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The Warsaw Voice » Society » April 7, 2004
Secrets of the Sowie Mountains
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The Giant
April 7, 2004   
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There are more than 200,000 cubic meters of tunnels cut into
the Sowie Mountains, over an area of nearly 200 square kilometers, at the cost of 150 million marks and an unknown number of human lives. What did Hitler's construction specialists need the mind-boggling amount of 257,000 tonnes of reinforced concrete for?

Even though close to 60 years have passed, the existence of the underground military facilities built during World War II in Lower Silesia has yet to find a complete and reliable explanation. The Sowie Mountains and Książ Castle are a good case in point.

The facilities in the Sowie Mountains and within the compound of Książ Castle were built in 1943-45 for the Nazis by thousands of forced laborers, POWs and prisoners of the Riese (Giant; later the whole project adopted this name) labor camp, which was subordinate to the concentration camp of Gross-Rosen.

It seems that, at first, they were meant as locations for armaments factories, and later as command posts for the Wehrmacht, collectively known as the Headquarters. That the Nazis initially wanted to place armaments factories here is suggested by the time the construction work started, the location of the tunnels, and the special construction methods used.

Danger from above
In 1943, due to destructive bombing raids by the U.S. Air Force in the daytime and by the British during the night, the Third Reich began de-concentrating its industry and moving it to underground locations. The geographical placement also had its significance-this was a relatively inaccessible mountainous region with a long mining tradition, the necessary infrastructure and human resources. The Nazis even called Lower Silesia, located far from Allied airfields, the "Reich's air-raid shelter." The way the facilities in the Sowie Mountains were built is practically identical in its main points to the methods used in other similar Nazi structures.

The worsening situation on all fronts, and especially the eastern front, combined with delays in some of the priority construction projects (including those underground) led to a decision at the highest level of the Nazi authorities that these projects be taken over by the Todt Organization (OT), which specialized in military construction and was meant to complete these projects.

It seems this was when it was decided that the purpose of the underground tunnels in the Sowie Mountains be changed-instead of an arms factory, one of two underground Headquarters (the other one was planned near the town of Ohrdruf in Thuringia).

There is proof of this in the memoirs of both the OT head, Albert Speer, the Reich's chief architect and minister of armaments, and Hitler's adjutant Nicolaus von Below, who wrote: "The plans that we kept criticizing in those months [early 1944] included the construction of a huge new Headquarters for the Führer in Silesia, near Waldenburg [today's Wałbrzych, near where the facilities were located], which was also to include Fürstenstein Castle [today's Książ Castle] within the estate of the von Pless princes. Hitler defended his orders and commanded that construction continue with the use of concentration camp prisoners managed by Speer. During the year, I visited this facility twice and each time had the strong impression that I wouldn't see its completion. I tried to inspire Speer to somehow influence Hitler to give the order that the project be stopped. Speer said that was impossible. The extravagant work continued-at a time when every tonne of concrete and steel was so urgently needed elsewhere." (Nicolaus von Below, Byłem adiutantem Hitlera [I Was Hitler's Adjutant], MON publishers, Warsaw 1990)
Documents, memoirs and testimonies of witnesses present the following picture: Książ Castle and the tunnels underneath it were meant as a residence for Hitler and his closest retinue, while the facilities in the Sowie Mountains-command posts as part of the Wehrmacht Headquarters. Is this the true story?

A huge undertaking
The construction of the tunnels in the Sowie Mountains was conducted on such a large scale that even today, walking through the forests overgrowing these mountains, you can find traces of barracks, warehouses, structures of unknown provenance, bunkers, storehouses filled with all kinds of building materials, including thousands of sacks of rock-hard cement (see photo below on the right), roof supports, insulators as well as dozens of kilometers of roads for heavy equipment, lined with the excavated material. They can still be found even though for several years after the war, this area was combed and "cleared" by the Ministry of Reconstruction, the specially appointed State Enterprise for Field Searches, various construction companies and plain old looters.

The testimony of the few surviving slave-laborers and statements from subsequent immigrants to the region who had the opportunity to partly search through the facilities, and the arrangement of found and accessible tunnels, suggests that the structure was much bigger. This also seems to be confirmed by Speer's memoirs, when he writes "...In 1944 Hitler ordered the construction of two underground headquarters, and hundreds of necessary mining construction specialists were hired, together with thousands of laborers, in Silesia and Thuringia...At a briefing on June 20, 1944, I informed the führer that about 28,000 laborers were working at the time on expanding his headquarters. The construction of the bunkers in Kętrzyn [Hitler's quarters in the then East Prussia, known as the Wolf's Lair] cost 36 million marks, the bunkers in Pullach, which ensured Hitler's safety when he was in Munich-13 million marks, and the Riese bunker complex near Bad Charlottenbrunn [today's Jedlina Zdrój near Wałbrzych]-150 million marks. These construction projects required 257,000 cubic meters of steel-reinforced concrete, 213,000 cubic meters of tunnels [today about 97,000 cubic meters of tunnels are known, which means that if we assume the construction was close to completion, over a half of the underground galleries and chambers have yet to be discovered], 58 km of roads with six bridges, and 100 km of pipelines. For the Riese project alone, more concrete was used than was earmarked in 1944 for the whole population for the construction of air-raid shelters... The headquarters was never finished, and in early March 1945, soon before the Red Army took over Silesia, SS bomb squads blew the whole thing up." (Albert Speer, Wspomnienia [Memoirs], MON publishers, Warsaw 1990).

What's hidden underground?
According to Cadet Officer Jerzy Cera, who studied the area with friends from 1971-74, the construction site was close to 200 sq km, and Mt. Włodarz was at its center. "In the structure dubbed the Power Station, 48 meters above the underground tunnels, there are 35 stoneware pipes meant to carry liquid. Where to? We don't know. We measured their depth and tried to use smoke to find out whether the pipes were connected inside, and where they ended. We put two lit flares in each opening-the smoke was evidently sucked inside. In one case, we could hear what sounded like an air-lock working... Smoke from 26 flares went inside and didn't really come out anywhere. How great must be the capacity of those pipes, or even the underground tunnels, if they could take in such a quantity of smoke," Cera wrote.

That there are still more tunnels is also suggested by the fact that some have been bricked up. In some places (also on the surface), pipes come out that lead into the mountain-"to nowhere", and in others, narrow-gauge railway tracks stick out of piles of rock; such tracks were used to remove the excavated material.

There are also empty chambers with no direct connection to the tunnels accessible today nor to any surface structures. Some elements suggest that the tunnels in the Sowie Mountains could have had a multi-level structure, very seldom seen in other German facilities of the same period.

This could confirm the conjectures of some amateur explorers that there might still be something in the corridors which are inaccessible today. The question as to what exactly, still remains unanswered. Still awaiting an explanation are such issues as the ultimate purpose of the structures, when work on them started, as well as the number, nationality and subsequent fate of the people involved in the work.

The obvious interest shown in these facilities after the war by the special services of the Soviet Union, East Germany and Poland did nothing to dispel these doubts.

The continuing deterioration of the rock from which the tunnels were cut means that studying not just the tunnels, but other inaccessible places as well (also on the surface) is becoming a matter of urgency. Studies should involve locating further underground structures (corridors, chambers) that certainly exist somewhere, and the mass graves of the laborers which witnesses mention.

Story and photos by Piotr Lewandowski

The author is a student of the Law and Administration Department of Warsaw University, and for several years has been carrying out studies aimed at explaining the mystery of underground military facilities in Lower Silesia. He is currently preparing his latest expedition to the region. The Warsaw Voice is the media patron of this project. For more information, e-mail: wars98@wp.pl

The Sowie Mountains with their highest peak, Wielka Sowa (1,015 m above sea level), are an imposing massif stretching 25 km westwards from the Bystrzyca River valley to Srebrna Pass, which separates them from the Bardzkie Mountains. Made up of gneiss rock whose age is estimated at approx. 3 billion years, they are one of the oldest mountain ranges in Poland. They are in the form of a compact block with relatively even peaks and steep slopes. The upper regions of these mountains are overgrown by thick spruce forests and some beech.
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