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Germany and Poland Trip. Part Five – Stalag Luft III, Żagań

Saturday 23rd March 2024

It is quite some gathering of military vehicles at the Stalag Luft III museum in Żagań, Poland. Tanks and armoured vehicles have churned up the approach field and children climb over the turrets and heavy armour. It is the day before the 80th anniversary commemoration of the Great Escape and there is a real buzz at the museum. Lots to see.

You can walk through a replica of Hut 104 (in which the entry shaft to tunnel Harry was located), talk to reenactors, and engage with current service personnel. There are food bars, a stage with music, and later there will be a cross-country event. Many relatives of POWs at the camp are also in attendance, exchanging stories, gathering new information, making new friends. Television producers and film makers interview local dignitaries and POW relatives. Today, it seems, the focus is on raising the profile of the escape. The 1963 film is well used as an entry point for those new to the story.

A large cloth is lifted from the side of the museum to reveal a mural featuring the Polish escapers.

I meet up with a film producer who interviews me in regard my grandfather, Arthur Darlow, who was a POW at the camp from May 1944 to January 1945. They are planning an educational documentary for Polish schools.

Inside the museum there are various displays, including a model of North Compound, showing the location of tunnels Tom, Dick, Harry, and George.

Room exhibit at the Museum.

Seeing the artefacts, documents and exhibits on display, and knowing the general story of the Luftwaffe run camp, there is a marked difference in tone with Buchenwald. The Allied prisoners in Stalag Luft III had individual beds, cooking facilities, their own clothes, red cross parcels. They could study for exams. There was no forced labour. No one was worked to death. A semblance of respect for the humanity of the POWs that was absent in regard the inmates at Buchenwald. But when 76 men broke out of the camp on the night of 24/25 March 1944, the Great Escape, they exposed themselves to the brutal reality of Nazism. Of the 73 men that were recaptured, 50 were selected to be shot. Some say executed, most say murdered.

I head off, a very short drive, to the actual site of North Compound, and tunnel Harry, marked out amidst the trees. It is quiet in the woods today. There will be a lot more people tomorrow. And I am joined by my friend Laurence Green (grandson of Great Escaper ‘Pop’ Green) and his wife Kathy at the entrance to tunnel Harry..

Some of the names etched on the stone indicating the course of tunnel Harry. Those in black were shot.

A walk through the woods, past what remains of the foundations of various huts, to the camp theatre. How I would love to stage a play there.

North compound theatre.

Then a short drive to the mausoleum, made by the prisoners to hold the ashes of the murdered escapers. These were later removed. (There are now 48 commonwealth war graves headstones in Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery, one in Berlin War Cemetery, and the remains of Nils Fuglesang are now in Norway.)

Next – the official commemoration of The Great Escape.

Published inBomber CommandGeneralPrisoner of War

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