In August 1944, Heinrich Himmler, the Chief of the German Police and Reichsführer of the Schutzstaffel (SS), wrote to his second in command, Oswald Pohl about a recent discovery that “we as people of the 20th Century can hardly fathom.” 1 Five years of war in and around Warsaw, Poland led to the discovery of a massive cave and catacomb system underneath part of the city. “I am convinced,” continued Himmler, “that we have many cities that were once old fortresses with such caverns, which can be used, in my opinion, without any further changes as manufacturing facilities.” 2 Himmler was excited about this find, and after speaking with the mayor of Vienna, learned that this Austrian city also had extensive underground catacombs, sometimes two or three stories deep. Pohl was then given the command to investigate other cities including Prague, Wroclaw, Schweid, and Hohentwiel. 3 Himmler’s excitement over the discovery of massive underground caverns suitable for manufacturing factories was understandable considering the widespread destruction caused throughout that year by Allied bombing raids.

Allied air raids were intended to destroy important German factories and demoralize German citizens through the destruction of populated cities. After the turn of the War in 1942, protection of key manufacturing facilities fell initially to Albert Speer, minister of the Reich Ministry for Armaments and War Production. As the bombing and destruction increased, and labor for repairs and rebuilding was scarce, the Waffen-SS branch of the Schutzstaffel became involved in the project. Under the guidance of Heinrich Himmler and under the direct supervision of SS-Gruppenführer Dr. Hans Kammler, the Waffen-SS used forced labor to build numerous tunnels under inhumane circumstances. Plans for protecting German factories in underground bunkers, caves, tunnels and mines began as early as 1943, but intensive efforts for subterranean dispersal only began in the summer of 1944. Plans for underground production facilities, which were enthusiastically encouraged by Hitler, were to be completed by 1946 with a completion ratio of six bunker systems every seven months, and a total combined floor plan of over 1,864 square miles, 4 larger than the State of Rhode Island. 5


  1. “Records of the Reich Leader of the SS and Chief of the German Police (Part I),” n.d., Frame 2563066, T175, Roll 50, National Archives Microfilm Publication.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Hohentwiel is a tenth century castle on an extinct volcano in southern German city of Singen.
  4. “The Samuel and Irene Goudsmit collection, 1944-1985 (bulk 1944-1945) Finding Aid,” n.d., 2, RG-10.228, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Archives.
  5. Timothy S. Parker and USDA Economic Research Service, “ERS/USDA Rhode Island Fact Sheet: RI,” n.d.,


  1. Hi,

    I find your PhD subject itself and the use of WordPress/Omeka/etc… to publish your sources and methodology very interesting. I myself did a PhD related to the Third Reich, a biography, but which is not really related to your work.

    I’ve got several questions/remarks:
    – The map currently does not seem to work, so I’m not able to tell you if it’s because of my config (latest versions of Ubuntu and Firefox) or on your side;

    – At one point, if Omeka allows this but I could not find it, it would be great to have a browse par archive centers, for instance (even if you are not going to visit that many archive centers);

    – Did you schedule something regarding interoperability? It’s very nice to put our primary sources online, but if it results into having lots of websites with primary sources everywhere, it might become a problem. If I remember well, Omeka can be transformed into a OAI-PMH repository;

    – If you would like people to transcribe your sources – which is a great idea – you need to communicate and, as a consequence, have a kind of communication plan.

    I think that my remarks sound quite negatively, but don’t be misled, I really like the work you are doing.

    Frédéric Clavert

    • ammon says:

      Hi Frederic,

      Thanks for the comments! Sorry for taking so long to reply. Unfortunately, I don’t get much time to devote to the dissertation.

      The map should be working again. It was temporarily unavailable for a while there.

      That is a great idea to be able to search by archive. I’m not sure if it is built into Omeka, but shouldn’t be too hard to figure that out.

      I have not thought much about interoperability yet. I’ll have to look into that more to see where other sources are and how they can interact. You’re right, having lots of individual archives is good, but even better is to have them somehow generally organized or connected.

      The initial transcribing will be on a limited scale by students in the German Language department at GMU. Figuring out all of the details on best practice, how to communicate, and work plan is part of the digital dissertation process.

      Thanks again for your comments!

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