Along with fiscal resources, each nation in charge was responsible to provide its own medical staff, support personnel and even a chef.
Enforcement of the rules differed depending on who was in charge. While the allies were noted for their humane treatment, prisoners feared Soviet command as the reds were much stricter in their enforcement of regulations.
During the American, French, and British months, prisoners were fed better than regulations called for. The Soviets however were harsh and offered an unchanging diet of coffee, bread, soup, and potatoes.
This odd administrative cycle was standard operating procedure for four decades.
Regardless of who was in power, compared with other prisons Spandau was strict. Outgoing letters were limited to one page every month, talking was prohibited, newspapers were banned and diaries and memoirs forbidden. Family contact was limited to one 15 minute every two months and lights were flashed into cells every fifteen minutes for suicide watch.
From day one the prison was controversial. West Berlin was required to finance Spandau while suffering a lack of space in their own prison system.
The wisdom of housing only seven people in such a large space only grew over time as prisoners were released.
Over time various proposals were made to remedy the seven inmate issue ranging from moving them to an appropriately sized wing of another larger, occupied prison, to outright release. House arrest was also considered. Each time the ideas were met with fierce Soviet resistance.
With four Nazi’s having been released in the 1950’s, acrimony reached its peak after the parole of Albert Speer and Baldur von Schirach in 1966. That left only one inmate, Rudolf Hess, remaining in the under-utilized prison.
Unfortunately for anyone wishing to argue Hess was a valueless prisoner who should also be released, the reality was Rudolf once served as Deputy Fuehrer under Hitler. Hess had been arrested in 1941 after a solo flight to Scotland in an attempt to negotiate peace with the United Kingdom. He was eventually convicted of crimes against peace and handed a life sentence. He was lucky. At the 1946 Nuremberg trials ten of his goose stepping cohorts were handed death sentences for war crimes and atrocities committed under the Nazi regime. Luftwaffe head Hermann Goring was also sentenced to hang for his crimes but cheated the noose just hours before when he swallowed a hidden cyanide capsule and died in his cell.
Hess was also unique among the prisoners in that he refused all visitors for more than twenty years. He finally consented to see his long-since adult son and wife in 1969 after suffering a medical ailment that required his treatment at an outside hospital.
In the early 1970’s prison directors began to ease some of the regulations for Hess. Perhaps due to his advancing age, he was moved to the more spacious former prison chapel giving him a water heater. He was also allowed to freely access the prison's bathing facilities and library.
Allied directors continuously questioned the wisdom of using a massive prison to house just one person. Unfortunately, it all fell on deaf ears and any attempts at reform were vetoed by the Soviets. Having suffered more than 19 million civilian deaths during WWII, the Soviets felt harsher punishment was justified and their western counterparts weren’t serious about denazification.
To illustrate their point, the Soviets used Werl Prison which housed hundreds of former officers and other lower-ranking Nazis who were under a comparatively lax regime. To counter, the western powers routine accused the Russians of keeping Spandau in operation chiefly as a center for espionage operations.
By the time Hess died, the Cold War was coming to an end. Within two years the Berlin wall would come down, the Soviet block would crumble and, on October 3, 1990, East Germany ceased to exist.
Like East Germany, Spandau prison is now a distant memory. The entire site was bulldozed shortly after Hess died.
So how many living Nazi’s are wanted by authorities? The Simon Wiesenthal Center compiled a top ten list as recently as April 2015 and the total numbers are shocking. According to chief Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff, “There are at least hundreds if not thousands of them out there. The question is what are the chances of bringing them to justice?”
Perhaps a better question might be with an average age of at least ninety, would it be worthwhile to try them and then imprison them at all?
THE LAST CONVICT
Spandau Prison August 17, 1987. His hanging made world headlines. When he committed suicide at age 93, he was the only inmate in the century old brick fortress that once housed 600 men. He’d been there more than twenty one years. Combining other prisons stretches it was his 46th consecutive year in custody.
With heavily armed guards staffing towers, along with cellblock monitoring stations even during the sole occupants hospital stays, critics had long designated Spandau as the most expensive and best watched single-occupancy dungeon in the world.
So who was inmate number one and why were so many resources expended for a single man?
To answer the question it’s important to understand the management of the institution that housed him and the court that sent him there.
Located in (West) Berlin Germany, Spandau Prison was a spoil of WWII. Designated in 1947 for high ranking Nazi’s, Spandau was originally envisioned to hold hundreds of war criminals. Instead, it never exceeded seven.
Because allied powers shared control over occupied Europe, Spandau was administered by four very different countries. Consequently, every month of every year prison administration and a 100 man guard detail would change from the United States to the French, British and Soviet Union.