No matter that the pretty provincial town provided prized white clay for the Baroque china of Saxony Elector Augustus the Strong. Never mind that the Schloss was a Renaissance palace of the state’s ruling House of Wettin. COLDITZ, 50km southeast of Leipzig, is inextricably linked in British minds with high-security World War II POW camp Oflag IVC.
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Mention Colditz to most Germans and you’ll be met with a blank look. The most famous of German POW camps among Britons, popularized first in a book by former inmate Major Pat Reid, The Colditz Story, then a film of the same name, certainly looks the part. The Schloss stands on a high bluff above the town and probably would have been as secure as the Nazis believed were it not for the ingenuity of its inmates, most of them incarcerated here following their recapture after escapes from other camps. Wooden sewing machines manufactured fake German uniforms, forgers produced identification papers and banknotes. More astonishing were those plans that were never used: a glider built of wood and bedsheets, or a 44m tunnel dug by French prisoners over eight months in 1941–42 – they were just 14m short when it was discovered beneath the Schlosskapelle. Of the three hundred escape attempts, over a third were made by the British, who scored eleven home-runs. French escapees boasted an impressive hundred-percent record for their twelve attempts. Castle tours focus on the war history and permit a look at the French tunnel alongside documents and photographs in a Fluchtmuseum (Escape Museum).