With its decision in 1977 to establish a documentation and memorial site in Wewelsburg, the District of Paderborn took on a special responsibility for the place and its history. Since 1982 the contemporary history exhibition Wewelsburg 1933–1945: Cult and Terror Site of the SS has been part of the Kreismuseum Wewelsburg. At the beginning of the new millennium, the District of Paderborn commissioned a project team led by the museum’s long-standing director Wulff E. Brebeck and the assistant director at the time, Kirsten John-Stucke, to undertake a scholarly revision and substantive reconception of the previous exhibition. In 2010 the District of Paderborn opened the exhibition Ideology and Terror of the SS at the Wewelsburg 1933–1945 Memorial Museum.
Wewelsburg has become a nationally and internationally respected and recognized venue for the museum-based examination of the history of National Socialism and especially the SS terror organization. Commemoration of the 3,900 prisoners held at Niederhagen Concentration Camp in Wewelsburg, no less than 1,285 of whom died there, is, and will remain, a central concern of the museum and its sponsor, the District of Paderborn.
From the outset the Kreismuseum Wewelsburg’s commemorative work has also focused on the societal debate about the site’s relationship to National Socialism since World War II. This period has unfortunately not been consistently and exclusively characterized by democratically responsible historical clarification of what happened. The lack of sources on the SS’s construction projects in Wewelsburg left leeway after 1945 for the castle and the village of Wewelsburg to be associated with diverse mythical and historically falsified ideas about Heinrich Himmler’s self-proclaimed “Black Order.” The narratives that were then constructed and disseminated about alleged events at and plans for Wewelsburg Castle during the National Socialist era often obscured and trivialized the criminal character of the SS. This led to Wewelsburg becoming an icon in the haze of neo-Nazism, esotericism, and occultism. The best-known example of this phenomenon is the floor ornament dating from the SS era in the northern tower’s Obergruppenführer Hall. Despite the absence of any historical evidence, this circular ornament has been referred to as the Black Sun in right-wing extremist circles for more than three decades and used as a badge of recognition.
Dealing with such undesirable and dubious forms of popularity regarding Wewelsburg Castle is an ongoing challenge for the museum and the District of Paderborn. One response was to place colorful beanbags on the floor ornament in the Obergruppenführer Hall to counteract the potential allure of the building’s association with the SS and its Nazi symbolism to socio-politically problematic groups. Furious reactions in neo-Nazi internet forums confirmed that the intervention had succeeded in disrupting the impression of a compelling aura.
Rather than keeping the legacies of the SS in Wewelsburg hidden, they are exposed and their inhuman aspects are analyzed. Numerous educational programs heighten seminar participants’ awareness of anti-Semitic and racist tendencies and offer strategies for resolutely countering them. Anyone who now chooses to openly display their malevolent sentiments in Wewelsburg in symbols, gestures, words, or deeds is directly expelled from the site in accordance with its rules and regulations.
This edited volume is being published in English for the first time. It represents an important contribution to the reappraisal of the history of Wewelsburg Castle and the legends that have enshrouded it since the end of the Nazi dictatorship and gained growing acceptance internationally. At a time when right-wing conspiracy theories are gaining in popularity and anti-Semitic and racist tendencies are making inroads into civil society, it is important to explain the sometimes far-reaching political implications of such legends and theories. It is therefore my sincere wish that the book will find many attentive and thoughtful readers.
I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to this volume, especially its two editors, Daniela Siepe and Kirsten John-Stucke, as well as the authors of each and every essay.
District Administrator, Paderborn