Channel Islanders Imprisoned in Munich Gestapo Prison:
By Roderick Miller
At least four Channel Islanders are known to have been imprisoned in Munich Gestapo Prison (Gefängnis der bayerischen politischen Polizei, Gestapozentrale München, Wittelsbacher Palais, Wittelsbacher Palast) in the German state of Bavaria. Munich Gestapo Prison was built on the grounds of the Gestapo Headquarters, which occupied the former Wittelbacher Palace. This palace was constructed between 1843 and 1845 for Bavarian King Ludwig I. It was occupied by Bavarian kings Ludwig II and Ludwig III until the end of the First World War in 1918, at which point the monarchy in Germany was abolished. In 1919, it became a meeting hall for the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic, and was afterwards used by political parties in the democratic Weimar Republic.
The Gestapo — originally called the ‘Bavarian Political Police’ — occupied Wittelsbacher Palace in October 1933, just five months after the Nazis seized power in Germany, and it was used from the outset to arrest and interrogate political prisoners. In 1937 a separate three-story building with barred windows was built on the former palace grounds to incarcerate Gestapo prisoners.
Channel Islander John Finkelstein testified after the war that after a 48-hour incarceration in an as-yet unidentified prison he called ‘Hoff’, he was ‘imprisoned in a third floor cell no. 30 in solitary confinement where I stayed for some three weeks.’ This prison has been definitively identified from his Buchenwald Concentration Camp records as Munich Gestapo Prison, and confirms the dates as from approximately 8 October 1943 until his transfer to Buchenwald on 29 October 1943.
Channel Islander Kingston Bailey left Landsberg Prison and arrived in Munich on 3 December 1944. In his autobiography Dachau (see Sources below), he devotes most of a chapter to Munich Gestapo Prison, some sections of which are quoted here:
When we arrived at Munich, I was astounded. I had heard of the heavy bombing, but would never have believed that a city like Munich could be so devastated. I walked with the guard for about two miles, and everywhere was the same devastation.
After spending one night in an unidentified prison, Bailey was taken the next morning to Gestapo prison:
All around were high walls and, on one side of the yard, the prison building, badly damaged from recent bombing. In fact, one side of the building was completely burnt out. After much yelling, shouting and counting, we were at last marched into the prison, which was the usual cold, bare and granite-built prison of Germany.
The cells were much more comfortable than I had expected; they were warm and each had its own flush lavatory. The floor was covered with brown linoleum. They were built to hold two men; there were two beds which let down from the wall and also a small table with a seat on each side. We were four, so two had to sleep on the floor. I was one who slept on the floor and was supplied with a mattress and two blankets.
The food was much better at Munich; again, this was very surprising, considering the state of the city. The quantity was small, but good. Breakfast consisted of the usual bread and ersatz coffee; dinner, stew, but without meat, and on one day a pudding substitute like custard. The tea was usually bread, margarine and jam, or cheese; sometimes a small piece of sausage or potato salad with substitute tea.
There was no work to do and we remained always in the cell, except during an air alarm, when we proceeded to the basement cellars. There were two very heavy bombardments when I was in Munich. The first lasted for several hours. The cellars were damp and cold, and very overcrowded. There were prisoners of every nationality of Europe.
It was Monday morning, December 18th 1944. Munich was burning and, at intervals, one could hear the explosions of delay-action bombs. We were taken from the corridor into the prison yard. A small covered lorry was waiting and, as our names were called, we were told to get into the lorry and spoke several words to an Austrian prisoner, already on. He looked ill and afraid. I said to him, “What’s the matter?” He replied, “Dachau — that is where we are going.”
It was unusual at this late stage in the war for the Nazis to give any kind of access to air raid shelters to prisoners in their custody, so Bailey was indeed very lucky in that regard. He had heard stories about Dachau Concentration Camp in prison, however, and was justifiably afraid when he heard whence he was being transported.
Frederick Short spent 28 days in Munich Gestapo Prison in mid-1944:
Eventually I appeared before a so-called political tribunal. I was sentenced to 28 days solitary confinement with detention diet, bread and water daily with a bowl of weak soup every third day and the usual black cell treatment, after which I was to be kept in a prison and not allowed to mix with my fellow prisoners. I was also to be kept in captivity until such time as the Nazi authorities saw fit to release me. In other words, this was more or less a life sentence had the war lasted that long.After serving my 28 days’ detention I was taken from the Central Gestapo Prison Munich by three policemen, again handcuffed to two of them, put into a car and driven to the railway line and into a prison train with the usual brutal treatment. — Frederick Short, Foreign Office compensation testimony, 15 January 1965
Channel Islander Alfred Howlett testified after the war that he was imprisoned in Munich, but although there is no documentation as which prison he was in there, other evidence suggests that Munich Gestapo Prison was the most likely location.
At the time of the Channel Islanders’ incarceration, SS-Sturmbannführer Oswald Schäfer was in charge of Munich Gestapo Prison. Prior to heading the Munich Gestapo, Schäfer was the head of an SS Einsatzgruppe B commando in Nazi-occupied Belarus and was personally responsible for the murder of at least 4,090 Jewish men, women and children in the Wiszbek region. An attempt to bring Schäfer to trial in Bavaria in the 1950s failed for ‘lack of evidence’. He became a wealthy businessman and died in Hamburg in 1991 at the age of 83.
In the early 1960s, the city of Munich made plans to build a cultural centre on the site of the former prison as a memorial to those who suffered there, thus making it possible to clear the ruins from the site. By the mid-1970s, the city changed its tack from memorialisation to profit and sold the property to the Bavarian State Bank (Bayerische Landesbank), which proceeded to build a modern office building on the site. All that is left to memorialize a place where so many suffered at the hands of the Munich Gestapo is a discrete bronze plaque on the corner of the building. Even the text on the memorial plaque attempts to downplay the importance of the site, calling it a Gestapo ‘office building’ (Dienstgebäude) instead of the Gestapo headquarters and prison that it actually was.
All of the Channel Islanders known to have been in Munich Gestapo Prison survived the war, but like most survivors, they suffered from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of their lives.
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
Adreßbuch Verlag der Industrie- und Handelskammer München (publisher): Münchner Stadtadreßbuch 1937, Munich.
Bailey, K. G.: Dachau: All the Horrors of Nazi Oppression; Guernsey Press Co. Ltd, Guernsey, Channel Islands, 6th printing 1979.
Brantl, Sabine (editor): Themengeschichstpfad. Orte des Erinnerns und Gedenkens. Nationalsozialismus in München, Landeshauptstadt München, 2nd edition, 2012 (in German). Link.
Grambitter, Dr. Ulrike: Unbequemlichkeiten der Erinnerunge an den Nationalsozialismus in München von 1945 bis heute, Lecture for a meeting of the Stolperstein Initiative Munich on 16 May 2009 (in German). Link.
Hertkorn, Anne-Barb (editor): Kein Recht auf Grundrechte. Die Gestapozentrale im Wittelsbacher Palais, Munich, 2009 (in German). Link.
The National Archives, Foreign Office, Claims Department: Correspondence and Claims Files. Link.
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO) and War Office (WO):
TNA FO 950/1353 (Bailey)
TNA FO 950/1563 (Finkelstein)
TNA WO 311/11 (Howlett)
TNA FO 950/1224 (Short)
Wiener Library, London (International Tracing Service records):
Buchenwald records for John Finkelstein, reference no. 5860312