Wednesday 13 May 2015

Colditz, The German Viewpoint - Reinhold Eggers

Immortalised in the TV series Colditz by the character of Hauptman Ullmann Reinhold Eggers was one of the Security Officers at Kriegsgefangenenoffizierssonderlager 4C (sorry just love that word) from 1940 until it's capture by American Forces in April 1945. As an internationalist and teacher he spent the years between his release from the army in 1918 and 1933 forging links with schools and groups in the UK and France, and it was only being denounced to the new Nazi authorities that stopped these trips. On his recall to the army in 1939 his language skills made him a useful translator and led to him being posted to a POW camp at Hohnstein. The first section of this book discusses how this 'training' at Hohnstein could never have prepared him for the inveterate escape artists he would encounter in Coldirz. The rest oof the book is a reasonably chronological breakdown of the various escape attempts, as seen from the German forces attempting to stop them. It would seem that Eggers respected a good number of the would-be escapees and treated them with dignity, admittedly this is a book written by the man himself and could be seen as apologist in it's reading of events however it was edited by one of the former prisoners, and given the foreword that 'This man was our opponent, but nevertheless he earned our respect by his correct attitude, self-control and total lack of rancour despite all the harassment we gave him.' A number of former prisoners spoke for the man during his post-war trial and subsequent imprisonment by Soviet authorities, and it seems to be agreed that he really was a pretty decent individual trying to do the best he could in difficult times.
The book is well written with a huge range of material being covered, however I would recommend that some prior knowledge of events at the camp could be useful before reading this mainly because several are referred to throughout the text. It is amusing that Eggers often remained baffled by how escapes were carried out right up until he read the story from the view point of the prisoners. If you have any familiarity with the TV show, that was heavily based on Pat Reid's Colditz Story, then you will recognise a number of the escapes mentioned here. The nationalities may have been altered a little (the TV show SERIOUSLY simplified things, leaving out the Dutch and Belgian prisoners entirely for example and having the UK contingent a pretty homogeneous group instead of the mishmash of commonwealth nations from Canadians to Maoris that actually resided in the Castle.) but the facts remain the same. Either way it is fascinating for a Brit to have the story from such a unique German point of view.

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