Human Game: The True Story of the 'Great Escape' Murders and the Hunt for the Gestapo Gunmen Hardcover – Oct 2 2012
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“A gut-wrenching account of World War II’s Great Escape and its brutal aftermath. Simon Read’s riveting tale...will touch your soul and increase your admiration for the ‘Greatest Generation.’”—Colonel Cole C. Kingseed, USA (Ret.), New York Times bestselling coauthor of Beyond Band of Brothers
"Simon Read has done an impressive job stitching together a highly readable and informative story from various sources, and making it live again.”—Jim DeFelice, bestselling author of Rangers at Dieppe, Omar Bradley: General at War, and American Sniper
About the Author
Simon Read was an award-winning journalist before he became a nonfiction author. Read graduated from California State University, Northridge, and he resides in California with his wife and son.
Inside This Book(Learn More)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
So fascinated was I by the World War II story of the escape of seventy-six Allied prisoners of war from a German camp, I also read Paul Brickhill's classic book with the same title. I recall it was the first time I ever experienced the disappointment of seeing some of what made a book so great lost in the translation to the big screen (key point: Steve McQueen's ultra-hip Cooler Kid character was totally fabricated; there were no American airmen in the North Compound at Stalag Luft III where the tunnels were dug).
The movie had big name stars like McQueen, stirring music, epic visuals, and memorable set pieces (such as the Fourth of July celebration that ends in tragedy, yet another complete fabrication), but after reading the book for me it lacked...something.
Perhaps it was the grittiness and black humor of camp life as described by Brickhill, the amazing scope of the camp escape committee's efforts -- hundreds of false documents, maps, compasses and sets of civilian clothes were created by men barely surviving on watery soup and ersatz coffee -- or the ultimate triumph when three, just three, of the escapees make it to freedom while fifty were summarily executed.
When I saw the full title of Simon Read's Human Game: The True Story of the "Great Escape" Murders and the Hunt for the Gestapo Gunmen, there was no question I would read the book. Frankly, it came as somewhat of a surprise to me that after the war the British government sanctioned an investigation and pursuit of the men behind the executions; it makes sense but for whatever reason it never occurred to me.
Human Game tells the often amazing story of an investigation that ended with seventy-two Germans on trial for the murders; twenty-one were executed for their roles. It is an amazing achievement given the circumstances.
The crime scenes were unknown, so there was no physical evidence beyond the fifty urns of ashes that had been returned to Stalag Luft III. Large areas of Germany were in ruins from fighting or devastating bombing raids, records had been systematically destroyed, masses of people were displaced, many of the dead were not identified in the final hectic days of the Nazi regime, and many of the suspects -- knowing they would be asked to pay for their crimes -- had melted away by grabbing the identity papers from a nearby corpse or giving a false name to the occupation authorities with the explanation that all their belongings had been destroyed.
Making matters harder even than that, the prison camp and the sites for more than half the murders were in the Soviet-controlled zone of occupation, and the alliance between the West and the Soviet Union was quickly hardening into the Cold War. There would be little to no cooperation for the investigators from the Soviets, who had captured some of the key figures in the executions.
Still, the British team persevered through hard work and determination, pouring through records, following up on leads, interviewing potential witnesses and cross-checking stories, until ultimately the final minutes of the fifty murdered airmen -- including who was present -- were revealed.
One of the interesting features of the book is how the author includes witness statements that contradict as the suspected killers sought to downplay their roles. It demonstrates just how difficult the task was for the investigators, who had no way of knowing how much truth was in any suspect's story.
Another interesting section that is certainly relevant in today's world deals with the treatment of Germans suspected of war crimes at the London Cage. Located in three buildings in Kensington Palace Gardens, the Cage was the site of interrogations that included many types of torture including beatings, electrical shock, humiliation, and sleep deprivation. The British were able to keep the Red Cross away from the Cage, and during the trials of the Stalag Luft III killers the commanding officer of the facility is quoted lying under oath about his methods.
All in all I highly recommend Human Game to anyone interested in the rest of the story of the Great Escape, as well as those interested in true-crime investigations or getting a look at post-war Europe.
The book is 330 pages long but the potential purchaser should be aware the text itself is only 235 pages. The rest is made up of source notes, an index, bibliography, and two appendixes.
"The Great Escape" is the famous WWII movie drama in which captured British RAF airmen contrive a mass escape from Stalag Luft III, a prisoner-of-war camp located in what was then eastern Germany, today's western Poland. "Human Game" is author Simon Read's book version that explains how 76 men escaped via a tunnel. Actually, there were three tunnels, the famously named "Tom, Dick and Harry." Read narrates the escape, the preparation for it and most of all, explains the aftermath of what happened to the escapees and the quest to identify, capture and bring to justice their Gestapo killers.
The Gestapo was issued a secret order that came from the very top--Hitler himself. Hitler's order was to summarily punish the RAF airmen who escaped, to make them pay with their lives. Under international law, escaped prisoners were supposed to be returned to prison, not executed and certainly not killed in cold blood.
The Fuhrer was absolutely infuriated by this mass escape. Stalag Luft III was a prisoner-of-war camp built to the highest standards, supposedly escape-proof. After the escape, Hitler authorized the capture and murder of all the escaped RAF prisoners. However, his high henchmen felt the International Red Cross and foreign governments might get wind of this clearly illegal order. By concensus decision, the top Nazis decided instead to excecute the arbitrary number of "fifty." Fifty of the escapees would be killed, allowing the remaining 26 men if captured, to be returned to camp. That would provide a measure of cover for execution of the fifty. The biographies and backgrounds of each of the RAF escapees were examined. Each of the fifty to be executed was hand-picked. It was never entirely clear why certain individuals were chosen for execution--and others were designated for return to camp.
"Human Game" is a story of dedicated sleuthing, creative investigation and luck. Mostly, however, it was challenging and tedious police work, the kind that involved a lot of shoe leather. Punishment was ultimately meted out to the Gestapo killers who had "followed orders." Some Gestapo men were penitent, a few were voluntarily cooperative in providing information to British authorities. Most, however, were die-hard, true-believers to the end who took pride in "following orders," executing the POWs and lacked any sense of shame for doing so. A few escaped punishment by taking their own lives. A few got off easy. A few were never found. Most of the Gestapo killers were identified, captured and severely punished.