Whether a Nazi death camp, a prison for prisoners-of-war, slavery in the pre-Civil War South, or a federal penitentiary, escapes take thought, planning, and skill. They require collaboration and care, as well as a high tolerance for risk. Learn about some of the most audacious escapes in history, and the fate of the escapees who, quite literally, may have run for their lives.
The Escape from Colditz
Colditz was Nazi Germany’s most inescapable prison, used for Allied prisoners-of-war that had already escaped other prison. The prison of Colditz was a medieval fortification, and was heavily guarded, with more guards than prisoners. A number of prisoners escaped from Colditz, but many were recaptured. Conditions in the prison were, on the whole, relatively good, and the administration was even somewhat amused by escape attempts in some cases.
One of the most audacious—and successful—escapes from Colditz was a British officer, and later politician Airey Neave, along with a Dutch lieutenant Tony Luteyn. The two walked out the main gate of Colditz in January 1942. Neave and Luteyn, along with another pair of inmates in the prison, cut a hole in the floor of one room, creating access to an empty room. They crossed a corridor to reach an empty guardroom and dressed themselves as German guards. Dressed as Germans, they walked out the front gate and over a low fence to escape.
Two of the four were re-captured, but Neave and Luteyn successfully made their way across Germany, but were nearly recaptured on a number of occasions. Both spoke excellent German and were able to pass themselves off as workmen on a number of occasions. After several days of difficult travel in winter weather, they safely reached Switzerland.
Neave’s report noted that trains were relatively safe, but stations were not; however, coffee and beer were accessible, and that cinemas were an excellent place to rest. He expressed that locals in rural areas had likely been ordered to question foreigners, and noted the presence of many foreign workers in Germany.