Spandau prison, history and modernity

More than 30 years have passed since the Spandau Prison in West Berlin ceased operations in 1987. A direct participant in those distant events, the former Soviet warder of Spandau prison shares his memories.

The Seven Prisoners of Spandau

According to the verdict of the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal, seven former leaders of the Third Reich served their sentences in this prison, sentenced to various terms of imprisonment:

– Prisoner No. 1 ( Baldur von Schirach )

– former head of the fascist youth movement “Hitler Youth” and Gauleiter of Vienna; sentenced to 20 years in prison, released from prison at the end of his term on 1 October 1966.

– Prisoner No. 2 ( Karl Doenitz )

– former commander of the submarine fleet, commander-in-chief of the German Navy, Hitler’s successor since May 1, 1945; sentenced to 10 years in prison, released from Spandau after the end of his sentence on October 1, 1956.

– Prisoner No. 3 ( Konstantin von Neurath )

– former German Foreign Minister, Imperial Protector of Bohemia and Moravia; sentenced to 15 years in prison, released on health grounds in 1954.

– Prisoner No. 4 ( Erich Raeder )

– former Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy, Admiral-Inspector of the Navy; sentenced to life imprisonment, released from prison on health grounds in 1955.

– Prisoner No. 5 ( Albert Speer )

– former personal architect of Hitler, Minister of Armaments and War Industry of Germany; sentenced to 20 years in prison, released from Spandau after expiration of his sentence on October 1, 1966.

– Prisoner No. 6 ( Walter Funk )

– former adviser to Hitler on economic issues, Minister of Economics, Commissioner General for War Economics of Germany; sentenced to life imprisonment, released on health grounds in 1957.

– Prisoner No. 7 ( Rudolf Hess )

– Hitler’s former deputy for the party; sentenced to life imprisonment, committed suicide in the garden of Spandau Prison on 17 August 1987.

The prisoners were transported to Spandau Prison in July 1947 from Nuremberg by British RAF aircraft. The convicts were transported from the airfield to the prison by bus, accompanied by military guards. In Spandau, the prisoners received their numbers in the order they got off the bus.

From that day on, the prisoners lost their first and last names. For many years they became just prisoners with a number. Addressing prisoners by name was prohibited in Spandau Prison.


History of Spandau Prison

The prison building, located in the Spandau district of Berlin, was built between 1878 and 1881. Until 1919, the military disciplinary prison of the Brandenburg region was located here. Then repeat offenders were held in Spandau Prison. During World War II, the building was used as a military pre-trial detention center, as well as a transit point for prisoners sent to concentration camps. It held prisoners of war of various nationalities, as well as Wehrmacht soldiers awaiting the verdict of the tribunal. After the verdict was passed, the prisoners of the Spandau prison were sent either to one of the concentration camps or to execution. Some death sentences were carried out directly in prison.

Since July 1947, seven Nazi war criminals sentenced to various terms of imprisonment by the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg served their sentences in the prison. The prison became known as the Spandau Allied Prison.

The four-story prison building was cross-shaped and was designed to hold 600-800 prisoners. Prison had 132 solitary confinement cells, 4 punishment cells, 10 general cells for 40 people each. However, since 1947, only the 1st floor and basement were used. The prison area was surrounded by a stone wall about 6 meters high and a fence made of metal mesh. Along the perimeter of the wall there were 6 watchtowers, on which armed sentries were constantly stationed. The prison had only one entrance gate on the Wilhelmstrasse side.

General view of the Spandau prison.

General view of the Spandau prison. The armed guards were located at seven posts: six sentries on the towers and the seventh post at the entrance gate.


Management of Spandau Prison

The management of the Spandau Allied Prison was carried out by the prison directorate consisting of four directors, one representative from each of the allied powers – winners in World War II: Great Britain, France, the USSR, and the USA. One of the directors served as the presiding director, changing monthly. The prison management made all decisions unanimously.

External security of the Spandau prison was carried out monthly by military guards from Great Britain (January, May, September), France (February, June, October), the USSR (March, July, November), and the USA (April, August, December). The change of the presiding director and the external security guards took place at 12.00 on the first day of each month.

Internal security of the prison was ensured by 24-hour guards from allied countries. After the only prisoner remained in Spandau prison, the number of guards was reduced. Each of the four countries had five overseers, for a total of 20 people from all over the world. Warders worked constantly. The duty schedule was drawn up in such a way that warders from three countries were simultaneously on duty at three internal posts. One of the guards on duty was the senior one (chief).

The office of the senior duty warder in the cell block of Spandau Prison

The office of the senior duty warder in the cell block of Spandau Prison

Each of the four powers appointed a medical officer to oversee the health of prisoners. Doctors periodically examined the prisoners and prescribed the necessary treatment in agreement.

To work inside and outside the Spandau prison, service personnel were hired from among citizens of UN member countries, except for allied countries and Germany. Service personnel, with the exception of the male nurse, were strictly prohibited from contacting prisoners.

The main costs of maintaining the Spandau Allied Prison were borne by the West Berlin Senate. In recent years, the Senate has annually allocated 500-700 thousand West German marks for the maintenance of the prison, staff and prisoners.

Spandau prison on the map of Berlin

The Spandau Allied Prison was located in the British occupation sector of Berlin (Spandau district, West Berlin) at Wilhelmstrasse 23.

In the fall of 1987, the main prison building and the stone wall were completely destroyed. However, the prison’s service buildings behind the wall along Wilhelmstrasse remained untouched. Today they are used as offices of various companies. A large shopping center with a parking lot was built on the site of the prison itself.

The territory of the former Spandau prison on the Google map of modern Berlin

The territory of the former Spandau prison on the Google map of modern Berlin

During the Cold War years, when official relations between the former allies were very tense, the Spandau prison was a unique place in the world where representatives of the four countries continued to work closely together.

By 1987, Spandau prison played a significant role in global international politics and was of great importance to each of the four victorious countries in World War II. Rudolf Hess has matured a daring plan – to get free, using for this purpose the contradictions between former allies, as well as the peculiar system of relationships that has developed between the prisoner and one of the American warders. On August 17, he tried to realize his plan , but “Mr. Case” intervened and, instead of being released, Hess went to another world. However, the suicide note left by him could shed light on many secrets of the Spandau prison, so the note had to be forged .

1. The Soviet presence in the Spandau Allied Prison.

2. When will Great Britain declassify the “Hess Affair”?


Spandau Prison after years

After the death of the last prisoner, the building of the Spandau Allied Prison was destroyed , and in its place a shopping center and a parking lot were built. Today, only centuries-old trees – witnesses of history, some buildings preserved behind the former prison wall, and old photographs on the Internet – remind us of the past. The street and the lamppost that stood at the entrance to the Spandau prison also remained unchanged.

August 1987 Spandau Allied Prison.

1987. View of Spandau Prison


2017 Spandau prison stood here 30 years ago.

2017. View of the territory where the Spandau prison was located, after 30 years


Spandau 2019

2019. A new building was built at the entrance to Spandau Prison. Nothing reminds us of the old days except the old lamppost


For those who are interested in the history of the Spandau prison and the events that took place in it, we recommend reading the book “The Mystery of the Death of Rudolf Hess: The Diary of the Warder of the Spandau Allied Prison.”

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