Coronet (pb), £7.99
Based on a recent Channel 4 series, Chancellor tells the story of World War II's best-known prisoner of war camp, for a new generation. Oflag IVC – its official title - was the fairy-tale castle setting, near Leipzig, of a special camp for Allied officer POWs who had already tried to escape from other camps.
Generations of boys and young men had their imagination fired by 1950s patriotic books written by escapers like Pat Reid and Airey Neave, which portrayed life as a series of 'wizard japes' perpetrated by clever, witty, handsome Englishmen determined to try again and again to escape from their dour and brutish Hun jailers.
Drawing on wider sources, including books and interviews by former guards and escapers of other nationalities (French, Dutch, Polish, American), this book goes some way to balancing the picture: showing the remarkable adherence of the German authorities in the Castle to the Geneva Conventions, and the dismal sameness and privations of four years of captivity for some, without ever quite losing the boyish anticipation of "will they get away?"
Despite the sub-title, Chancellor admits there can never be a 'definitive' history of the camp: "…its warren of rooms and staircases concealed all manner of nefarious activities …"; indeed, in one faintly amusing paragraph he himself confounds the roles of the German SA, SD, SS and Gestapo as thoroughly as any 64-pager of the 1960s.
Nevertheless, an intriguing and well-researched improvement on the earlier works on the subject.
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