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7 The Bloody Nights of Plötzensee    

During an air raid on Berlin in the night September 3-4, 1943, the blacked out Plötzensee prison is hit several times by Allied bombs and heavily damaged. As during every air raid, the prisoners remain locked in their cells without any defense against direct hits. Part of the large cell block building (House III) is destroyed. Fires break out. Many of the cell doors have been torn open by the force of the explosions, and in the general confusion even four prisoners awaiting execution are able to escape.

In early September of 1943, a total of about 300 prisoners sentenced to death are confined in Plötzensee awaiting the outcome of pending clemency proceedings. On September 3, 1943, immediately before the heavy air raid on Berlin, Hitler issues a complaint to the Reich minister of justice about the long time involved in completing clemency proceedings. The ministry is now intent on speeding up executions in Plötzensee even more. However, the execution shed was also hit in the air raid, and the guillotine has been severely damaged.

On September 6, 1943, the Ministry of Justice finds: ”The roof of the execution chamber was stripped; the tile floor was partially destroyed; and the guillotine was damaged by fire, torn out of its underpinnings, and lay on the floor. The extent to which it remains serviceable must be determined by closer inspection, which has already been delegated to Tegel Prison.” The next day, the ministry contemplates having death sentences carried out at Wehrmacht target ranges by police or Wehrmacht firing squads.

Above all, the completion of clemency proceedings for convicted prisoners is greatly accelerated. The Reich Ministry of Justice receives the names of prisoners sentenced to death by telephone on September 7, 1943. As Justice Minister Otto Thierack is away on official business, his state secretary Curt Rothenberger reviews the cases and rules on the clemency proceedings without waiting for the usual depositions. In nearly every case, Rothenberger orders the sentence to be carried out and has the names forwarded to Plötzensee by telephone.

In Plötzensee, executioner Ernst Reindel and his assistants prepare for the executions. In the evening, a Regional Court director representing the senior Reich prosecutor of the ”People's Court” and a public prosecutor from the public prosecutor's office of the Regional Court, Berlin, arrive as ”enforcement supervisors.” Because the guillotine has been destroyed, the prisoners are hanged on the back wall in groups of eight each. In the night of September 7-8, 1943, alone, 186 people die in this manner.

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