The Bloody Nights of Plötzensee

During an air raid on Berlin in the night of September 3, 1943, the fully blacked-out Plötzensee prison was badly bombed. Part of the large cell block (House III) was destroyed and the guillotine in the execution shed was damaged. Hitler had personally reprimanded prisons on September 3, 1943, for not yet enforcing many death sentences. In Plötzensee alone, more than three hundred prisoners were awaiting execution.

Clemency appeals were expedited at a rapid pace. In almost all cases, the undersecretary of state Curt Rothenberger ordered the execution and had the names passed on to Plötzensee by telephone. In the prison, executioner Ernst Reindel and his assistants prepared for the killings, which could only be carried out on the gallows. In the evening, a regional court director arrived to represent the senior Reich prosecutor at the “People’s Court,” along with a public prosecutor from the Berlin Regional Court, to act as “heads of enforcement.” Eight prisoners at a time were hanged from the gallows. On the night of September 7, 1943, alone, 186 people died in this way.

During this night six prisoners were also “accidentally” hanged, even though the enforcement of their death sentences had not been ordered. The Reich Ministry of Justice covered up the incidents and ordered the mass executions to be continued. After a break of only twelve hours, the Plötzensee executioners went on to hang over sixty more victims in the nights that followed up to September 12, 1943. The more than 250 people murdered between September 7 and 12, 1943, included German, French, and above all Czech prisoners.