Frankfurt am Main-Klapperfeld Police Prison

Country Germany
GPS 50° 6' 55.5444" N, 8° 41' 23.1504" E
Address Klapperfeldstr. 5, 60313 Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Dates Active 1886 – November 2003

Channel Islanders Imprisoned in Frankfurt am Main Klapperfeld Police Prison:
Sidney Ashcroft, James Thomas William Quick, Walter Henry Lainé

By Roderick Miller

At least three Channel Islanders are known to have been imprisoned in Klapperfeld Police Prison (Polizeigefängnis Klapperfeld, Gestapogefängnis Klapperfeld) in Frankfurt am Main, a city in the German state of Hesse and the fifth largest city in Germany. Klapperfeld Police Prison was built in 1886 and was named after the street on which it is located, Klapperfeldstrasse. The building is a four-story structure with a section for prisoners and a section for the prison personnel, which had an apartment on the top floor for the prison director. The prison and prison courtyard were divided vertically with a section for men and a section for women. The ground floor of the personnel building had rooms for a doctor, and the courtyard of the women’s section had a small building intended solely for medical inspections of prostitutes. Most of the cells had neither running water nor toilets, unlike most prisons being built at the time in Great Britain and the United States. The German authorities decided purposefully to deprive the prisoners of this ‘comfort’ and simultaneously save the state the expense of installing additional plumbing facilities.

Like all prisons in the Third Reich, Klapperfeld was also used to incarcerate political prisoners. By 1940, the Frankfurt Gestapo secret police had been purged of non-Nazi elements and had them replaced with members of the SA and SS. The Gestapo headquarters in Frankfurt were, from 1941, at Lindenstrasse 27 and had around 140 personnel and three prison cells in the basement. The shortage of cells in Gestapo headquarters made them unable to keep longer-term prisoners onsite, so such prisoners were usually incarcerated in a remand prison in Hammelsgasse, in Frankfurt Preungesheim Prison, and in Klapperfeld. From 1942, the increased rise in Gestapo prisoners required also additional cells for 300 prisoners at Gutleutstrasse 13 and cells for 160 prisoners at Rödelheimerstrasse 10/12 in Frankfurt-Bockenheim.

The top floor of Klapperfeld had a Judenabteilung or ‘Jewish Section’. The Jewish prisoners were placed in narrow cages made of wire fencing that were the length of a bed and the width of two beds, and when overcrowded meant 2 prisoners per cell, with no possible room for movement except the occasional courtyard exercise breaks. The cells were dark, as the windows were darkened with blue paint. 387 women from so-called ‘mixed marriages’ were incarcerated in Klapperfeld in 1942 and 1943 and deported to Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Their relatives usually received the death notice within 14 days of deportation.

A letter from Preungesheim Prison to the Gestapo dated 30 October 1944 states that from that day, Preungesheim considered Channel Islander Walter Lainé to be a ‘protective custody’ prisoner and requested his transfer to Gestapo custody as soon as possible. A response to the letter, written by the Gestapo and dated 4 November, confirmed that Lainé could be transferred to Klapperfeld Prison right away. Lainé testified that he was taken to the prison on 25 October 1944, although International Red Cross records suggest that this transfer took place 11 November.

The Klapperfeld prison records were destroyed by the Gestapo in the last days of the war, thus the only extant documentation of Channel Islander Sidney Ashcroft’s incarceration in Klapperfeld was found in two documents in the International Tracing Service archives: a post-war Limburg court record mentioning his transport from Limburg to ‘Ffm.-Gestapo’ on 20 February 1945 and a post-war Limburg residence card, also with the same date but luckily more specific about the place of incarceration: ‘Pol.-Gefängnis Frankfurt/Ma’, meaning Klapperfeld Prison.

The only reference to James Quick’s incarceration in Frankfurt is also in an undated document of the International Tracing Service.

Gestapo interrogations were carried out in Klapperfeld, and the Channel Islanders may have experienced something similar:

A Gestapo agent named Bauer sat at the desk and two Gestapo agents stood behind me. If I failed to immediately answer a question directed at me, both of the men behind me would immediately begin to beat me. A female secretary sat at a small table next to us with a typewriter.

On numerous occasions, after an interrogation was ended and I had been returned to the cell, another Gestapo agent came and started the interrogation anew with blows and kicks until I was bleeding. This pattern continued for half a year. The interrogation methods of the Gestapo were extremely brutal and resulted time and time again in serious maltreatment. – Johann Schwert [1]

My cell was 1.65 by 3 metres across. There was a folding bed with a mattress filled with wood shavings, in which as it later turned out there were many bedbugs and lice, which were especially active at night. On the bed there was a dirty grey wool blanket. There was a so-called bucket in the corner for relieving yourself. There was a small wooden stool, a very small folding table and a shelf for placing the wash and a washbowl and a metal cup for drinking. Nearly every day it was the same thin, watery soup with a few potatoes, some white cabbage, rarely savoy cabbage, occasionally red cabbage, and often bits of turnip cabbage. Twice a week bits of finely ground meat were floating in it. – Elsie Kühn-Leitz [2]

Elsie Kühn-Leitz was incarcerated in Klapperfeld in 1943, and it is likely that the food and living conditions were far worse by early 1945. There had been outbreaks of typhus and tuberculosis. The last known figures from early 1944 show the prison to have been seriously overcrowded, with 265 male and 160 female prisoners (425 total), a figure that probably grew higher by 1945, and the kitchen was only designed to prepare meals for a maximum of 200 prisoners. Walter Lainé testified after the war that he had not enough food to live on there. Hygiene was nearly non-existent, and the ventilation was so poor that the stench of filth was overwhelming. As early as January 1944, the prison doctor [3] wrote letters threatening to resign his position unless conditions were improved, but eyewitness accounts reckon that conditions only continued to get worse.

Sidney Ashcroft and Walter Lainé left Frankfurt on 21 March 1945 and were transported for four days on a cattle truck to Bamberg Prison. The Gestapo had fled from Frankfurt after destroying thousands of prison documents there and made a provisional office in a forced labour camp in Hirzenhain. A few days later, they rounded up the prisoners of that camp, 44 women and 43 men, and murdered them on the edge of a forest near Glashütten. By 29 March 1945, Frankfurt am Main had been liberated from the Nazis by US Army troops.

Sydney Ashcroft was liberated in Straubing Prison by troops of the US First Army on 27 April 1945. He did not recover from the damage to health, however, and died of tuberculosis in Straubing Prison hospital on 15 May 1945. In late April 1945, before the Americans arrived, Walter Lainé was placed a forced march from Straubing in the direction of Dachau Concentration Camp, but was lucky enough to be liberated by US troops prior to reaching the intended destination. Like all survivors, he probably suffered from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of his life.

SS-Obersturmbannführer Oswald Poche, the head of the Frankfurt Gestapo from 1941 until 1943, was responsible for the deportation of at least 10,000 German Jews, and as the leader of Einsatzgruppe 2, for the mass murder of Russian Jews in 1943 and 1944. He was never brought to justice and lived under a pseudonym until his death in 1962 in West Germany. Poche’s deputy was Ernst Grosse, who was sentenced to 3 year’s imprisonment in 1949 but released on time served, and further attempts to prosecute him were dropped, possibly due to his having been recruited to work for the US intelligence corps. Another Frankfurt Gestapo agent, Heinrich Baab, was sentenced in 1950 for the murder of 55 Jews, the attempted murder of 21 Jews, and maltreatment of a further 29 Jewish prisoners. Baab was sentenced to life imprisonment and was released in 1972.

Klapperfeld continued in its function as a police prison after the war, with some improvements such as running water and toilets in some cells. The conditions were still poor by modern incarceration standards, however, and the prison was closed in November 2003. The building stood empty until the German Architecture Museum had two 5-month-long exhibitions in the building in 2007–2008 with the focus on concepts of prison architecture, and it included guided tours, workshops and symposiums. Google street view images from June 2008 show the building with a sign advertising the exhibition and a small bit of artsy graffiti at the other end. The building is currently nearly completely covered in graffiti at street level.

In 2009 the leftist initiative group Faites votre jeu! (French for ‘place your bets’) applied for and were granted permission by the city of Frankfurt to occupy the former prison in exchange for a youth centre in which they had previously squatted in Frankfurt-Bockenheim. The city officially named the group as the building’s provisional owners, requiring them only to pay a fee for incidental costs of 250 euros per month and to maintain the building and memorial site. The group has turned the prison into a permanent exhibition and has created one of the most detailed websites ever published about a prison in the Nazi era. Members of Faite votre jeu! are alleged to be under surveillance, due to leftist activities, by the Verfassungsschutz, a German intelligence agency responsible for protecting the constitution.

In August 2017, local factions of the centre right neoliberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) in Frankfurt introduced a motion to the city demanding that Faitres votre jeu! be removed as provisional owners of the property on the grounds that the group continues to engage in semi-legal and illegal leftist activities. Faitres votre jeu! responded that the FDP was working together with Neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremists with the goal of closing the prison memorial centre. The city rejected the FDP’s demands for the reason that Klapperfeld is too important as a cultural centre and memorial to be closed down for that reason. Klapperfeld is probably the only memorial site for a Nazi-run prison in the world that is run by radical leftists. As of date (October 2017) the Klapperfeld Prison memorial centre continues to be operated by Faitres votre jeu! and is open to the public.

[1] See Stadtarchiv Frankfurt am Main in Sources below, translation by R. Miller.
[2] See Kühn-Leitz in Sources below, translation by R. Miller.
[3] Letter (in German) reproduced here and credited to the Hessian Main State Archive.

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.

Arbeitskreis Geschichte, Faitres votre jeu!: A history of Klapperfeld Prison (in German) Link

Hessian Main State Archive, Wiesbaden, hhstaw, refs. 409/4/3850/021, 409/4/3850/022 (Walter Lainé’s prisoner records from Frankfurt am Main-Preungesheim)

Kühn-Leitz, Elsie: Mut zur Menschlichkeit. Vom Wirken einer Frau in ihrer Zeit. Dokumente, Briefe und Berichte. Published by Klaus Otto Nass. Bonn, 1994 (in German).

Stadtarchiv Frankfurt am Main: Magistratsakten Sig. U/1.013, via

The Wiener Library, London (International Tracing Service) Limburg court record for Sidney Ashcroft: 11549893_0_1; Limburg residence card for Sidney Ashcroft: 70445602_0_1; Frankfurt Prison record for James Quick: 11548874.