Sunday, December 23, 2012

Adolf Hitler's World War II Eastern Front military headquarters near Vinnitsa (Ukraine)

Führerhauptquartier Werwolf was the codename used for one of Adolf Hitler's World War II Eastern Front military headquarters located in a pine forest about 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) north of Vinnitsa in the central Ukraine that was used between 1942 and 1943. It was one of a number of Führer Headquarters throughout Europe, and the most easterly ever used by Hitler in person. The name is derived from Werwolf, which is German for werewolf. The naming scheme is in accord with other code-names given to Führerhauptquartiere during the Second World War, such as Wolfsschanze. Several were named for Hitler himself, whose nickname was Wolf, an old German form of Adolf.

The complex was located in a pine forest between the villages of Stryzhavka and Kolo-Mikhailovka on the Kiev highway. It was built between December 1941 and June 1942 under top secret conditions. The Wehrmacht had its regional headquarters in Vinnytsia, and the Luftwaffe had a strong presence at their airbase in Kalinovka, about 20 km away. Hitler's accommodation at Werwolf consisted of a modest log cabin built around a private courtyard with its own concrete bunker. The rest of the complex consisted of about 20 wooden cottages and barracks and up to three "B" class bunkers, surrounded by ring of barbed wire and ground defensive positions connected by underground tunnels. A couple of observation points were set up on platforms in the oak trees surrounding the pine forest. The area was surrounded by a defensive strip of bunkers, anti-aircraft guns and tanks, as well as anti-tank ditches and minefields. There was a tea house, a barber shop, a bathhouse, a sauna, a cinema and even an open swimming pool for the inhabitants' use. Although this pool was primarily intended for Hitler, he never once swam in it. The facility also contained a large vegetable garden organised by the German horticultural company Zeidenspiner to provide Hitler with a secure supply of food. Two artesian wells supplied the site with water, and the site had its own power generation facilities. The bunkers were constructed by Organisation Todt using local Ukrainian workers, forced labour but mainly Russian prisoners of war. Many of the workers were subsequently murdered to maintain secrecy of the site. During his Eastern campaign, Adolf Hitler lived mainly at FHQ Wolfsschanze (near Rastenburg, Poland). He stayed at FHQ Werwolf only three times:
  • 16 July to 30 October 1942.
  • 19 February to 13 March 1943.
  • 27 August to 15 September 1943.

Plans in Ukraine to open a museum at the ruins of a bunker used by Hitler during World War II have provoked concerns it could become a shrine for neo-Nazis. The decision by local authorities in the centrally located city of Vinnitsa to turn the site of the Wehrwolf bunker into a tourist attraction has caused so much controversy that President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych requested on a recent visit to Vinnitsa that the matter be settled in a local referendum. Originally, the museum had been due to open in May 2012 to coincide with the commemoration of victory over the Nazis. But communist and socialist party activists opposed the idea, arguing that the creation of such a museum would be tantamount to spreading Nazi propaganda.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Stasi Museum in Leipzig

This shot of me and my grandson Kirill was taken in 2012 at the entrance to the Museum of  Stasi in Leipzig.
The Ministry for State Security (German:Ministerium für Staatssicherheit), commonly known as the Stasi, was the official state security service of the German Democratic Republic or GDR (informally known as East Germany). It has been described as one of the most effective and repressive intelligence and secret police agencies in the world.
The Stasi was headquartered in East Berlin, with an extensive complex in Berlin-Lichtenberg and several smaller facilities throughout the city. The Stasi motto was "Schild und Schwert der Partei" (Shield and Sword of the Party), that is the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany. Although Stasi was superficially granted independence in 1957, until 1990 the KGB continued to maintain liaison officers in all eight main Stasi directorates, each with his own office inside the Stasi's Berlin compound, and in each of the fifteen Stasi district headquarters around East Germany, including Leipzig. Collaboration was so close that the KGB invited the Stasi to establish operational bases in Moscow and Leningrad to monitor visiting East German tourists. In 1978  KGB officers in East Germany were granted the same rights and powers they enjoyed in the Soviet Union.
For a glimpse of life in Leipzig during the Cold War, many tourists visit the Stasi Museum, which documents the work of the secret service in the former GDR. Set in an original Stasi administration office, the museum gives fascinating and chilling insights into the function, methods and history of the secret service; you can see original surveillance equipment, police documents, letters, photos, a prison cell, and even an odor archive of suspects (yellow napkins in a glass jars).