Channel Islanders imprisoned in Breslau Prison
By Roderick Miller
At least two Channel Islanders were imprisoned in Breslau Prison (Straf- und Jugendgefängnis Breslau, Strafgefängnis Breslau, Zakład Karny nr 1) in Breslau, Lower Silesia, Germany, which became Wrocław, Poland after the war. Breslau Prison was built in 1895 in a cruciform plan with separate buildings for men and women prisoners and for the prison administration. The famed leftist activist Rosa Luxemburg was imprisoned here from 1917 to late 1918. The Nazis incarcerated political prisoners here from 1933 onwards and, after the invasion of Poland in 1939, used the prison for detained Polish university professors prior to deporting them to concentration camps.
The Nazis used Breslau Prison as a place of execution by guillotine. In addition to German prisoners, 638 Czech and at least 300 Polish political prisoners were executed in the prison, as well as many prisoners from other countries in Nazi-occupied Europe. 40 Czech prisoners were executed on a single day on 24 January 1945 by a Wehrmacht firing squad in groups of 5. Many of the prisoners in Breslau were victims of the Nazis’ Nacht und Nebel (‘Night and Fog’) campaign, in which political prisoners from all over Nazi-occupied Europe, seen as particularly dangerous to the Reich, were detained and their fates purposely withheld from their friends and family. The Nazis used this as a form of hostage-taking to better control the people under their power in occupied Europe. Among these so-called ‘NN’ prisoners was Peter Hassall.
17 year old Peter Hassall arrived in Breslau Prison in April 1944. He had been told in December 1943 by the director of Wittlich Prison that he was being transferred to Breslau Prison for trial. The prison director tried to delay Hassall’s transfer with a falsified statement from the prison doctor that he was too ill to be transported, but the ruse only lasted until the Gestapo demanded his transfer on 23 March 1944.
The [Breslau] Kletschkaustrasse Prison was a gloomy, dirty, de-personalized prison… On the first night, it was impossible to sleep, because from every corner of my cell, I was attacked by blood sucking bed-bugs… the Kletschkaustrasse bugs were the largest, fastest, fattest and hungriest I had ever experienced. They bit every part of my body, and after crushing dozens of them, my hands and cell stank of their sour odour… Occasionally, one of us was sent to do some menial work in the prison: such as cleaning out a cell, washing toilets and corridors… our greatest pre-occupation was creating menus, as our minds were totally focussed on the lack of food. —Peter Hassall, from his memoir ‘Night and Fog Prisoners’
Hassall was forced to perform labour manufacturing envelopes by hand with paper and a pot of glue, which he characterized as fortunate, since he was able to get paper for starting a diary by pilfering from supplies. He later recalled that he filled the diary with all that he had experienced since his arrest in May 1942, though it is not known if this diary remained with him until liberation. On 1 June 1944 the court sentenced him to 4 years’ imprisonment and on 26 July he and other prisoners set out on a forced march to Schweidnitz Prison.
It is possible that Evelina Katherine Garland, sentenced in Guernsey to two and half years’ imprisonment in March 1943 for singing a song that offended the Nazis, was in Breslau Prison. In her compensati0n application she wrote:
I was taken to various prison camps, including big prisons in Gotteszell, Nuremberg, Dresden, first stopping place was in Breslau, where we were assembling some sort of electrical cones[?] with a lot of wires and were there for about 6 months then we were moved to Bautzen prison camp.—Evelina Garland, 6 November 1964
Unfortunately no documents have yet been discovered that confirm whether Garland was in Bautzen Prison or one of the many forced labour camps in Breslau, such as the Borsig-Werke in Breslau-Hundsfeld. This was an ammunition factory with 1200–1500 female forced labourers, and judging from the type of forced labour she was performing, a more likely place of incarceration than Breslau Prison.
Evelina Garland and Peter Hassall survived to see the liberation. Like most survivors, they probably suffered from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of their lives.
After the Soviet liberation of the Breslau on 6 May 1945, Silesia was ceded to Poland and the Russians used the prison to incarcerate Polish independence resisters, members of the Polish Home Army, and others opposed to the Soviet occupation of Poland. Many of these prisoners were executed or died from poor living conditions. In the 1980s, the prison held Solidarnosc activists who were resisting communist rule. Breslau Prison is still active and is the largest prison in Lower Silesia, with over 1200 prisoners and 400 guards and administrators. The prison is considered to be ‘hard’ compared to newer prison facilities, but the prisoners have access to an extensive reading library and vocational training, as well as a hospital specialising in substance addiction treatments.
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
Hassall, Peter D.: Night and Fog Prisoners, self-published testimonial, Canada, 1997. Available online as a PDF document here.
International Tracing Service Arolsen, Catalogue of Camps and Prisons in Germany and German-occupied Territories, 1949-1951.
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO):
TNA FO 950/1162 (Garland)
TNA FO 950/1373 (Hassall)
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.
Wiener Library, London: International Tracing Service Archives