Tuesday, September 08, 2009
We left Lithuania in a heavy downpour after spending a night in a fancy, 3 star hotel, in a small town we found on the road. We were so wet, so worn out from rain that the price of 190 LTL seemed ok. Yes they have internet, we are told, but then it did not work well. It is Saturday night and a techno disco guy plays his music right under our room until 1 am. Sleeping without earplugs is a bit difficult but I fell asleep on a narrow bed after some time none the less. The next day, rain! Do we wait it out by booking one more day at this hotel or do we just grin and ride on?
We rode on, into Poland. After the morning passed, we found the sky getting lighter and smiling at us. The rain finally stopped. We got to the town of Gizycko (Loetzen in German) and stopped for the night. Tired and still a bit wet from the morning’s downpour, we were happy to be in a western kind of country. Technically Poland is Slavic, an Eastern County but the area we are in was formerly the German East Prussia, a very German looking area. All the towns, all the roads, to my brain, make sense and I see Germanic setups and housing all over the place. I feel at home here. I guess it is no wonder I like the Mazuren area of Poland.
Gizycko is near the town of Ketrzyn (Rastenburg) and near the Wolfsschanze, the War Headquarters for Hitler during WW2. It is an assortment of bunkers, deep in the woods, carefully chosen to be hidden from air surveillance and not generally known to anyone. The Nazis even grew moss on each bunker to make it less visible. Officially the barracks (heavy bunkers, really) were a chemical producing facility. Guarded to the teeth and only 130 people had access to Zone 1 (the inner area) although 2000 people worked in the 8 km. area known as Wolfschanze during the war. Von Stauffenberg made his attack on Hitler’s life here and the guide we hired explained the details of Von Stauffenberg’s execution along with 5,000 others after his failed attempt. The fortifications were formidable. Dangerous swamps to the North, heavily mined, barbed wired fences and layers and layers of security. Hitler had his SS troops and Special Forces nearby just to protect this place. The German’s themselves blew the complex up in early 1945 in an operation they had planned and called ‘Inselsprung” (leaving the Island).
Within 20 seconds they blew the whole complex up, every building was blown to bits 3 days before the Russian Army arrived to take it over. All that can be seen today is the rubble of these bunkers yet the place gives you the creeps, none the less. It is still hard to imagine that every move of the WW2 battles was called from here. That decisions of momentous outcome came from this place is still shocking. Every war department had their own bunker. Monstrous setups of building, covered in moss, deep in the woods, with air conditioning, heating systems, air supply, technical support, etc. The whole complex was built in 4 years. A tremendous output of labor, planned well enough that even today, would it not be destroyed by the builders, would be impressive enough to be off limits to little people like me. The Wolfsschanze (Wolf’s Lair) is a “to be missed” place. We were here; saw it and that is it. Not a tourist place I would recommend, yet it is part of today’s Poland, a formerly German area, and history.
Carol disagrees with me and feels people, especially young people need to be reminded of the events of WW2 and that even some of Hitler’s own generals disagreed with him enough to try to kill him. She also finds it curious that the Americans knew of the location of the Wolf’s Lair in 1943 yet only one attempt was made to bomb the area.