Channel Islanders imprisoned in Halle Police Prison:
Joseph John Gillingham, Joseph James Tierney
By Roderick Miller
The building housing the Halle Police Presidium and Halle Police Prison (Polizeigefängnis Halle, Polizeipräsidium Halle, Polizeidirektion Halle)was built in 1909. After the Nazis came to power in 1933, it also housed the the Gestapo and was used to incarcerate and interrogate political prisoners. The Halle Gestapo was led by SS-Standartenführer Heinrich Vitzdamm (1), who was simultaneously Gestapo head of Gleiwitz and the head of State Security (SD) in Kattowitz, Poland.
Channel Islander Joseph Gillingham left Naumburg Prison on 2 February 1945 and was transferred to Halle Police Prison at an undetermined date soon thereafter. For over 70 years, his place and date of death remained unknown to his family, but thanks to the efforts of Michael Viebig at the Halle Prison ‘Roter Ochse’ memorial centre, Gillingham’s death certificate was found in March 2016 in the records of the Halle Police Prison. Joseph Gillingham died on 11 March 1945 in Halle Police Prison of so-called ‘general heart weakness’, a standard Nazi euphemism for prisoners who died in custody as a result of maltreatment.
Channel Islander Joseph Tierney was incarcerated at a prison in Halle from 31 March until 7 April 1945, and though he may have been in Halle Prison, it is more likely, given his short tenure there, that he was indeed in Halle Police Prison. On 11 April 1945, 507 prisoners from Halle were placed into open train cars with provisions for four days and fled in a southerly direction from approaching American troops, who liberated Halle on 17 April. The transport continued on a zigzag path through the Czech Republic for nearly four weeks, with many of the prisoners dying from exposure, the effects of starvation, and summary execution. Joseph Tierney died in the Czech town of Kaštice (German: Kaschitz) in May 1945 as part of this prisoner transport.
The only known conviction of a staff member of the Halle Police Prison is that of Wilhelm Hempel (born 19 September 1897 in Eisleben). Hempel was originally sentenced to death by the State Court in Halle in 1947 for shooting a French prisoner named Hamel in Halle Police Prison in October 1944. Hempel alleged that the prisoner attacked him after breaking out of his cell, but eyewitnesses confirmed that the prisoner was severely ill and was found shot inside his cell. Hempel’s sentence was later reduced to life imprisonment. (2)
The Halle police moved out of the building in 2005, and since then it has stood derelict. It was subsequently purchased by a private investor for 50,000 euros, with the stated goal of either turning it into a hotel or student living quarters, neither of which was realised. The building was sold again in 2015 to an unknown party, who claimed to have plans to turn it into a seniors’ residence.
As of 2016 there is no memorial at the former Halle Police Prison for the many prisoners who died there as a result of maltreatment by the Nazis or who were outright murdered. (3)
(1) Gestapo head Heinrich Vitzdamm (born on 29 February 1892 in Stralsund) lived after the war in the Hannover region and was called as a witness in a number of trials for crimes against humanity, but was himself never formally accused of any crimes. He died in 1975 in Wennigsen (Deister) in the state of Hannover.
(2) The lack of prosecutions of the Halle Gestapo follows a general pattern of lacking post-war prosecutions in Germany, but is probably also in part due to the splitting of Germany into two states in 1949 and the fact that the records of the Halle Gestapo wound up in the Moscow Special Archives. Finding Aid 1323, Opus 1, 1898-1944, 65 AE, 008. View it here.
(3) Those murdered by the Nazis in Halle Police Prison include German Communist Party city council member Helene Glatzer (1902-1935) and Jewish Community leader Max Jovishoff (1876-1938).
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
Pohle, Heidi: Pläne für das Ex-Präsidium, in: Mitteldeutsche Zeitung, 3 March 2010 (in German).
Rüter, Prof. Dr. C. F.: DDR-Justiz und NS-Verbrechen, Vol. XII, Amsterdam University Press, 2007, pp. 249-261 (in German).
Tempel, Michael: Neue Besitzer für alte Polizeidirektion, in: Mitteldeutsche Zeitung, 29 May 2015 (in German).
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO):
TNA FO HNP/1196 (Gillingham)
TNA FO 950/1254 (Tierney)