The Battle of Berlin is Over
May 3rd, 1945. The Battle of Berlin is nearly finished. Hitler is dead, and German forces have surrendered unconditionally. There is sporadic fighting as Soviet forces crush pockets of fanatical SS resistance, but an eerie quiet has settled on the city after months of near-constant battle.
Berlin Occupation Group 4, of the Soviet Military Administration in Germany, moves into the large complex of the German Health Ministry on Prenzlauer Allee 65. They’re part of the vast Soviet administrative apparatus that is tasked with running the occupied German capital.
The large complex they moved into was built as a hospital in 1889 before being converted into the health ministry in 1934. In May 1945, the buildings have been damaged by the invasion, but not destroyed. Crucially, the basement of House 3 is large, spacious, and relatively in tact. Berlin Occupation Group 4 settles in to Houses 3, 7, 8 and 9.
House 3 Becomes A Soviet Torture Facility
Within a few days, the basement of House 3 has been converted into a detention center. A guard tower is built. The basement windows are bricked over, sealed from the inside. Over the next weeks and months, observant passersby might have seen men, women, and teenagers being escorted down the stairs and into the darkened chambers. Some of them won’t be seen again for weeks, months, even years. Others will never be seen again.
If the passerby was smart, he or she would have kept their mouth shut. By then, everyone knew that the Soviets were in charge of this section of the city, and that the wrong word could be a straight ticket into one of these secret basement prisons.
House 3 remained a Soviet detention center for the next 5 years. Torture and other forms of physical abuse and deprivation were standard operating procedure.
The Stasi Move Into House 3
In 1950, after the establishment of East Germany as a communist puppet-state, the Soviets transferred ownership of the building to the East German security apparatus, the Staatssicherheit (Stasi).
The Stasi continued using the basement chambers as a detention and interrogation center. In this period, outright physical abuse began to be replaced by hallmarks of East German interrogation, like long periods of isolation intended to psychologically destroy the detainees.
In 1956, the underground cells were decommissioned, and for the next three decades the building was used as a Stasi administrative center.
From 1985 until 1990, the building was used as a – no joke – daycare facility and a service building for the local district of Pankow. After the wall fell, and Germany was reunified, House 3 transitioned fully into a local government administrative center. It remains one today.
House 3 has a bad history, but it wasn’t unique – not by a long shot. After the war ended, the Soviets created literally dozens of such facilities. In 2016, more than sixty are known to have existed. And that's just in Berlin.
Think of all the other villages, towns, and cities that found themselves under Soviet occupation in the 1940s. This is a dark chapter in Berlin's history, but it's a chapter that the city shares with many others.