The rich, if somewhat infamous, history of Hitlers bunker complex makes it a prime tourist attraction to this day and this little corner of Poland attracts some 200,000 visitors each year. It is therefore very surprising that the company that had the rights to turn this site into a major tourist attraction has failed to do so or pay the rent to the Polish Authorities.
A Polish court ruled in January 2016 that the lease on Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair be cancelled and that the forestry authorities look for a different partner to develop the site. The company that held the lease intend to appeal the ruling but as they owe the government around 1.2 million zlotys (approximately $290,00) it is unlikely that they will be successful.
With over 200 buildings and the history associated with it, this site should be a huge draw for this area and make a significant contribution to the economy of the surrounding countryside.
The Wolf’s Lair was the name given to Hitler’s military headquarters on the Eastern Front during WWII. It was one of several Fuhrer headquarters that were built around occupied Europe and this one was specifically built for the start of Operation Barbarossa or the invasion of Russia.
This highly secure, top secret bunker was completed in June 1941 in the Masurian woods approximately eight kilometres from the Polish town of Ketrzyn. Started in 1940 this bunker was intentionally located in the middle of a forest and far from any major towns.
It covered an area of two and a half square miles, was ringed by three distinct security zones manned by the SS Reichssicherheitsdienst and the Wehrmacht’s armoured Führerbegleitbrigade. It provided sufficient accommodation for two thousand people, including twenty women who acted as Hitler’s personal food testers in case someone tried to poison him!
All the buildings within the complex were camouflaged with natural vegetation and nets were strung between the buildings to assist with hiding them from air surveillance as it would look like unbroken forest.
Hitler moved into the bunker on 23rd June 1941 and he stayed on and off until finally departing on 20th November 1944. He had ordered the complex to be enlarged and reinforced but the work was never completed due to the advance of the Russian army. The Wolf’s Lair was finally blown up on 25th January 1945 a couple of days ahead of the Russian advance.
This bunker was supposed to be one of the most secure locations in all of occupied Europe and yet it hosted an attempt on Hitler’s life on the 20th July 1944. The instigators of the attempt were a group of German Army officers assisted by civilians who wanted Hitler removed so that a new government could be put together for Germany.
The plot involved Staff officer Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, a member of the German nobility, who whilst agreeing with Hitler’s nationalistic views found many of Hitler’s practices morally repugnant. He and his co-conspirators intended to use Operation Valkyrie to take over command of Germany once Hitler had been assassinated. Operation Valkyrie was an emergency plan devised during WWII to ensure a continuation of government in case of a breakdown of civil order.
Von Stauffenberg intended to take control of German cities, disarm the SS and arrest the entire Nazi leadership but before this could happen Hitler had to die so the oath of allegiance given by all the German armed forces would no longer apply.
Von Stauffenberg agreed to carry a briefcase filled with explosives into Hitler’s daily military briefing and leave it close to where Hitler sat. This was at the time of the upgrading of the Wolf’s Lair so the location of the meeting and its start time were changed. At 12:43pm the bomb exploded and the interior of the Lager Barracks building was devastated with Hitler receiving minor wounds and four other people lost their lives.
Von Stauffenberg along with his adjutant, Lieutenant Werner von Haeften had already left and they managed to pass through all three security zones before flying to Berlin. News arrived that Hitler had survived and von Stauffenberg, von Haeften and their co-conspirators were all arrested and shot the same day. Hitler awarded all the survivors and the families of those who died a special medal that he personally presented.