Freiburg Prison

Country Germany
GPS 48° 0' 13.2444" N, 7° 51' 2.1996" E
Address (historical: Johanniterstr. 8), current: Hermann-Herder-Str. 8, 79104 Freiburg, Germany
Dates Active 1878 – current

Channel Islanders Imprisoned in Freiburg Prison
Alfred William Baker, Herbert Gallichan, Alfred Howlett

By Roderick Miller

Three Channel Islanders are known to have been imprisoned in Freiburg im Breisgau in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. Freiburg Prison (Strafgefängnis Freiburg, Militärgefängnis Freiburg, Justizvollzugsanstalt Freiburg) was opened in 1878 with a capacity for 535 prisoners. The four-story brick building consists of five wings fanning out from a central axis. The circumference of the wall around the prison is 650 metres. As with all prisons in the Third Reich, Freiburg Prison was used to incarcerate criminal convicts as well as political prisoners. From 1940 to 1945, Freiburg Prison was used primarily as a military prison to incarcerate German soldiers who had committed infractions of Wehrmacht regulations.

A 37-page typewritten document from 1949 in the Baden-Württemberg archives gives a detailed report (in German) of Freiburg Prison’s history from 1939 to 1949. Although it was written by a prison administrator and definitely shows subjective bias, the document nevertheless presents unique and very detailed insights into the history and workings of the prison. A handwritten note in the document states that Freiburg prisoners ‘at the beginning of the war were primarily criminals, but this changed more and more. In summer 1944, many prominent people were incarcerated whose only guilt was not fitting in politically with the [Nazi] way of thinking. By the end of the war, the number of these prisoners was reduced by the fact that most were in Gestapo prisons by then.

In preparation for the planned Nazi invasion of France — subsequently delayed until June 1940 after the original invasion plans fell into allied hands in January 1940 — the Reich Ministry in Berlin ordered Freiburg Prison to be evacuated, as they didn’t want the prisoners to fall into enemy hands should French forces seize the city. All of the prisoners in Freiburg Prison were transferred to other prisons, most of them to a prison in Rottenburg, a city about 90 miles northeast of Freiburg. The remaining 162 prisoners left under Freiburg prison administration were incarcerated in two other smaller prisons in Freiburg simply named Gefängnis (Prison) I and Gefängnis II.

In February 1940, the German Wehrmacht took over Freiburg Prison for use as a military prison. Due to the lack of cells for civilian prisoners in Freiburg, however, the Wehrmacht allowed the Freiburg administration to use basement cells in a wing of the prison, with a capacity for around 100 civilian male and female remand prisoners. Newly arrived prisoners who had been given long-term sentences were sent to serve their sentences in other prisons in Baden and Württemberg (two separate states prior to 1945). The Freiburg prison administration was eventually housed in an apartment in a prison warders’ residence building next door to the prison.

It appears that Freiburg Prison was used as a transfer point for prisoners in France being transported to prisons in the German Reich, which was at least the case with the Channel Islanders who were incarcerated there. Herbert Gallichan was the first Islander to be imprisoned in Freiburg, arriving there 12 August 1942 from Dijon Prison and leaving a week later for Wolfenbüttel Prison. Alfred Howlett and Alfred Baker were transported together from Clairvaux Prison on 17 May 1943 and probably spent just one night in Freiburg prior to be transported to Karlsruhe Prison.

On the evening of 27 November 1944, the RAF dropped 14,525 conventional bombs and firebombs on Freiburg. In just 23 minutes, a large portion of the city was reduced to ruins and 2,797 people killed, mostly civilians. The prison’s provisional administration apartment, main administration building, hospital, gatehouse, another warders’ residence building, a forced labour facility for weaving, an automobile garage, a machine storage building, a disinfection facility, and a nearby prisoners’ halfway house were completely destroyed, as well as 60 metres of the prison’s walls.

No Freiburg civilian prison personnel or civilian prisoners were killed in the bombardment, but three people in the military-run section of the prison were killed, although it is not specified in the documents if these were prisoners or staff. All of Freiburg Prison’s prisoner records, civilian and military, were destroyed. In the wake of the bombing, the military staff and prisoners were evacuated to Wildflecken, a town about 240 miles distant. Around 100 prisoners of both genders, civilian and military, were able to escape during the chaos immediately following the bombing, and whilst a number were soon recaptured, many French resistors, such as Emilienne Viana, managed to make their way back to France and continue their resistance work. [1]

A handwritten note in the 1949 Freiburg Prison history manuscript mentions that after the bombing, for prisoners ‘… the labour operations ceased almost entirely. For many weeks, 50 to 60 prisoners were constantly occupied with the removal of unexploded bombs from Freiburg and throughout Upper Baden.‘ Not mentioned in the document is the fact that this highly dangerous and often fatal work was in direct violation of rules for the treatment of foreign civilian prisoners in the Geneva Convention.

On 29 November 1944, the day after the RAF bombing, members of the Freiburg Gestapo took three French members of the Réseau Alliance resistance group out of the prison to a nearby bomb crater and shot them. Their bodies remained buried there until they were disinterred after liberation and re-buried in a Freiburg cemetery. Their remains were eventually returned to France. Edouard Kauffmann and Emile Pradelle were posthumously awarded the Médaille de la Résistance, and Jean Lordey’s name is on a memorial in Saint-Pantaléon. Strasbourg Gestapo chief Helmut Schlierbach, who signed their death warrants and those of 105 other members of the resistance group, was sentenced to death in absentia in Metz in 1954. Schlierbach worked after the war as a court advocate in Offenbach and died in 2005 as a 91 year old pensioner, having never faced justice for his crimes. The Freiburg Gestapo who shot the Frenchmen were apparently never convicted for the murders.

The prison was nearly empty for four months after the bombing, its security having been severely compromised by the bomb damage. Most of the water pipes in the city were no longer working, and civilians took advantage of the prison’s well to get water for drinking and cooking, despite protests from the prison administration, who were powerless to stop civilians from entering the prison grounds. The above-mentioned post-war history of the prison also alleges that civilians plundered the prison of articles belonging to the justice system and the Wehrmacht. For many weeks following the bombing, a civilian prisoner commando was formed to work full-time pulling water up from the well for the prison, one bucket at a time.

As the allies began to liberate nearby Alsace in France in late 1944, the German prisons there transported prisoners and prison personnel to Freiburg Prison. The guards’ work was made more difficult by the fact that much of the prison’s electricity no longer functioned, most windows were broken, there were few typewriters or even pens to be had, the telephone and alarm systems were out of order, and ‘every possibility for escape and attack was available’ [2] to the prisoners.

Oberregierungsrat Dr. E. Koelblin was the director of the civilian section Freiburg Prison until his retirement in December 1944, although for several years during the war he was assigned to Bruchsal Prison. The head of the administration was Oberrechnungsrat Johann Kapferer, the head of the business section was Verwaltungsangestellter Haberer, and the head of accounting was Hans Rothacker. Some members of the Freiburg Prison staff who had been re-assigned to prisons in Alsace were later accused of mistreating prisoners, but there is no evidence that any other members of the staff were ever taken to court for prisoner maltreatment.

French troops liberated Freiburg on 21 April 1945. The remaining staff of Freiburg Prison continued in their duties but were now under the command of the French occupation forces. At least 43 German soldiers in the military section of Freiburg Prison had been sentenced to death and executed there. There are no mentions of executions in the 1949 history of the prison written by prison staff members who were there during and after the war, and it is doubtful that so many executions could have taken place in the shared civilian/military prison without the civilian prison administration having been aware of it. All of the Channel Islanders imprisoned in Freiburg survived the war and like many survivors, would probably suffer from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of their lives.

The official governmental website of Freiburg Prison (as of December 2017) has a history section that mentions work done on the building in 1914, but then skips to the year 1972 with no mention whatsoever of the Nazi era and no mention of the 43 or more soldiers who were executed there. A memorial plaque was unveiled next to the entrance gate of Freiburg Prison on 28 November 2016 by the memorial group ‘Geschichtswerkstatt der Lessing-Realschule Freiburg’ for the three Frenchmen who were shot there on that day 72 years earlier.

[1] Emilienne Viana née Dos Santos (born on 13 December 1913 in Porto) was the executive secretary of Peugeot Automobiles in 1940 and was sentenced to death by the Nazis for her role in resistance networking and sabotage. After escaping from Freiburg, she was given the rank of lieutenant by General de Gaulle, and after the war she was a member of the Amicale des Anciens Combattants. Emilienne Viana died in Courcelles-lès-Montbéliard in 2015 at the age of 101.

[2] Translated the original German, from Geschichte der Freiburger Gefängnisse (see Sources and link below, p. 4).

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.

Mairie de Courcelles-lès-Montbéliard (publishers): Bulletin Municipal, no. 41, July 2015. Obituary for Emilienne Viana, p. 24 (in French).

The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO), War Office (WO):
TNA FO 950/943 (Baker)
TNA WO 311/11 (Howlett)

(Unknown author): Geschichte der Freiburger Gefängnisse 1939 – 1949. Unpublished 37-page typewritten manuscript in German by a Freiburg prison administrator detailing the history of the Freiburg prisons 1939 – 1949. Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg, G701/1-9.

Wiener Library, London (International Tracing Service)
Transfer records for Herbert Gallichan, ref. no. 1374979_0_1, 1374979_0_2.

Zimmerman, Frank: ‘Endstation einer Flucht’ in Badische Zeitung, 12 November 2008 (in German.) LINK