The Laszlo and Edgar Bulletin

The Laszlo & Edgar Bulletin

 

Located on a cliff overlooking a small East German town in the state of Saxony is Colditz Castle. It has stood on this site since the Middle Ages and has in the past been used as a workhouse and a mental institution. The town of Colditz can be found in the middle of the triangle formed by the three great cities of Leipzig, Dresden, and Chemnitz, in the heart of Germany. The first castle was built during the late 11th Century AD at the order of powerful German king Henry IV. From then on the castle played an important role as a watchtower for the German monarchy.

In 1504, an accidental fire destroyed a large part of the castle and its reconstruction saw new buildings added to the site. In 1523 the castle grounds was turned into one of the largest zoos in Europe. The castle structure was changed again under the long reign of the elector Augustus of Saxony from 1553 to 1586, when it was reconstructed into a Renaissance style castle with extra courtyards, cellars and hundreds of rooms.

That year the workhouse at the castle was taken over by an institution in Zwickau and it became a mental hospital for the "incurably insane". For nearly a hundred years, between 1829 and 1924, Colditz was a high-profile sanitarium, generally reserved for the wealthy and the nobility of Germany.

During this time Germany saw massive upheavals after the Napoleonic Wars destroyed the Holy Roman Empire and created the German Confederation. All the while Colditz stood firm as a shelter for the insane as it witnessed the lifespan of the North German Confederation and the complete reign of the German Empire, right up until the beginnings of the Weimar Republic.

Colditz was first used as an official Prisoner of War camp during World War One, although no escapes were made at this time. However, when the Nazis came to power in 1933, they turned the castle into a political prison for communists, homosexuals, Jews, and other "undesirables". It was not until 1939 that Allied prisoners were housed there. There were many reasons why Colditz castle instilled fear in its prisoners above all other Nazi POW camps for captured officers; this thousand year old fortress was in the heart of Hitler's Reich, some four hundred miles from any frontier not under Nazi control. Its outer walls were seven feet thick and the cliff on which it was built had a sheer drop of some two hundred and fifty feet to the River Mulde below. For any prisoner, chance of escape was slim and even if you did make it outside, you had a long and arduous trek ahead of you to freedom. The sheer fact that it had endured for a millennium made it a highly potent symbol of German strength, which Hitler exploited no end. This was the name given to Colditz castle during WWII, Oflag being an abbreviation for officers camp. The first prisoners arrived in November 1939; they were 40 Polish officers who had been branded 'escape risks'.

Day to day at Colditz was far from a sombre, empty experience; if you were to visit it you probably would be surprised by how much of a bustling hive of activity it was. Aside from the prison guards, there were also a large number of civilians and local townspeople who would be on castle grounds. These included maintenance workers, medics, Swiss Red Cross observers. Some would be there in a supervisory role, such as Nazi Party leaders, while others would be on grounds simply because they were family members of the military officers at the camp. For the prisoners themselves, they were permitted to entertain themselves. In August 1941 the first camp Olympics were organized by the Polish inmates, with events including football, volleyball, boxing and chess. Inmates also put on revues, shows and plays, while the most popular sporting pasttime was entirely invented by the prisoners: stoolball was essentially a version of rugby, but which had two stools at either end of the prisoners' courtyard and goals were scored by knocking off the goalie who was sitting on the stool!

There were many famous Allied prisoners imprisoned in Colditz and these included British fighter ace Douglas Bader; Patrick Reid, the man who made Colditz famous with his post-war books; and Airey Neave, the first British officer to escape from Colditz and who later became a British Member of Parliament. Despite being a daunting prospect, there were a number of escape attempts, each using a range of plans. Inmates duplicated keys to various doors, made copies of maps, forged identity papers, and manufactured their own tools. Less daring plans included pretending to be ill or mentally unhinged in an effort to get repatriated on medical grounds. Some prisoners even managed to communicate with the outside world. The British War Office communicated with the prisoners in code and smuggled them new escape aids disguised in care packages sent from their families. However, the Germans soon became skilled at intercepting packages containing suspicious material.Other methods used, which seem straight out of a film, include inmates being sewn into mattresses, trying to navigate through the sewers below the castle, long-term tunnel digging and the tying together of bed sheets to form rope! 

Successful escapee and British Captain Pat Reid claims in his account Colditz: The Full Story that there were 31 Home Runs, including those who were repatriated due to illness prisoners who being transported and therefore were not directly under Colditz staff control.

In April 1945, US troops entered Colditz town to conquer the castle. As the troops approached the castle, the Allies and prisoners feared the Prominente might be used by the German troops as hostages, human shields, or that the SS might try to kill them out of spite. However, this was not the case as the Germans moved all the Prominente out of the castle. On April 16, after only two days the once-mighty prison for the enemies of The Third Reich crumbled. In May 1945, the Soviet occupation of Colditz began and following the Yalta Conference the city became a part of East Germany. The Soviets turned Colditz castle into a prison camp for local burghers and non-communists and later the castle was a home for the aged and nursing home, as well as once again serving as a hospital and psychiatric clinic. The last residents moved out in 1996, and since then the castle has been renovated and turned into a museum with visits showing some of the escape tunnels built by WW II prisoners of the Oflag during. 

Regarding this adventure of Laszlo and Edgar, after being confused with some guys who requisitioned bicycles, Laszlo and Edgar are taken to the Castle of Colditz, where they are taken prisoners and imprisoned. There they meet Patrick, an English officer also imprisoned in charge of providing means to the prisoners for possible attempts to escape from the castle. After much waiting, a series of unexpected events will cause them to delay the plans and escape in some way.

 

Colditz Castle

More information on www.virtualcolditz.com

 

 

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