• Wilczy Szaniec | Wolfsschanze | Wolf's Lair

Local residents memories

According to prof. Dr. Hermann Dembowski and Carla Risch, son and daughter of the former head of the Care Center in Karolewo, Heinz Dembowski


Karolewo and the Wolf’s Lair

“From the author: The Care center in Karolewo was founded in 1882. The patients of the institution – mentally ill people suffering from epilepsy, tuberculosis, alcoholism, physical disability as well as difficult and homeless youth – looked after deacons and deacon of the Evangelical House of Mercy in (Königsberger Mutterhaus der Barmherzigkeit). Over the years, the popularity of the center grew not only in Prussia but throughout Germany. The total number of places after 25 years of the center’s existence was about 1500 people. For the needs of the center a church, a hospital with a pharmacy, workshops and a dozen were built in 1900 Patients who were able to work could work on a farm which increased to 375 ha over the years. Physical work exerted a healing effect on the mental health of patients, and was a source of additional income during the economic crisis of 1929/1932. from 1883 until the end of its existence, the Dembowski family managed it; the last of the family Heinz Dembowski managed the plant in 1923-1939. During his time, Karolewo reached its peak development. An interesting fact is that already at the time buildings in Karolewo were given names derived from the names of trees: “Linde” (lime), “Eiche” (oak), “Tanne” (fir), “Fichte” (spruce), “Buche” (beech ), “Birke” (birch) and others.

Black clouds hung over the fate of patients in the spring of 1939, at the time of preparations for World War II. Unleashed by Hitler on representatives of the denominational church (Bekennende Kirche), despite Heinz Dembowski’s strenuous efforts, closed the place. Professor Heinz Dembowski recalls:

“On March 6, 1939, representatives of the Gestapo appeared at a board meeting of the center and, without providing any reasons, announced that the center is beeing dissolved. Reasons for this decision were to be provided by later interrogations of representatives of the board of the center (doctors, pastors, deacons) allegedly hostile to the German state. Although the hearings did not bring the expected results, our intervention in withdrawing the decision to liquidate the center proved to be in vain. Our family had to leave the parish house (the old “Pionier” dormitory, the building opposite the bus stop) And live in one of the houses intended for doctors (block “Copernicus”).

The place became the property of the province of East Prussia. At the beginning of World War II, most of the company’s large buildings were taken over by the Wehrmacht. They set up a military hospital that existed until the end of the war. Patients were crammed into the other smaller buildings of the center, which were successively emptied during 1940. Some of them were taken to other state facilities – their fate is difficult to determine. The others, as later traces showed, were killed as part of euthanasia program. I remind you that one summer morning in 1940 I saw carriages at the side of the railway station in Karolewo, which left in the afternoon after my return from school. These wagons were taken to ‘our’ patients. Later, rumors spread to my parents and friends that our patients had died of “infection”. After the war, one of my colleagues accidentally came across a certain memorandum in Bonn, which showed that the patients of the Karol’s center were taken to Poland and shot on the same day in some swampy areas.

The buildings abandoned by the patients were initially empty. At the turn of 1940/41 (I don’t remember the exact date) I saw the factory signboard of Askania Chemical Works at the Kętrzyn station. Such signs were also seen on the construction sites of the Kętrzyn forest, run by Todt’s organizations, which had a warehouse of building materials at the railway station in Karolewo.

The buildings abandoned by the patients were then taken over by a large unit of SS soldiers, Hitler’s side guard (Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler der Waffen SS) stationed in Karolewo. A large column of passenger cars belonging to this unit stood near the church. From time to time, military parades were organized, which took place on the street next to our home. From summer 1942, the commandant of Hitler’s detachment occupied the room above our apartment (Copernicus block, ed.).

After the invasion of the Soviet Union, it was said:

In the Kętrzyn forest there is Hitler’s headquarters. My younger sister, Carla Risch, recalls those years: “In Karolewo, I had great conditions for playing: Every day we wandered around the stables, barns and fields. A huge warehouse of building materials was built in the area between our house and the railway station. We treated that as a very interesting, but equally dangerous playground. Massive piles of boards, pipes, metal grilles, rails were stored there: all this encouraged having fun in this area. Access to the storage area was prohibited. However, the area was not always guarded. We entered there to make fun when the guards left the depot, and we knew that a military facility was being built in the Kętrzyn forest. I remember that causing a lot of noise, often in the evening a column of tanks from Rastenburg (Kętrzyn) drove past our house in the direction of Schwarzstein (Czerniki) to return to the city in the morning the next day. Tanks passed irregularly, probably only when Hitler was in his quarters.

Traffic on the railway line to Angerburg (Węgorzewo) was suspended and replaced by a bus connection. Overcrowded buses reached the school, and when there was not enough space on the bus I went to the city on foot. Sometimes I saw guards guarding the railways. Our experience suggested that this was a sign of the upcoming next special train, which we have always been looking forward to.

I remember that one time we could see Mussolini smiling and greeting us with his hand. “It was known that Hitler was in Gierłoż: we were not aware of what was happening there! I remind you that in my house it was joked: “Hitler chose the largest mosquito habitat in the area”.

– Hitler’s personal driver Hans Baur lived in the house of my Kętrzyn school friend. He was one of the first witnesses of Todt’s death at the airport next to the now gone village of Wilhelmsdorf (Wilamowo). The casket with Todt’s corpse was put into public in the carol’s chapel (it was located near the “Świerczewski” block, ed.).

– I’ve only seen Hitler personally once. It was in the summer of 1943. I was riding a bicycle to Krausendorf (Kruszewiec), when a column of cars suddenly appeared opposite. I stopped and …. suddenly in the first car I saw next to the driver a profile of a familiar face: The peak of the cap, which resembled a plate, a nose strongly extended, protruding mustache, … and nothing else. There was no one in the other car except the driver.

In the spring of 1944 I was called to the army as an artillery helper. On the day of the assassination of Hitler, I spent a short vacation in my family home. Our grandmother visited us that day. We ate dinner. Suddenly, a very nervous commandant of Hitler’s bodyguard appeared in the doorway, who wanted to talk to my mother immediately. They both went to the next room. We sat on the glass veranda with the windows open. After an infinitely long wait, my mother came and said: “Hitler was assassinated … here in Gierłoż, … someone from a local group, … the assassination failed.” Here was my spontaneous reaction: “It’s a shame he did not succeed.” To this loudly my grandmother, holding one warning finger to her mouth, with the other hand pointing to the open windows: “Hermann, our Führer is not subject to any criticism.” And a few seconds later she added quite quietly: “You are right, but you can not talk about it in an open window!

My sister Carla Risch mentions the events after the assassination:

“The bodies of the dead as a result of the assassination were in three coffins, just like the body of Todt (he died tragically in an air accident on February 8, 1942, ed.), In the Charles’ morgue. One empty casket was put out behind the morgue. Why? Maybe because one of them might have been suspected of participating in a conspiracy. The wounded were in the main block of the Wehrmacht hospital “Jodła” (currently block “October”, headquarters of the Technical School of Agricultural Mechanization, ed.). After school, we held an honor guard at the hospital, whose task was to provide immediate information about upcoming cars from Hitler’s side guard. To facilitate visitors to the hospital, in a hurry, during night and day work, the road was leveled and covered with asphalt, leading from the Węgorzewo road to the hospital (street along the boarding house “Warmianka”, ed.). That is why this street was called among the local population “Hitler’s route.”

Hitler visited the wounded twice i think. I missed Hitler’s first visit, I learned about his second stay in Karolewo earlier. I was given the task of handing Hitler flowers. I remember how I was pushing him through the crowd of curious people in front of the hospital entrance door (Jodła block). Hitler got out of the car among the loud shouts of ‘Heil’. Seeing that I wanted to give him flowers, he leaned over me, gave me a trembling left hand and said: “Give these flowers to wounded soldiers.

… And it was “my almighty Führer”! Now I saw an infirm old man with too big hat, old face, tired eyes and trembling voice. My older sister, about a year and a half, who was watching the ceremony from a distance, told me that she had a similar impression. For many post-war years she was haunted by the fear of seeing his terrifying eyes. I remember she once said: “How could we entrust our fate to this disgusting old man?”

Memories of Burkhard Knapp, May 1996.


[Burkhard Knapp was a very active advocate of good relations between Germans and Poles for many years. In November 1997 he became an honorary citizen of the city of Kętrzyn, for his services].

“In 1938, my parents left Olsztyn and lived in Kętrzyn, a small town with a population of only 19,000. I liked the area around the city very much. Our house was located at Hindenburga Street (currently ul. Sikorskiego) in in the immediate vicinity of the officers’ casino and infantry barracks, so they opened to me and my new colleagues incredible reconnaissance possibilities in the barracks, where we could freely enter through the hole in the fence. This secret passage was invented by soldiers so that they could return to the barracks with impunity.

In the summer, we often rode bicycles to the beautiful lakes around Kętrzyn to take a swim. Especially often we went to Święta Lipka, Sterławki or Gierłoż to Lake Moj.

– Preparations for the attack on Poland in 1939 greatly revived our city. East Prussia was the area of concentration of troops, and therefore with many families in Kętrzyn and around the city soldiers were accommodated. Four of them lived with us. For us, children, these were exciting times, because finally something was happening in our little dormant town. We didn’t think about the political significance of those times – we knew that what adults are doing must certainly be right. However, the most interesting times were ahead of us.

One sunny September day we went by bikes to the “devil stone” at Lake Moj. An armed soldier blocked the road at the viaduct in Gierłoż. To our question, why can’t we take a swim, he replied that an ammunition factory was being built in the town of Gierłoż. The words of the soldier were “confirmed” by a sign with the inscription: “Askania Chemische Werke“. This soldier certainly did not know what would rise here. However, we were not satisfied with the guard’s reply, which is why we swam several times across the lake from the opposite shore to watch the large-scale works under the cover of the forest, until the guards chased us away, anticipating the possible dangerous effects of our curiosity.

We, as “experts” in the barracks, noticed – it must have been in the summer of 1941 – that the Führer side battalion had arrived there. Soon it became clear that this was closely related to the buildings built in the forest of Gierłoż, about which many different rumors circulated around the city.

From that moment our city was at the center of world events, because many personalities came to the headquarters. When the road and railroad were surrounded by soldiers, it meant that one of them was to appear in Gierłoż. We were lying somewhere in the hiding to watch the arrival of a special train, and at the same time see some of the then “great” ones.

We saw Hitler himself only once, when he and the car column went to the training ground, where the presentation of recoilless armor (Panzerfausts) was to take place. It was probably in the autumn of 1942.

On April 20, 1942, a group of girls and boys from Kętrzyn went to the Wolf’s Lair to wish Hitler his 53th birthday. The newsreel of the time and the press reported it very accurately. Several photos from that period appeared in post-war German-language guidebooks on the Wolf’s Lair.

One day – it was at the end of November 1941 – two officers of the Führer side battalion appeared at the door of our house (it was directly opposite the officer’s casino). They asked my mother if it would be possible for their families to send mail to our private address from Berlin.

Parcels and letters before they reached the addressee were always scrupulously controlled.

These officers did not want their young wife’s letters to be read by strangers. My mother agreed and from that moment on Captain R. (lawyer from Berlin) and Lieutenant B. (medical student from Berlin) were our frequent guests. In the summer of 1942, my mother invited the wife of both officers for a few days. I have always listened with great interest to the conversations held in our home, because in general they talked about events in the Wolf’s Lair, about which an ordinary mortal could not know anything.

I had a special experience in the autumn of 1943, when due to a sting of an insect, I got an infection and swelling on my face. Even our GP, Dr. Wegner, couldn’t help me. When Lieutenant B. visited us again that afternoon and saw my face, he immediately took me to the unit’s physician stationed in the barracks. After a moment of waiting, “the whole staff of white coats” appeared and gave my face a thorough examination. The doctor, a particularly conspicuous, tall man with white hair, gave some instructions. – I received two or three injections then, and three days after the swelling there was no sign. Returning from the barracks, I asked Lieutenant B. about this doctor. He replied: “It was Hitler’s personal physician, prof. Morell. ” As it turned out, he prescribed me antibiotics, which were not yet widely available at the time.

In November 1944 we said goodbye to “our” soldiers. None of them survived the war, all died in the last month of the war in 1945 in the battle of Berlin.

From memories of Gerhard Eritt, 28th of Nov 1996.

My memories of July 20, 1944:

“I was born on August 1, 1932 in Kętrzyn. At the beginning of 1933 my parents moved to Wuppertal. In September 1940, we were evacuated – my mother, me and my younger brother – to Eichmedien / Nakomiady (a town located 10 km south of Kętrzyn, ed.) From September 1942 to October 29, 1944 I attended the Prince Albrecht School in Kętrzyn. At that time I lived in a boarding house at 1 Seeweg Street (currently ul. Jeziorna, ed.).

On July 20, 1944, around 4pm, during our compulsory self-study, our principal, dressed in a brown uniform, came to the boarding school. He said hoarsely: “Today at the headquarters, a cowardly assassination of our Fuhrer Adolf Hitler was carried out. Thanks to Providence, our Führer was only slightly wounded. However, among the participants of the meeting were fatalities and many seriously injured. The leader and assassin is a Col. Count Stauffenberg. I am convinced that there is another cowardly scum behind him. But the German people will not rest until it has eliminated all these scammers. The proof that our Führer was only slightly wounded is the fact that he will meet with Mussolini today at headquarters.” At the end “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles” was sung.

The next day, July 21, shortly before the end of classes, we read in our class the order that the designated students were to appear at 14.00 in Hitlerjugend uniforms in the courtyard of the gardening school (Hippel-Schule). My name was also among those listed. Designated students were to go to the hospital where the wounded were and give them on behalf of “the entire German people” a wish to recover. At the appointed time, we appeared – about 30 boys – in the school yard and marched to the hospital. There, divided into groups, we received flowers and gifts. The sick room, as I recall, it was a double room, an SS officer led us. After the Nazi greeting, we were given a sign to get closer to the sick. To this day, I do not know who we were given to shake hands with: stage fright failed to remember the details: Only the whiteness of the patches and bandages remained in memory. The wounded in the attack gave us a clear feeling that they were very happy with our visit. We, in turn, received it as a great honor and distinction.

Memories of Friedrich Huf, February 1997.

“In February 1945, as a 17-year-old boy, I was called up for military service. During the fighting of Berlin, I was wounded and captured. After a year and a half in Sagen, we were transported (there were about 300 prisoners) on the night of December 5, 1945 by train to Łowicz. From there my path led successively to the extended airport in Radom, Wilczy Szaniec and to the Okęcie airport in Warsaw.

As a prisoner of war, I worked in the Wolf’s Lair from January to mid-May 1947. We were accommodated, in total 25 people, in one of the houses in the center of Rastenburg / Kętrzyn. We were located in three rooms where, apart from wooden bunk beds, there was no other furniture.

There was no time to leave the city: in the morning to work, in the evening back home. In contrast to my stay in Warsaw, where we were constantly harassed, beaten and humiliated, we were treated humanely, but there was no food. Food transports intended for us were robbed by escorting people.

From time to time, we went in the company of the guards in the field to “organize” something to eat. – One day we managed to get the back of the horse.

– We received a bag of peas from German women who worked at the station on reloading. A German Sheppard dog often visited the stairs of our house, it was very possible that he had previously belonged to the owner of the house. He was caught by us on a lasso and killed, and we cooked goulash from his fat – for each person one ladle, a kind of specialty for Easter 1947.

– In the yard of our house there was a pile of manure. Crows arriving from the neighboring hill appeared on it. We tied a piece of bread to the string and put it on manure. Crows swallowing bread became our victims: we killed and cooked them.

Every day, we were taken to three trucks to work in the Wolf’s Lair. The route led along the railway line, through the villages of Karolewo and Czerniki. At the entrance to the Wolf’s Lair there was a barrier at which there was no guard. Right next to the barrier there were 2 mines, supposedly disarmed. Nobody knew and did not care whether there could be explosives on the site.

About 300 meters after passing the barrier, there was a large square on the left. There were a lot of wooden barracks around the square. There was a huge concrete mixer – I’ve never seen such a large concrete mixer in my life! – from which numerous long pipes departed. I suppose these pipes were used to pump concrete into the facilities of Hitler’s quarters built here during the war.

Our work consisted of dismantling everything that could be used to build the Warsaw airport. Crushed stone, sand, rails, railway platforms and concrete mixers were brought to the square. All of this had to be loaded onto Russian cars, transported to Kętrzyn and then loaded onto wagons to Warsaw.

Being in Kętrzyn I received two sad news from home – one of them concerned the death of my 52-year-old father, and the other was about the marriage of my beloved girlfriend – she apparently thought I’m dead and she moved on. I must admit that I was very sad, I felt completely depressed. After completing the task in Kętrzyn, we were transported to Warsaw, where we were assigned to construction works at the Okęcie airport. I returned from captivity in early May 1947. “