Feature: The Enigmatic Giant

In 1941 the Nazi government of Germany confiscated Schloss Fürstenstein, now Książ Castle, from the aristocratic Hochbergs, its owners for more than four centuries. The Nazis soon formed their own plan for the property, known as Project Riese (riese is the German word for ‘giant’). As the name suggests, it was of mind-boggling proportions.

From 1943 construction began on a series of sprawling underground complexes beneath the castle and the Eulengebirge (now Góry Sowie) mountain range, part of the Sudetes. It was an enormous undertaking involving the creation of tunnels and chambers using explosives, concrete and steel. In addition to mining specialists, the project used forced labour from both prisoner-of-war and concentration camps.

The sheer scale of the work was a drain on the Nazi regime’s resources. Hitler's armaments minister Albert Speer later admitted in his memoirs that the construction of the complex used more concrete than was available for building air-raid shelters across Germany in 1944.

What’s most fascinating about Project Riese is that no one is quite sure what its vast subterranean chambers were for, as they were never completed and key witnesses and documents were lost in the postwar turmoil. Speer referred to a bunker complex, other references were made to bombproof underground factories, and many have assumed that Hitler intended to move his headquarters there. The wildest theories suggest that stolen treasures were hidden in the complex, or that the regime was undertaking an atomic-bomb program within its depths.

As you'll hear if you take the 45-minute tour of the complex, consensus remains elusive. For more details on the project and its aftermath, visit www.riese.krzyzowa.org.pl.