By Roderick Miller
At least two Channel Islanders are known to have been imprisoned in Braunschweig Prison (Strafanstalt Braunschweig, Untersuchungshaftanstalt Braunschweig, Justizvollzugsanstalt Braunschweig) in the German city of Braunschweig in the state of Lower Saxony. The city is sometimes called ‘Brunswick’ in English. Braunschweig Prison, often called ‘Rennelberg’ by locals for the hill upon which it stands, was built in on the grounds of a former cloister in 1883–1884 just northwest of the city centre and went into operation the following year. It was designed with 150 cells and for a maximum capacity of 296 prisoners. The northernmost section of the prison was a remand prison, the southern wing’s upper floors for male prisoners and the central wing’s middle floors for female prisoners. The cells measure two by three metres with a toilet in the corner.
Like all prisons in the Third Reich, Braunschweig Prison was also used to incarcerate political prisoners. In the Nazi era, the prison was subordinate to the administration of Wolfenbüttel Prison in the town of the same name, about 7 miles south of Braunschweig. State prosecutor Hans Greiffenhagen was given the position of Oberregierungsrat and made head of Wolfenbüttel Prison – and thus the administrative head of Braunschweig Prison – in October 1933. Greiffenhagen made Wolfenbüttel Prison an execution site in 1938 and at least 527 prisoners were beheaded there by guillotine, many of their corpses donated to an anatomical centre in Göttingen for dissection. Greiffenhagen was conscripted into the Luftwaffe in 1940 and replaced by director Karl Lupfer in April 1941, who continued to carry out guillotine executions in Wolfenbüttel. No executions were carried out in Braunschweig Prison.
By 1935, the Braunschweig Prison had 344 male and 50 female prisoners, a total of 394, which indicates that the prison was severely over its maximum capacity of 296 prisoners. It is likely that by 1942, and increasingly as the war continued, the overcrowding grew even worse, as was typical with prisons and camps throughout Germany.
Channel Islanders Dermot Bonas and Arthur Purtill were incarcerated in Braunschweig Prison from 23 April 1942 to 14 May 1942. It is likely that they were in other prisons in France previously, but no documentation has been found to substantiate this. The next time Bonas shows up in a prison record it is in Bruchsal Seilersbahn Prison in July 1944, and Purtill in Karlsruhe Prison the same month. It is unknown if the two men were incarcerated in the two-year span between these prisons or if they were returned to France or the Channel Islands and then later convicted for other offenses. Neither of the two men applied for compensation as victims of the Nazis after the war and neither of them left any known testimonials about their experiences in German prisons.
Dermot Bonas survived a forced march from Württemberg Workhouse for Men in Vaihingen-Enz to Ulm Court Prison and was freed by US troops there sometime between May and July 1945. Arthur Purtill was freed by US troops from Bamberg Prison in April 1945. Like all survivors, they probably suffered from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of their lives.
It appears that Braunschweig/Wolfenbüttel prison director Hans Greiffenhagen never faced justice for having carried out executions in Wolfenbüttel Prison and his post-war fate remains unknown. Former prison director Karl Lohde was placed on trial in Belgium in 1950, along with Wolfenbüttel personnel Wilhelm Bothe, Hans Tonowski, Karl Rittmeyer, Alfred Puchmüller and Willy Hahn. Lohde was accused of mistreating prisoners and giving them insufficient medical care. In Lohde’s first trial he was given a 10 year prison sentence, but in a subsequent trial the same year the charges were dismissed and he was released from custody. The post-war fates of Wolfenbüttel/Braunschweig administrative inspectors Markus Horns and Gerhard Schulz remain likewise unknown.
After the war, the prison was used to incarcerate standard criminals as well as Nazis convicted of crimes against humanity. Convicted SS war criminal Hans-Walter Zech-Nenntwich was able to escape from Braunschweig Prison under unknown circumstances in April 1964, but turned himself in again in January 1965 to serve his sentence. In 2011, Braunschweig Prison again became subordinate to the administration of Wolfenbüttel Prison. In 2013, a 75 year old remand prisoner was found hanged in his cell, and a 17 year old prisoner was sexually abused by six other youth offenders, spurring politicians to call for the prison’s closure. Plans have now been made for the outdated prison to be closed and privatised for developers in November 2018, but as of date (2017) Braunschweig Prison remains in operation. The building itself is protected as a historical monument but there are no known memorials on the site to the men and women who suffered there under the Nazi regime.
Literature and Further Reading
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot, Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
Blasius, Rudolf (publisher): Braunschweig im Jahre MDCCCXCVII. Festschrift den Theilnehmern an der LXIX Versammlung Deutscher Naturforscher und Aerzte, Braunschweig 1897, table II on p. 413.
Jonscher, Norbert: ‘Rennelberg – die längste Straße der Stadt’ in Braunschweiger Zeitung, 20 February 2014 (in German).
The Wiener Library, London (International Tracing Service)
Dermot Bonas: ITS ref. no. 11698487, 15787211, 15787212, 15787213, 15787214, 15787215, 15787216, 15787217, 15787218; Arthur Purtill: ITS ref. no. 11482501, 11482543, 33167513, 11698487, 33167508, 11483336, 1184337, 11484338, 33167510, 11948624, 33167502, 33167503, 33167505, 33167509; Arthur Purtill: 11482501, 11482543, 33167513, 11698487, 33167508, 11483336, 1184337, 11484338, 33167510, 11948624, 33167502, 33167503, 33167505, 33167509.