Colditz Castle

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Castle Converted to POW Camp, Prisoners Build Glider to Escape

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After the outbreak of World War II, Colditz castle was converted into a high security prisoner-of-war camp for officers who had become security or escape risks or who were regarded as particularly dangerous. Although it was considered a high security prison, it had one of the greatest records of successful escape attempts. One lavish escape scheme even included a glider, the Colditz Cock, that was built and kept in a remote portion of the castle's attic during the winter of 1944-45.
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Castle Colditz (or Schloss Colditz in German) is a Renaissance castle in the town of Colditz near Leipzig, Dresden and Chemnitz in the state of Saxony in Germany. The castle is between the towns of Hartha and Grimma on a hill spur over the river Zwickauer Mulde, a tributary of the River Elbe. It had the first wildlife park in Germany when, during 1523, the castle park was converted into one of the largest menageries in Europe. The castle gained international fame as the site of Oflag IV-C, a prisoner-of-war camp during World War II for 'incorrigible' Allied officers who had repeatedly escaped from other camps.

In 1046, Henry III of the Holy Roman Empire gave the burghers of Colditz permission to build the first documented settlement at the site. During 1083, Henry IV urged Margrave Wiprecht of Groitzsch to develop the castle site, which Colditz accepted. During 1158, Emperor Frederick Barbarossa made Thimo I 'Lord of Colditz', and major building works began. By 1200, the town around the market was established. Forests, empty meadows, and farmland were settled next to the pre-existing Slavic villages Zschetzsch, Zschadraß, Zollwitz, Terpitzsch and Koltzschen. Around that time the larger villages Hohnbach, Thierbaum, Ebersbach and Tautenhain also developed.

During the Middle Ages, the castle was used as a lookout post for the German Emperors and was the hub of the Reich territories of the Pleissenland (anti-Meißen Pleiße-lands). During 1404, the nearly 250-year rule of the dynasty of the Lords of Colditz ended when Thimo VIII sold Colditz Castle for 15,000 silver marks to the Wettin ruler of the period in Saxony.

As a result of family dynastic politics, the town of Colditz was incorporated into the Margraviate of Meissen. During 1430, the Hussites attacked Colditz and set town and castle on fire. Around 1464, renovation and new building work on the castle were done by order of Prince Ernest, who died in Castle Colditz in 1486. During the reigns of Electors Frederick III the Wise and John the Gentle, Colditz was a royal residence of the electors of Saxony.

During 1504, the servant Clemens the baker accidentally set Colditz afire, and the town hall, church, castle and a large part of the town was burned. During 1506, reconstruction began and new buildings were erected around the rear castle courtyard. During 1523, the castle park was converted into one of the largest zoos in Europe. During 1524, rebuilding of the upper floors of the castle began. The castle was reconstructed in a fashion that corresponded to the way it was divided-— into the cellar, the royal house and the banqueting hall building. There is nothing more to be seen of the original castle, where the present rear of the castle is located, but it is still possible to discern where the original divisions were (the Old or Lower House, the Upper House and the Great House).

The structure of the castle was changed during the long reign of the Elector Augustus of Saxony (1553–86), and the complex was reconstructed into a Renaissance style castle from 1577 to 1591, including the portions that were still in the gothic architectural style. Architects Hans Irmisch[de] and Peter Kummer supervised further restoration and rebuilding. Later, Lucas Cranach the Younger was commissioned as an artist in the castle.

During this period the portal at what is known as the church house was created during 1584, made of Rochlitz Porphyr (rhyolite tuff) and richly decorated in the mannerist style by Andreas Walther II. This dimension stone has been in use in architecture for more than 1,000 years. It was at this time that both the interior and the exterior of 'the Holy Trinity' castle chapel that links the cellar and electors' house with one another were redesigned. Soon thereafter the castle became an administrative office for the Office of Colditz and a hunting lodge. During 1694, its then-current owner, King Augustus the Strong of Poland, began to expand it, resulting in a second courtyard and a total of 700 rooms.

During the 19th century, the church space was rebuilt in the neo-classic architectural style, but its condition was allowed to deteriorate. The castle was used by Frederick Augustus III, Elector of Saxony as a workhouse to feed the poor, the ill, and persons who had been arrested. It served this purpose from 1803 to 1829, when its workhouse function was assumed by an institution in Zwickau. During 1829, the castle became a mental hospital for the 'incurably insane' from Waldheim. During 1864, a new hospital building was erected in the Gothic Revival style, on the ground where the stables and working quarters had been previously located. It remained a mental institution until 1924.

For nearly 100 years, from 1829 to 1924, Colditz was a sanatorium, generally reserved for the wealthy and the nobility of Germany. The castle thus functioned as a hospital during a long period of massive change in Germany, from slightly after the Napoleonic Wars destroyed the Holy Roman Empire and created the German Confederation, throughout the lifespan of the North German Confederation, the complete reign of the German Empire, throughout the First World War, and until the beginnings of the Weimar Republic. Between 1914 and 1918, the castle was home to both psychiatric and tuberculosis patients, 912 of whom died of malnutrition. The castle was home to several notable figures during its time as a mental institution, including Ludwig Schumann, the second youngest son of the famous composer Robert Schumann, and Ernst Baumgarten[de], one of the original inventors of the airship.

When the Nazis gained power during 1933, they converted the castle into a political prison for communists, homosexuals, Jews and other people they considered undesirable. Starting 1939, allied prisoners were housed there.

After the outbreak of World War II, the castle was converted into a high security prisoner-of-war camp for officers who had become security or escape risks or who were regarded as particularly dangerous. Since the castle is situated on a rocky outcrop above the River Mulde, the Germans believed it to be an ideal site for a high security prison.

The larger outer court, known as the Kommandantur, had only two exits and housed a large German garrison. The prisoners lived in an adjacent courtyard in a 90ft (27m) tall building. Outside, the flat terraces which surrounded the prisoners' accommodation were watched constantly by armed sentries and surrounded by barbed wire. Although known as Castle Colditz to the locals, its official designation as a German military prison was Oflag IV-C and it was controlled by the Wehrmacht.

While the camp was home to prisoners of war from many different countries, including Poland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Canada, in May 1943 Wehrmacht High Command decided to house only British and American officers.

The camp's first British prisoners were the Laufen Six on November 7, 1940, who were transferred to Colditz after their first escape attempt from the Laufen Camp.

Although it was considered a high security prison, it had one of the greatest records of successful escape attempts. This could be owing to the general nature of the prisoners that were sent there; most of them had attempted escape previously from other prisons and were transferred to Colditz, because the Germans had thought the castle escape-proof.

One lavish escape scheme even included a glider, the Colditz Cock, that was built and kept in a remote portion of the castle's attic during the winter of 1944-45. The glider was never used, as the camp was liberated not long after its completion. However, after liberation, the glider was brought down from the hidden workshop to the attic below and assembled for the prisoners to see. It was at this time that the only known photograph of the glider was taken. For some time after the wa...


Wikipedia Article
  • Castle Colditz in 2011
  • Colditz Castle 1828 by Ernst Ferdinand Oehme, Albertinum, Dresden
  • Coat of arms of Augustus of Saxony and his wife Anne of Denmark over the gate to the outer courtyard.
  • The mannerist portal (rhyolitic tuff) of the church house carved by Andreas Walther II during 1584.
  • Colditz Bridge in 1945 after the town had been occupied by the US Army.
  • Colditz Castle in April 1945; photo taken by a U.S. Army soldier.
  • Colditz Castle in 2011.
  • During 2005, the scaffolding was visible from town.
  • The only known photograph of the original "Cock" glider taken on 15 April 1945 by Lee Carson, one of two American newspaper correspondents assigned to the task force which captured the castle.
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