Poland’s government has announced plans to convert one of its most famous World War II sites into a major new tourist attraction
Following his conquest of Poland in 1939, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler decided to build the Wolf’s Lair, a top secret base consisting of numerous underground bunkers, from where he could direct his military assault on the Soviet Union.
Construction of the site, located deep in Poland’s northern Masurian woods, began in 1940 handled by the Todt Organization, which was responsible for Nazi Germany’s wartime industry. The Wolf’s Lair was completed in little over a year, thanks to the use of slave labor from nearby concentration camps.
Hitler and his military commanders spent the best part of three years burrowed deep inside the Wolf’s Lair, directing their ultimately unsuccessful Eastern campaign until they were forced to retreat by Russian advances in 1944.
Seventy years on and the former hub of Germany’s war machine lies in a dilapidated state. Described as a kind of “grotesque Disneyland” by Polish historian Jan Oldakowski, the complex has tried to reinvent itself as a tourist attraction, only to fail miserably. The complex today consists of a rundown hotel and restaurant, a shooting range, and well, very little else.
The rest of the complex has been left to rot, with numerous bunkers and outbuildings left lying in ruins, and little indication of what went on there – something that has led to fierce criticism of the company charged with operating the site as a tourist attraction.
But the Wolf’s Lair is about to get a badly needed makeover, with the Polish government announcing plans to redevelop the site and transform it into a state-of-the-art museum and educational center highlighting its sinister past.
The government hopes to transform the remnants of the Wolf’s Lair into one of the country’s major tourist sites that will attract both foreign visitors and Polish schoolchildren keen to learn about the history of Hitler’s main base and exactly what went on there. The project is being run jointly by Poland’s Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, and the Museum of the Second World War, and is expected to cost around 5 million zloty. Officials have said they hope to have the new complex up and running by 2015.
“The goal of the exhibitions and displays is to show visitors how beliefs like the Nazi ideology can distort an entire country. The displays will try to tell the story of daily life in Nazi command and the horrific decisions taken there,” said the Polish Culture Ministry in a statement.
One of the main exhibitions at the new museum will highlight Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg’s failed assassination attempt on Hitler at the Wolf’s Lair in 1944. Stauffenberg placed a suitcase bomb under a table in Hitler’s conference room before leaving and flying back to Berlin to instigate a coup d’etat. Unfortunately for him, the bomb blast failed to kill Hitler, and Stauffenberg was later arrested and executed.
Tomasz Chinchinski, of the Second World War Museum in Gdansk, emphasized that they didn’t want to glorify the Nazi regime in any way:
“The goal is not to show the visitors only the bunkers and the fortresses or the assassination attempt on Hitler, but to give them the tragic dimension that symbolises this place, which was the command centre of a terrible and destructive war machine.”
“We wish to tell the history of the place and teach the visitors about key decisions made here that led to the Holocaust.”