The museum to the martyrdom of the allied prisoners of war was opened in 1971. It covers the history of the prisoner of war camp Stalag Luft III, where the Great Escape took place. You have to push the door bell and a member of staff will come down and let you in. The first thing you notice with the staff is they smile, not like other museums in Poland where they never smile and totally ignore you. I was the first visitor of the day and having established which language I spoke I was shown into a room to watch a documentary of the history of prisoner of war camps in the area and the Great Escape. After this I was free to wander around the museum and take pictures. There are photographs, records, models, plans, uniforms, reconstructions and artefacts. The museum does not charge for entry and relies upon donations to support it. Whilst at the museum and at the remains of Stalag Luft III I shot 8 minutes of video.
There is a watchtower in the photograph and close to it is a tunnel that has been dug into the ground and it has been covered over by a perspex cover. The problem with this arrangement can be the perspex mists up. In the future there will be a memorial set in the woods for the entrance and exit. You will be able to descend the 30 feet and gain some insight as to what it was like for the prisoners. Money is being collected at present for this memorial.
The model shows the layout of the camp. There is a label by hut 104 which contained the entrance to Harry. A second label by the watchtower shows the exit of Harry. This shows how close the exit was to the watchtower and how difficult it was to cover the open ground. Bearing in mind that it had snowed the day before and the ground would have been covered in snow making it lighter and any movement with dark clothing would show up.
The tunnel (Harry) is marked out from when hut 104 was located and heads the 100 metres towards the memorial. At the start of the tunnel the names of the 50 prisoners who were murder are engraved in the stones. As you follow the tunnel you notice it widens to indicate where Piccadilly Circus & Leicester Square the halfway houses were located. These were change over points in the tunnels and were wider areas.
This is the remains of the camp theatre. You can see that the ground slopes, this was due to sand from the tunnelling being hidden under the theatre. Various shows and acts were put on in the theatre and prisoners had to pay with camp money to attend. Peter Butterworth & Talbot Rothwell met up in the camp all took part in shows. After the war Peter Butterworth starred in a number of Carry On films and Rothwell was a co-writer of the films.
The foundation piles on which the huts stood, were constructed to make it easier for the ferrets to get under the buildings in search of tunnelling. In the end the prisoners used the foundations to hide their tunnel as it passed through the centre of the pile.
The fire pond is one of the few items to remain intact in the camp. The prisoners used the pond during the summer to sail small model boats. It is also recorded that sometimes during light hearted moments prisoners were thrown into the pond and then had great difficulty getting out because the slopping sides were slippery. In the film The Great Escape a fire pond features several times but it is much smaller than the real one.
There is nothing left of Stalag Luft III, all the buildings have gone and there is only the foundations, to indicate where the barracks once stood. I walked through the woods and past some workmen across to what was the far side of the camp. I did mainly because the sun was in front of me and I thought the photographs would be better with the sun behind me. I was aware from research that only foundations had survived and none of the barracks. Shortly afterwards I was approached by a man who spoke to me in Polish. When he realised I did not speak Polish he explained to me in English that he was the museum director and was visiting the workmen. Then to my surprise he gave me a quick tour of the camp, pointing out where some of the original buildings had been, before he left.
Having had a good look around the museum, the next thing was to find out where Stalag Luft 3 was located. Again the museum staff were most helpful. Out came the map with a large X on it and with sign language and a few odd words I quickly established where the camp was located. To get to the camp you turn right when you leave the museum and head towards Zagan town centre. On your right is a factory and when the factory grounds end approximately 500m from the museum there is a sign post telling you to turn right. It is a dirt track and approximately 1km from the road on your left is a small memorial. On your right is a barb wire fence. As you start to look around you become aware that the memorial was in fact where the tunnel exited. As you look back towards the barb wire fence you realise how close the tunnel exit was to the fence and how is was short by a few feet from the trees.
The air pump was seen action during the film the Great Escape. The bellows were made from 2 kit bags and the air ducting was constructed from milk tins. This arrangement provided air for the diggers.