Disappearing in the East German Stasi [Secret Police] Slammer

November 3, 2009 Updated: November 3, 2009

The hallway outside the prison cells in the Berlin-Hohenscoenhausen's prison was called 'submarine,' because the cells had no windows. (Courtesy of the Hohenschoenhausen memorial place)
The hallway outside the prison cells in the Berlin-Hohenscoenhausen's prison was called 'submarine,' because the cells had no windows. (Courtesy of the Hohenschoenhausen memorial place)
Recalling the Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen prison, in the former East German Republic, brings back traumatic memories to those who were imprisoned in that building by the Soviet occupiers since the end of 1946. This building was the special prison camp Number 3 during the Nazi regime, used as the central German detention center. Prisoners were forced to build in the basement, what formerly had been the canteen kitchen, a wing with windowless bunker like cells, called the "submarine."

The damp and cold cells held a wooden platform and a bucket that was used as a toilet. An electric bulb, without any cover, was on twenty-four hours a day. The interrogations were conducted only at night and the prisoners were subjected to threats and torture. Former prisoners reported later that they were forced to confess through water cell tortures.

It is believed that prisoners, besides those that were considered suspects under Nazi rule, were political opponents, including the representative of democratic parties, such as the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), Liberal Democratic Party of Germany (LPD) and Christian Democratic Union (CDU), as well communists and Soviet officers, who were thought not to be true to the party. Soviet military tribunals sentenced most of them to long-term forced labor. Many of those, who petitioned for rehabilitation after 1989, Russian military prosecutors declared innocent.

After 1950, the Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen detention center belonged to the former East German Secret Police Ministry (MfS or Stasi). The Ministry saw itself as the "Shield and Sword" of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). They were assigned to stop any opposition against the One-Party regime.

The Stasi held power that was only possible in a totalitarian state. It could open at any time preliminary proceedings and arrest anyone at will. It was granted at the same time the authority generally granted to police and the prosecutors. The centrally controlled East German (DDR) justice system generally executed as directed by the MfS. The Stasi was not subjected to parliamentary control and it was out of the question to initiate redress of Stasi directives at the administrative court level.

Carl-Wolfgang Holzapfel was one of the traumatized communist regime prisoners, who last Thursday attempted to re-enact life in one of the isolation prison cells for an entire week, all by himself, wearing prison clothes. The entire week could be watched through Webcast online at www.stasi-live-haft.de.

With this action he wanted to show the world the injustice that he and many others suffered under the DDR regime. He capitulated on Saturday. He could no longer bear the psychological burden in reliving what he once had to suffer.

According to the Hohenschoenhausen memorial, there were between 200,000 and 250,000 political prisoners since 1949 at that prison. Beginning in 1960 West Germany paid US$2.5 billion to buy the way out to the West for about 35,000 prisoners. Since the end of the war, almost four million people escaped from East Germany to find freedom in the West.

Bunker like cells in the so-called submarine prison wards. (Courtesy of the Hohenschoenhausen memorial place)
Bunker like cells in the so-called submarine prison wards. (Courtesy of the Hohenschoenhausen memorial place)
Prison cell in the new Hohenschoenhausen prison building. (Courtesy of the Hohenschoenhausen memorial place)
Prison cell in the new Hohenschoenhausen prison building. (Courtesy of the Hohenschoenhausen memorial place)