Warsaw, Poland – Turning sensitive historical sites into appealing and popular tourist attractions is a delicate and tricky endeavor, as the most recent controversy surrounding Hitler’s Wolf’s lair highlights.
Polish authorities plan makeover of Hitler’s Wolf’s lair
At least that’s what local authorities responsible for the management of Hitler’s war-time headquarters in Poland might have realized, after their announcement of a major makeover of the so-called ‘Wolf’s Lair’ was met with harsh criticism and faced backlash from leading historians.
Although the Srokowo Forest District, which oversees the notorious Wolf’s Lair located in the north-eastern part of Poland, have assured that they will be “making every effort” to maintain “due seriousness and respect for historical truth”, critics fear some of the reconstruction and new tourist-oriented features – including possible reenactments of people wearing Nazi uniforms on site – designed to attract bigger crowds of visitors will turn the site into a ‘Nazi Disneyland’ and encourage neo-Nazi pilgrimages.
Located in Poland a few kilometers south from the Russian Kaliningrad enclave in what was then known as Eastern Prussia, the Wolf’s Lair (Wolfsschanze) was Hitler’s main headquarters during the Second World War, with the Führer spending over 850 days there from 1941 to 1944 before falling back to Berlin due to the Soviet army’s advance.
The Wolf’s Lair, Hitler’s main war-time headquarters in modern-day Poland
A wide complex of bunkers spread over more than 250 hectares, the entire high-security and top-secret site also used to comprise several airstrips and a railway station. Hitler moved there to plan and launch ‘Operation Barbarossa’ (the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941) to spend most of his war-time years when he wasn’t in his Bavarian residence of Berghof, in the German Alps.
Hitler’s Polish headquarters are undoubtedly a site of the utmost historical importance, and bore witness to some of the major and game-changing decisions regarding the Holocaust and World War II, while hosting dozens of Nazi Germany’s high dignitaries and foreign allies, including Slovakia’s Jozef Tiso, Italy’s Benito Mussolini, France’s Pierre Laval and Hungary’s Miklos Horthy.
But the Wolf’s Lair is most famous for the failed 1944 assassination attempt, masterminded by a string of mutinous officers, where the blast of a briefcase bomb killed four but only left Hitler with minor injuries.
Located deep in the forests of Ketrzyn, Hitler’s headquarters have been open to visitors for years and attracts around 300,000 tourists annually (mostly from Poland and Germany), a significant source of revenues for the Masurian Lake District where it’s located.
Historians express concern over potential “Nazi Disneyland”
The Srokowo Forest District, which manages the historical site, now half in ruins and not easily accessible, aims to attract bigger crowds, prompting worries among historians that the Wolf’s lair might turn into some kind of Nazi theme park and attract, instead of curious tourists, far-right groups and pilgrimages of neo-Nazis.
According to Sebastian Trapik, district spokesman, one of the goal of the makeover will be to stage the scene of the 1944 failed assassination, including with life-size “symbolic figures depicting those present at the time”.
And as some reports note, local authorities might also be considering building a hotel and a restaurant near the site, as well as live and amateurish reenactments with people wearing Nazi uniforms.
Quoted by the BBC, leading Polish historian Machcewicz warned of the risk of turning this site of the highest historical importance into “a moribund Disneyland, which could promote a sort of fascination with Nazi Germany and Hitler”, further labeling the widespread trend in Poland for historical reenactments as “morally dubious”.