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.
Jacqueline Vautrain Collins retired after a sixteen-year ministry of the Unitarian Church in Charleston, South Carolina, USA. Her article on the Grand Escape was published in the World War II History Magazine. She lives in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, USA.