Waldheim – a town and his slammer

It is the oldest German prison in use, and it is located right in the center of the Saxonian town: the prison of Waldheim. Mockers say: it is its center. The site with its own church and several buildings was once a castle, later an Augustinian monastery and a hunting lodge, and was finally turned by Augustus the Strong into a prison, a poorhouse, and an orphanage.

The site has a size of more than 13.5 acres and its fate has been reflecting German history for more than 300 years. The film illuminates different incidents of different episodes and their impact on the prison and the town. For all those years the prison of Waldheim remained a feared place for criminals and resistance fighters.

Especially during the Nazi era. More than 2000 people were imprisoned in Waldheim, more than half of them for political reasons. For the first time, some families of Waldheim open their photo albums and tell their ancestor’s stories, who stood on both sides during the Third Reich: either prisoners or prison guards. What is more, the so-called “Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Waldheim” was part of the complex, and people whose lives were considered unworthy under the Nazis’ euthanasia program were sent from here to the killing centers. The film sheds light on this dark part of history on the basis of patient records and the life of the director of the institution, Gerhard Wischer, who was executed later.

The Soviet special camps were finally closed in the GDR. Around 3500 alleged war and Nazi criminals had been brought to Waldheim. In disregard of statutory regulations they had been given severe sentences. Later, Waldheim was a prison for members of dissenters in the GDR. Two contemporary witnesses tell about their period of detention in the 1960s.

Finally, Waldheim was a labour pool for a number of companies which produced for the local as well as for the international market, as, for example, for IKEA. The 30- and 45-minute documentaries for the MDR tell about all this and about spectacular attempts to escape after the reunification.