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
- “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. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Hohentwiel is a tenth century castle on an extinct volcano in southern German city of Singen. ↩
- “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. ↩
- Timothy S. Parker and USDA Economic Research Service, “ERS/USDA Rhode Island Fact Sheet: RI,” n.d., http://www.ers.usda.gov/stateFacts/RI.HTM. ↩