On August 7th, 2017; I explored the infamous historical-site of Wewelsburg. SS leader Heinrich Himmler had grand, horrifying plans for the triangular Renaissance castle in Wewelsburg, (pictured below).
In 1934, indeterred by its dilapidated state, Himmler signed a 100-year lease on the property. His mission was to turn the castle into an SS training center, where young Aryan minds could study Nazi-skewed versions of history, archaeology, astronomy, and art.
The SS redesigned the castle, incorporating swastikas and occult symbols, and used slave laborers from the nearby Neiderhagen concentration camp to bring the plans to life. The slave laborers or inmates of Niederhagen Concentration Camp came from different social backgrounds. The number of foreign inmates grew rapidly as the war progressed. From 1942 onwards, Soviet inmates, both prisoners of war and forced labourers, were sent to the camp in growing numbers. They formed the largest group of inmates and had the highest death rate. One small but prominent group were the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who were also known as “serious bible researchers” at the time. At times, in the early days of the camp, they were the only group of inmates in Wewelsburg and had to perform many functions in the camp administration apparatus set up by the SS to manage the prisoners. The SS developed a strict hierarchy of social discrimination, which reinforced existing social inequalities and antagonisms within the groups of inmates in the camp. At least 1,285 people died under the harsh living and working conditions and as a result of harassment by the SS guards.
Additionally, the castle was the primary location for the prince-bishopric of Paderborn during the Renaissance.
Belief in witches and sorcery was widespread in many cultures since antiquity. Although the Christian church initially condemned this belief as “superstition”, from the late 14th century it gradually became convinced that witches had made a pact with the devil. This formed the pretext for the witch hunts, in which both men and women were the victims.
The first trials of alleged witches in the prince-bishopric of Paderborn took place in 1510. But it was only toward the end of the 17th century that real waves of persecution began. Wewelsburg, as the seat of the prince-bishop, was also the site of a blood court. The term “witch cellar” for the room, (pictured below), is a reference to two trials of alleged witches that took place here in 1631. Around this time, 55 people accused of witchcraft were executed in the Büren district.
But the witch hunts were not without their critics. One of their most famous opponents was the Jesuit Friedrich Spee von Langenfeld. The last executions of “witches” in the prince-bishopric of Paderborn took place in 1702 in the Fürstenberg district. Over two centuries, at least 250 people fell victim to the trials.