COLDITZ: The Untold Story of World War II's Great Escapes

Henry Chancellor, Author . Morrow $27.95 (464p) ISBN 978-0-06-001252-6

British filmmaker Chancellor's nonfiction debut is a comprehensive history of the medieval castle turned into a German WWII prisoner-of-war camp. Besides the expected escape stories, 15 years of research has yielded a well-written narrative that covers the perspective of both prisoners and warders. Everyday features of life included the "ghosts" of Colditz, meaning POWs who hid from the Germans within the castle and took the place of escaping prisoners at roll calls; "goon-baiting," the regular taunting of guards by prisoners; prisoners who could open every door in the prison, and did, in order to make life more palatable; and a surprisingly complex system of coding the POWs developed to use in the letters they sent home. Successful escapes and unsuccessful attempts by a variety of means, including tunnels, impersonation of German guards and vaulting over fences, are described in detail. The unsuccessful are often more compelling than the successful "home runs." Firsthand accounts, from among 80 interviews as well as memoirs, are woven into the narrative; the emphasis on British escapes in many earlier works is augmented by accounts of escapes by French, Dutch and Polish prisoners. The perspective of German guards who thwarted many innovative escape attempts provides even better understanding. (Jan.)

Forecast:This book is a companion piece to a previously aired film documentary series of the same name. Reruns could boost sales if the book is mentioned onscreen; otherwise, sales will probably be limited to buffs and, because of the firsthand accounts, scholars.

Reviewed on: 01/07/2002
Release date: 02/01/2002
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Hardcover - 354 pages - 978-0-340-79495-1
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