In 1945 Pentonville Prison became the scene of Britain’s biggest multiple execution
for more than 60 years. The last time five men had gone to the gallows for
a single crime was in 1883, when five Irish nationalists were hanged for Dublin’s Phoenix Park murders of Lord Frederick Cavendish, Ireland’s Chief Secretary, and his Under-Secretary, Thomas Burke.

Sixty-two years later the five men awaiting execution at Pentonville were German prisoners of war, part of a group who had been moved to a POW camp at Comrie, Perthshire, following an unsuccessful escape attempt at a camp in Wiltshire.

They believed that someone in their midst had betrayed them, and their suspicion focused on Wolfgang Rosterg, a 35-year-old sergeant-major. So the other eight men who had been moved from Wiltshire held their own court-martial, and on DECEMBER 23rd, 1944, they found Rosterg guilty while he slept soundly in his bunk, unaware of what was happening.

As soon as their verdict was reached, he was dragged from his bed, kicked, beaten on the head with an iron bar and hauled to the latrines, where a rope was thrown over a beam and he was hanged.

When Rosterg’s body was found, the possibility of suicide was dismissed by the camp’s
doctor when he saw the extent of the dead man’s injuries. An investigation was launched, and the eight men were charged with the sergeant-major’s murder.

At their 11-day court-martial, held at London’s POW “cage” at 6-8 Kensington Palace Gardens, they admitted putting Rosterg on trial, and six of them were convicted of his murder
and sentenced to death. One of them was subsequently spared the gallows, his sentence commuted to life imprisonment.

Then on October 6th, 1945, Kurt Zuehlsdorf, 20, Josef Mertens, 21, Joachim Goltz, 20, Heinz Brueling, 22, and Erich Pallme-Koenig, 21, went to the scaffold. Albert Pierrepoint was the hangman, assisted by Steve Wade and Harry Allen.