Channel Islanders imprisoned in Bochum Prison
By Roderick Miller
At least three Channel Islanders were imprisoned in Bochum Prison (Königlich-Preußische-Centralgefängnis Bochum, Centralgefängnis Bochum, Strafgefängnis und Untersuchungshaftanstalt Bochum, Justizvollzugsanstalt Bochum, ‘Die Krümmede’) in the city of Bochum in the state of North-Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. The prison was built from 1892 until 1907, but had already begun incarcerating prisoners there in 1887. It had a maximum capacity for 785 male prisoners, 49 female prisoners, and a section for 135 juvenile male prisoners. In local slang, the prison is called the ‘Krümmede’ for the street on which it is located.
It was decided at a meeting of the Reich Justice Ministry on 6 February 1942 (effective 25 February) to make the State Prosecutor and a Sondergericht (‘special court’) in Essen responsible for the prosecution of Nacht und Nebel (NN) or ‘Night and Fog’ prisoners from Belgium and the Netherlands. These NN prisoners were part of a secret hostage program devised by the Nazis as a means of controlling potential resistance in occupied territory. For this purpose, by 22 July 1942 at least 56 transports of NN prisoners had been deported to Bochum Prison. These NN prisoners in Bochum were exclusively male prisoners in pre-trial detention. By 8 May 1943, the decision was made to evacuate all of the NN prisoners out of Bochum due to allied bombing and the potential danger to the Reich from prisoners who could escape under such circumstances. Five days later, Bochum Prison had is first extensive damage from allied bombs. A further 28 NN prisoners were deported, via Bochum Prison, to Esterwegen Concentration Camp on 16 August 1943.
Although not NN prisoners, Channel Islanders Alfred Connor and John Nicolle were transported from Saarbrücken Prison on 12 April 1944 to Bochum Prison. There were, as was usual in the Nazi prison system, no air raid bunkers for the prisoners, and they were ordered to stand fully clothed with their eating utensils and cell number cards in their possession during air raids. The living conditions and medical treatment at Bochum were probably typically substandard; a report made by a doctor at Emsland Concentration Camp stated that of 300 NN prisoners who had arrived there on 22 May 1943 from Bochum Prison, only 100 were actually healthy.
Islander Harry Dean appears with the date 12 June 1944 in Bochum prison, but there is no indication in the record if this is an arrival or departure date. His length of time there remains unknown.
When John Nicolle was transported to Dortmund Prison on 12 August 1944, the medical report stated that he had pneumonia and was only fit to perform light duties. He died there on 14 February 1945. The death certificate, issued in April 1946, does not list the cause of death, but his widow stated in 1964 in her compensation application that her husband died from wounds to his legs caused during an RAF bombing raid on Dortmund. She presumably received this information after the war in correspondence with her husband’s former cellmates.
German political prisoner Werner Eggerath experienced Bochum Prison thus when he arrived in 1944:
We were received with mocking grins. One hour later they had completely plundered us of all of our belongings, to the last cigarette and the last handkerchief, they took everything away from us. For three months we had no proper clothing and nothing was washed. We would have frozen to death if we hadn’t helped each other through. We were brought to the upper floor of the prison and not let out during bombing raids. In the mornings we were taken in wagons under heavy guard to the workplace. For breakfast, we had a slice of bread and a half litre coffee. When we returned in the evening, we got a thin turnip soup and three or four peeled potatoes, a slice of bread and a half litre coffee. We were supposed to perform heavy labour on earthworks on such a diet. There were bedbugs, fleas and lice in Bochum Prison…
It was the final days. The front was getting nearer with the Americans just a few kilometres away. In the night we could hear their artillery and the shells flying overhead. Somewhere nearby we could hear a German artillery battery opening fire. Such cruelty: they had set up next to the prison knowing that helpless prisoners were inside and were endangered by their presence. Tanks rolled by, the sound of machine gun fire now and then, and then pistol shots in the direct vicinity of the prison. Then we heard: “The Americans are here!” Most of the prison officials had fled… – Werner Eggerath, from his biography ‘Nur ein Mensch’ (‘Only human’)
On 29 March 1945, the director of Bochum Prison, Oberregierungsrat Anderson, gave the order for the prison to start evacuation procedures. Over the objections of the head prison guard that many prisoners were too ill to be moved, they were ordered to assemble for roll call and prepare for a forced march to the city of Celle, about 150 miles away. 560 prisoners left the prison under heavy guard in three groups of about 200 each at 7:30 a.m. that morning. Among the evacuated prisoners were a large number of non-German political and NN prisoners, including the Belgian priest Josef Reuland. Reuland weighed 87 pounds and was so ill that he collapsed three times as the prisoners were marched through Bochum. At one point, prison guard Hans Brodowski separated Reuland from the other prisoners, placed him face down in bomb crater and shot him in the back of the neck with his pistol, leaving him for dead. When Brodowski returned to the prison a few days later, he filled out a report that Reuland had been ‘shot whilst attempting to escape’.
US troops liberated Bochum on 11 April 1945. Bochum Prison was Channel Islander Alfred Connor’s last known place of incarceration. An undated SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) document at the Wiener Library, typewritten in English, places him in Bochum prison — which is most likely where he was liberated. Like most survivors, he probably suffered from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of his life.
Belgian priest and NN prisoner Josef Reuland did not die after being shot, but was given medical attention by local Germans and survived to testify at Hans Brodowski’s trial in 1949. Brodowski was sentenced to 6 years’ prison for attempted murder. No other staff members of Bochum Prison are known to have been prosecuted for their roles in the mistreatment and deaths of prisoners there.
Bochum Prison is still currently in operation with a capacity for 861 prisoners. There is (as of 2016) no memorial at Bochum Prison for the NN prisoners and other political prisoners who were incarcerated there. The current Bochum Prison chaplain, Alfons Zimmer, has a series of exhibitions planned in memorial of the political prisoners incarcerated there and plans are underway by the VVN-BdA organisation in Bochum (see Links below) to make a proper memorial site.
 The current statement on the official government website of Bochum Prison states: ‘Während der Zeit von 1933 bis 1945 waren nach bisherigen Ermittlungen keine Gefangenen der GeStaPo oder anderer nationalsozialistischer Einrichtungen in dem Centralgefängnis Bochum untergebracht.’ Link (1 September 2016.
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
Sanders, Paul: The Ultimate Sacrifice: The Jersey islanders who died in German prisons and concentration camps during the Occupation 1940 – 1945, Jersey Heritage Trust, Jersey, revised and updated edition, 2004.
Eggerath, Werner: Nur ein Mensch, Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1961, pp. 226-235.
International Tracing Service Arolsen, Catalogue of Camps and Prisons in Germany and German-occupied Territories, 1949-1951.
Konieczny, Alfred: Der Nacht- und Nebel-Befehl Hitlers in DIZ-Nachrichten, No. 16, Papenburg, 1993, pp. 56-68 (in German).
Rüter-Ehlermann, Adelheid L.: Justiz und NS-Verbrechen, Volume IV, Amsterdam 1970, pp. 619-630, case against Hans Egon Brodowski, born 3 February 1917 in Dortmund, sentenced on 18 May 1949.
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO)
TNA FO 950/1220 (Thorne / Nicolle)
Vandenbemden, Louis: Quarante six mois de bagnes au cours des hostilités (manuscript, in French). Published online at here.
Wiener Library, London. Collections of the International Tracing Service (ITS), Saarbrücken prison records, archives 11298407-8; Bochum prison records 18654417-19, 11356580 (as ‘Henry’ [sic] Dean, correct is Harry Dean as confirmed by date and place of birth).