The Fight in the Prison Car Park: Memorializing Germany’s ‘Double Past’ in Torgau since 1990

  • Andrew H. Beattie


As Germany’s leading newsmagazine Der Spiegel observed in 2004, the Saxon town of Torgau ‘is a place where German history is concentrated’.1 During the Second World War, Torgau became the epicentre of the Wehrmacht’s brutal system of (in)justice. It held two of Nazi Germany’s eight military prisons, at Fort Zinna and Brückenkopf, and, from 1943, the Reich War Court (Reichskriegsgericht), which handed down approximately 1400 death sentences, some 1200 of which were carried out. The entire Wehrmachtjustiz (military judiciary) passed approximately 30,000 death sentences, of which 20,000 were enforced. At least 170 prisoners were executed in Torgau, while thousands suffered there under brutal conditions or were sent to the front in probationary battalions (Bewährungsbataillonen) or convict units (Feldstrafgefangenenabteilungen). Sadly, Germany’s defeat in 1945 did not halt incarceration, death, and suffering in Torgau. Within months, the Soviets were using Fort Zinna and the nearby Seydlitz Barracks as Speziallager (‘special camps’) for internees, ostensibly for de-Nazification, and for German and Soviet citizens convicted by Soviet Military Tribunals (SMTs). Between 1945 and 1948 at least 800 inmates died in Soviet custody. In the German Democratic Republic (GDR), Fort Zinna remained a penitentiary, housing political prisoners, amongst others.2 This manifold legacy of Nazi and communist incarceration exemplifies what is often called Germany’s ‘double past’, even if it encompasses three eras: the Third Reich, the Soviet Occupation Zone (SBZ), and the GDR.


German Democratic Republic Death Sentence Innocent Victim Information Panel Abortive Attempt 
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  1. 40.
    L. Baumann and M. Messerschmidt, ‘Mahnmalprojekt in Torgau. Anmerkungen zu den Beiträgen in den GedenkstättenRundbriefen Nr. 90 und 91’, GedenkstättenRundbrief 92(1999), 21.Google Scholar

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© Andrew H. Beattie 2010

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  • Andrew H. Beattie

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