On July 3, 1940, 5,000 exhausted and hungry French officers reached a high plateau of the Moravian Mountain range in Austria. Prisoners of war of the Third Reich, they had arrived at Oflag XVIIA, a quad of grim looking barracks encircled by barbed wire, their new home for the next five years.
Determined to maintain their dignity and show their "fierce will" to resist, they immediately organized and within a year created a dynamic community, complete with a university, library, newspaper, theater, orchestra and sport teams. More than 20 clandestine radios connected them with the outside world. In 1943, they executed the largest Allied POW escape of the war with 132 escapees, twice as many as the famed "Great Escape" from Colditz. Seventy years after their liberation, this translation with commentary of two officers' diaries reveals a never before told story of struggle and triumph.
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The late Henri Natter was taken prisoner in at La Bourgonce in Alsace on June 22, 1940. During captivity, he encouraged his comrades to write about their experiences so he could publish a documentation of camp life upon his return. He returned to France on May 11, 1945, as did most of his fellow officers. He died in 1981.
The late Adam Refregier was taken prisoner at La Bourgonne in Alsace on June 22, 1940. Born in 1892, as a World War I veteran he was repatriated to France on August 13, 1941.
Jacqueline Vautrain Collins retired after a sixteen-year ministry of the Unitarian Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Her article on "the Grand Escape" was published in the World War II History Magazine. She lives in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.
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