There’s something inherently eerie about archaeology. In uncovering traces of past societies, we’re wrenching messages – often unintentionally buried – from lives long since passed. However, when the messages are left intentionally and by a particularly disturbing kind of society, this eeriness is heightened to a disquieting degree. This is exactly what happened when a mysterious time capsule, buried by the Nazi regime, was unearthed in Poland in September 2016.
In Zlocieniec, a city in northwest Poland, the stones that archaeologists excitedly hacked away at underpin the barracks of an outpost of the Polish Army. Eighty-two years ago, however, this site was home to a much more sinister organization. Indeed, the procedures that the archaeologists undertook were essentially a reversal of those carried out by Nazi officials in April 1934.
Before Zlocieniec became part of modern-day Poland, it was named Falkenburg and lay within the German province of Pomerania. In fact, Falkenburg flourished in the years after the First World War, largely thanks to its cloth-making, wood and ceramics industries.
When Hitler came to power in 1933, then, Falkenburg must have seemed like an ideal location for new Nazi military operations. Consequently, in April 1934 the foundations were laid for a new military training facility intended to educate a fresh generation of Nazi leaders.
This facility was named the Ordensburg Krössinsee and was just one of three training centres, known as NS-Ordensburgen, earmarked for the training of these young military cadets, or Ordens Junkers. However, they didn’t let just any passionate young Nazis join this elite group.
Indeed, an aspiring Junker would have to be at least 5’4” tall, have a clean bill of health and be between the ages of 23 and 26. Glasses were a big no-no, and let’s not forget that one most important feature – good old Aryan racial purity.
These cadets would receive academic education in the morning – politics, philosophy and world history classes, chiefly – while their afternoons would be taken up by sports, drills and military training. This was all presided over by a commander named Otto Gohdes.
The Ordensburg facility itself, meanwhile, was huge. There were over 20 living quarters, as well as a Hall of Honor, stables, and a lake in which students could practice rowing. Moreover, in 1936 the center would receive a visit from one very special commander.
Yes, the Führer himself, Adolf Hitler, came to Falkenburg in April of that year for the Ordensburg’s official dedication. And in the years that followed, Nazi hysteria would sweep the town, with local Jewish people being persecuted during the Kristallnacht pogrom. Later, a forced labor camp would be opened close to the camp, and in 1937 members of the Hitler Youth joined the Junkers in the Ordensburg.
But it was earlier, when the foundations were laid for the Ordensburg Krössinsee, that Nazi officials had buried their sinister time capsule. Historians have always known that the capsule was entombed beneath the building, probably because of the photographic evidence of the burial ceremony. However, no one has been able to reach it until now.
When historians got word that the capsule may have contained a 1933 documentary film on Zlocieniec’s 600-year anniversary, they renewed their efforts to reach the cylinder. But it wasn’t to be easy. The researchers had to dig through 20 feet of concrete, wade through pools of water and even dodge Nazi land mines. On September 6, 2016, however, the researchers finally struck gold.
Indeed, they had found the hidden Nazi time capsule, which took the form of a black copper cylinder. It would be a week, though, before officials could transport it to Poland’s National Museum in Szczecin – where, after some preliminary observations, it was split open with a chainsaw. What was inside was eerie, disturbing and fascinating in equal measure.
Unfortunately, there was no documentary film. Still, among the capsule’s contents were an envelope containing bronze Reichsmark coins, photographs of Falkenburg and a program for the town’s 600-year anniversary celebrations. But the most shocking find was the cache of Nazi propaganda, memorabilia and official documents – all in a state of perfect preservation.
The wax-sealed scroll from the Ordensburg’s dedication ceremony still trumpeted the words read out by Nazi officials 82 years ago. The eyes of Nazi leaders, too, stared out from photographs deposited in the capsule when it was buried. Additionally, German newspapers from the period still bore the propaganda of the state-controlled media. But there was another find that was perhaps yet more sinister.
Two pristine copies of Mein Kampf, with unnerving photographs of the memoir’s infamous author emblazoning their covers, were also among the capsule’s contents. Seen in this near-untouched condition, the books give off an acutely eerie aura – looking, as they do, as if they came off the printing press mere days ago.
Indeed, the find seems all the more unnerving considering the fact that the beliefs and sentiments of Mein Kampf belong firmly in a barbaric, lamentable past rather than the present day. Seen in this light, then, it seems rather fitting that the books were buried deep beneath the ground.
But, as the adage goes, the past always comes back to haunt us. Indeed, the find could be considered somewhat prescient given the recent surge of activities from extremist, anti-Semitic and right wing groups in Poland. But just what is it about Hitler’s Mein Kampf that is so directly opposed to mainstream liberal values?
Translating as “My Struggle,” the memoir was dictated to Rudolf Hess while Hitler was incarcerated in Bavaria between 1923 and 1924. The part-autobiography, part-political manifesto outlines Hitler’s vision for the German state and its people.
And one particularly striking aspect of this vision is the way in which Hitler lays out his shocking creed, including a kind of racial hierarchy on the people of the world. Of course, the blond-haired, blue-eyed Germanic or “Aryan” type is hailed as the “master race”; a host of other peoples – including Jews, Czechs, Poles and Russians – are meanwhile designated as “Untermenschen,” or racial inferiors.
It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that when the contents of the Nazi time capsule were displayed to the public, the copies of Mein Kampf had to be photographed with their covers facing down. Indeed, anything that endorses Nazism is banned in Poland by law.
Now, the contents of the cylinder are being held at the National Museum in Szczecin, where they will be catalogued, translated, preserved and prepared for their eventual display. And the find is a chilling reminder that the scars of a barbaric past are still liable to swell up from beneath our feet.