Cinderella Castle is known all over the world as a symbol of magic and joy, but did you know that it holds a dark secret? The history of this beloved icon is steeped in legend and lore. Some claim that it can be disassembled in the event of a hurricane. One particularly preposterous claim is that Walt Disney is cryogenically frozen and stored within the castle. None of that is even remotely true. But the Castle does hide a secret Nazi connection. Another Park shares the same dark secret, and You’ve walked right past them both and likely never noticed.
Cinderella Castle’s Dark Secret
In 1970 when Cinderella Castle was being built, Imagineers wanted to tell the story of the castle’s namesake. Artists set to work and designed an intricate mosaic that told the classic fairytale in a beautifully original and colorful way. There was just one problem: a mosaic this intricate needed the most skilled hands in the industry to create.
Enter Hanns-Joachim Scharff. Widely considered the best mosaic artist in the world at the time, he was called in to carry out the work. He did so masterfully, and the piece has remained the crown jewel of Cinderella Castle ever since. There’s just one little thing: Scharff was a Nazi. Not just any Nazi, either. He’s been called the “Master Interrogator” of the Luftwaffe and possibly of all Nazi Germany.
Hanns-Joachim Scharff: The Nice Nazi
Sharff was born in Poland in 1907. Though born in Poland, his family moved to Germany shortly after Sharff was born. As an adult, Scharff lived in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he worked at his father-in-law’s company. War broke out while he and his family were vacationing in Germany, and they were unable to leave. He was drafted into the German army, where he quickly rose through the ranks and became an interrogator. His methods were different and proved highly effective.
Known as “The Nice Nazi,” Sharff would interrogate fighter pilot POW’s in France and Germany. His skills allowed him to extract all the knowledge he sought from them without
torture. He never even raised his voice. He simply befriended them and, through misdirection, casual conversation, and what has now been called the “Scharff Tactic” (giving incorrect information in the hope of a confirmation/disconfirmation), managed to become the most successful interrogator in Nazi Germany.
In one instance, Scharff was tasked with discovering the reason behind America’s white tracer rounds from a POW American fighter pilot. Scharff brought the man baked goods that his wife made, empathized with the pilot’s plight, and took him on a relaxing country stroll through the German countryside. Here he blamed a chemical shortage for America’s white tracer rounds instead of the traditional red. The pilot, without even realizing what he was doing, informed Scharff that, no, it wasn’t a chemical shortage. It was a signal to let pilots know they were low on ammunition. Scharff took the knowledge to his superiors
Relocation and Retirement
Once the war was over, Hanns-Joachim Scharff made a deal with Allied forces. The American government would allow him safe harbor in the United States in exchange for knowledge. His unique brand of interrogation was highly sought after, and the American government wanted to know his secrets. He was allowed Passage and residence in the United States, and in return, he taught his method to the American military, particularly the Air Force and later the FBI. He continued as an advisor to the US military for many years.
Once his time as an interrogation consultant was over, he found a new career as a mosaic artist. He drew on influences and training he received as a youth in pre-war Germany and quickly became one of the world’s preeminent mosaic artists. Highly successful, he moved his studio from New York to Los Angeles less than a decade after opening. He continued this work until his death in 1992. In the 1980s, he brought his daughter-in-law Monika into the business and formed Scharff and Scharff. She ran the business after his death for another 30 years until she died in 2022.
Hired by Disney
When it came time to bring the Imagineers Cinderella mosaic to life, there was only one man they wanted: Hanns-Joachim Scharff. He gladly accepted the job. In 1970 his daughter-in-law was studying under him, and he brought her along to assist him in his creation. Together the pair created the five fifteen-foot mosaics that adorn the Castle’s interior. The incredibly intricate mosaics took 22 months to complete and contain over 300,000 pieces of Italian glass. Each piece of glass is fused with sterling silver and 14-karat gold.
The details on these mosaics are incredible, and if you’ve only ever glanced at them, you miss out on the intricacies that make them one of the world’s premier works of art. Symbolism abounds. For example, in the scene where Cinderella is trying on the glass slipper, if you look closely, you’ll see different colors on the step-sister’s faces. Anastasia is “red with anger,” while Drizella is “green with envy.”
Disney Calls on Scharff Again
In the 1980s, when EPCOT was being developed, Disney once again enlisted the help of the Nazi-turned-artist. This time he was tasked with the mosaics seen at the entrance to The Land Pavilion. There was just one problem: the designer’s drawing was three feet longer than the wall due to the curvature of the building. Scharff discussed alterations with Disney and ended up curving the mosaic, which is almost unheard of due to the nature of the art form.
The result is a stunning piece that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. The piece is 120 feet long and contains approximately 150,000 individual tiles made up of marble, Byzantine and Venetian glass, slate, granite, and, like the Cinderella Castle mosaics, fused with sterling silver and 14-karat gold. The abstract design is meant to look like flowing lava and has a very active quality. Scharff managed to get a lot of movement out of his materials.
The design runs along both walls at the Pavilion’s entrance and is identical. Almost. Scharff didn’t like symmetry, and so there is one tile different. A green stone was placed on the right side near the entrance to honor his son, whose birthstone is an emerald. Look for it next time you’re walking into the Land Pavilion!
The mosaics are truly one of a kind and some of the most incredible artwork you’ll find at Walt Disney World. The pieces truly stand out as some of the finest examples of mosaic work in the modern world. Who could have guessed the artist behind them would have such a dark history?