Channel Islanders Imprisoned in Bruchsal Seilersbahn Prison:
By Roderick Miller
Four Channel Islanders are known to have been imprisoned in Bruchsal Prison (Landesgefängnis Bruchsal, Landesstrafanstalt Bruchsal, Zuchthaus Bruchsal, Justizvollzugsanstalt Bruchsal) in the city of Bruchsal in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, about 12 miles northeast of the city of Karlsruhe. Bruchsal Prison’s main building was constructed from 1841 to 1848 in the classic ‘X’ shape that was considered the height of prison design in the mid-19th century. As this men’s prison opened during a year of political turmoil in the region, a number of political prisoner were among the first people incarcerated here. During the Nazi era, the prison was a central site for executions by guillotine. Like many prisons in the Third Reich, the Bruchsal prisons were also used to imprison Jewish victims of Nazi persecution — of the 85 prisoners registered in the prison in the 1939 German census, 22 of them would perish in the Holocaust.
By 1940, a building just north of Bruchsal Prison was used as a military prison for the Wehrmacht, but the smaller of the two buildings, directly on the street called ‘Seilersbahn’, was still administered by Bruchsal Prison. Officially the building was used for prisoners with psychiatric problems and was locally nicknamed the Psycha, short for ‘psychiatric institution’. By mid-1944, its primary use was a place of execution by guillotine for supposed enemies of the Reich. 55 people were beheaded in a small building behind the prison, and a further 9 inmates of the prison were executed by shooting in a nearby stone quarry, the last two on 20 March 1945.
Dermot Bonas, Niall Bonass, and Arthur Purtill arrived in Bruchsal Prison on 25 July 1944, Bonass and Purtill from Karlsruhe Prison. Dermot Bonass left Bruchsal on 25 November 1944, at which point he was transported to Ludwigsburg Prison. Niall Bonass and Arthur Purtill were transported from Bruchsal to Ebrach Prison on 8 December 1944. Nothing is known of their experiences in Bruchsal other than the fact that they were imprisoned there.
Alfred Baker spent one night in Bruchsal Prison on 21 June 1944 — and left on the same day that the first guillotine execution in the prison took place, 22 June 1944. It is presumed that he was in the prison merely as a stopover during his transfer from Karlsruhe Prison to Landsberg Prison. Baker left no mention of Bruchsal in his post-war testimonial, and the fact that he was there is confirmed only in a single document of the International Tracing Service.
The town of Bruchsal was heavily bombed by the allies on 1 March 1945, and although Bruchsal Prison and Seilersbahn Prison were only lightly damaged, the guillotine was no longer functional — executions were performed henceforth by firing squad. Bruchsal was liberated with no resistance by the French Army on 2 April 1945. 13 Nazi war criminals were executed in Bruchsal after death sentences were issued by allied military tribunals between November 1945 and March 1946.
For decades after the Second World War, the Nazi prison and justice system was widely believed to have been free of the taint of Nazi political persecution, a belief that has since been proven to be entirely false. As a result of this, those officials responsible for the guillotine and firing squad executions in Bruchsal’s Seilersbahn Prison were never brought to justice for what is now perceived to have been crimes against humanity.
Bruchsal Prison is still in operation today. Seilersbahn Prison continued to be used by the state justice system until the late 1970s, and was torn down in 1980 with no consideration given at the time to maintaining the buildings as a memorialization to the victims who suffered and were murdered there by the Nazis. Bruchsal journalist Rainer Kaufmann attempted to organise one last memorial event prior to the razing of the building, but despite letters to the editors of local newspapers, no permission was forthcoming. The military prison just north of Seilersbahn Prison had been heavily damaged in the war and was torn down soon thereafter, but its two remaining entrance buildings remain as the only structures still left of the former prisons.  In 1989 a memorial plaque to those executed in the prison was finally dedicated in the park on the site of the former place of execution (see photos above).
Alfred Baker survived Buchenwald Concentration Camp and like most survivors, suffered from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of his life.
 The buildings may be found on maps with the addresses Huttenstrasse 20A and Huttenstrasse 20B in Bruchsal.
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
Emails on 17-18 May 2017 between Rainer Kaufmann in Bruchsal and Roderick Miller in Berlin.
Kaufmann, Rainer: Seilersbahn, ein Weg Geschichte, Verlag Heimat- und Volkskunde, Libstadt, 1989.
International Tracing Service Arolsen, Catalogue of Camps and Prisons in Germany and German-occupied Territories, 1949-1951.
London Metropolitan Archives, London Electoral Registers 1832-1965, via ancestry.com (Bonas).
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO)
TNA FO 950/943. (Baker); Karteikarte der Kreisverwaltung Bruchsal, via International Tracing Service document found in ebenda.
Wiener Library, London:
Document reference numbers 15787212, 15787215 (Dermot Bonas); 15787147, 15787149 (Niall Bonass), 33167503, 33167505 (Purtill)