Wewelsburg (German pronunciation: [ˈveːvl̩sbʊɐ̯k]) is a Renaissance castle located in the village of Wewelsburg, which is a district of the town of Büren, Westphalia, in the Landkreis of Paderborn in the northeast of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. The castle has a triangular layout – three round towers connected by massive walls. After 1934, it was used by the SS under Heinrich Himmler, and was to be expanded into a complex which would serve as the central SS cult-site.
After 1941, plans were developed to enlarge it to be the so-called “Centre of the World”.
In 1950, the castle reopened as a museum and youth hostel. (The youth hostel is one of the largest in Germany.) The castle today hosts the Historical Museum of the Prince Bishopric of Paderborn and the Wewelsburg 1933-1945 Memorial Museum.
Predecessor buildings existed: Wifilisburg was used during the 9th and 10th centuries against the Hungarians.
Another one was built by Earl Friedrich (Arnsberg). After his death, the building was demolished in 1123/24 by peasants whom he had oppressed. In 1301, the Earl von Waldeck sold the Wewelsburg to the Prince-Bishop of Paderborn.
A document about this acquisition proves that two fortress-like buildings stood on the hill: the Bürensches Haus and the Waldecksches Haus.
Prince-Bishops of Paderborn
From 1301 to 1589, the Prince-Bishops of Paderborn assigned the estate to miscellaneous liege lords.
The masonry of both predecessor buildings was integrated in the current triangular Renaissance castle. In its current form, the Wewelsburg was built from 1603 to 1609 as secondary residence for the Prince-Bishops of Paderborn, at that time Dietrich von Fürstenberg. Its location is near what was then believed to be the site of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest of 9 CE.
The Wewelsburg was taken several times during the Thirty Years’ War. In 1646 it was occupied and then razed by Swedish troops, by the army commanded by General Carl Gustav Wrangel. After 1650, the mostly destroyed castle was rebuilt by Prince-Bishop Theodor Adolf von der Recke and his successor Ferdinand von Fürstenberg. He carried out some architectural changes; the three towers of the castle got their baroque domes.
From 1589 to 1821, the castle was the place of residence of a bursary officer (or steward). Two witch trials took place in the Wewelsburg in 1631 (a former inquisition room is placed in the basement next to the east tower).
During the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763), the basement rooms were probably used as a military prison.
Prussian state ownership
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the castle fell progressively into ruin. In 1802, during German mediatisation the castle came into the possession of the Prussian state . On 11 January 1815, the North Tower was gutted by a fire that was started by a lightning strike; only the outer walls remained. From 1832 to 1934, a rectory existed in the eastern part of the south wing of the castle.
District of Büren ownership
In 1924, the castle became the property of the district of Büren and was changed into a cultural center. By 1925, the castle had been renovated into a local museum, banquet hall, restaurant and youth hostel.
At the end of the Twenties, the North Tower again proved to be the weak point of the architecture, and had to be supported by guy wires in winter 1932/33; the preservation of the castle was supported by the “Club for the preservation of the Wewelsburg” (Verein zur Erhaltung der Wewelsburg). After 1925, the renovation activities decreased.
Obergruppenführersaal (SS Generals’ Hall)
In 1932, the local head of the district authority (Landrat) ordered about seventy members of the Freiwilliger Arbeitsdienst (FAD), (voluntary labour service), to be housed at the Wewelsburg. They were unemployed and supported by the state as Notstandsarbeiter (literally: “crisis workers”). Through the rent, the district of Büren thus hoped to recoup some of the running costs of the castle. In the fall of 1933, negotiations to set up a full-sized FAD camp of 214 men there failed. Meanwhile, Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer-SS, had accompanied Adolf Hitler during the election campaign in January 1933 in Lippe and had developed the idea to use a castle “in the heartland of Hermann der Cherusker” for the SS. Himmler showed an interest in Burg Schwalenberg but negotiations failed in the fall of 1933 and he then visited Wewelsburg following advice by the NSDAP-Regierungspräsident at Minden, von Oeynhausen.
Himmler decided to buy or lease the castle on his first visit on 3 November 1933. His architect, Hermann Bartels was able to draw on existing plans for the FAD camp, for the now envisaged Reichsführerschule SS (SS Leadership School). This school was mainly intended to ensure a unified ideological training of the SS leadership and would be run by the Rasseamt of the SS.
Negotiations were difficult, however, since the Landrat of Büren was unwilling to give up control of the castle. In the first half of 1934, a 100-year lease was agreed for the symbolic annual rent of 1 Reichsmark. Initial work on the school by the FAD had started in January 1934. In August 1934, former professional soldier and brother in law of Walther Darré, Manfred von Knobelsdorf moved in with his family as Burghauptmann. On 22 September 1934, Himmler officially took over the Wewelsburg in a large ceremony. The Völkischer Beobachter, in reporting on the event, while mentioning the Germanic and historic past of the region, emphasized the educational aspects.
In 1935 Himmler announced that the SS-castle was to be officially called “SS-Schule Haus Wewelsburg” (“SS School, House Wewelsburg”).
The focus of the school was to become: “Germanische Vor- und Frühgeschichte, Volkstumskunde u. a. als Rüstzeug zur weltanschaulich-politischen Schulung” (i.e. “Germanic pre- and early history, folklore studies, etc. as an equipment for ideological-political training”). Knobelsdorff envisioned a kind of Nordic academy.
There is some speculation that it was Karl Maria Wiligut who convinced Himmler to use the castle not only as a school but also as a cult site; Wiligut allegedly was inspired by the old Westphalian legend of the “Battle at the Birch Tree” (Schlacht am Birkenbaum). The saga tells about a future “last battle at the birch tree”, in which a “huge army from the East” is beaten decisively by the “West”. During 1935, Wiligut reportedly predicted to Himmler that the Wewelsburg would be the “bastion”. Himmler expected a big conflict between Asia and Europe.
Hitler and Himmler look at a captured regimental flag of the Polish army in Poland in September 1939.
Himmler’s corpse after his “suicide” by cyanide poisoning, May 1945
Himmler allegedly committed suicide by using a cyanide pill after being captured.
This has been questioned with the suggestion that Himmler was murdered. One example is the revisionist Arthur Butz who have stated that “It is most unfortunate that Himmler was a “suicide” while in British captivity because, had he been a defendant at the IMT, his situation would have been such that he would have told the true story (being fully informed and not in a position to shift responsibility to somebody else), and books such as the present book would not be necessary because the major material could be read in the IMT trial transcript. But then, you see, it was not within the bounds of political possibility that Himmler live to talk at the IMT.“
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