Colditz Castle is perhaps most widely known as a top security prison used by the Nazis all through World War II to hold Allied prisoners who were looked upon as “incorrigible”. Nonetheless, the castle is around 800 years old so there is a great deal more to its background than the six years when it was called Oflag IV-C.
Work started in the mid 12th century on the imposing castle set on a hill looking over Colditz in Saxony, Germany. Within a couple of years, habitations started to appear in the general vicinity of the castle and after almost 250 years, it was sold by the Lords of Coldtiz.
A big fire in the early 16th century resulted in significant areas of the castle had to be reconstructed together with the city hall, church and sizeable areas of the city. Over the years, renovation and rebuilding work saw the shape of the castle change and in the 1800s it was rebuilt yet again and made use of as a workhouse and afterwards a mental hospital right up until 1924.
In 1933, the Nazis took control of Germany and altered the castle to a POWcamp for political pows. After the start of World War II in 1939, prisoners of war were housed here. It was used to hold high risk POWs who were perceived as dangerous and very likely to try to get away. Even though it was a high security prison, the nature of the inmates at Oflag IV-C (it’s prison camp camp name), ensured there were several ingenious escape attempts. There was even one plan where POWs plotted to utilise a glider but it was never attempted as the Allies recaptured the castle before the escape effort could be staged.
Colditz was a prison camp for officers and there were also a handful of well-known inmates including the British air 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 POW camp and was also eventually elected to the British Parliament, Sir David Stirling who founded 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 renovated and is open to visitors to see this historic building for themselves.