Rheinbach Prison

Country Germany
GPS 50° 37' 50.2284" N, 6° 56' 29.7528" E
Address Aachenerstr. 47, 53359 Rheinbach, Germany
Dates Active 1914 – current

Channel Islanders Imprisoned in Rheinbach Prison: 

Nelson Breton, William Stanley Canute CordreyJohn Henry Ingrouille, Charles Nicholas Machon, Edward Peter Muels, William George Quin


By Roderick Miller

At least six Channel Islanders were imprisoned in Rheinbach, a city in the German state of North Rhine-Wesphalia. Rheinbach Prison (German: Zuchthaus Rheinbach, Strafanstalt Rheinbach) was opened in 1914, a building in the typical T-formation of prisons of that era, with a capacity for 714 inmates. Like all prisons in Nazi Germany, the prison was used after 1933 to incarcerate convicted criminals as well as political prisoners. The Cologne Prison administration and the Cologne Gestapo were responsible for the relegation of prisoners to Rheinbach Prison, Siegburg Prison, and Wittlich Prison. In March 1944, the lack of prison space in bombed-out Cologne prompted the Cologne Gestapo to seize an entire wing in Rheinbach Prison for their own use, with a capacity for 100 prisoners. This meant that they were not treated as ‘normal’ prisoners in the prison, but were subject to typical maltreatment from the Gestapo.

Rheinbach Prison was also used to incarcerate a number of 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. Most of the Gestapo prisoners in Rheinbach in 1944 were from Nazi-occupied Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands — and among them four Channel Islanders. Rheinbach Prison was the most important forced labour prison in the region, with prisoners forced to assemble detonators and wire harnesses for warheads for the company Dynamit Nobel AG. The use of prisoner labour to construct military munitions was again in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions.

John Ingrouille was the first Channel Islander to be imprisoned in Rheinbach, arriving from Caen Prison in spring 1942. He was followed by William Quin, who arrived from Fort de Villeneuve Prison-Saint-Georges on 24 September 1942. Charles Machon was considered by the Nazis to be enough of a threat such that he was likely to have been deported directly from Guernsey to Rheinbach on 22 May 1944. William Cordrey was in Neue Bremm Gestapo Camp prior to his transport to Rheinbach on 8 June 1944. Nelson Breton arrived in Rheinbach Prison from Karlsruhe Prison on 9 February 1944. Edward Muels arrived in Rheinbach on 13 August 1944 and was sent to Kassel-Wehlheiden Prison on 19 September 1944, where he died in the first week of January 1945 as a result of maltreatment in Nazi prisons.

An article in a magazine for German prison employees was published in the year 2000 with an article entitled (translated from the original German) ‘Rheinbach Prison in the Third Reich’. The author, Lothar Breitkreuz, points out that the prison (like all prisons in Germany) was run under more humanitarian ‘progressive’ conditions during the Weimar era, but then after the Nazi takeover focussed more on ‘punishing’ prisoners rather than rehabilitating them. The article quotes a report from a journalist from 1934 stating that the prisoners were treated ‘strictly’ but that ‘unnecessary severity’ was avoided, without noting that the Nazi press at the time was already an organ of state propaganda and therefore completely unreliable. The note that tobacco was forbidden in Rheinbach Prison was probably accurate, however. A Dutch prisoner name Gerold van der Stroom is quoted, writing of his 1935 imprisonment in Rheinbach, that the food was sufficient and good, that they were allowed to hear a radio concert on Sundays, and that they were allowed to form a singing group and perform — all of this, however, before the Gestapo takeover of a wing of the prison in March 1944. The same Dutch prisoner is further quoted as stating that the food in Rheinbach during the war was ‘sufficient’, and although the prison was strict, that the prisoners felt ‘safe’ there — again, it is unlikely that Gestapo prisoners could have said the same. Van der Stroom further states that in September 1944 with the approach of the allies, prisoners were moved to much worse prisons further east, a statement that is confirmed when reading about conditions in Hamelin Prison, for example.

On 25 January 1945, Rheinbach Prison was attacked by an allied fighter bomber and the prison chapel was damaged, as well as the prison courtyard, killing four German Army guards who were there repairing military vehicles. By this point there was a section in the prison for women and for German military prisoners. The ‘criminal’ prisoners, as Breitkreuz puts it — but in context this also means political prisoners — were being used at this time to perform forced labour clearing rubble away from the allied bombings in the area. The director of the Rheinbach Prison, Nazi Party member and former head of Cologne Prison Hans Dreschke, stated in a report at the time that the prison officials and prisoners behaved ‘flawlessly’ during the air attacks, though both Dreschke and Breitkreuz fail to mention that, as with most if not all prisons in Nazi Germany, the prisoners were given no access to air-raid shelters. Furthermore the prison director noted that German military vehicles should be camouflaged so that the prison would not be attacked by the allies: the very presence of a Wehrmacht repair facility on the prison site was a violation of the Geneva Convention, something that Breitkreuz failed to note in his report from the year 2000. Breitkreuz fails entirely to mention that the Gestapo was operating an entire wing of the prison for political prisoners from 1944 onwards.

None of the Channel Islanders left any testimonials about the conditions at Rheinbach Prison, but an American journalist published the account of Dutch-American Rheinbach survivor Edward Coster in June 1945:

I have actually been treated better here than in either of the two prisons in which I previously was confined. During the extremely cold weather, when we had only one blanket to a man, we took it as a great favour when the director would permit 14 of us to sleep in one cell. Thus packed together, we had some slight chance of keeping a bit warm. The food, however… was scanty — mostly potatoes and cabbage — there was little or no recreation permitted, baths were practically non-existent, and what water could be obtained was impure and dipped from pools in the courtyard.’ [2]

Coster further stated that guard Josef Koslowski, whose nickname was ‘Mr. Rubber Hose’ (for the length of hard rubber he used to beat the prisoners), had burned prisoners with lighted cigarettes as well as ‘kicking and mauling them’. Koslowski had also placed French in Dutch prisoners into the open prison courtyard during bombing raids.

Hans Dreschke, like all Nazi Party members, had to undergo de-Nazification proceedings after the war. He was initially given the minimum offender status of ‘participant’ (Mitläufer), but this was later revised to the more serious offender status of ‘incriminated’ (belastet). Dreschke maintained, perhaps correctly, that Rheinbach had the lowest death rate of any major prison in Nazi Germany and not a single case of suicide. Dreschke was able to secure a position as the director of Wuppertal Prison in 1949, but went into retirement in 1951.

The highest capacity of Rheinbach Prison was reached in January 1944, with 1,301 prisoners in a prison designed for a maximum capacity of 714 — 1,081 of them non-Germans from other places in Nazi-occupied Europe. At least 12 Luxembourg resisters who were imprisoned in Rheinbach Prison were either eventually executed or died as the result of death marches near the end of the war. According to post-war trial testimonials, hundreds of mostly non-German prisoners in Rheinbach Prison and Siegburg Prison had been ordered to be shot by the Cologne Gestapo, who saw the prisoners as a danger to the ‘Old Reich’ in light of the ever-nearing allied forces. When the Gestapo arrived with the intention of executing these prisoners, they discovered that the prisoners had been transported to Hamelin Prison and Butzbach prison only hours earlier. It is possible that a number of the Channel Islanders would have been shot by the Gestapo had they not been transferred to other prisons in the nick of time.

Rheinbach was liberated by US Army troops with very little resistance on the morning of 7 March 1945. Prison director Hans Dreschke and guard Josef Koslowski were placed under arrest by the Americans, though it is unknown if Koslowski ever went to trial — Dreschke most certainly did not. Most of those incarcerated in Rheinbach had already been evacuated to other prisons in the region that were further away from the encroaching allied front. John Ingrouille was sent on to Berlin-Moabit Lehrter Strasse Prison, Nelson Breton (who spent only three weeks in Rheinbach) to Siegburg Prison, and William Cordrey, Charles Machon, and William Quin to Hamelin Prison. Charles Machon died in Hamelin Prison on 26 October 1944, Edward Muels died in Kassel-Wehlheiden Prison on 7 January 1945, and John Ingrouille died soon after liberation in a Belgian hospital. Breton, Cordrey, and Quin survived the war, but like many of those who survived, suffered from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of their lives.

Rheinbach Prison is still in active operation as a prison today with a capacity for 551 prisoners. There is no memorial on the site for the many political prisoners who suffered there under the Nazi Regime

[1] See Breitkreuz under Sources (below).

[2] See Miles under Sources (below).

 

Further Reading

Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.

Sources

Breitkreuz, Lothar: ‘Das Zuchthaus Rheinbach im Dritten Reich’ in Zeitschrift für Strafvollzug und Straffälligenhilfe, published by the Gesellschaft für Fortbildung der Strafvollzugsbediensteten e.V., Wiesbaden, February 2000, Issue 1, pp. 39-41 (in German.)

Düsterhaus, Gerhard: ‘Das Rheinbacher Zuchthaus während der NS-Zeit’ in Heimblätter des Rhein-Sieg-Kreises, published by Geschichts- und Altertumsverein für Siegburg und den Rhein-Sieg-Kreis e.V., 78th year, 2010, pp. 128-153 (in German).

Herbers, Matthias: Organisationen im Krieg: Die Justizverwaltung im Oberlandesgerichtsbezirk Köln 1939-1945, Mohr Siebeck, 2012.

Nazi Documentation Center Cologne (publisher): The house prison in the EL-DE House, archived 21 June 2017, Link.

The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO):
TNA FO 950/2292 (Cordrey)
TNA FO 950/2023 (Ingrouille)
TNA FO HNP/3608 (Quin)

Wiener Archives, London
11364208 (Breton)
1133826, 11383827, 11936707 (Cordrey)
39507015 – 39507025; 86365404 – 86365414 (Machon)

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