COLDITZ - PRISONERS OF THE CASTLE
BY BEN MACINTYRE
‘Colditz - Prisoners of the Castle’ is Ben MacIntrye’s latest true story of the most infamous castle in WW2 where dangerous daredevil and defiant allied prisoners were held captive. Perfect read to bunker down with this November. And now in paperback!
This new and real Colditz story comes from the skilled and best selling historian, Ben MacIntyre bringing together what we think we know of the mythical castle and more. Colditz was a huge historical gothic castle in East Germany that became the highest security prison, set up in the 3rd Reich, for captured officers of all nationalities made up of Brits, Poles, Dutch, French, Belgians and laterally Americans - who all distinguished themselves for escaping from other prison camps.
Everyone has a favourite character. Be it the eccentric ‘Clutty of M19’ (the model for James Bond’s Q) who created secret gizmos such as false passports in board games, secret inks and hidden compasses in walnuts. Or double-amputee Douglas Bader the famous pilot who became a ‘poster boy’ in Germany’s propaganda. And then there is Eggers, the German officer and head of security at the castle whose earlier profession as a school master (teaching in Cheltenham no less) and an Anglophile treated his prisoners as naughty school boys, confiscating their escape booty and leading the ‘cat and mouse’ game that appeared to exist at the castle. Or the irrepressible Pat Reid who was one of the few British officers to escape.
The book exposes how and why Colditz saw more attempted escapes than any other prison camp. Readers discover how the old castle provided scope for tunnels within its cavernous design, hidden staircases and medieval locks. In fact, Colditz was an escape academy in which the officers colluded but also thrived in international rivalry- resulting in 18 different tunnels being built at the same time. We also appreciate how the prisoners were encouraged and allowed to blow off steam - either in the Colditz Olympic Games or in the theatre which staged regular plays and shows.
There are plenty of remarkable and stand out stories but one that touched the Den was the Indian doctor, Birendra Mazumdar, who was the only Indian officer serving in the British Army Royal Army Medical Corps. This didn’t serve him well at Colditz. He was mistrusted and excluded from all escape plans on the grounds of his colour and his identity as an Indian national which was at odds with his loyal allegiance to the Crown. His hunger strike forced a transfer to an all-Indian camp in France from which he successfully escaped to Switzerland in 1943. But even then the allies suspected he was a spy!
All these stories build up a fascinating picture of life for inmates at this seemingly impenetrable castle. A great book club choice especially for history lovers and readers who enjoy the accounts of those imprisoned and attempted an escape.