The Colditz Myth: British and Commonwealth Prisoners of War in Nazi Germany Paperback – Sep 27 2006
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`This book presents a solid, sensible account.' Sunday Telegraph
`MacKenzie's study is a fine piece of research and clearly reflects a historian deeply engaged with his subject. His approach is broad and yet detailed at the same time, and this book has increased our knowledge of the treatment of prisoners of was significantly' Mark Connelly, Twentieth Century British History
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29 halftone plates, 1 mapSee all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Author Mackenzie has a good point. Being a POW was a miserable experience, even for British and American officers (Soviet and other Eastern European prisoners all too often found it to be an un-survivable hell). While the Germans did attempt to follow the Geneva convention to a surprising extent, living conditions were hard, the enlisted men were required to work (often in deplorable conditions in outside work camps) and the food supply was grossly insufficient (when the Red Cross began importing food parcels to supplement the POW ration the Germans took the opportunity to slash their own contribution by a third). Overcrowding, boredom, lack of medical care, lack of female companionship, and the pervasive uncertainty of what the future held (would the SS execute the prisoners as the Allied armies approached?) all conspired to make the Kriegie experience a terrible memory for millions of young men in what should have been the prime of their lives.
By the way, this is one of the few books that attempt to discuss the sexual experiences of the prisoners. Having grown up watching Colonel Hogan seducing (and being seduced) by gorgeous Russian spies and voluptuous Bavarian barmaids (who secretly assisted the Resistance, naturally) I was disappointed to learn that such assignations were fiction. The typical Kriegie (German slang for Prisoner of War) had no sex life at all during his years of captivity (malnutrition helped take your mind off it); those who did found their solace in the same way as other incarcerated young men have done over the centuries.
Mackenzie does a very good job at covering the typical experience from the moment of capture to ultimate release, without bogging down in too many personal stories. I would have rated this book a 5 but for a few quibbles: A) he doesn't seem to use or even mention what I consider the best reference on one part of the subject, the semi-official British government work Escape From Germany by Crawley, and B) Like most of the best books on the POWs available in English, he concentrates almost entirely on the British experience. The only comparable American book I can think of off the top of my head is the excellent Stalag Luft III by Arthur A. Durand.
Overall a very good addition for anyone concerned with World War Two history.
The reality was far different. Most of the British Commonwealth PoWs did not spend their captivity in a state of Harrow or G.W. Henty schoolboy adventures -- they starved, they suffered from illnesses and psychological trauma, they froze in unheated barracks, worked on farms if they were "Other Ranks," or spent days in stupefying boredom if they were officers. Their experience was not as horrific as those in Japanese captivity, but it was destructive enough. Many suffered from the illnesses caused by their captivity, including PTSD.
(Personal note: One of my relatives, a Fleet Air Arm aviator, had an interesting reaction to his captivity: after the war, offered a senior British European Airways position in Germany, he refused it -- he said he'd spent enough time as a guest of the German)
This book gives the shocking and at times heroic truth of the British PoW experience, as well as exploring the roots of how the popular myth of Colditz and the other camps came into existence. It is a great and needed revision of World War II history, but it only adds to the credit, honor, and valor of those unhappy Commonwealth fighting men who, usually by no fault of their own, became prisoners of the Germans, and defined courage through resilience and endurance. Highly recommended.
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