Prisoners Then and Now

Much as comic books, science fiction, noir mysteries, and other writing genres had their “golden age” decades ago, it’s unlikely we’re ever going to again see a war to produce a revival of the escape-story genre, which flourished after WWI and WWII, as prisoners of war from those conflicts set down on paper their memoirs of captivity.

One (or two) of the best of this genre is (are) by Patrick Reid, who authored “The Colditz Story” (which, together with Latter Days at Colditz, is often published together as “Escape from Colditz”) about the goings-on and escapades at Germany’s most impregnable prisoner-of-war camp.

As a chronicle of the early years of the POW camp, it’s a good read; as the story of Reid’s successful, and rather ballsy, escape, it’s equally good, and I certainly recommend it to anyone interested in the genre. It was written during the early 1950s, a troubled time in the world, though those troubles were considerably different than those existing today. That said, there’s an anecdote in The Colditz Story that puts news stories from the past few years in a rather darker light:

In 1940 or ’41, three British prisoners escaped from Colditz, and were subsequently recaptured. After a couple days’ solitary confinement, they were informed that their punishment was about to be handed down. At dawn, they were led by armed guards to a field adjacent to the prison, and set before a stone wall; the whole thing was done very somberly, and all three were sure they were about to be executed. Did they have any last words, the guards wanted to know? No? Good. Now perform calisthenics for half an hour! The Germans, on this occasion, were only having a little harmless fun at the prisoners’ expense.

Good, clean, harmless, if slightly cruel, fun. Compared to some of the things done to prisoners in the Global War on Terror, it’s easy to become nostalgic for the simpler, and in many ways better, days of WWII.

GWOT references aside, escape stories from the two Great Wars have a lot to offer the urban explorer; though the overall goals of prisoners and urban explorers are diametrically opposed, a lot of the tricks and techniques employed are common to both. Indeed, I’d hazard a guess that reading too many escape stories – together with the escapedes of the Great Brain and the Stainless Steel Rat, helped create an ever-so-slightly-warped outlook on life that eventually led to an interest in urban exploration. Who knows; perhaps once the statutes of limitations have begun to run out, the stories of urban explorers’ escapades will take the place of the next generation of “escape” stories?

Published in: Geekiness, General, History, Urban Exploration | on November 29th, 2006| No Comments »

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