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Nazi Prison Escape

Colditz castle
Colditz Castle from the southwest.
Escaping Colditz
by Peter Tyson

Colditz Castle, a forbidding medieval edifice near Leipzig, Germany, was supposed to be the Nazis' most escape-proof prison. Incorrigible Allied officers who had repeatedly escaped from other camps were sent to Colditz, the only German POW camp with more guards than prisoners. Yet English, French, Polish, Dutch, and other inmates managed to sneak out in surprising numbers.

Escaping from the castle was only the beginning, however, and while at least 130 got out during the course of the war, only 30 got clean away. When captured, those attempting to escape were given up to three weeks in solitary confinement. Yet for the most part their German captors—led by the good-natured head of security Reinhold Eggers (see The Jailor's Story)—took a light-hearted approach to dealing with their capers, even taking photographs of the prisoners' disguises and other escape paraphernalia for the castle's escape museum.

Map (thumbnail) Click for larger version. Note: You can use either this map or the text links at the bottom of each page to navigate through this feature.

Using the map at left, which in its larger version has clickable numbers corresponding to the escape attempts listed below, navigate chronologically through 25 attempts that took place at Colditz between 1941 and 1944. You can also use the text links at the bottom of the page to navigate. Note that eight of those chronicled here occurred off the map—at or on the way to a nearby park, to which the guards led the inmates every day for fresh air and exercise. (The Germans were adhering to rules set down in the Geneva Convention, an international agreement that specifies prisoners' rights.) For books referenced for this feature, see Resources.

  1. First escape
    April 12, 1941

  2. Straw mattresses
    May 8, 1941

  3. Locked cells
    Mid-May 1941

  4. Canteen tunnel
    May 1941

  5. German woman
    June 1941

  6. Air-raid shelter
    June 1941

  7. Hacksaw
    June 1941

  8. Over the wall
    July 2, 1941

  9. Air shaft
    July 28, 1941

  1. Lavatory
    July 31, 1941

  2. Manhole
    Late summer, 1941

  3. Dummies
    December 1941

  4. German officers
    December 1941

  5. Main gate
    January 6, 1942

  6. Town dump
    March 1942

  7. Wooden crate
    September 7, 1942

  8. Mussolini's office
    September 9, 1942

  9. Headquarters building
    October 15, 1942

  1. Willi the electrician
    December 1942

  2. "Maddest attempt"
    May 11, 1943

  3. Franz Josef
    September 2, 1943

  4. Cellar house
    January 19, 1944

  5. Rubbish heap
    May 2, 1944

  6. Greatest escaper
    September 25, 1944

  7. Glider
    April 1945

Peter Tyson is editor in chief of NOVA Online.

Escaping Colditz | The Jailor's Story | Great Escapes | The Colditz Glider
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