Nearly two and a half years was I at Plötzensee under sentence of death; and of that time twenty months were spent in Section Seven, the quarter particularly reserved for the most mature candidates for the Fallbiel. The end of that wing led directly across a yard bordered with grass to a line of sheds, with the water-tower behind them.
The shed on the extreme left was the Chamber of Decapitation, having the number Ten painted upon its black door in large white figures. Why 10? I do not know. But ten it was and that’s all there is to it.
Now, for all that I lived very close to the instrument for a long time – for all that – was I really familiar with it in the intimate manner that I was to be later? The shed marked Ten, its contents, ritual, and the fate of those who had a rendezvous there were all rather an impersonal affair, at any rate in so far as knowing all the details with my own eyes. But hearing much with my ears, naturally my imagination worked; it had to!
The thought and picture of man’s last hours was much in my mind during that time: a sort of mental drill to which the individual expecting execution must subject himself, continually at first and periodically as time moves on. All needful if he desires to die with dignity, composure, and the other essentials of indifference calculated not to detract from his tranquillity. So when the cortège of Death arrived to take away those about me, then I would wait my turn and make myself ready.
It is natural to think the worst part of the drama would be those penultimate attentions – the clamping down of the collar-band immediately preceding the final act – the dropping of the knife. Considering the matter very closely over a period of years, several of which were spent in daily anticipation of my end, I have come to the conclusion that the worst moment is that in which one’s cell door opens, when the key turns, and there they are. That must be the worst moment. And it is for that moment that the candidates wait each evening for months and sometimes years. Seldom are they disappointed; eventually their evening does come; even after a long time, perhaps just when they feel the long wait may signify a reprieve.