In December 1934, the newly established “Concentration Camp Inspectorate” assumed control of Columbia-Haus. It received the official designation “Concentration Camp Columbia” (Konzentrationslager Columbia, or KZ Columbia in the widely used shorthand). Theodor Eicke, commander of the Dachau concentration camp and of the SS “Death's Head Units”, and as of the summer of 1934, “Inspector of Concentration Camps”, issued camp regulations that as of the summer of 1934 were implemented in all existing and newly established concentration camps throughout Germany. With an elaborate system of punishments, standardization and rules, the concentration camps were to appear as well-regulated penal institutions. In fact, prisoners were at the mercy of the commander and the arbitrariness of the guards.
As an early part of this new, centralized organizational system, KZ Columbia was the only official SS-run, stand-alone concentration camp within Berlin itself. In this role, it continued to serve a special function as detention facility for prisoners being interrogated at Gestapo headquarters; three times a day, prison transports rolled between KZ Columbia and Prinz-Albrecht-Straße. In total, at least 8000 men were imprisoned in Columbia-Haus, above all political “undesirables”, communists, social democrats, intellectuals, and democrats of various professions. Jewish prisoners faced particular cruelty. In 1935, after the intensified raids in connection with the “Röhm affair” and the longer sentences applied by Section 175 of the Penal Code (“indecency between men”), many homosexuals were interned in Columbia-Haus, at times making up half of the prison's population.
Among the detainees were many prominent public figures of the Weimar Republic, including Social Democrats Ernst Heilmann, Theodor Haubach and Franz Neumann; Communists Erich Honecker, Georg Benjamin and Werner Seelenbinder; Robert M.W. Kempner, who later became chief prosecutor for the United States at the Nuremberg trials; lawyer and defence counsel Hans Litten; rabbi and president of the Reich Representation of German Jews Leo Baeck; and cabaret artist Werner Finck. Prison conditions were brutal, and hygienic conditions, provisions, and medical care disgraceful.
The SS commanders at Columbia-Haus were able to prove themselves in the eyes of the SS, and thus position themselves for further “KZ careers”. Among these was Karl Otto Koch, later commander of the concentration camps at Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, and Lublin-Majdanek. His “service album” contains a wealth of photos showing everyday life and the prisoners of the Columbia camp from the abuser's perspective. In addition, SS guards were trained here for later concentration camp tasks.
In November 1936, the concentration camp at Columbia was closed, and the prisoners brought to the newly built KZ Sachsenhausen in Oranienburg, the German capital's “model camp”, whose plans had been worked out in KZ Columbia, while its buildings had been erected by inmates of the Columbia and Esterwegen camps. According to ideas of SS leader Heinrich Himmler, concentration camp prisoners should no longer be held in dilapidated buildings, but rather in “modern”, planned and expandable complexes. In addition, Columbia-Haus stood in the way of Tempelhof Airport's expansion into a “world airport”. In the spring or summer of 1938, the prison building was demolished. The total number of fatalities in the Gestapo prison and in KZ Columbia is unknown. The perpetrators were never prosecuted. Since 1994, a memorial at the corner of Columbiadamm and Golßener Straße, created by sculptor Georg Seibert, has served to remind passers-by of the prison site and its victims.
St. Endlich, M. Geyler-von Bernus, B. Rossié