Wolfenbüttel Prison

Country Germany
GPS 52° 9' 50.67" N, 10° 32' 30.3756" E
Address Ziegenmarkt 10, 38300 Wolfenbüttel, Germany
Dates Active circa 1790 to current

Channel Islander imprisoned in Wolfenbüttel Prison:

Herbert Gallichan

By Roderick Miller

At least one Channel Islander was imprisoned in Wolfenbüttel Prison (Strafgefängnis Wolfenbüttel, Justizvollzugsanstalt Wolfenbüttel) in the town of Wolfenbüttel, located in the state of Lower Saxony, about seven miles south of the city of Brunswick, Germany. Some of the buildings in the prison were built around 1506 as part of a fortress and used later as an arsenal and coin mint. Its use as a prison dates back at least to 1790, when it was used to incarcerate people serving short sentences. Most of the prison, designed to hold 1,000 prisoners, was built between 1870 and 1884.

The Nazi Reich Ministry of Justice decided in 1937 to make Wolfensbüttel a central location for capital punishment. An already existing building was thus converted to serve as a house of execution, with the addition of a second floor and a clock and bell tower, designed to give a ‘sacred’ aspect to the carrying out of the death penalty. It was one of two main Nazi execution sites in Northern Germany. By 1945, at least 516 people had been executed there by hanging or guillotine. Among the victims were civilian prisoners, members of the Wehrmacht, forced labourers, and prisoners of war from the Netherlands, Russia and Poland.

Jerseyman Herbert Gallichan left Freiburg Prison on a transport bound for Wolfenbüttel Prison on 19 August 1942. He arrived at a prison that was severely overcrowded, at double intended capacity with over 2,000 prisoners, most of whom were forced to perform labour in munitions factories and other types of work directly supporting the Nazi war effort – all of which was in violation of the Geneva Convention. There were an additional 900 prisoners from throughout Nazi-occupied Europe who had been taken prisoner as part of the Nacht und Nebel (NN) program, which was designed to terrorize occupied populations by not informing family members of the whereabouts of their captive relatives. This program was designated a crime against humanity at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials and was one of the prime reasons for the allied execution by hanging of General Wilhelm Keitel.

In September 1944, the German Foreign Service received a letter from the Red Cross in Geneva requesting to know the whereabouts of Herbert Gallichan. In a letter dated 20 September 1944, the German Foreign Service responded that Gallichan was in Wolfenbüttel Prison and that he had the right, as a prisoner, to send and receive letters written in German (a standard Nazi prison requirement, as Nazi censors could rarely read non-German languages) once every four months. Post-war records from the International Tracing Service list Gallichan’s release date from Wolfenbüttel as Selbstentlassung ohne Akte, or ‘self-discharge with no documentation’, indicating that he was most likely freed by allied troops soon after liberation.

The fact that Wolfenbüttel was a central prison for NN prisoners means it had the highest possible levels security. Gallichan was probably not an NN prisoner, else the German Foreign Service would not have acknowledged his whereabouts to the Swiss Red Cross, but it is clear that the Nazis wanted Gallichan, who they considered politically dangerous due to his crime of having disseminated anti-Nazi leaflets, to be incarcerated under high security conditions.

Wolfenbüttel Prison was liberated by soldiers of the US 9th Army on 11 April 1945. The prison administration fled shortly before the arrival of allied troops, leaving the prisoners to fend for themselves. Overcrowding, the lack of medical facilities, and a dysentery epidemic led to a high death rate even after liberation. The German prison doctor, Dr. Walter Kalthöner, described the situation after liberation thus:

The Americans released several hundred prisoners, and the cells of the remaining prisoners were opened so that they could roam freely inside the prison. […] We then tried to improve the sanitary conditions. […] In a room, the condition of which I can’t even describe, about 200 prisoners were accommodated, mostly Italians and Poles. These people were all mortally ill. Then, inasmuch as it made sense, I arranged for the transfer of these sick people to the hospital and I understand that 7 of them came through. The rest died. [1]

Herbert Gallichan was most likely one of the political prisoners set free by the Americans.

After the war, Wolfenbüttel Prison continued in its function as an execution site, albeit for the British military, who by July 1947 had executed 67 convicted Nazi war criminals. In the 1950s, 100 members of the banned German Communist Party and Free German youth were imprisoned there. Today the prison operates in a much smaller capacity as a centre for reintegrating prisoners into society.

In the 1980s, plans were made by the Ministry of Justice to raze some buildings in the prison, including the building where at least 516 people were executed by the Nazis. A public outcry led to its receiving historical status, and the first memorial plaque (see photo) was erected on the building in 1990 — which itself led to criticism that its phrasing used euphemistic terminology and failed to describe the reality of the extent of the injustice committed there. By 1999, there was a permanent memorial exhibition on the site, and since 2005 the memorial has been supported by the Lower Saxony Memorial Foundation (Stiftung niedersächsische Gedenkstätten).

Herbert Gallichan survived the war, but like many prisoners of the Nazis, would likely suffer the rest of his life from physical health problems and post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the conditions of his imprisonment.

[1] Niedersächsisches Landesarchiv in Wolfenbüttel (42 A Neu Fb. 3 Nr. 123), via blog.befreiung.de, translation from the original German text by Roderick Miller


Förderverein der Justizvollzugsanstalt/Gedenkstätte in Wolfenbüttel e.V. (publisher): JVA Wolfenbüttel: Photographische Impressionen hinter Gittern; Printed and bound in the print shop of Wolfenbüttel Prison, Wolfenbüttel 2002. Photographs by Sebastian Ahrens, Manfred Prahl and Heino Volling.

International Tracing Service, Wiener Library, Records of Herbert Gallichan in Wolfenbüttel Prison:

Kramer, Helmut: Plädoyer für ein Forum zur juristischen Zeitgeschichte (in German), WMIT-Dr.- und Verl.-GmbH, Bremen 1998.

Staats, Martina: Das Strafgefängnis Wolfenbüttel wird befreit (in German), Stiftung niedersächsische Gedenkstätten, LINK