Hitler’s guillotine in Berlin. The Plötzensee prison and the nowadays Gedenkstätte.

Gedenkstätte Plötzensee, November 2012 - Berlin. No © needed. Photo by Joep de Visser
Not far from S-Bahnhof Beuselstraße, you’re surrounded by a big road, a car rental place and the car repair service. You wonder how color- and peaceful the city could have been in the previous centuries – though the history of the nearby Gedenkstätte Plötzensee shows you the contrast.

The Plötzensee prison was found in 1868 and became an execution site in 1890, where 36 people were sent to death before Hitler took power in 1933. From then on, the number of executed increased – 2891 people found death between 1933-1945. Initially, victims were brought till death with an axe. It was Hitler who commanded in 1936 that a guillotine should be used – which was brought over in the deepest secret to Berlin in 1937.

Among the victims were famous resistance members, such as the circle of the Red Orchestra and a number of actors within the 20 July plot to kill Hitler in 1944. Also the foreign resistence circles – such as the 670 executed Czechs – made out a significant number of the victims. A more anonymous group of victims are the farmers who helped forced labourers to go into hiding. Sometimes, an ‘ordinary’ murderer found death here – for example August Eckert, who killed his jewish collegue and her daughter in 1943.

When the nazi’s arrested the members of the Red Orchestra in 1942, the nazi’s erected sinister meat-hooks where the resistance members could be hanged on and suffer more before they died. The most bloody night within the prison was on the seventh and eighth of September 1943 – when 186 prisoners found death. Because the guillotine was destroyed in an air-raid only four days before, these victims were also hanged on the sadist meat-hooks. For being executed – a prisoner had to pay RM300. The executioner was paid RM60-65 for taking a life. Most of the corpses were used for anatomical studies in the Humboldt university.

The meat-hooks. Gedenkstätte Plötzensee, November 2012 - Berlin. No © needed. Photo by Joep de VisserNowadays, you can visit the Gedenkstätte Plötzensee as a memorial site. The Emmy-Zehden-weg and the Hüttigpfad which leads you there, remembers two victims. Emmy Zehden (1900-1944) went into hiding – together with her conscientious objecting husband, who also happened to be jewish. They were caught by the Gestapo in 1942. Richard Zehden died in Auswitz, Emmy was executed for treason – after writing a letter for mercy. Richard Hüttig (1908-1934) was one of Plötzensees first executed by the nazi’s. Hüttig was suspected for shooting an SS-member and, after being tortured, brought to a Sondergerichte – a special court where nazi’s had more power. No evidence was found that Hüttig commited the murder – it was even quite unlikely that Hüttig was guilty, in despite of his execution.

Corner Hüttigpfad/Emmy-Zehden-Weg. November 2012, Berlin.

Where the prison was located for the death sentenced, a commemorative stone remembers the victims of the Hitlerdiktatur – concentrating the guilt on the dictator in stead of the site’s executioners or the willing career making employees at the corrupted jurisdiction. The former execution site is occupied by coronets, honouring the victims. Here, five out of the eight meat hooks are still visible. In the next execution room are fourteen panels, which are also digitally visible, to inform the visitor. The remaining Plötzensee prisons are still in use for youth deliquents – it is next to the Gedenkstätte and, admist the desolated parking lots, easily recognizable by the barbed wire on top of the high walls. After all, this neighbourhood can’t be peace- and colorful.

Gedenkstätte Plötzensee, Hüttigpfad, Bus 123 from U-Turmstraße or S-Beusselstraße – stop ‘Gedenkstätte Plötzensee’. The site is opened from Monday till Sunday from 9:00 till 16:00.

Recommanded books:
Michael Klein, Vera und der Braune Glücksmann. Wie der NS-Staat einen Judenmörder hinrichtete. Ein wahre Geschichte (Leipzig 2006)
Victor von Gostomski & Walter Loch, Der Tod von Plötzensee. Erinnerungen, Ereignisse, Dokumente 1942-1944 (Frankfurt am Main 1993)

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2 thoughts on “Hitler’s guillotine in Berlin. The Plötzensee prison and the nowadays Gedenkstätte.

  1. Helmuth Hubor stayed in that prison in the WW2 until he was executed at 17 years of age. You can find more out on him in the nonfiction ”The Boy Who Dared”.
    Fun Fact- the executors only worked on Tuesdays.

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