June 4, 2019 Colditz GE

When I was 11 or 12 my friend John and I were totally fascinated with the story of Colditz Castle and the allied prisoners of war who were held there during the war.  The Germans designed the POW camp at Colditz to hold the most difficult prisoners, people who had attempted multiple escapes or were just a large scale pain to the Germans.  John and I read the book by one of the prisoners called Escape from Colditz and spent a large part of the summer pretending to be prisoners trying to escape from Colditz.  Today I got to visit the real thing.

It was not on the plan, but when we were traveling from Dresden to Leipzig the other day I saw the exit on the Autobahn for Colditz and told Ton the story and she insisted that we visit it.  It was a short drive down from Leipzig with the only adventure being Greta insisting there was a road to follow when there was not one, after 10 minutes or so of circling Greta’s imaginary road we followed our noses and eventually found our way to Colditz.

The castle has been in existence since the middle ages, and was for a short while the home of Augustus I of Saxony.  After a while it fell out of favor as a royal residence and became at different times a hospital, prison, and mental hospital.  When the Nazi’s came to power it was used as a concentration camp, before being converted to a prisoner of war camp in 1939.  During the war it held prisoners from many different countries including Poland, Holland, Belgium, France, the US, and Britain, with the British making up the bulk of the  prisoners.

The courtyard of Colditz Castle, which during WWII was a POW camp for recalcitrant officers.
A formation of prisoners in the Castle courtyard during the war.

Today we were fortunate to be the only ones on our tour of the castle which was led by an Englishman named Alex who had married a local Saxon girl.  He did a fabulous job of showing us around the castle explaining the living arrangements of both the prisoners and the guards.  He talked about the various escape attempts.  The most fascinating was the French tunnel which as you would expect was the work of the French prisoners held there.  They dug this tunnel for over 9 months and covered over 500 feet going up and down around the stone that the castle rests on including cutting thru the original wooden supports that were adjacent to the chapel.

A vertical shaft of the French tunnel.
A horizontal shaft of the French tunnel that was uncovered during renovation.

The German government has spent a lot of money fixing the castle in addition to the museum they have converted the old German guard quarters/Mental Hospital (under the East Germans) into a hostel.  If you are in the area we recommend it.  It was nice to see a place that had given me a great adventure one summer when I was a kid.

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