In accordance with its scholarly responsibilities, Leistikowstraße Memorial regularly runs projects to research the biographies of former inmates and the history of the place itself. In recent years, it has succeeded in reconstructing several hundred more prisoner biographies and casting light on new aspects of the prison's workings. In undertaking its research, the memorial collaborates with many partner institutions and scholars around the world. Below is an overview of current and completed research projects.
"Victims of Stalinism. Executed Prisoners from the Soviet Remand Prison in Leistikowstraße, Potsdam" (2015–2018)
In 2005, a memorial stone to the victims of political repression was erected in Moscow's Donskoye Cemetery. Leistikowstraße Memorial marked the tenth anniversary of this act with an intensive search for biographical information on any prisoners from the Leistikowstraße prison who had been sentenced to death and shot. The results were presented in a special exhibition produced by Memorial International, Moscow and Facts & Files, Berlin: "'Shot in Moscow ...' – German Victims of Stalinism at the Moscow Donskoye Cemetery 1950–1953". It ran from 21st January to 20th December 2015. It documents the fates of 927 men and women from all over Germany who were condemned to death by Soviet military tribunals and sent to Moscow for execution. About eighty of them had been kept in the Leistikowstraße prison.
Their biographies and the backgrounds to their arrests were researched in detail from verified sources, using the results of our own work and the material obtained by Facts & Files. In addition, the team managed to identify relatives of some of the victims and offer them the opportunity of visiting the actual place where the latter had been imprisoned. Some of them offered personal documents and photos to the memorial, which are thus now available for more detailed research.
The staff of the memorial are currently preparing a brochure about the executed prisoners from Leistikowstraße whose names are known.
In addition to introducing the historical context and the place of imprisonment, the first part of the publication will deal with the fates of the prisoners executed at hitherto unknown locations between 1945 and 1947. The second part will contain the biographies of those executed in Moscow between 1950 and 1953, which can be examined in greater depth owing to the better availability of source material. These painstakingly reconstructed biographies will be accompanied by background information on imprisonment in Leistikowstraße and other penal institutions, as well as portraits of resistance groups and a description of the pardoning and rehabilitation process. Photographs are included with the aim of restoring a personal identity to the victims, who were buried anonymously in mass graves.
The research project is funded with a grant from the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship.
Graffiti by Inmates in the Leistikowstraße Prison (2010–2015)
A thorough scientific study of the graffiti/inscriptions discovered back in 1994 has been on the agenda for many years. In 2010, the memorial was finally able to launch a comprehensive and largely interdisciplinary research project, thanks to funding from the Ostdeutsche Sparkassenstiftung. In the first phase, restorers systematically examined and catalogued the graffiti. They began by making a measured drawing of each specimen, taking special photographs in oblique or diffuse light, and recording its exact position. Altogether, the memorial staff have documented around 1500 items in their database. This is the starting point for the scientific analysis of the finds. They examined the graffiti in terms of the time and context in which they were made, the content, the language, and the tools used.
The bulk of the work, however, involved identifying the likely authors, reconstructing their biographies and the circumstances of their imprisonment, and analysing the motifs. Altogether, the project team managed to identify 49 authors of graffiti/inscriptions by name. They then located and contacted any of the authors who were still alive. They also identified 28 families, some of whom learned about the fate of the missing relative for the first time.
The State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF) in Moscow yielded crucially important source material: appeals for clemency submitted by those who had been condemned to death. In some cases, the team gave a copy to the family as the last sign of life from their relative. The memorial presented the impressive results of its research, embedded in their historical context, to the public on 15th April 2015.
Launched at the event was in a 460-page German-language publication, Sprechende Wände (Speaking Walls), which documents the biographies of 49 authors of graffiti/inscriptions with reference to a broad range of sources. These portraits are rounded off with personal documents and snapshots as well as photographs of the graffiti. Through the fact that additional names were mentioned in some documents, in particular group convictions, the book touches on the fates of 160 prisoners in total. There is also an article discussing the content and background of the Russian-language inscriptions. The book continues to attract a lot of attention and has been highly praised by experts and members of the public alike.
Prison Register of the Soviet Remand Prison in Leistikowstraße, Potsdam 1945–1991 (2012–2014)
In 2012, the memorial began systematically compiling a database of all the inmates of the Soviet remand prison whose names are known today. The ultimate goal was to create a digital prison register. This involved intensive biographical research, preparing the existing information and documents for use, and supplementing them with material obtained through countless enquiries in archives, residents’ registration offices, registry offices and the German Red Cross. In the course of the project, the memorial has hugely increased the number of prisoners known by name, from sixty to over seven hundred biographies so far.
The result is a database that has enhanced the permanent exhibition at the memorial since 2014. The following data are displayed for each prisoner listed: surname, first name, date of birth, place of birth, nationality, last known place of residence, term of confinement in Leistikowstraße, sentence, release from prison or, if a death sentence was pronounced, the date of execution and the date of rehabilitation. If available, the information is supplemented with a contemporary photograph, putting a personal face to many of the over seven hundred names.
The prison register gives visitors an impression of the dimensions and heterogeneous nature of prison society while rescuing the former inmates from oblivion. Last but not least, it also serves the families of the victims as a primary contact for reliable information about their relatives and lends the act of remembrance a more personal character. The database is naturally also an invaluable collection of primary source material for scholars and amateur researchers.