Porta Westfalica: Second Week

2013-06-29 04.11.31
Me, being lonely.

My first week in Germany was very lonely. I’m such an introvert, so it’s my own fault, but still. That’s the reality.

On Saturday I took the train to Minden. I dropped my things off at the hotel, then took the train further to Nienburg. I served there as a missionary for my church 16 years ago. I had contact with friends there, still, so I stayed there Saturday night and went to Church on Sunday. That was great fun. Sunday evening I was back in Minden.

2013-06-29 03.25.07
Train station

On Monday, I met with Dr. Gerhard Franke. He is a retired school teacher and teacher instructor (which he did for over twenty years). He was interested in this topic because he grew up in Hausberge, was four years old when all of the tunnel stuff was going on, and is interested in history. He was a great help. He had contacted the city of Minden archives and was notified of several people in the area who were interested in the topic. So, being the great person that he is, he made appointments for us to visit with them.

The first stop on Monday was with a Herr Münstermann. He was a teenager during the war and experienced the issue first hand. He also later became a city official for many years. I wasn’t prepared to even meet with anyone that had lived through this time period, so I didn’t complete any paperwork at GMU to allow me to use personal interviews in my research. But nothing says I can’t listen anyways. He told us a little about the situation, and most helpfully, explained why it came to the point where forced labor and underground factories were necessary in the first place. Basically, after “Big Week” (a massive, multi-day bombing raid on Germany by the Allies), the Ambi-Budd company in Berlin was nearly completely destroyed. Numerous other business suffered a similar fate. They began the process of requesting increased protection from the military and help from the government. The idea was then, to disperse factories into smaller sub-factories where products could be produced in part, then brought together at yet another facility to be assembled.

Neat old building in Minden.
Neat old building in Minden.

In 1944, the decision was to move dispersal to underground facilities to further keep the factories secret and protected. Herr Münstermann had several copies of documents created by Rainer Fröbe and others. It would have been great to get copies of some of these documents, and Dr. Franke asked. Herr Münstermann, a very serious but kindly man (he is a widower and we could tell he was pleased to have us as company, he even put on a tie, and his suit coat when we sat down to talk), but he never gave out his things, because they had a tendency to not be brought back. We sat in silence. He capitulated, based on the good relationship Dr. Franke and he had. After our meeting, we immediately went to a copy shop, made double copies, and took the originals back to Herr Münstermann. Thank you, Herr Münstermann! (As it turns out, I found all of those documents in the Neuengamme archive, but you never know, so get copies while you can!)

Former local government building, until WWI. Current location of local archives
Former local government building, until WWI. Current location of local archives

Our next visit was with Thomas Lange, someone I ended up having much in common with. He was my age, for one. Second, he did his masters thesis on this topic. Thirdly, he is into technology. He’s actually a sound technician now, after finishing his Masters in History. Dr. Franke very kindly invited us all to his house for the discussion. Thomas, also very, very generously, provided Dr. Franke and I with nice, bound copies of his Master’s Thesis. He was thrilled that someone was interested in his work, doubly so that some crazy American was interested. We had a good talk about the subject, what sources he found and where, and things like that. Good stuff.

On Tuesday, we traveled all over Porta Westfalica (which consists of 15 districts which used to be individual villages, including Barkhausen, Hausberge, Neesen, and Lerbeck). We visited the Wilhelm Monument, one of the entrances on Jakobsberg (apparently we missed some huge cement oil tanks that can still be seen), and one entrance on Wittekindsberg, under the monument and behind the current lodgings of the Schützenverein Barkhausen. Dr. Franke knows lots of people and was able to work out some amazing opportunities.

One such opportunity was to meet with Wolfgang Walter who was very young in the military during WWII. He ended up serving in the West German military in the Porta Westfalica area, and thereby developed a great interest in the tunnel systems near by. He was a joy to talk with. He even gave me a large, 2 foot by 3 foot map of the area, so as to properly get a sense of my surroundings and landscape. Thank you, Herr Walter!

Schützenverien (shooting club) Barkhausen
Schützenverien (shooting club) Barkhausen

Dr. Franke had called the local newspaper and set up an appointment for a photographer to come take pictures. So on Wednesday just before I left, we (Dr. Franke and I) and the chief of the Schützenverein had our picture taken by the old entrance. It was blown up in 1947, so the only thing left to see are huge concrete blocks.  Dr. Franke is very interested in turning the tunnel system into some kind of memorial or museum, and is using me (coming all the way from America, showing interest in this place) as an example to local government officials and what not, that this is something important, and worth spending money on. A great thing, I think.

My time in Minden/Porta Westfalica was much too short. I could have used another day in the archives, and another day taking pictures and meeting people. But all in all, a great experience.


Last modified: September 26, 2013


  1. Jim Rivis says:

    I lived in Barkhausen from 1950-52, just down the street from the infamous Kaiserhof Hotel. behind which was the men’s concentration camp. How did you become interested in this area. I have learned a lot about the Philips electronics factory cut into the mountain for building the guidance systems for the V2 rockets. Hundreds died there and there were mass graves. When the British demolished the tunnel entrance a lot of windows were broken in the town. Contact me if you wish to know more.


    • ammon says:

      Hi Jim,

      Thank you for the comments. I came upon this topic through a friend at GMU who works in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. She showed me a few documents relating to the topic, and then through discussion with Dr. Jens-Christian Wagner at the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp Memorial I selected the specific project at Porta Westfalica.

      I would definitely like to learn more about what you have learned.

      Thanks again,

      • Jim Rivis says:

        Ammon, I forgot to mention that there is (was) a booklet for sale ($100) awhile back which was commissioned by the British Army to report on the findings on the subterranean tunnel factory at Barkhausen. I made record of it but am not sure I can reconnect and locate it. This may be the shop which had it. http://www.theukrarityshop.com/

        I live in Vermont now . Email me for my phone number.

  2. Jim Rivis says:

    “Many of the male inmates slept here”. Not quite. There is a large old banquet hall to the left and rear where they were housed in 4 story bare bunk beds. Sometimes men were hagged inside and left hanging as an example to the other men. It was filthy and cold. I have a book by a Danish freedom fighter (I have corresponded with him) who was incarcerated there along with his brother and many other Danes. In his book he mentions that nowadays residents from that era claim abuses never happened but he knows they knew as they used to spit on the prisoners as they were marched to the tunnels. Since rediscovering how close I lived, as a 7 yr old boy, to the horrors that were perpetuated there I am still creeped out, angry and disgusted with the Germans. I shall always remember , while walking with my sister and stepmother, near the track up to the cave entrance, seeing a woman tearing her hair out and wailing . I imagine a relative may have been killed there during the war. When the British moved in (I’m an ex Brit) they gave the residents on our street 1 hour to grab what they could and get out so that Army families such as ours could move in.


    • ammon says:

      Jim, thanks again for the comment. You’re right, yes, they slept in the banquet hall which was attached to the hotel. Wow, I am always amazed at how brutal and inhumane people can be to each other. Thank you for sharing your experience. What is the title and author of the book you refer to?


      • Jim Rivis says:

        My sincere apologies for losing track of our conversation. The book is ‘RESISTANCE FIGHTER ‘ by Jorgen Kieler. It is available from Amazon as book or Kindle download @ http://www.amazon.com/Resistance-Fighter-Jorgen-Kieler/dp/9652293970. I’m trying to locate mine at home as I constantly think of Jorgen, whom I corresponded with a few years ago. Despite the passage of time I am still haunted by his experiences and my connection to the area as a child and also from my research. I felt that it was fitting that the Kaiserhof mostly burned down in 2011 (http://bilder.mt-online.de/owl/hotel_kaiserhof_in_porta_westfalica-barkhausen_brennt/725512s.html ) . If you ever wanted to talk then email me . I have a friend, a reporter for the Mindener Tagesblatt, Robert, who runs the local historical society there in Barkhausen. His father was interned at the dreadful Rheinwiesen open air (death) camps for hundreds and thousands of German soldiers after the 1945 German surrender. This is all detailed in the (highly suppressed) book , ‘OTHER LOSSES’ by Canadian author, James Bacque (ISBN 1559580992).My daughter, Meghan, travelled to Germany in 2008 and Robert helped her visit my old home there where I lived as a 7yr old. The name of the street was mysteriously changed from Park Strasse to Schwartz Strasse. My experience and feelings about my life there and what transpired there are deeply interwoven as I was an abused child in that house, beaten and psychologically abused.

        • ammon says:

          Thank you Jim. I have the Jorgen Kieler book, full of very good information. I’ll have to look into the book by James Bacque.

      • JIM RIVIS says:

        SYNOPSIS: Other Losses caused an international scandal when first published in 1989 by revealing that Allied Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower’s policies caused the death of some 1,000,000 German captives in American and French internment camps through disease, starvation and exposure from 1944 to 1949, as a direct result of the policies of the western Allies, who, with the Soviets, ruled as the Military Occupation Government over partitioned Germany from May 1945 until 1949. An attempted book-length disputation of Other Losses, was published in 1992, featuring essays by British, American and German revisionist historians (Eisenhower and the German POWs: Facts Against Falsehood, edited by Ambrose & Gunter). However, that same year Bacque flew to Moscow to examine the newly-opened KGB archives, where he found meticulously and exhaustively documented new proof that almost one million German POWs had indeed died in those Western camps. One of the historians who supports Bacque’s work is Colonel Ernest F. Fisher, 101st Airborne Division, who in 1945 took part in investigations into allegations of misconduct by U.S. troops in Germany and later became a senior historian with the United States Army. In the foreword to the book he states: “Starting in April 1945, the United States Army and the French Army casually annihilated about one million [German] men, most of them in American camps O Eisenhower’s hatred, passed through the lens of a compliant military bureaucracy, produced the horror of death camps unequalled by anything in American military history O How did this enormous war crime come to light? The first clues were uncovered in 1986 by the author James Bacque and his assistant.” This updated third edition of Other Losses exists not to accuse, but to remind us that no country can claim an inherent innocence of or exemption from the cruelties of war.

    • Cathy Kristiansen says:

      My father’s Uncle (E. Fussing) was locked up in Porta Westfalica and perished there, leaving 3 young children. I think the man you know might be his nephew who wrote about the experience. His two nephews survived. I would love to discuss more as I write up my family genealogy. Thanks.
      Cathy, Maryland, USA

      • ammon says:


        Thank you for the comment. That’s very sad to hear about your great uncle.

        I am collecting experiences of the prisoners at the Porta Westfalica camps, and would love to include your great uncle and his nephews’ accounts.

        I have quite a lot of documents about the camp, and I’m still in the process of writing up some narrative about it. Let me know if you are interested in any of it, and also check back on the website. There will be lots of updates in the coming months.


  3. Rob Hochstadt says:

    My mother was from Koscice, Slovakia. She was taken from Auschwitz in late 1944 and “worked in a factory in a mountain making light bulbs” at Porta Westfalica before being sent to Fallersleben and then to Salswedel where she was liberated in April 1945. I am currently in Berlin and plan to leave on Wednesday for Porta Westfalica then Fallersleben and Sazwedel to visit these places that my mother talked about occasionally over the years.
    What will I find there of interest? Is there somewhere I can visit to look at photos of the factory or memorial sites, etc?
    Rob Hochstadt

    • ammon says:

      Hi Rob,

      Thank you for the comment. I would love to read anything your mother may have written about her experiences.

      Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot to see in Porta Westfalica. The camp where your mother was most likely kept is now just a large empty field. There is one “bunker” left, but it has been turned into a home that is currently occupied. That is at the corner of Mindener Weg and Frettholzweg inbetween Hausberge and Lohfeld, on the south side of Jakobsberg.

      The main entrance to the tunnel is blocked, and all the other entrances were destroyed, so there is no way to enter the tunnel system without permission from the city. That is something I did not pursue, and I can imagine is nearly impossible.

      There are three memorial sites you can visit, though. One is located in Hausberge, near the round-a-bout of the streets Unter der Schalksberg and Kirchsiek. It is just east of the round-a-bout on the north side of Kirchsiek street (L780). There are two memorial grave stones, but I’m not sure where they are at the moment.

      Your best bet is to contact the city.

      • Jim Rivis says:

        There are many photographs (and maps) available online of the inside tunnels. They don’t really reveal much except how much labor was required to build them. The internees didn’t make ‘light bulbs’ ! What they did was make electronic parts ( including electrical valves) for the Dutch electronics firm, Philips. These parts were an integral part of the V2 Rocket systems that were used to guide the rockets over to London where many, many lives were lost from these dreadful weapons. The whole reason for the tunnels systems being developed was that the allies were very successful at gradually destroying the Philips factories in the industrial Ruhr valley. Werner von Braun ( who became head of NASA) was instrumental in developing the V-1 and V-2 rockets.

        • ammon says:

          Interesting. Thank you for the updated information. It would be great to find out more details about what actually was made in those tunnels.

        • Fred Long says:

          For any Americans who might be reading this, I feel it necessary to mention that “electrical valves” to the European are what we Americans would refer to as “vacuum tubes”…

  4. Jon Chair says:

    Hi, I came across your article whilst searching for an image of something I came across 10 years ago in the Romanian Carpathian mountains. It was a still-existing SS (Nazi Secret Service) sign above a tunnel entrance. Now, if it’s any help to anyone (and I certainly would like to see that again because it was quite chilling) we’d taken a car from Bucharest to visit Transylvania and Brasov and only saw it when we stopped some place and looked around. It may have been above a railway tunnel. It was certainly surprising to see it still there, however the area seemed at the time very lush with woodland and almost remote. I couldn’t be more specific on a location but I can say that the sign itself was quite tall, and made of a metal. From quite a distance it could be seen and looked heavy duty to last a very long time. Who knows if it’s still there, I’ve googled in English and Romanian but cannot find anything. We can’t have been the only people to have seen it!

  5. Jim Rivis says:

    I’ve struck up a good relationship with Michael Cole, the book dealer. He lives in York, UK and I’m from about 30 miles away ! Anyway, he says that he thinks he has a second copy of that booklet on the underground works at Porta. I think I sent you the contact info, if not get in touch.

  6. Tony Page says:


    I have been investigating and exploring WW2 tunnel systems for over 30 years (!) and my loft and bookcases are creaking under the weight of the books and papers I have accumilated…
    Over the years I have made many useful contacts and have managed to access many tunnel systems in Germany (and the now defunct GDR), Poland and CZ.) The tunnels you are interested in are indeed sealed as you say, but I do have a contact there who has a friend […] in the Fire Brigade who has to periodically inspect the tunnels. I am awaiting the green light. I also have the initial rushes of a BBC film made some ten-plus years ago about a lady who was put to work in these tunnels making radio valves (I was told for ITT KB) after being marched westwards from various KZ. If any of this interests you (or, indeed, anyone else who may be reading this) get in touch. I am a Brit, live in Surrey UK and my email address is asingetalife@talktalk.net

    • ammon says:

      Thank you so much for the comment. I would love to see any resources you have regarding the tunnels, concentration camps, inmates, or companies at Porta Westfalica. Feel free to contact me privately if you like (ammon@nazitunnels.org). If possible, I would also like to add your resources to this site.


  7. Simon ELLIS says:


    I served with the British Army in Germany in the mid to late 80’s. I used the train a lot in my travels around Germany and I accidentally got off at the Porta Westfalica train station. I had to wait an hour or so for the next train so I thought I would go for a wander. I walked up into the woods behind the station and I found a large steel door opening into the hillside. The next weekend I went back with some mates equipped with torches and we spent a day crawling round inside the immense tunnel complex. We had no idea what the site was used for but soon worked out that on the ground floor was a large train station/platform for loading/unloading goods and the rest of the site was some kind of factory. It was obvious that the site had been partially blown up with collapsed floors but it was possible to crawl through tunnels and shafts up and down the different floors. Over the years I have been to Peenemunde, Dora Mittlebau concentration camp, Watten and La Coupole – all sites connected with the V2 rocket so I am interested that the Porta site built Phillips electronic components for the V2. Last week I was in the Imperial War Museum in London and they have a V2 on display and a guide gave a very good talk on both V1 and V2. My Father was blown off his feet as a young boy in London by a V1. I went back to the Porta tunnel in the mid 90’s and it was impossible to get in – the door was welded shut. Whilst realizing the grim horror of the weapons it is hard not to be impressed by the technological leap that the Nazis made. Strategically, it was a costly mistake as they could have made 10 heavy bombers for the cost of each V1 or pushed forward the jet fighter ME 262. I think that the tunnels should be opened to the public but the cost of making them safe would be prohibitive.

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