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NOVA

Nazi Prison Escape (#2803)

We've got to get out of this place At the height of World War II, German authorities began sending their most troublesome Allied prisoners to an impregnable fortress in eastern Germany. Colditz Castle was what they called their "bad boys' camp" the ultimate escape-proof prison. But without realizing it, they had brought together the best escape brains in the Allied forces and had given them an irresistible challenge. NOVA returns to Colditz with some of its former "bad boys," who reveal how they turned the art of escape into a science, on Nazi Prison Escape. While three hundred prisoners tried to break out of Colditz during the war, they never put the most audacious scheme into action. It was a full-scale glider, built in a hidden attic with handmade tools and scavenged floorboards and bed sheets. The war ended before the ingenious "Colditz Cock" could take wing, but NOVA painstakingly re-creates the glider to prison specifications and then puts it to the test. Another bold breakout scheme involved elaborate disguises that allowed three prisoners to impersonate a distinctive-looking sergeant and two guards and then bluff their way to the main gate for a dramatic confrontation with real guards. Escapees were often equipped with an array of necessities, such as maps, money, and identity papers. Typically, maps would be smuggled into Colditz stuck between peel-apart playing cards, cast into phonograph records, or hidden by some other James Bond-style ruse. Coded messages, intercepted on the camp's secret radio, would alert prisoners to watch for, say, a record of "The British Grenadiers" in a Red Cross parcel. Simply drop the record and voila! a map showing the route to the Swiss border. The map could then be reproduced by making offset copies from a plate of lemon gelatin. A thriving camp industry forged documents that would be needed on the outside. Also useful was a compass, conveniently included in Red Cross parcels in the guise of a pencil: simply remove the pocket clip from an ordinary-looking pencil, balance the clip on the point, and voila! north! Prisoners and even a German guard tell their stories about Colditz, as do a couple of Americans who helped liberate the camp in April 1945. Robert Miller was first into the fortress, armed to the teeth and not knowing what to expect. He was greeted by cheering prisoners. Eventually, they showed him the secret room with the glider. "It was amazing," he recalls. "There was a big map. . .they had a radio, they had everything!" [56 minutes] Closed Captioning

This episode has not aired in the past few months on Iowa Public Television.

PBS Video

Information For Teachers

Grade Levels
6-8, 9-12
Curricular Areas
Science & Technology
Series Length
415 episodes
Average Episode Length
61 minutes
Record Rights
Record and retain for 1 year from each broadcast. No duplication allowed.
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http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/

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Series Description: PBS' premier science series helps viewers of all ages explore the science behind the headlines. Along the way, NOVA programs demystify science and technology and highlight the people involved in scientific pursuits.

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