Włodarz, an underground complex built in the Włodarz mountain massif (Wolfberg in German, Wolf’s Mountain in English), was the last Riese complexes we visited during our tour.
Project Riese (Giant) continues to be one of the most mysterious construction projects of II WW conducted in the region of the Owl Mountains by Nazi Germany. Currently, four objects are open to visitors: Osówka, Włodarz, Walimskie Drifts, and the Książ Castle, but there are many more both discovered and undiscovered.
Out of all those complexes, Włodarz is the biggest one with 3 km of underground tunnels. There are three entrances to the main part of the underground from the northeast and one from the north, but only two of them have been dug out. Interestingly, 30% of the Włodarza tunnels are partially flooded with water, as blockages in the adit outlets obstruct the natural outflow of water. Small dams were made after unsuccessful attempts to pump the water out, thanks to which part of the tour is taken in the boats. While walking through corridors, we passed by a small train, which will be an additional attraction transporting tourists inside the complex.
As the last stop in the tour, we went to a concrete hall, where we saw various items from the time of the construction of the complex, such as rifles, helmets, tools, collected during the exploration of Włodarz. There were also some mysterious signs left on the ceiling indicating that behind the wall of this hall, there may be a tunnel connecting to the second complex or a room to which the Germans masked the entrance for some reason. However, that has not been confirmed yet.
Remember to bring some warm clothes at the temperature underground oscillates around 8C and a torchlight if you are not a fan of dark corridors.
The journey around the Włodarz facility does not have to be limited only to exploring the underground corridors inside the mountain. You can also take a walk on the marked trail and see foundations for machinery and buildings, the reservoir of water, and storehouses with thousands of fossilized bags of cement. We didn’t manage to venture outside as time ran tight, but we heard it is pretty interesting.
We have mixed feelings about the Włodarz complex. For sure, it was a lot of fun traversing corridors by boat and listening to the history of the place. It doesn’t matter how many times we hear about it; it still is an impressive, terrifying, thought-provoking experience. However, having been in all other complexes, we could compare it in many aspects, and in some, Włodarz fell short.
First of all, it was the only complex where we had to pay for the parking lot (10 zł). The guide was all right but did not impress us with enthusiasm like the one in Walimskie Drifts. We visited during the Corona times, and all closed spaces had restrictions, except for Włodarz. It is beside the point of who is standing on which side of the “Corona” fence; the fact is, all other places we went to enforced masks and, in case of wearing helmets, provided the special nets or disinfected the helmets before use, except Włodarz. Because many people are against restrictions and masks in Poland, it made us feel that Włodarz disregarded official rules to maximize profit. And that feeling of money being the driving factor left a bitter aftertaste.
A short history of the RIESE Project
In 1943, after many German cities were air-raided and the tide of war started to change, Hitler ordered the undertaking of a massive, top-secret underground complex known as Project ‘Riese’ (Giant). The work on that project lasted until the last days of the war in 1945, where it got abandoned only when it became painfully clear for Nazis that they would lose control over that area. They boobytrapped the corridors and exploded the entrances so no one would be able to access them. Because they fled in a hurry, they left countless building materials, cement bags, aggregates, cables, and the foundations of unfinished ground structures in the forests of the Owl Mountains. Even today, if you take a walk through the forest paths, you can notice the remains of it.
The project itself was humongous; imagine that for the Riese project alone, more concrete was used than was allocated in 1944 for the whole population to construct air-raid shelters. It was estimated that over two million cubic meters of rock would need to be blasted out of the Owl Mountains to complete this massive underground city.
To dig the tunnels, Nazis used forced laborers from the Gross-Rosen concentration camp located in the nearby village. Most of them were Jews, about 70 percent from Hungary, the rest from Poland, Greece, Romania, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany. What is horrifying is the fact that, on average, the prisoner used for digging the tunnels lasted around three to four months. This was due to several factors: the inhumane conditions they had to withstand with an unproportionate amount of hard work and almost no food (the concentration camp motto was Vernichtung Durch Arbeit (‘Extermination Through Work’)). They had to dig in gneiss rock, which has the same hardness as steel while using only basic tools. And the temperature in the shafts was around 5C with high air humidity, causing the small pieces of clothing they had left to be wet almost immediately.
To speed up the project, laborers mined from different locations concurrently. It was planned to eventually connect all those sections in one extensive system of tunnels, but the sudden end of war stopped the construction. Even though the project is not finished, with the varying condition of tunnels, it is still a place worth visiting and commemorating all the victims of war.