Channel Islander imprisoned in Ludwigsburg Prison:
By Roderick Miller
Just one Channel Islander is known to have been imprisoned in Ludwigsburg Prison (Landesstrafanstalt Ludwigsburg, Zuchthaus Ludwigsburg) in the city of Ludwigsburg in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. The original site of the prison was used as a workhouse, orphanage, and jail as early as 1736, but it first became a state prison in 1872, and the first large cell block was built in 1889 followed by a second then state-of-the art cell block in 1930. In local parlance, the older cell block was referred to as the Roter Ochse or ‘red ox’, probably because of its shape and the red brick construction of the prison walls. It was officially simply called the Alter Zellenbau or ‘old cell block’. The 1930 cell block was called the Schlafzellenbau, or ‘sleeping cell block’. Like all prisons in Nazi Germany, Ludwigsburg Prison was used to incarcerate political prisoners as well as common criminals. Officials of Ludwigsburg Prison were also the central administrators for the prison at Hohenasperg, which during the Third Reich was the site of a tuberculosis centre for prisoners (with a high mortality rate) as well as a deportation point for Romani people to concentration camps in the east.
The stones from the Jewish synagogue in Ludwigsburg, which was destroyed during the November 1938 Nazi pogrom, were used to extend the height of the wall around the prison. A Nazi party membership official, Max Klaus, was appointed as director of Ludwigsburg Prison in early 1939. He introduced a strict regimen of disciplinary measures, requiring prisoners to not only politely greet but also stand at attention with their prison caps removed whenever a prison official passed by. When a prison official entered a cell, prisoners had to stand at attention at the window and call out their prisoner numbers, the crime for which they were convicted, and the length of their sentence. Wedding rings were confiscated from the prisoners and sent back to their spouses. Censorship of prisoners’ mail was more strictly enforced and prisoners were required to have their faces shaved weekly. Prisoners had previously been given two sets of prison clothing and towels, these were reduced to a single set, and socks and leather shoes were replaced by slippers and wooden clogs. At the start of the war in September 1939, the prison was declared a central imprisonment site for foreign (ie non-German) political prisoners. By 1941, up to 1200 foreign prisoners were forced to labour in the manufacture Nazi armaments parts.
Ludwigsburg Prison was, on one occasion, used as a courthouse. German communists Andreas Wössner and Anton Mattes were sentenced to death there on 16 January 1942 for so-called ‘preparation for high treason’. The prison guards discovered that these two men had written a report, probably gathered from allied radio news reports, about the German military situation on the Eastern Front. Wössner and Mattes were executed, along with 18 others, by guillotine in the early morning hours of 14 April 1942 in a courthouse courtyard in nearby Stuttgart.
A Channel Island resident of Jersey, Irishman Dermot Bonas (sometimes spelled Bonass), a labourer and later a waiter, was deported in mid-1944 to Bruchsal Prison, and on 25 November 1944 he was transferred to Ludwigsburg. It is unknown in which of the two main cell blocks Bonas was incarcerated. He did not apply for compensation after the war and thus left no known description of his time as a prisoner in Germany, but a former German political prisoner in Ludwigsburg named Curt Letsche left an account based upon his experiences there in a novel published after the war. By 1944, prisoners in Ludwigsburg were experiencing air raid alarms around the clock. They were forced to remain unprotected in their cells, while the guards and administration went into the relative safety of air raid shelters. The German manufacturer Bosch was using political prisoners from around occupied Europe to produce oil pumps and other electronic parts for Messerschmitt fighter planes. The Bosch supervisors would beat prisoners and withhold their food rations if they were accused of working too slow.
The nearby city of Stuttgart bore the brunt of allied bombing in the region, and in late 1944 the guillotine that was used for executions was partially damaged when the building that housed it was completely destroyed. This damaged guillotine was sent to Ludwigsburg, along with a new guillotine from Berlin, with the intent of carrying out executions there. Executions had continued in Bruchsal until the allies were approaching that city in March 1945, at which point its guillotine was sent on to Ludwigsburg. Thus Ludwigsburg had three guillotines in the prison by March 1945. The prison administration, however, realizing that they would soon be facing allied justice, managed to delay implementing any executions there.
Dermit Bonas remained in Ludwigsburg Prison until 8 December 1944, at which point he was sent to Württemberg Workhouse for Men in Vaihingen-Enz. He was liberated by US troops from Ulm Court Prison on 24 April 1945. Many political prisoners who remained in Ludwigsburg up until the allies were approaching the city were put on a train to be transported to Mauthausen Concentration Camp in April 1945, but the prisoners on the train had the good luck to be liberated by US troops in Kaisheim Prison before it could reach its destination.
A relatively small portion (140 buildings, or around 2%) of the city of Ludwigsburg had been destroyed in allied air raids, with around 1500 civilians killed. Ludwigsburg Prison personnel destroyed many of the prison records just prior to French troops – the 2nd Moroccan Division – occupying the city on 21 April 1945. The French set the remaining 500 prisoners free, and the prisoners proceeded to plunder Wehrmacht depots as well as civilian businesses and homes. Prison director Max Klaus was forced to move out of his living quarters in the prison, but was not arrested until December 1945. After interviewing 80 witnesses, Klaus was sentenced to two and half years in a work camp for his role in allowing the abuse of prisoners and acting as a willing accomplice to the random maltreatment doled out by the Nazi justice system.
The main prison administration was used for some decades after the war to house the Zentrale Stelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen zur Aufklärung nationalsozialistischer Verbrechen (Central Office of the State Justice Administrations for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes), an important centre of justice for pursuing Nazi crimes, but now the building is a courthouse for the district court. After the prison closed in 1990, many of its buildings were razed, including the the two large cell blocks in 1992-1993. A former prison building at Schondorfer Str. 38 was turned into the Ludwigsburg Prison Museum in 1988, one of the few of its kind in the world. A plaque on the museum building memorializes the fact that it was part of a prison, but there is no memorialization at the former prison site about its use in the Nazi era as a site for exploiting foreign forced labour.
Channel Islander Dermot Bonas, like many of those imprisoned by the Nazis, may have suffered from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of his life. Bonas was living in London after the war, but beyond that nothing is known about the rest of his life.
Special thanks to Dr. Erich Viehöfer at the Strafvollzugsmuseum Ludwigsburg (Ludwigsburg Prison Museum) for his kind assistance with this article.
Historischer Verein für Stadt und Kreis Ludwigsburg e.V. (publishers): ‘Zur Geschichte des Zuchthauses in Ludwigsburg (1933-1945)’ by Rudolf Mikeler, in Ludwigsburger Geschichtsblätter, volume 44, 1990.
Landesarchiv Baden-Württemburg (publisher): entry on the history of Ludwigsburg Prison, signature E 226/426 (in German). Link
Letsche, Curt: Das Schafott, Greifenverlag zu Rudolstadt, 2nd edition 1980,
Letsche, Lothar: ‘Von der Nazijustiz hingerichtet’, in Zeitung der DKP, 6 May 2011. A description of the real places and characters as described in Curt Letsche’s novel Das Schafott. Link (as archived on archive.org, in German)
Wiener Library, London (International Tracing Service)
Reference numbers 15787215, 15787216 (Dermot Bonas)