From the bestselling author of The Spy and the Traitor, a definitive and surprising new narrative of one of history’s most famous prisons–and the remarkable cast of POWs who tried to relentlessly escape their Nazi captors.
The myth of Colditz, the most infamous prison in history, has stood unchallenged for 70 years: prisoners of war, mustaches firmly set on stiff upper lips, defying the Nazis by tunnelling out of a grim Gothic castle on a German hilltop. Like all legends, that story contains only part of the truth. In Ben Macintyre’s brilliant, cliche-smashing new history, he offers a vision of Colditz previously unimagined, a story of much more than an escape, just as the prison’s inmates were far more complicated than the cardboard saints depicted in post-war pop culture.
Colditz was a miniature replica of office-class society at the time, only far stranger: a lethal, high stakes boarding school surrounded by barbed wire, initially containing prisoners of all Allied nations, including Canada, but eventually only Britons and Americans, a heavily guarded cage with its own culture, eccentricities, and internal tensions. In intimate and compelling detail, Macintyre explores what happens to people when they are locked up without committing a crime and with no idea when or if they might be liberated. Colditz, then, is a tale of the indomitable human spirit, but also one of snobbery, class conflict, hidden sexuality, bullying, espionage, boredom, insanity, and farce.
With access to declassified archives, private papers, and never-before-seen photos, the author reveals a remarkable cast of characters, previously hidden from history: Indian doctor Birendranath Mazymdar, the only non-white prisoner, whose ill-treatment, hunger-strike and eventual escape reads like fiction; Florimond Duke, America’s oldest paratrooper and least successful secret agent; Christoper Clayton Hutton, the brilliant inventor employed by British intelligence to manufacture escape aids for POWs, from maps hidden in playing cards to a compass secreted inside a walnut; and many others.
Bringing together the wartime intrigue of his acclaimed Operation Mincemeat and keen psychological portraits of his bestselling true-life spy stories, Macintyre has breathed stunning new life into one of the greatest war stories ever told.