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2 Executions in Plötzensee 1933 - 1945    

From 1890 to 1932, a total of 36 persons convicted of murder are put to death with an executioner’s ax outdoors in the prison courtyard. In contrast, 2,891 persons fall victim to killings at the hands of the judiciary in Plötzensee during the 12 years of National Socialist terror from 1933 to 1945.

Until 1933, only murder and severe felonies involving explosives are punishable by death; by 1938, 25 offenses involve capital punishment. From 1939 on under the wartime special criminal law, the death penalty threatens even those charged with minor offenses.

In the first few years from 1933 to 1936, a total of 45 people are put to death with an executioner’s ax in the prison courtyard in Plötzensee. On October 14, 1936, Adolf Hitler approves Justice Minister Franz Gürtner’s proposal that the guillotine be used for carrying out capital punishment in the future.

A work shed is designated as the site of future executions in Plötzensee in 1937. Under strict secrecy, a guillotine is transported from the Bruchsal prison in Baden to Plötzensee and erected there. Thirty-seven persons are murdered with the new machine during the remainder of 1937; 56 are murdered in 1938, and 95 in 1939.

The condemned prisoners are kept in the large cell block building (House III) directly adjacent to the execution shed. They spend their final hours in shackles in special cells on the ground floor, which the prisoners call the ”house of the dead.” Their final steps take them through a small courtyard to the execution chamber housing the guillotine.

In late 1942, the execution chamber is fitted with a steel beam to which eight iron hooks are fastened. This gallows is then used for hangings. The first to die here are members of the resistance organization known as the Red Orchestra. Later they are followed by resistance fighters involved in the attempted coup of July 20, 1944.

The executioners receive an annual salary of 3,000 Reichsmarks and a special bonus of 60 Reichsmarks for each execution that is later raised to 65 Reichsmarks. The families of the executed prisoners must pay an ”invoice of expenses.” The public prosecutor charges 1.50 Reichsmarks for every day of custody in Plötzensee, 300 Reichsmarks for the execution, and 12 Pfennigs to cover the postage for the ”invoice of expenses.”

The 2,891 people murdered in Plötzensee during the National Socialist regime include approximately 1,500 convicted by the “People’s Court” and about 1,000 convicted by the Special Courts. The other 400 victims are sentenced to death by the Reich Military Court; other military courts; but also the Reich Court, the appellate court, or other state courts.

About half of those executed are Germans, most of whom have been sentenced to death for acts of resistance against the lawless National Socialist state. However, the victims of the lawless National Socialist judiciary in Plötzensee also include many persons receiving death sentences as overly harsh punishment for minor offenses, especially after 1939.

The judicial system is even more ruthless against foreigners convicted of a crime. Six hundred seventy-seven executed prisoners come from Czechoslovakia alone, which Germany occupied in 1938-39. The “People’s Court” convening in Berlin is generally responsible for the persecution of political resistance in Czechoslovakia, and this court hands down many death sentences.

Two hundred fifty-three death sentences are carried out against Poles, and 245 against French citizens. These people include both members of resistance organizations and people who have been deported to Germany for forced labor. After 1939, Plötzensee is the site where people from all parts of German-occupied territory die.

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