Stiftung Brandenburgische Gedenkstätten Gedenk- und Begegnungsstätte Leistikowstraße Potsdam

Tour of the permanent exhibition

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1 History of the site

The residence and parsonage built by the Evangelisch-Kirchliche-Hilfsverein (Evangelical Church Relief Association) in 1916 also served as the head office of the Evangelische Frauenhilfe (Evangelical Women's Relief) for nearly three decades. In August 1945, Soviet military counterintelligence requisitioned the building, which was used as its central remand prison until 1991. Not until the withdrawal of the Russian armed forces from Germany in 1994 did the site's history of repression become public knowledge.

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2 Interrogation room

This room was once a children's room of the parsonage. The secret service converted it into an interrogation room after 1945. It was furnished with a table behind which the interrogator sat with an interpreter. The suspect had to sit opposite him, some distance away. The stools were screwed to the floor. The black-tiled stove was walled up, like the other stoves in the building. This was done to prevent any prisoners from hiding things in them or communicating with prisoners in other cells through the pipes and flues.

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3 Soviet secret services in the Soviet zone of occupation

Four separate Soviet intelligence agencies came to Germany with the Red Army in 1945. On the basis of Order No. 00315, they arrested Germans and Soviet citizens for a variety of reasons that were usually related to denazification or strengthening their control of the country. Until the end of 1946, they were coordinated by the intelligence apparatus of the People's Commissariat (NKVD), renamed the Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD). The military counterintelligence service assisted the NKVD with these repressive measures. It too ran prisons.

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4 The Soviet secret service base "Military Town No. 7"

For more than forty years, an upmarket suburb of Potsdam contained one of the Soviet secret service's most important bases at the interface with Western Europe: The German headquarters of military counterintelligence, known as "Military Town No. 7". It was especially heavily secured in comparison with other Soviet military installations, and contained offices, flats and dedicated infrastructure, making it almost self-sufficient. The restricted area was one of the last Russian bases in Germany to be closed, on 15th August 1994.

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5 Soviet military counterintelligence

The Soviet military counterintelligence service was responsible for thwarting efforts directed by Western intelligence services against units of the Soviet Army that were stationed in the Soviet-occupied zone and subsequently in the GDR, as well as the political surveillance of army personnel. Its mission was to safeguard the combat readiness of Soviet troops both against internal opposition and external forces. For this purpose, it monitored all army installations, soldiers and officers, as well their families, civilian employees and any Germans who had contact with the military.

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6 Bathroom

Originally belonging to the parsonage, the bathroom was left as such by the prison administration after 1945. Still visible, scratched into the wall tiles, is the first line of a Christian supplication, indicating that the bathroom, which was situated in the so-called "interrogation wing", was also used by inmates, or may have served as a cell at times.

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7 The secret investigation work of military counterintelligence

The building next to the prison accommodated the investigation department. It conducted all interrogations, witness interviews and identity parades on behalf of the military prosecutor's office, with the aim of gathering conclusive evidence. This material included forced confessions, extracted with the aid of physical and psychological abuse. The investigation department worked mainly with the counterintelligence divisions assigned to the troops and, after 1950, with the Ministry of State Security (MfS) of the GDR. Both security services relied on a dense network of informants.

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8 Defector: Rafail Goldfarb

In 1949, Rafail Goldfarb, an interpreter for Soviet military counterintelligence, defected to the American military intelligence service, CIC. In order to show his trustworthiness, he readily provided information about his three years of working in the investigation department. Accounts given from the perspective of an employee of the Soviet secret service are a rarity. Goldfarb's statements give insights into the hierarchy, operation and methods of the secret service.

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9 Conviction, punishment and release

Confessions, often obtained by force, formed the most important basis for convicting prisoners who came before the Soviet Military Tribunals (SMT). For the most part, the tribunals convicted the defendants of "counter-revolutionary crimes" under Article 58 of the Russian criminal code. Apart from prison sentences of up to 25 years, the SMTs handed down countless death sentences from 1945 to 1947 and from 1950 to 1953.

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10 Prisoners 1945–1947

In connection with denazification measures in Germany during the first years after the war, the counterintelligence service arrested former Wehrmacht (German army) personnel and National Socialist party officials as well as individuals suspected of war crimes or crimes against humanity. The need to ensure security and a heightened fear of guerrilla attacks played a role in the arrest of youths who allegedly belonged to Nazi "Werwolf" groups. Actual or supposed agents of Western intelligence services were also arrested. Similarly, the secret service interned a wide variety of people as "traitors to the fatherland", including former forced labourers and prisoners of war, members of the so-called Russian Liberation Army (Vlasov army), and émigrés who had fled from Russia after the October Revolution and had lived in Germany since the 1920s.

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11 Prisoners 1948–1955

During the Cold War, counterintelligence work concentrated increasingly on making arrests on charges of espionage. This covered both real and alleged spying for Western intelligence services as well as being in contact with the Kampfgruppe gegen Unmenschlichkeit (Combat Group Against Inhumanity), the eastern branch offices of West German political parties, or Western media. In many cases, uninvolved friends and relatives of suspects were also arrested and convicted, even entire groups of people. Soviet military personnel were arrested mainly on grounds of "betraying the fatherland", attempted desertion, or criminal offences.

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12 Prison register and memoirs

The number of people who were confined in the prison at Leistikowstraße remains unknown. An electronic prison register has now been created, which lists all of the prisoners currently known by name, with further information about their sentence and convictions as well as a photo. In addition, visitors can read brief memoirs written by survivors.

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13 Prisoners 1955–1991

With the conclusion of the State Treaty between the Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic (GDR) on 20th September 1955, the provisions of occupation law changed. After that, military counterintelligence arrested only military personnel and civilian employees of the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany. The Soviet soldiers stationed in the barracks suffered from abuses of authority, violent treatment and many different privations. These conditions spawned a high rate of criminal and disciplinary offences such as theft, assault, damage to property, homicide and going absent without leave, as well as attempting to desert to the West.

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14 Communal cell

After 1945, the dining room was converted into a communal cell. Such cells might contain fifteen to twenty people at times. During the 1950s, Soviet prisoners scratched countless inscriptions in the tiles of the bricked-up stove, many of which are still legible. These include greetings, the names of the places where they lived or were born and, to a lesser extent, personal details.

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15 Single cell

Until 1945, the upper floor of the building was the living quarters of the parson in charge of the Evangelical Women's Relief Society. The military counterintelligence service had the French window in the hallway walled up and the stairs to the attic taken out. This created a space that could be used as a single cell. Another single cell was created in what had been the guest toilet.

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16 Prisoners' showers

The kitchen of the former parsonage initially continued in use after 1945 as a kitchen for the prisoners' meals. In the 1970s, the walls were tiled and showers were installed. Soldiers took the prisoners to shower and could monitor them from the anteroom.

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17 Attic

The building originally had a spacious attic, which contained a flat and a space for drying laundry. After 1945, the prison administration installed a sick bay there. Only a few former prisoners recall receiving medical treatment, which was rather inadequate. The attic fell into disrepair, so in 1974 it was demolished and replaced with a flat roof.

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18 Arrest and arrival

The arrested men and women were taken to the Leistikowstraße prison in covered trucks or a blue bus with bars and curtains covering the windows. Many of them did not know where they were. When they were admitted, intelligence officers recorded their personal details, took their fingerprints and photographed them for identification. The new detainees were frisked and subjected to body searches. Some of them were humiliated and beaten by prison personnel during the admission procedure. Guards took the prisoners to the cells either individually or in groups.

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19 Accommodation and fellow prisoners

Men and women were locked up separately, in single or communal cells. There they encountered people of all ages, social backgrounds and nationalities. Hunger and overcrowding often inflamed tensions between inmates. Although they experienced competition and conflict with each other, there was also solidarity and camaraderie. Each cell had a metal-clad door with a peephole and a food slot. In the early years, the prisoners had to sleep on wooden platforms. In the late 1950s, these were replaced with bunk beds, and later still with simple bedsteads.

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20 Daily routine and self-assertion

The prisoners had to follow a monotonous daily routine, which was varied only by the arrival of food and – usually at night – interrogations. Their complete ignorance of the place where they were confined, their isolation from the outside world, and the lack of contact with their relatives made the psychological burden even greater. Despite the risk of punishment, some prisoners would try to contact those in neighbouring cells by knocking on the walls, just to alleviate the loneliness. In the collective cells, the prisoners were allowed to talk to each other, but they always had to be cautious, because informers might have been placed among them.

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21 Guardroom

This room formerly belonged to the office for processing orders, dispatching and billing publications from the Evangelical Women's Relief Society. When the building was converted into a prison, the room was divided into a detention cell and a guardroom. In the 1970s, all of the cell doors were fitted with an electrical alarm system, whose control terminal was located in the guardroom. The vestibule of the guardroom was altered in the mid-1950s to provide controlled access to and from the courtyard containing the exercise cells.

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22 Peephole

At times, the prison staff might put as many as 15-20 people in a collective cell of the type found on the ground and first floors. A peepholes in the door enabled them to keep the inmates under constant observation. Larger cells had additional peepholes in the walls to make sure that the warders could see the whole of the interior.

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23 Supplies and hygiene

The prisoners suffered from an unbalanced, inadequate diet and were susceptible to life-threatening illnesses. This state of affairs was aggravated by extremely unhygienic conditions. Toilet paper, soap, towels and face flannels were seldom to be found in the early years, as were toothbrushes, combs and women's sanitary products. Eczema and scabies were not uncommon and were usually left untreated. In the 1960s, sanitary facilities were installed, which improved the situation.

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24 Prison staff

The inmates came in contact with the warders when food was brought, when the latrine bucket had to be emptied, or when they were taken for interrogation. The warders gave orders in Russian. Guards on duty in the corridors kept the prisoners under observation through peepholes in the cell doors. Any prisoner who fell asleep in the daytime or communicated with others by knocking on the wall ran the risk of solitary confinement or other punishments. Some of the soldiers allowed the prisoners some leeway and occasionally gave them cigarettes or a piece of bread.

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25 Interrogations and trial

In pre-trial detention, the internees were interrogated by members of the intelligence service. Threats and beatings often accompanied such interrogations. The interrogators could also order them to be deprived of sleep and food, or to be kept in solitary confinement or darkness. The prisoners were also made to sign the records of their interrogations. These were considered the most significant proof of guilt for obtaining a conviction before a Soviet military tribunal (SMT). Neither defence representatives nor witnesses were permitted to attend. The sentence was usually either a long prison term or execution. Some prisoners received judgements that had been reached in their absence, far away in Moscow.

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26 Punishment cell

This room was originally a toilet for the staff of the Evangelical Women's Relief Society. After 1945, the counterintelligence service converted it into a punishment cell. In the late 1970s, the walls were covered with roughcast plaster. This deterred prisoners from leaning against the wall to rest and prevented them carving messages into the surface. It was equally impossible to send signals by knocking on it.

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27 Wash room

In this room, members of the Evangelical Women's Relief got the society's publications ready for sending. After 1945, the military counterintelligence service converted it into a guardroom. Here, the prison warders searched newly arrived internees and took away their belts, shoelaces and any personal belongings. At a later date, the room was fitted with toilets and basins for the prisoners. The surviving sanitary facilities date from the 1970s and were standard for Soviet barracks in the GDR at the time.

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28 Prisoners' shower room

The pantry was converted into a shower room in 1945. Former inmates have different memories of how often they were allowed to take a shower, if at all. The basement was no longer used for confining prisoners after the late 1950s. The prisoners' shower room, however, remained in use until 1991. The cell opposite presumably served as a changing room. Unlike other rooms in the basement, it contains graffiti from the 1980s.

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29 Detention cells

The basement of the parsonage had also contained a flat for the janitor. His kitchen-living room, which had a parquet floor, was turned into several detention cells as a result of radical structural alterations in 1945. The prisoners had to sleep on wooden plank beds. Only a few of them had thin mattresses or straw sacks. Very little daylight filtered into the cells through barred windows fitted with wooden screens. A light bulb shone day and night. The prisoners had only a bucket in which to relieve themselves.

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30 Prisoners' graffiti

The basement was used for confining prisoners from 1945 until the end of the 1950s. Over 1,400 specimens of graffiti/inscriptions by prisoners have survived from this period; more than half of the texts are in Russian. To scratch them into the surfaces, the prisoners used their fingernails or makeshift tools such as splinters of wood, metal nails, or pieces of cutlery. Their few words are rare testimonies of their state of mind, the need to do something and the urge to communicate. In the hope that other inmates would read and share the information, they gave their names, place of residence, age, trial date and sentence, in addition to graphical representations.

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31 Standing cell

Solitary confinement was a common means of punishing inmates or increasing the pressure to confess during interrogations. The prisoners in this cell were forced to stay standing for hours on end without a break. It did not receive any fresh air. Many of them began to fear that they would suffocate; others collapsed after only a few hours. The warders poured buckets of water over those who fainted until they regained consciousness. Since no latrine bucket was provided, the prisoners had to relieve themselves on the floor of the cell.

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