Captivity, Flight, and Survival in World War II

By Alan J. Levine | Go to book overview

3
Escapes from Prisoner of War Camps in Europe

Many of the most famous escapes of World War II took place from prisoner of war camps in Germany. Some escapes, notably those from Colditz Castle and Stalag Luft III, have been chronicled in print and in film, so much that they give a distorted picture of prisoners' lives in Germany. (Indeed, the most famous film about prisoners of war, The Great Escape, gave a somewhat misleading picture even of the escape it professed to show.) Even many historians of World War II seem to be under an impression that Nazi Germany, whatever its other crimes, usually carried out the Geneva Convention when dealing with Western prisoners of war, except for a few unlucky men who fell into the hands of the SS or the Gestapo or landed in the exceptionally awful Stalag IXB. But this is scarcely even a half-truth. The much worse record of the Japanese in dealing with prisoners of war and the mountain of atrocities committed by the Nazi Reich against its other captives--compared to whom Western military prisoners were indeed a privileged elite--distracted people from the fact that the Germans were often openly contemptuous of the Geneva Convention. They always violated its provisions on feeding prisoners and the hours and conditions of work for enlisted men. 1

Books and movies about escapes, even when accurate, generally portray conditions at Luftwaffe-run camps for Air Force officers in the middle of the war. These were the "best" camps in Germany, when conditions were at the peak. Conditions at other times and places varied greatly, but were always worse, often much worse. The general situa

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