Bruchsal Seilersbahn Prison

Country Germany
GPS 49° 7' 26.8068" N, 8° 36' 3.3192" E
Address Seilersbahn, 76646 Bruchsal, Germany
Dates Active 1848 – 1980

Channel Islanders Imprisoned in Bruchsal Seilersbahn Prison:

Alfred William Baker, Dermot Bonas, Niall Hubert Bonass, Arthur Purtill


By Roderick Miller

Four Channel Islanders, Alfred Baker, Dermot Bonas, Niall Bonass, and Arthur Purtill are known to have been imprisoned in Bruchsal Seilersbahn Prison (Bruchsal Psycha, Landesgefängnis Bruchsal, Landesstrafanstalt Bruchsal) in the city of Bruchsal in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, about 12 miles northeast of the city of Karlsruhe. The actual building where they were imprisoned was part of a former military caserne with two main buildings that had been used as state prisons since the mid-19th century. 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, the larger of the two buildings was used as a military prison and run by the Wehrmacht, but the smaller of the two buildings, directly on the street called ‘Seilersbahn’, was still used by the state justice system. 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 Seilersbahn 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 Seilersbahn 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, though it is possible that he was brought there for an examination. 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 Seilersbahn Prison was 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 Seilersbahn Prison were never brought to justice for what is now perceived to have been crimes against humanity.

Bruchsal 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 Bruchsal 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. [1] 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. It is presumed that Dermot Bonas survived the war, as no evidence has been found to the contrary, and was possibly living in London in 1946. It is presumed too that Arthur Purtill survived the war, as no evidence has been found to the contrary. Niall Bonass died in London in 1989. Like most survivors, they probably suffered from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of their lives.

[1] The buildings may be found on maps with the addresses Huttenstrasse 20A and Huttenstrasse 20B in Bruchsal.

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.

Sources

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)

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