Captivity, Flight, and Survival in World War II

By Alan J. Levine | Go to book overview

1
Flight from the Enemy: Europe and the Mediterranean

As the Nazis overran country after country in 1939-1941, enormous numbers of people, civilian as well as military, were on the move, whether to flee from the enemy or to rejoin the fight. It will never be possible to chronicle more than a tiny fraction of the stories, even of those who succeeded in reaching free territory; but some that have been recorded were remarkable achievements. Further, these early, spontaneous escapes often produced valuable lessons in how to get away from the enemy and encouraged the development of organized escape lines that saved many in the later years of the war. Those escape lines helped not only those stranded or shot down in the occupied countries but also Allied prisoners escaping imprisonment in Germany itself. They provided a significant reinforcement for the Allied air forces. The early escapers, too, showed, that many Europeans would defy the enemy, even when he was strongest.

Just how many military personnel escaped or evaded capture in Europe is unclear. Even British sources do not agree with each other and cannot be reconciled with American figures. Airey Neave, himself an outstanding escaper who worked in MI-9, the branch of British intelligence devoted to escape and evasion, gives a figure of 7,046 Allied escapers and evaders (even official documents do not always distinguish clearly between the two) from Western Europe and Italy; how many of these got out of Germany first is unknown. American sources, by contrast, give a figure of 6,335 American escapers and evaders in Italy alone. It may be that the real total of Western Allied escapers and

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