Tides of Change


Prisoners of the Castle by Ben Macintyre Penguin Viking RRP $40

As a post-war ‘baby boomer’ I had a father who survived WW2 and started gathering up weird war books about the evil Nazis and cruel Japanese. I found out later he was trying to understand how certain races could be so nasty. I picked up the ‘hobby’ and soon had a collection of cheap paperbacks, all featuring WW2 stories, many of them heroic POW escape sagas. Among them Douglas Bader’s, Reach for the Sky.

Sixty years later, I find myself reading the latest WW2 publication COLDITZ with great anticipation. Immediately the book stood out with its huge array of wonderful black and white photographs, the venue being an ancient castle first built in the 10th century, then extended and adapted over the centuries with its various uses. Initially a castle with 700 rooms but by the 19th century it had been a poorhouse, a remand home, mental hospital, then during WW1 it housed tuberculosis and psychiatric patients, with over 900 deaths recorded. Photographs depict an ancient, evil, spooky looking monolith, standing high above the village of old stone houses—all equally cold and sinister—where those who worked in the castle lived.

Before WW2 it housed political prisoners, opponents of Hitler, then in 1939 it became the designated camp for those with ‘unfriendly attitudes’ toward Nazi Germany.

The main body of the book is divided into four main sections 1941-45, with smaller subjects on specific high interest topics, key characters, key incidents and various escape attempts along with the changing fortunes of the war. As I read on, so many of those early paperbacks came to life again and I was able to bring an adult brain to understand those early ‘exciting’ dramas.

Airey Neave’s 1955 book They Have Their Exits, one classic example.

As readers work through to the 1944 and 1945 chapters, the drama and tension builds to the point where I could not put the book down. Subchapter headings such as, ‘The Prominente Club’, ‘The Sparrows’ and ‘The Red Fox,’ each add to the drama.

In addition to the many wonderful photographs, there are several maps and plans that give the reader greater comprehension. Where exactly was/is Colditz? What has happened to the castle and township since 1945? Is it still there?

This book is a must for any households with a link to WW2 and all its horror, a record of factual history that occurred on our planet just a few years ago, with so many lessons to be learnt for all mankind.

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