Aviators revisit World War II history during castle retreat
February 18, 2014
From medieval princes to Nazi youth to SS elite, and finally, Army aviators, Wewelsburg Castle has hosted a diverse cast of residents since its construction in 1603.
Helicopter crew members from the U.S. Army Europe Command Aviation Detachment, along with Capt. Andrew Shriver, chaplain for the 1st Battalion, 214th Aviation Regiment, visited this historic, triangle-shaped Renaissance castle three hours north of Wiesbaden hosted by the British Army chaplaincy. The topic: moral leadership.
The Lübbecke Hitler Youth camp, Wewelsburg castle and nearby Niederhagen concentration camp were once an ideological haven for SS elite who dreamed it would be the "Center of the World," or at least Germania, the future German empire.
Today, British Army Chaplains run Church House, a sanctuary for spiritual retreat and courses on stress management, relationship enrichment and moral leadership. After Germany surrendered, British forces took over the former Hitler Youth camp building, with a ship-like interior that symbolized Nazi youth journeying into the new order. It's the perfect backdrop for discussing how brainwashing can affect ghastly outcomes.
"One of the most valuable learning points came from understanding the gradual process through which immorality occurs in leadership and the steps that lead into an environment where horrific acts like those of the Nazi party are condoned and accepted by the general populace," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Orin Englishbee, one of the aviation safety officers for the detachment. "Our experience was phenomenal. Going through the home of the SS and seeing how the cult was obsessed with their own self-righteousness was really an eye opening experience."
Particularly interesting was the fact that Neiderhagen concentration camp was located on the outskirts of the town of Buren-Wewelsburg, unlike Aushcwitz, which was isolated from society in the countryside. Prisoners interacted daily with townspeople. Almost 4,000 prisoners were interned there, and some ruins, like the cookhouse, gatehouse and crematorium, remain.
Local youth discovered the remains in the early 1990s and petitioned the town council to build a memorial.
"The retreat blended strategic partnerships, making friends with the British and also understanding World War II history and moral leadership," Shriver said. "All three were hit. I found that to be really impactful. I was grateful that British Padres had invited me to bring a group to Church House in Germany during several visits to the Armed Forces Chaplain Centre in the United Kingdom."
Wewelsburg Castle and the nearby Niederhagen Concentration Camp Memorial are both open to visitors and the castle offers guided tours. Visit www.wewelsburg.de for more information.