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Plötzensee Prison today.
Plötzensee Prison ( ) was a Prussian institution built between 1869 and 1879 near the lake Plötzensee, but in the neighbouring borough of Charlottenburgmarker, on Hüttigpfad off Saatwinkler Damm. During Adolf Hitler's time in power from 1933 to 1945, more than 2,500 people were executed at Plötzensee Prison. Among them were members of the Red Orchestra (Rote Kapelle), members of the Kreisau Circle (those accused of the plot against Hitler's life on 20 July, 1944 at the Wolfsschanzemarker), Czechoslovakianmarker resistance fighters, and various others deemed by the Volksgerichtshof ("People's Court") to be enemies of the state.


Before Hitler's time, during Imperialmarker and Weimar Republicmarker eras (18901932) there were just 36 executions carried out in Plötzensee, all for murder and all by the beheading with an axe. The axe was also used in the Nazi era until 1936 (45 beheadings by axe).

On the nights from 7 to 12 September, 1943, a series of mass executions took place, during which, owing to inevitable mistakes that occurred by the matter being handled not by printed documents but by telephone calls, several inmates whose clemency appeals were still pending were put to death along with the others. The Evangelical chaplain, Harald Poelchau, had this to say about that time:

"As darkness fell on September 7, the mass murders began. The night was cold. Every now and then, the darkness was lit up by exploding bombs. The searchlight beams danced across the sky. The men were assembled in several columns one behind the other. They stood there, at first uncertain about what was going to happen to them. Then they realized. Eight men at a time were called by name and led away. Those remaining hardly moved at all. Only an occasional whisper between my Catholic colleague and myself [...] Once the hangmen interrupted their work because bombs were thundering down nearby. The five rows of eight men already lined up had to be confined to their cells again for a while. Then the murdering continued. All these men were hanged. [...] The executions had to be carried out by candlelight because the electric light had failed. It was only in the early morning at about eight o'clock that the exhausted hangmen paused in their work, only to continue with renewed strength in the evening."

Part of the reason for these mass executions was that a few days earlier, Plötzensee Prison had been heavily damaged in an Allied air raid on Berlin, the guillotine was nearly destroyed, and a few prisoners had actually escaped (but been caught again soon afterwards). The general idea was to carry out death penalties before the condemned could escape.

Plötzensee Memorial Wall
Today a memorial stands at Plötzensee Prison to commemorate those executed by the Nazis. It was dedicated on 14 September, 1952. All that remains now is the execution shed, a small brick building with two rooms, where the victims were either hanged or beheaded. Onto this has been built a memorial wall "To the Victims of Hitler's Dictatorship of the Years 1933–1945" (photo at right).

After World War II and until 1987, Plötzensee Prison was used to house youthful offenders between the ages of 14 and 20. After the youth prison was moved to a newly built facility nearby (Jugendstrafanstalt Berlin on Friedrich-Olbricht-Damm), Plötzensee Prison became a men's prison with capacity for 577 prisoners.

Prominent victims

The death room at Plötzensee - The guillotine can be seen in the foreground, and the gallows in the background.
The death room at Plötzensee as seen today


  1. Plötzensee Prison
  2. Historisches


  • Brigitte Oleschinski: Gedenkstätte Plötzensee. Berlin: Gedenkstätte Dt. Widerstand, 1997 (3. Auflage), ISBN 3926082054

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