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Collecting Colditz

& Its Secrets

 

Michael Booker

Grub Street, 2005, reprinted 2013

 

ISBN 9781 909808003

 

This is the culmination of a life’s work, nay obsession, with Colditz on the part of the author. Not only has he interviewed one of the Colditz commandants, and its head of security, but Booker has amassed  an amazing personal collection of artefacts and photos of the infamous high security prison of war camp. It is less of a book, in the normal sense, than an artifice to present and explain his magnificent collection. The chronological narrative is loose – perhaps that is better related elsewhere – but what it does imbue in the reader, partly by sustained exposure to the banalities of life in this choice camp, is a vivid sense of what life might have been like there.

 

For example, something which had not previously occurred to me, was that the high walls of the castle’s Dracula-like construction meant that sunlight was a precious commodity. None of that lounging in sandy sunshine enjoyed by the inmates of many of the Polish Stalag Lufts. Booker conveys how the desire to plan for ever more complex escapes was in part a way of mental release for those young alpha males facing an indeterminate period of very boring existence whilst in the prime of life. The ingenuity of the Colditz inmates is legendary, nowhere better shown than in the clandestine construction of a glider.

 

As a book of reference about this most famous of WW2 German PoW camps, Collecting Colditz fails. But as an accompaniment to such a volume, it adds much useful colour.