Photo Gallery Exhibition Explodes Myth of SS Castle Wewelsburg

Wewelsburg Castle, a pseudo-religious sanctum for Hitler's SS, has been a focal point for neo-Nazis ever since 1945. Its echoing crypt and mysterious occult symbols have spawned fantasies of ritual ceremonies by the murderous brotherhood. A major new exhibition at the site aims to dispel such myths -- and takes a fresh look at how Germany has dealt with its past.
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Wewelsburg Castle, south of the town of Paderborn in northwestern Germany, was the spiritual home of Hitler's murderous SS and ever since 1945, neo-Nazis and Satanists have spun myths about torch-lit ceremonies and ancient Nordic rituals that supposedly went on behind its walls.

Foto: David Crossland
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The 17th century triangular building was converted in the 1930s by thousands of slave laborers working to a blueprint devised by SS chief Heinrich Himmler. A dark, eerily echoing vaulted crypt with 12 pedestals around the wall and a gas pipe for an eternal flame in the center stands at the base of the north tower. Standing in the center of the crypt, the echo of one's voice is amplified and seems disturbingly alien as it reverberates around the domed chamber.

Foto: David Crossland
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A runic symbol in the ceiling of the crypt. Satanists lured by the pagan symbolism have broken into the crypt to celebrate black masses.

Foto: David Crossland
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In the castle's circular "Hall of SS Generals," the occult symbol of a "Black Sun" is set into the marble floor. Historians are certain that no SS ceremonies ever took place here, and suspect that even Himmler hadn't made up his mind how the hall and the crypt beneath it were meant to be used.

Foto: David Crossland
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A government-funded €7 million exhibition is being opened at Wewelsburg Castle on April 15. It is aimed at exploding the myths attached to Wewelsburg and to explore the history of one of the most powerful and dreadful organizations of the Nazi regime.

Foto: David Crossland
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Heinrich Himmler, the diminutive head of the organization that carried out the Holocaust. He committed suicide with a cyanide capsule on May 23, 1945, after being recognized and arrested by British forces. The SS had started out as a bodyguard for Hitler and mushroomed them into a massive organization that guarded the concentration camps, conducted mass executions in occupied territories and fielded almost one million men in "Waffen SS" units renowned for their brutality.

Foto: A9999 DB/ dpa
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The Wewelsburg exhibition displays SS propaganda books and magazines featuring idealized images of the Germanic master race.

Foto: David Crossland
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The museum is housed in the former guard house of the SS at the foot of the castle. A swastika sign has been hacked out of the top of the sentry post.

Foto: David Crossland
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The museum is filled with the paraphernalia the organization used to ram home its elite status within the Nazi system, and its blind, merciless loyalty to Hitler -- the dreaded black uniform, caps bearing the organization's skull insignia ...

Foto: David Crossland
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... an SS "Honor Ring" ...

Foto: David Crossland
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... and a rusty dagger bearing the group's inscription: "Unsere Ehre Heisst Treue" ("My Honor is Loyalty.")

Foto: David Crossland
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It juxtaposes those objects with a detailed account of the system of concentration camps manned by SS squads and with examples of persecution and racial hatred, as shown by this anti-Semitic front page in the Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer.

Foto: David Crossland
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Himmler leased Wewelsburg, the site of a castle since the early Middle Ages, in 1934 and at first planned to turn it into a kind of SS college. For a time during the 1930s, archaeologists, genealogists and anthropologists -- all members of the SS -- conducted research there to try to back up Nazi theories on the supremacy of the Aryan race and on the true Nordic heritage of the German nation. After the outbreak of war in 1939, he turned it into a meeting place for the SS generals.

Foto: David Crossland
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The voluminous wine cellar of the SS guards at Wewelsburg castle.

Foto: David Crossland
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Himmler's grand plans for the castle were never finished. He had wanted to expand it into a Nordic settlement the size of a large city. Slave laborers removed the plaster from the outer walls of the Renaissance castle and replaced it with stone cladding to give it a medieval appearance totally out of keeping with its 17th century design.

Foto: David Crossland
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Original prison dress with the purple triangle that marked Jehova's Witnesses incarcerated in Niederhagen concentration camp, which was purpose-built to accommodate the forced laborers needed to convert the castle into a playground for the SS leadership. Located just a kilometer from the castle, the camp housed 3,900 political prisoners: Jews, Jehova's Witnesses and prisoners of war, of whom at least 1,285 died of hunger, disease, cold and maltreatment.

Foto: David Crossland
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The exhibition gives an account of the arduous debate in Wewelsburg village about whether and how to commemorate the Niederhagen concentration camp victims. Many local people were opposed to a memorial because they did not want to be associated with the crimes committed in their village. Today, a memorial marks the site of the camp's roll-call ground, but it was only put up in 2000 following an initiative by young people in the village. "What happened in Wewelsburg since 1945 reflects how Germany as a whole dealt with its history," said Jan Erik Schulte, a historian at the Ruhr University in Bochum.

Foto: David Crossland