Sonder- und Ehrenhaft

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In Nazi Germany, Sonder- und Ehrenhaft ("special or honorable detention") was an administrative status assigned to certain particularly prominent political prisoners, notably political leaders of Nazi-occupied countries and disgraced members of the German elite. Because of their political value or former status, they were treated uncommonly well, and all but a few of them survived the war.[1]


The Nazi regime classified its political prisoners into numerous categories, including

  • Erziehungshäftlinge, "educational detainees";
  • Vorbeugehäftlinge, "preventative detainees";
  • Protektoratshäftlinge, "protectorate detainees"; as well as
  • Sonderhäftlinge and Ehrenhäftlinge, "special detainees" and "detainees of honor".[1]

The latter category also included the "personal prisoners of the Führer" – opponents of the regime too prominent to be killed outright, as well as people like Hitler's failed assassin Georg Elser, who was initially kept alive with the intention of putting him on a show trial after the war.[1]


The SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt, led by Heinrich Himmler, was responsible for the detention of the Sonder- und Ehrenhäftlinge. It built special detention centers for these prisoners in or near several concentration camps. Most of these facilities were much more comfortable than the camps' normal prisoner barracks.[1]

As the war wore on, the SS increasingly requisitioned a great number of hotels, castles, palaces and mansions and repurposed them as detention centers. These included:[1]

Several other detention centers for high-level prisoners were planned. Albert Speer was charged to rebuild the Schwarzburg castle in the Schwarzatal, Thuringia, for this purpose, but the project was eventually abandoned. Inspired by the American prison of Alcatraz, SS officers searched the Baltic Sea coast for a suitable location of an island prison. In 1942, the SS decided to use the Pakri Islands near Baltischport (now Paldiski in Estonia) for this purpose, but the German defeat at Stalingrad put this position at risk and the project was also abandoned.[1]


The conditions under which the Sonder- und Ehrenhäftlinge were detained ranged from comfortable to luxurious, depending on their status. The prisoners did not have to work, were allowed to wear civilian clothing and ate the same food as their guards. After the war, Ernst Kaltenbrunner testified at the Nuremberg Trials that the prominent prisoners at places like Hotel Ifen or Bad Godesberg received "a triple diplomat's ration, that is to say, nine times the ration of a normal German during the war, as well as a bottle of Sekt each day."[1]

Many detainees were allowed to receive visits by their family or to have their spouses live with them, and some of the highest-ranking prisoners, such as King Leopold III of Belgium, were allowed a small retinue of servants and followers. However, the prisoners normally had to pay for the cost of their detention. Kurt Schuschnigg, for instance, whose assets the Nazis had confiscated, was billed even for the cost of his relocation to Sachsenhausen.[1]

List of Sonder- und Ehrenhäftlinge[edit]

The following is an incomplete list of notable Sonder- und Ehrenhäftlinge. Unless noted, the people listed here survived their detention.[1]


The detention of the Sonder- und Ehrenhäftlinge is covered in a 2010 monograph by German historian Volker Koop:

  • Koop, Volker (2010). In Hitlers Hand: "Sonder- und Ehrenhäftlinge" der SS. Böhlau-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-412-20580-5.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Iken, Katja (17 March 2011). "High Society im Goldenen Käfig: "Sonder- und Ehrenhaft" im "Dritten Reich"". Spiegel Online. Retrieved 20 March 2011.
  2. ^ Karel C. Berkhoff, Marco Carynnyk (1999). The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and Its Attitude toward Germans and Jews. Harvard Ukrainian Studies. p. 150.

See Also[edit]