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Rationale for performing Historical Research

It would be fair to say that the events that happened at Colditz Castle in the Second World War have attained legendary status. The characters involved on both sides, the ingenious methods employed by both sides, and the fame and notoriety of this camp have all contributed to this in no small measure.

As with all accounts of actual historical events, many of the facts were written down some time after the events that they portray. For example, Major P. R. Reid's book 'The Colditz Story' was first published in 1952, ten years after Reid's escape in 1942. The point is that Reid and others who wrote did so at least nine or ten years after the events described, plus of course at the time of the events they were not necessarily trying to remember things with a view to one day writing them down.

After the War, the town of Colditz found itself in the Eastern Zone of the divided Germany; from 1945 to 1946 the Castle was used as an assembly camp for people who were to be expelled from the Eastern Zone; thereafter it was used as a hospital. The fact that the Iron Curtain practically prevented access to the Castle, up until the Curtain's fall in 1989, meant that until that year, the Castle was virtually out of bounds to anyone from the West.

Many people who have read the books, seen the films and played the board games have not visited the Castle. If they did visit, they would find that the Castle looks very different now from the way it used to look during the War, as described in my description of Colditz Castle page; in addition, many features of the Castle and parts of its history are not available for general consumption. To summarise, these factors exist for the following non-exhaustive list of reasons:
  • The historical records were written some time after the event
  • Although the Castle was used as a hospital, poor maintenance of the buildings meant that various unused parts of the Castle fell into disrepair
  • The demolition of unsafe buildings, particularly on both sides of the 'Seam' [the division between the inner and outer courtyards], and the Clothes Store on the Northern terrace means that the Castle no longer looks the same as it used to
  • Many parts of the Castle are now out of bounds to visitors that were not out of bounds in years past
  • Some of the tour guides do not know much specialist detail regarding the history of Oflag IVc
  • Renovation of the outer decor of the Castle has changed its appearance markedly
  • Sadly, the number of surviving former Colditz prisoners and wartime staff is dwindling

Furthermore, on reading the books, one finds that there is often variation in the historical accounts as described by the various writers.

All of the above factors mean that there is therefore lots of room for original research by people like myself, who have a real interest in the Castle and its history, and who would like to find out as much as possible about the wartime appearance and history as possible. Although there are people out there who do know a lot more about the Castle than I and my colleagues do, for some of us, the only way to recreate or visualise the way things were and are, is by deduction and by use of old photos and by comparing the historical accounts. That's what the Research section is all about.

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