Just published … Hitler’s Wolfsschanze: The Wolf’s Lair Headquarters on the Eastern Front – An Illustrated Guide is a lavishly illustrated guide to the field headquarters where Hitler spent over 800 days during the war.
Hitler moved here in June 1941 and brought a small army of security and support staff with him. This is a very detailed guide to the functions of the various buildings on the site, illustrated with many images of the site as it is today. It will be an invaluable guide to anyone planing a visit.
Alongside this is a more general history of what life was like with for those living and working in the compound. The remote, damp, mosquito infested compound was by all accounts not a very pleasant place to be. John Grehan draws on a wide range of sources to complete the picture - from the many important visitors who left a record of their time here, through to accounts from his secretaries and even from the food tasters who checked Hitlers food before it was passed to him. There are many contemporary images of Hitler on the site, mostly of him greeting visitors. There is also a chapter on the July 1944 assassination attempt.
A very useful insight into how Hitler lived for much of the war with some fascinating details. The following excerpt concerns the camp cinema:
Also facing this compound was the cinema, or kino (Building H). This played a vital role in the social life of the Wolfsschanze. For many, used to the vibrant nightlife of Berlin, the 'horrid ... dirty green, gloomy, airless forest encampment ... permanently swathed in fog', as one resident described it, was excruciatingly dull, and apart from drinking and conversation there was little else to keep the residents entertained other than the cinema.
Films were shown at 20.15 and 22.15 hours every night, although the exact timings were determined by the senior man in Dining Room I. Every Friday at 17.00 newsreels were shown, among which were Pathe news scenes from the bombing of London. As the cinema was a wooden building, smoking was not permitted.
As time progressed, the residents, having watched every available current film, were reduced to watching old silent movies. Hitler encouraged visitors to use the cinema, but he did not attend himself, preferring to watch films in his own quarters, and he saw all the German newsreels — the Deutsche Wochenschau - before they were allowed to be shown in the cinema, which he carefully censored.
These were silent films and, according to one of Hitler's valets, Karl Wilhelm Krause, one of the adjutants would read out loud the accompanying text with Hitler checking that the words fitted the film footage. Often, he dictated what he thought needed to be corrected.
From the winter of 1942 onwards, Hitler stopped watching the newsreels.
There was, though, one special evening in the cinema that Hitler attended. This was when Generalmajor Walter Domberger, head of the Army Weapons Department, was invited on 7 July 1943 to give a presentation on the A4 rocket, which later became the feared V2 that so terrorised London the following year.
Domberger wrote of that memorable day as his aircraft flew beyond the River Vistula and as the skies cleared, 'below us, as far as the eye could see, stretched the dark forests of East Prussia, plentifully adorned with glittering lakes and occasionally flower-decked meadows'.
The viewing took place a little after 17.00 hours. Hitler entered the room escorted by Keitel and Alfred Jodi (who described the Wolfsschanze as 'a cross between a monastery and a concentration camp'). Domberger was shocked at the deterioration in the Fuhrer's appearance since he had last seen him, four years earlier:
A voluminous black cape covered his bowed, hunched shoulders and bent back. He looked a tired man. Only the eyes retained their life. They stared from a face grown unhealthily pallid from living in huts and shelters and seemed to be all pupils.
With a commentary by a soon-to-be-professor Wernher von Braun, Hitler was shown astonishing film footage of the V2 rocket for the first time soaring majestically not just into the sky, but into space. The film ended and von Braun finished his commentary. 'No one dare utter a word,' continued Domberger. 'Hitler was visibly moved and agitated. Lost in thought, he lay back in his chair, staring gloomily in front of him ... At last... Hitler walked rapidly over to me and shook my hand ... If we had had these rockets in 1939,' said the Fuhrer, 'we should never have had this war.'
The film was shot in Plotzensee prison, Berlin, where the condemned men were stripped to the waist and hanged by nooses of piano wire…
Another film that Hitler allegedly watched (though probably in the confines of his own quarters) was the execution of eight of the senior figures involved in the 20 July 1944 assassination attempt. The film was shot in Plotzensee prison, Berlin, where the condemned men were stripped to the waist and hanged by nooses of piano wire attached to meat hooks suspended from the ceiling of the small prison room. The barbaric scene was played on 18 August at the Wolfsschanze. According to Albert Speer, 'Hitler loved the film and had it shown over and over again.'
Dr Dietmar Pertsch recalled being in the cinema two days after Hitler's fifty-third birthday on 20 April 1942, when the weekly propaganda film, the main part of which was dedicated to the war in the East, was shown.
This included three shots of Hitler's birthday celebrations.The first of these was a celebration of the NSDAP (the Nazi Party) on the eve of the birthday, which showed the 'national unity' with high party officials alongside wounded soldiers and war widows listening to the closing chorus from Beethoven's 9th Symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Wilhelm Furtwangler.
The middle section was a 'typical' Nazi weekly show with a lot of blaring trumpets and ordinary Germans meeting senior Reich figures, plus a group of children from Rastenburg singing gentle songs superimposed with an image of Hitler. The martial music returned followed by lots of smiling faces and a happy-looking Fuhrer.
The entire production had been carefully crafted by Goebbels as 'patron of the German film' and bore no relationship to the dreadful struggles of the German army battling deep inside Russia. Yet, as Dr Pertsch asked himself: 'Did we see through the dramatic concept? No! We were proud of ourselves to have been there in the Wolfsschanze and seen the Fuhrer.
This excerpt from Hitler’s Wolfsschanze: The Wolf’s Lair Headquarters on the Eastern Front – An Illustrated Guide appears by kind permission of the publisher, Pen & Sword Books Ltd, copyright remains with author.
Follow the full course of the war, right the way through, on the eightieth anniversary. All the key events and much, much more.
Follow the war with a new story every day…
Try World War II Today for free for thirty days if you sign up now. Offer valid for both annual or monthly subscriptions made during December 2021. Unsubscribe at any time.