Channel Islander Imprisoned in Rendsburg Prison:
George Charles Nicholls
By Roderick Miller
Only one Channel Islander is known to have been imprisoned in Rendsburg Prison (Strafanstalt Rendsburg, Zuchthaus Rendsburg, Justizvollzugsanstalt Rendsburg) in the city of Rendsburg in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein. Rendsburg Prison opened in 1875 as a prison for male offenders with a capacity for 400 prisoners. From 1931, it was additionally used as a prison by the Rendsburg courts. Like most prisons in Nazi Germany, Rendsburg Prison was used to incarcerate political prisoners as well as criminal offenders.
Rendsburg Prison was also used to incarcerate Nacht und Nebel (‘Night and Fog’, or NN) prisoners. These NN prisoners were used as hostages and their whereabouts kept secret as a means of controlling the civilian populations in Nazi-occupied territories. At the post-war Nuremburg Trials, the Nacht und Nebel program was declared to be a crime against humanity.
Many Norwegian merchant marine sailors who were out at sea when the Germans invaded Norway had gone to Sweden and attempted to go from there to join the allies in Great Britain. In 1943, the Germans captured 110 such Norwegian merchant marines and kept them as NN prisoners in Rendsburg, where they were interrogated by the Gestapo and tried by a special court as German citizens. The sailors were convicted of high treason for ‘working against the Reich’ and given sentences ranging from one to nine years. From Rendsburg Prison they were place in cattle wagons and sent to Sonnenburg and other concentration camps such as Sachsenhausen. 43 of these Norwegians did not survive their imprisonment.
Jersey resident George Nichols was transferred from Ziegenhain Prison to Rendsburg on 6 April 1945. There is no known testimonial about the time he spent there, but Norwegian NN prisoners who survived their imprisonment wrote after the war that the food there was poor and barely sufficient for survival. Since this was the situation in 1943, the living conditions in 1945 would have been far more severe.
The city of Rendsburg was officially handed over to British troops upon the capitulation of Germany on 8 May 1945. Rendsburg suffered very little damage during the war from allied bombardments, with its bridges remaining intact despite Nazi orders to destroy them prior to surrender. Two days later, on 10 May 1945, George Nicholls was liberated from the prison and returned to Great Britain. At the time of liberation, Rendsburg Prison held 1766 prisoners. It was designed with a maximum capacity for 400.
In 1954, a former post-war prisoner in Rendsburg successfully sued the state for contracting tuberculosis in Rendsburg Prison and having not been informed of the diagnosis made by the prison doctors. In 1956, Rendsburg Prison was closed and it was razed in the early 1960s to make way for housing. A Shell petrol station on Kieler Str. 31b in Rendsburg marks the location of the former prison entrance. There are, however, no known memorials on the site for the political prisoners who were incarcerated there and sent on to their subsequent deaths in concentration camps.
Channel Islander George Nicholls, like many of those imprisoned by the Nazis, probably suffered from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of his life.
Der Spiegel (publisher): ‘Wir haben die Motten’, issue September 1954 (in German). Link
International Tracing Service Arolsen: Catalogue of Camps and Prisons in Germany and German-occupied Territories, Bad Arolsen, 1949-1951, p. 72.
Landesarchiv Schleswig-Holstein: A brief online history of Rendsburg Prison (in German). Link
Schjølberg, Oddvar: Krigsseilernes evige krig, Liv forlag, Vestfold, 2014 (in Norwegian)
Wiener Library, London (International Tracing Service):
Reference numbers 11332027, 44072196, (George Nicholls)