Channel Islander imprisoned in Ziegenhain Prison:
By Roderick Miller
Only one Channel Islander, George Nicholls, is known to have been imprisoned in Ziegenhain Prison (Männersicherungsanstalt Ziegenhain, Zuchthaus Ziegenhain, Justizvollzugsanstalt Schwalmstadt-Ziegenhain) in the Ziegenhain district of the city of Schwalmstadt in the German state of Hessen. Ziegenhain was in independent town until being incorporated, along with a number of other towns in the area, into the city of Schwalmstadt in 1970. Ziegenhain Prison is located in the hunting castle whose oldest buildings date back to the 12th century and was later expanded into a fortress and military garrison. The prison opened in 1842, originally as a forced labour workhouse, but was operating as a full-scale prison by 1882 for male offenders.
By the time the Nazis took power in 1933, it was used as Sicherungsverwahrungsanstalt (‘security custodial institution’) for repeat offenders. There was also a smaller section of the prison exclusively for female prisoners. Like most prisons in Nazi Germany the prison was used to incarcerate political prisoners and victims of Nazis racist policies. During the Second War, political prisoners from Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Czechoslovakia, and Poland were imprisoned here and exploited as forced labour in Nazi weapons production.
There was also a smaller section of the prison exclusively for female prisoners. A German woman, convicted in May 1943 to four years’ imprisonment for having a romantic relationship with a Polish forced labourer, died in April 1944 in Ziegenhain Prison – after less than a year there – due to the poor living conditions. A number of female prisoners were transported from Ziegenhain directly to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, and deported from there to Auschwitz.
English farm labourer George Nicholls, a resident of Jersey at the start of the German occupation, arrived at Ziegenhain from Wittlich Prison on 23 September 1944. Judging from the poor conditions cited by survivors of Ziegenhain Prison, it is likely that Nicholls had poor rations, was living in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions, and was forced to sit out allied air raids in his cell with no air raid shelter offered. Prisoners in Ziegenhain were forced to perform labour in Nazi armaments works in the prison, run by the companies Rutsch and Junkers-Flugzeugwerke, building airplane parts for the Luftwaffe. A number of Ziegenhain prisoners were forced to work in highly dangerous conditions for Allendorf explosives manufactures WASAG and DAG. Unfortunately no testimonials from Nicholls have yet been discovered documenting his time spent in Ziegenhain.
A number of smaller towns in the area, later incorporated along with Ziegenhain into the city Schwalmstadt, were heavily bombed by allied forces on 24 March 1945. Much of the area was occupied by US 3rd Army troops by 30 March 1945 and a POW camp in Ziegenhain was liberated by US forces on the same date, but apparently not Ziegenhain Prison, as George Nicholls was transferred from there to Rendsburg Prison a week later on 6 April 1945. It is highly likely that Nicholls was transported out of the area at least a week prior to the arrival of US troops but spent a week or more getting from Ziegenhain to Rendsburg, which is nearly 300 miles away. Transportation conditions in northern Germany in March and April 1945 were likely to have been problematic, to put it mildly.
George Nicholls was liberated from Rendsburg Prison on 10 May 1945 and returned to England. Like many of those imprisoned by the Nazis, he may have suffered from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of his life.
Ziegenhain Prison, now called Justizvollzugsanstalt Schwalmstadt, continues to operate to the current day as a prison. There is no memorial at the site for those who were imprisoned there by the Nazi Regime, a number of whom died in the prison or were sent from there to their deaths in concentration camps.
Böttcher, Mlynek, Röhrbein, Thielen (editors): Hannoversches biographisches Lexicon. Von den Anfängen bis in die Gegenwart. Schlütersche (in German), Hannover, 2002, p. 374.
Justizvollzug Hessen: Justizvollzugsanstalt Schwalmstadt (Ziegenhain), Geschichte. The history of the prison (in German). Link
Topografie des Nationalsozialismus in Hessen: Ziegenhain “Männersicherungsanstalt”, Zuchthaus (in German). Link
Scharf, Eginhard: ‘Die Verfolgung pfälzischer Frauen wegen “verbotenen Umgangs” mit Ausländern’ in Zwangsarbeit in Rheinland-Pfalz. Details of the death of Laura P. in Ziegenhain Prison (in German). Link
Wolf, Lore: Ich habe das Leben lieb : Tagebuchblätter aus dem Zuchthaus Ziegenhain 1943-1945 (in German). Weltkreis Verlag, Dortmund 1983.
Wiener Library, London (International Tracing Service)
Reference numbers 11551291, 44072194, 44072198 (George Nicholls)