Plötzensee Prison or Justizvollzugsanstalt Plötzensee, is a men’s prison in the Charlottenburg-Nord locality of Berlin with a capacity for 577 prisoners, operated by the State of Berlin judicial administration. The detention centre established in 1868 has a long history; it became notorious during the Nazi era as one of the main sites of capital punishment, where about 3,000 inmates were executed. Famous inmates include East Germany’s last communist leader Egon Krenz .
The prison was founded by resolution of the Prussian government under King William I and built until 1879 on the estates of the Plötzensee manor, named after nearby Plötzensee Lake (Plötze is the local German name of the common roach,
About half of those executed were Germans, most of whom were sentenced to death for acts of resistance against the Nazi regime, among them members of the Red Orchestra, the 20 July plot and the Kreisau Circle. 677 executed prisoners were from Czechoslovakia, among them many members of the Czech resistance to Nazi occupation from 1938-39 onwards. 253 death sentences were carried out against Poles, and 245 against French citizens. These people included both the members of resistance organizations and people who were deported to Germany for forced labour. About 300 were women.
After execution, their bodies were released to Hermann Stieve, an anatomist at the medical college of what is now Humboldt University of Berlin. He and his students or assistants dissected them for research purposes. Stieve was especially interested in the effects of stress on the menstrual cycle, and wrote 230 papers based on this research, among them one that demonstrated that the rhythm method was not an effective method of preventing conception. Hermann Stieve died 5 September 1952 (aged 66)in Berlin, Germany.
After an RAF air raid in the night of 3 September 1943 irreparably damaged the guillotine and destroyed large parts of the prison buildings
, State Secretary Curt Rothenberger in the Reich Ministry of Justice via telephone ordered the immediate execution of the Plötzensee condemned. About 250 people—six of them “erroneously”— waiting in rows of eight were hanged during the so-called Plötzensee Bloody Nights from 7 to 12 September. The last execution was carried out on 20 April 1945. The remaining inmates were liberated by the Red Army in the course of the Battle of Berlin five days later.
Today the execution shed is a memorial site operated by the Memorial to the German Resistance institution to commemorate those executed by the Nazis. Separated from the prison area, it was dedicated by the Senate of Berlin on 14 September 1952 in the remaining two rooms with its drain and the preserved gallows. The guillotine had been dismantled after the war and disappeared in the Soviet occupation zone. Onto the execution room a memorial wall was built “To the Victims of Hitler’s Dictatorship of the Years 1933–1945”.