a week before the Russian campaign to discuss and plan the SS’s involvement in the attack of the Soviet Union. Present was Reinhard Heydrich (the leader of the Reich’s main security office) and Karl Wolff (leader of Himmler’s personal staff ). Also present   were Friedrich Jeckeln, Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski and Adolf Prützmann as well other important SS officers.  
Concrete decisions were not made, nor were details of this attack discussed.

During the assembly the real attack on the Soviet Union was already underway by officials in Berlin. The gathering was used instead to perfect the “war of extermination” and to foster an atmosphere of racist ideology. After the war, Bach-Zalewski during the Nuremberg war crimes remembered that in Wewelsburg Himmler had stated in a speech to the Gruppenführer that the main purpose of the Russian campaign was the “decimation of the Slavic race by thirty million”.


Gruppenführer-Meeting on the eve of war against Soviet Union, june 1941: Reinhard Heydrich (on the very left), „Burghauptmann“ Siegfried Taubert (looking into the camera), „Burgbeschließerin“ Elfriede Wippermann (on the right)


A place of suffering

Wewelsburg was intended to be used as a central SS meeting and ideological site and consequentially had large, long-term architectural plans envisioned for it. As the power of the SS grew in the Third Reich, so too did the monumental building plans. A large addition to the castle was supposed to be added – the “Reichhaus der SS-Gruppenführer” – which was drawn up by Münster-based architect Herman Bartels, working closely with Himmler. In order to complete these plans prisoners were transferred and a concentration camp was established in Wewelsburg. It was an independent work camp that was similar to that of Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen or Dachau.

Concentration camp

Concentration camp inmates forced to work in Wewelsburg quarry, 1940


The plans for castle additions included building a radius several hundred meters out around the castle with buildings and ramparts. Directly in the middle of this circle would sit the north tower of Wewelsburg. Over 3,900 prisoners from the camp Niederhagen-Wewelsburg were forced to begin the extensive construction around the castle. At least 1,285 people died as a result of the work and prison conditions as well as from the cruelty of the SS. The concentration camp in Wewelsburg also served as an execution place of the Gestapo. At least 56 people were purposefully shot and murdered by the SS.

Construction plan

Construction plan for Wewelsburg, 1944


A historical site

After the German defeat at Stalingrad, the building was halted and the concentration camp dissolved leaving only 42 men. Although the architect Hermann Bartels drew up further blueprints, the enormous castle plans could not be completed. American soldiers freed the remainder of the prisoners in 1945 after an unsuccessful attempt by a SS unit to blow up in the air Wewelsburg castle.

The two rooms in the north tower, the “Gruft” (crypt) and the “Obergruppenführersaal”, in Wewelsburg have been preserved as remnants of the Nazi architecture, and are also part of the exhibition. What their purpose was is still unknown today. A floor ornament in the "Obergruppenführersaal" is a popular character recognition for right wings and Neo-Nazis today.

"Obergruppenführersaal" in the North Tower of the Wewelsburg

"Obergruppenführersaal" in the North Tower of the Wewelsburg

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