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.
Reviewed on: 01/07/2002
Release date: 02/01/2002
Hardcover - 464 pages - 9780060012526
Hardcover - 354 pages - 9780340794951