Cover image for Colditz : the untold story of World War II's greatest escapes
Colditz : the untold story of World War II's greatest escapes
Chancellor, Henry, 1968-
Personal Author:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : William Morrow, 2001.
Physical Description:
xvii, 446 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
D805.G3 C43 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
D805.G3 C43 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



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.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Beginning in November 1940, the Germans started transforming a medieval castle at Colditz into a repository for the most "troublesome" of Allied POWs. This supposedly escape-proof camp witnessed some of the most daring escape attempts of the war, and those efforts have inspired more than 40 books and two major films, including the 1963 classic The Great Escape. Chancellor is a writer and documentary filmmaker, and his absorbing and exciting book dispels many of the myths about Colditz, yet the actual story remains one of grit, determination, and heroism. Contrary to popular belief, relatively few of the Colditz inmates actually escaped to freedom. However, the constant efforts to escape, many of them characterized by remarkable ingenuity, forced the Germans to devote considerable manpower to guarding and sometimes recapturing their prisoners. Unlike most previous accounts, Chancellor utilizes a broad variety of sources, including Polish and Dutch POWs as well as German officers and camp guards. Therefore, a picture of daily life emerges, often with surprising elements. --Jay Freeman

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (Jan.) Forecast: This book is a companion piece to a previously aired film documentary series of the same name. Reruns could boost sales if the book is mentioned onscreen; otherwise, sales will probably be limited to buffs and, because of the firsthand accounts, scholars. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Colditz, a top-security German prison during World War II, proved less than escape-proof as evidenced by the 1963 film classic The Great Escape, based on a successful break. Chancellor interviewed survivors from many nations and guards, too. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of illustrations, maps and drawingsp. ix
Prefacep. xiii
Prologuep. 1
1 The Road to Colditzp. 7
2 Leaps and Boundsp. 29
3 Co-operationp. 51
4 The Stage Is Setp. 75
5 Le Metrop. 91
6 Running the Jailp. 109
7 Contact with the Outsidep. 129
8 Open Season: Summer 1942p. 151
9 Month of Escapesp. 169
10 Legend and Lifep. 189
11 Frans Josefp. 221
12 A Very British Campp. 237
13 Ghostsp. 255
14 A Radio, a Madman and a Spyp. 275
15 Rattling the Cagep. 293
16 The Weather Changesp. 309
17 The Gliderp. 329
18 The Flight of the Prominentep. 351
19 Liberationp. 371
Appendix 1 List of Escape Attemptsp. 393
Appendix 2 List of Intervieweesp. 405
Bibliographyp. 409
Notesp. 413
Indexp. 435