The Jail behind the Main Guard
There have always been guards – and consequently a main guard – in the citadel “Kastellet”, even today only in a much reduced form. The main guard has just not always been where it is today. From the beginning, the main guard was situated in the pavilions flanking the North Gate (the Norgesport), which was only natural, as this gate also was one on of the gates of the city of Copenhagen itself.
The oldest guards plan known is from 1667. At that time there were no less than 8 different guards in the Kastellet with a total of no less than 180 men on guard duty at any time. The main guard at “Norgesport” alone comprised of 1 officer (a captain), 1 sergeant, 1 corporal, 3 gefreiters and 33 privates. They manned 7 posts all 24 hours of the day.
These guards of course should prevent any attack on Copenhagen or the Kastellet, but in those days they were also meant to prevent desertion. The soldiers were professionals, often foreigners with little loyalty towards the king and country they were serving, and the soldier’s life was very harsh. Quite a lot found som comfort in the cheap “snaps”, and it often occurred during winter that guards fell asleep and froze to death. One night in 1670 no less than 4 soldiers were found dead – all probably intoxicated.
The Main Guard from 1874 in Kastellet
In 1856 the time of the city fortresses was over, and the removal of the city walls began. This meant, that a lot of military guards could be saved, and even the Main Guard on “Kongens Nytorv”, which had been there since 1680.
However it was felt that a Main Guard was still needed somewhere, and a new one was erected in “Kastellet” right inside the main gate. It was taken in use on 28. March 1874. The fence around it actually was taken here from the old Main Guard, as was the clock above the main gate,”Kongeporten”. The guards force on the first day consisted of 1 officer, 7 NCOs, 4 corporals, 1 horn blower and 66 privates. Today it is a little smaller, since 1974 the guard has consisted of 1 sergeant and 8 privates of the Royal Life Guard, so it is a bit smaller today.
The Main Guard a hot summerday in 1908. The band is playing.
Right from the beginning the Main Guard has had a jail as part of the building. In the start it held only 16 cells, but this proved to be too little, so it quickly became necessary to enlarge it to 32 cells in two storeys.
The jail behind the Main Guard.
This jail was in function right up to 1972. It was up to then habit, that any officer in all of Denmark, who got a sentence should serve his time here, in order that he should not be guarded by his own subordinates.
During the German occupation, the Germans used these cells right from the first day – but as their need was a little bigger, the 32 cells generally housed more than 40 prisoners at any time. Not only German soldiers were put here, also Danes, who could not be housed in Vestre Prison were jailed here, but they were kept isolated from the German prisoners.
As the war ended, roles were switched. The Main Guard once again became a State Prison, as the highest German war criminals were gathered here. First of all Dr. Werner Best, the highest civilian leader of the “Reich” in Denmark – in reality he was the German governor of Denmark. He received a death sentence, but became pardoned and expelled from Denmark. In several books after the war he has tried to figure himself as a moderating figure who tried to awoid Hitlers terror, and he also claimed that HE was the man behind those warnings that made it possible to evacuate most Danish Jews to Sweden in 1943, just before the German prosecution began. Less than 500 Jews were caught and sent to concentration camps.
Very few historians buy this view, but it is a reality that his actions in Denmark were more civilized than his feats in France before he came here. In France he was sentenced to death in absentia after the war for war crimes. He avoided being handed over to France, and died of old age in Germany.
Other Nazi leaders in ”Kastellet” during this after-war period were:
Günther Pancke, general of the German police
Otto Bovensiepen, colonel of the German police
Karl Heinz Hoffmann, head of GESTAPO, the German secret police
Ernst Wäsche, high ranking GESTAPO-officer.
All were sentenced to death, but all also pardoned and expelled from Denmark.
Also some Danish traitors in German service, especially members of the so called “Peter Group”, a Nazi terror group committing murders and terroristic bombings in Denmark were held here. Among others they were:
Henning Emil Brøndum,
Kai Henning Bothildsen Nielsen og
All were sentenced to death, and all were executed by shooting.
A side effect of this, having nazi bosses and traitors in the Main Guard was that the Danish army had to resort to take the old state prison behind the church into use again as a Danish military prison. Obviously it was taken for more fitting putting Danish soldiers into these century old cells rather than having to serve a sentence together with Nazis and traitors.
Today the Main Guard is an office building, and all the cells are only storage rooms – and one is the office for ”Kastellets Venner & Historisk Samling” – but now with a key on the inside of the door.
Foto taken 1945 of the jail.
The cell housing Best was behind the window behind the tree.
The cells housing the Nazis in 1945