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

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9780060012526: Colditz: The Untold Story of World War II's Great Escapes

Breathtaking and mesmerizing, Colditz: The Untold Story of World War II's Great Escapes is a gripping tale of perseverance, heroism, and adventure. Filled with the thrilling never-before-told personal stories of the prisoners of war held within it's walls -- who made it their personal duty and obsession to escape -- Colditz offers endlessly intriguing stories of consummate survivors who proved the human spirit to be indomitable.

During World War II Colditz, a medieval fortress, served as the only high-security camp in Germany. Its massive walls contained every persistent escapee, troublemaker, and valuable hostage captured by the Germans. Guards and prisoners were almost equal in number, and Colditz -- which boasted such prison-break deterrents as walls up to twelve feet thick, battlements of solid rock, and a 150-foot drop from the castle to the valley below -- was considered escape proof. But the prisoners -- many of whom were high-ranking military officers -- were determined to accomplish the impossible and pooled their collective talents to create the greatest escape academy of the war. Three hundred officers attempted to escape and thirty achieved what they considered to be the home run, journeying all the way back to their native country.

In Colditz, Henry Chancellor breaks new ground by offering the prisoners' own stories of the great escapes. Using more than fifty original interviews, the English, French, Dutch, and Polish officers and their guards describe in their own words their experiences in the notorious castle. They reveal their boredom and frustrations, as well as the challenges inherent in making maps out of jelly or constructing tunnels with mere cutlery knives. The stories are by turns comic and tragic as much of their labor and invention ended in failure, but what emerges is a story of breathtaking ingenuity and daring, and an intriguing portrait of the fascinating game of wits between captives and captors, who were bound together by mutual respect and extraordinary tolerance.

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Review:

Colditz, based on author Henry Chancellor's television documentary series, tells the story of the German high security prison camp (a 700-room castle), which during World War II housed the most dangerous (i.e. escape-prone) Allied POWs. The men, officers all, were mandated by the Geneva Convention to escape. There were, over the course of the war, 310 such attempts, 32 of them successful. Colditz is a comprehensive overview. While not neglecting daily prison existence (a world replete with boredom, privation, and occasional acts of treachery), it is strongest recounting the prisoners' many efforts to outwit their captors, occasions of astonishing energy and guile. The prisoners not only dug, climbed, and vaulted their way to freedom, but concocted elaborate disguises, false documents, and on one occasion built a working glider. Chancellor's is an accessible, reliable tale of invention, bravery, and determination. --H. O'Billovitch

About the Author:

Henry Chancellor was born in London in 1968. He grew up in East Anglia and went to Trinity College, Cambridge. Colditz grew out of his remarkable British television series, Escape from Colditz,was twelve years in the making and has won sweeping critical praise and has been shown all over the world. His other documentaries for television include The Great Belzoni, Pirates, and Millennium. He lives in Suffolk with his wife and two sons.

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