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Great Escape

Program Overview

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Man tunnelling NOVA tells the story of a group of Allied POWs who attempt to escape a Nazi prison camp.

The program:

  • shows archeologists excavating Stalag Luft 3, where in 1944 hundreds of prisoners attempted one of history's most daring escapes, inspiring the 1963 film The Great Escape.

  • describes German attempts to escape-proof the camp by building prisoners' huts on stilts to deter them from tunneling through the floor, and placing the fence so far from the huts that a tunnel would have to be 90 meters long to reach it.

  • details the prisoners' plan to build three tunnels—as a safeguard, in case one or two were discovered—through the building supports of the huts.

  • explains how men dug with hand-made tools, used whatever wood was available to support the tunnels, then passed the dug-up sand to others who disposed of it by discreetly sprinkling it out around the camp.

  • describes two innovations—an air pump that delivered fresh air to diggers as the tunnels grew longer and oxygen more scarce, and a hand-powered "underground railroad" that allowed diggers to move tons of sand more quickly.

  • reveals how prisoners tapped into the camp's electrical system to install tunnel lighting, and reports archeologists' discovery of wiring in the tunnel the Germans never found.

  • relives the night of March 24, 1944, when 76 of the 600 prisoners involved escaped before German guards spotted them.

  • reveals that only three escaped POWs made it to freedom—the remaining 73 were recaptured and 50 of them executed, on Hitler's orders, by the Gestapo.

Taping Rights: Can be used up to one year after the program is taped off the air.

Teacher's Guide
Great Escape
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