Colditz, A Castle With A Rich HistoryBy
Colditz Castle is certainly best known as a top security prison utilised by the Nazis throughout World War II to detain Allied prisoners of war who were thought of as “incorrigible”. All the same, the castle is more than 800 years old which means there is much more to its history than the six years when it was also known as Oflag IV-C.
Building work commenced in the mid 1100s on the imposing castle located on a hill overlooking Colditz in Saxony, Germany. Within just a few years, habitations sprung up in the vicinity of the castle and after roughly 250 years, it was sold by the Lords of Coldtiz.
A significant blaze in the early 16th century meant that substantial areas of the castle were required to be reconstructed together with the city hall, church and substantial parts of the city. Over the ages, redevelopment and reconstructing building work saw the shape of the castle change and in the 1800s it was reconstructed once again and put to use as a workhouse and later on a mental facility right up until 1924.
In 1933, the Nazis took control of Germany and converted the castle to a POWcamp for political pows. Following the start of World War II in 1939, prisoners were detained here. It was used to hold high risk POWs who were deemed to be dangerous and more likely to try to get away. Although it was a maximum security prison, the nature of the inmates at Oflag IV-C (it’s prisoner of war camp camp name), ensured there were many innovative escape endeavours. There was even one scheme where prisoners of war intended to employ a glider even though it was never used as the Allies retook the castle before the escape effort could be staged.
Colditz was a prison for officers and there were also several well-known inmates including the British fighter ace, Douglas Bader, Patrick Reid who wrote a number of publications on Colditz after the war, Airey Neave who was the first officer to escape from the prisoner of war camp and was also eventually elected to the British Parliament, Sir David Stirling who set up the Special Air Service and Charles Upham from New Zealand who was awarded the Victoria Cross and bar. One of the most notable of all was Giles Romilly who was the nephew of Winston Churchill’s wife.
In recent years, Colditz Castle has been refurbished and is open to visitors to see this historic building for themselves.