The Wolf’s Lair Attempts Transition From Tourist Trap to Educational Site

The Polish government has taken over ownership of the one-time nerve center of the Third Reich, ridding the site of paintball and pottery classes

Wolf's Lair Attack
Damage after an attempted assassination of Hitler at the Wolf's Lair. Bundesarchiv

The site deep in the Polish forest where a group of high-level Nazi conspirators set off a bomb attempting to kill Adolf Hitler is being rebuilt and should be ready for the 75th anniversary of the event this summer.

David Crossland at Deutsche Welle reports that authorities are reconstructing the shack, now just a foundation, as part of an ongoing commitment to reframing the Wolf’s Lair memorial site in Kętrzyn, which during World War II was part of East Prussia.

Hitler lived in the massive complex of bunkers in the Polish forest for three years while commanding his eastern campaigns. At the height of the war, the lair included 50 bunkers, 70 barracks, two airfields and a railway station. It’s where many of the war’s most fateful decisions were made. And where the failed assassination mission, known as Operation Valkyrie, took place.

But after the war, the nerve center of the Third Reich was left to crumble. Run by a private company, history buffs could hire private guides to visit the area, but there was little historical or interpretive material to put the site into context. Instead, Joanna Berendt at The New York Times reports, it became, in the words of the director of the Warsaw Uprising Museum, a “grotesque Disneyland” tourist trap. Not only was the site poorly maintained, it was home to a paintball battlefield, pottery classes, a pellet gun range, and even offered a Nazi uniform photo op. In 1991, a casino was proposed for the site.

In 2012, the Polish Forestry Inspectorate stepped in and legally established ownership of the site. At the time, it ordered the private firm leasing the Wolf’s Lair to repair and restore some of the bunkers and begin the process of adding a layer of historical interpretation to the site, including trail signage and a theater to show documentaries about what happened there.

But little progress was made. Finally, in 2017, the Polish Forestry Inspectorate seized the site as well as an adjoining hotel and restaurant. Crossland reports that the agency is currently undertaking a complete redesign of the Wolf's Lair. Just last month new information panels were added to many bunkers and a documentary about the site is being shown in one of them. Exhibitions on weapons and military gear used during the war and one on the July 1944 Warsaw Uprising have also been created.

The reconstruction of the shack where, on July 20, 1944, the high-ranking military leader Claus von Stauffenberg brought a briefcase bomb into a meeting with Hitler and other top Nazi officials in an attempt to assassinate the Führer is part of those updates.

“The priority this year is the reconstruction of the meeting room in which Stauffenberg carried out an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Hitler,” Sebastian Trapik spokesman for the site, tells Crossland.

Originally, the meeting was supposed to take place in a bunker. If the bomb had detonated inside the concrete walls, there’s little doubt Hitler would have died. But due to the summer heat, the meeting was relocated to the outdoor shack, which included a heavy wooden table. Stauffenberg decided to plant the bomb anyway. The table shielded Hitler from the blast, and Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators were rounded up and executed later that day.

Stauffenberg remains a polarizing historical figure to this day. While neither the left or the right in Germany embraced Stauffenberg after the war, a reassessment on Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators began in the 1970s. Now, as the 75th anniversary of Operation Valkyrie approaches, Lutz Lichtenberger at The German Times writes in a review of a controversial new biography on the man who tried to kill Hitler, that the "long-running historical debate" on his legacy is sure to continue on.

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