Channel Islander imprisoned in Kislau Workhouse:
By Roderick Miller
Only one Channel Islander is known to have been imprisoned in Kislau Workhouse (Arbeitshaus Kislau) in Bad Schönborn in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. Kislau Workhouse was housed in Kislau Castle (Schloss Kislau), originally a hunting lodge built in 1721. By 1813, the lodge had been repurposed as a military caserne and hospital, and in 1824 it was turned into a state prison and workhouse.
After Hitler seized power in 1933, part of Kislau Castle became a regional concentration camp (Konzentrationslager Kislau) for German political opponents of the Nazis as well as a ‘re-education camp’ for former German members of the French Foreign Legion who wished to reintegrate into a German society being redefined by the Nazis. Socialist parliament member Ludwig Marum was murdered in Kislau Concentration Camp in 1934 by members of the SA and SS. The concentration camp was closed in early 1939 and its remaining prisoners transported to Dachau Concentration Camp.
Kislau Prison and Kislau Workhouse continued their functions in the Nazi era. The prison was housed in buildings on the north end of the walled castle compound (see site plan in pictures), and Kislau Workhouse quartered its inmates in the main castle building. Officials from the prison administration were also housed in the main castle building. In 1940 the site was inspected by two of Himmler’s representatives to assess if it could be utilised anew as a concentration camp, but the plan was never realised. By 1942, the prisoners in the castle consisted of a mix of Spanish communists, Poles, Frenchmen, Belgians, and so-called Arbeitsverweigerer — men imprisoned for ‘refusing to work’, but actually often just homeless people or those with substance addictions or mental disorders.
Channel Islander Charles Burley, after imprisonment in an as-yet unknown prison in France, was transported to Kislau Workhouse on 15 April 1944. Burley had been convicted of ‘manufacture of a leaflet, prohibited reception of wireless stations and dissemination of anti-German information’, and the reason for his transfer to Kislau Workhouse was probably because the workhouse had requested additional forced labour from a nearby prison, most likely Karlsruhe Prison, whence evidence exists of his imprisonment. His length of stay in Kislau is uncertain, but by 22 December 1944 he was in Bernau Prison and Forced Labour Camp.
After Mannheim Prison and Saarbrücken Prison were badly damaged in allied air raids in spring 1944, Kislau Prison absorbed a number of prisoners from there, and Burley likely found himself in a very crowded cell. The prisoner count had in fact increased drastically, from 315 in June 1942 to 459 by July 1944. Prisoners performed forced labour from 6am until 10pm with a one-hour break for lunch. They worked in the prison kitchens or workshops, on the 110-hectare prison farm, clearing canebrakes from the area, or renovating prison buildings. Prisoners would typically have had to deal with poor hygienic standards, pests such as lice, fleas and bedbugs, insufficiently warm clothing and poor heating in winter, and rations barely sufficient to keep them alive. No testimonials have yet been found from survivors of Kislau Workhouse, but Charles Burley was certainly made to perform forced labour in some capacity there.
Kislau Castle compound was occupied by French troops on 2 April 1945, but its prisoners not liberated until the following 18 May. Immediately after the war, it was a refugee centre, but continued thereafter as a prison. From 1970 to 1991, it was a branch prison of Karlsruhe Prison, since then it has been operated by Bruchsal Prison and continues in that capacity to the current day.
In 1985, a memorial to murdered Socialist politician Ludwig Marum was erected in the castle courtyard in the form of a concrete column. Since 2015, the non-profit organization Lernort Zivilcourage & Widerstand e. V. (‘Place of Learning for Civil Courage and Resistance’) has been working at the site of the former concentration camp, prison, and workhouse, with the goal of building a learning centre there.
Borgstedt, Angela: ‘Das nordbadische Kislau: Konzentrationslager, Arbeitshaus und Durchgangslager für Fremdenlegionäre’, in (Wolfgang Benz and Barbara Distel, publishers) Herrschaft und Gewalt: frühe Konzentrationslager 1933-1939 (in German), Metropol, Berlin, 2002, pp. 217–229.
Borgstedt, Angela: ‘Kislau’ (in German), in Wolfgang Benz, Barbara Distel, & Angelika Königseder (publishers), Der Ort des Terrors: Geschichte der nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslager, Volume 2, CH Beck, 2005, pp. 134-136
International Tracing Service Arolsen, Catalogue of Camps and Prisons in Germany and German-occupied Territories, 1949-1951, p. 150 under ‘Mingolsheim’.
International Tracing Service, Wiener Library, London:
Kislau records for Charles Burley, ref. no. 1142315, 11416837, 11539993