Other Projects

The Historical Collection of the Stalag Luft III Former Prisoners of War

An Exhibit

About the Collection

The Special Collections Branch holds a number of interesting and historically significant collections of documents, photographs, diaries, and memoirs. Among the most significant of these is the collection which tells the story of the Allied airmen who, having been shot down in combat over Europe in World War II, were prisoners of war in Stalag LuftI II, the German camp located in Silesia (now Poland). This was the camp that became famous for its escape activity including the “Great Escape.”

This collection, assembled through the efforts of the Stalag Luft III Former POW Association, has become a centerpiece of the holdings of the Special Collections Branch of the Academy McDermott Library. It includes hundreds of photographs, many taken in the camp during the war by clandestine cameras in the possession of the POWs. There are also official photographs taken by the Germans and acquired after the war. Among the many research documents are the memoirs of Colonel Friedrich Wilhelm Von Lindeiner and Major Gustav Simoleit, both of whom served as commandants of this Luftwaffe camp. Also available is the oral history of Herman Glemnitz, a senior non-commissioned officer in charge of preventing escape.

Another highlight of this remarkable collection is the assembled work of Henry Soderberg, the Swedish volunteer with the International YMCA. He spent much of the war serving the Allied camps in Eastern Europe and kept copious diaries, photographs, and official reports of his life in wartime Germany. Soderberg’s remarkable freedom of movement within Germany enabled him to record a rare picture of the prisoner’s life and that of the German people themselves. He visited the Russian prisoners in their camps and recorded their desperate conditions. Soderberg was also an eye witness to the bombing of Dresden and he served as a volunteer among the ruins helping to save lives.

As early as October of 1944, the prisoners of Stalag Luft III learned of the atrocities occurring in the concentration camps from a group of incoming prisoners who had been erroneously sent to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. They carefully documented the facts and carried one of these documents at great risk through the German searches until the end of the war and brought it home. Another paper outlines the official escape policy of one of these camps. Of great importance are end-of-war reports written by the respective camp Senior American Officers, as well as reports of incidents and shootings that occurred in the camps as reported to the Protecting Power. A number of individual scrapbooks and works of art done by the prisoners also survived the war and are included in the collection.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the collection is that many of the rare documents were carried out of Germany by former prisoners. On Hitler’s direct orders, Stalag Luft III was evacuated on the bitter cold night of January 27, 1945. On very short notice, some 11,000 British and American officers were force-marched westward to avoid their liberation by advancing Russian armies. The fact that these men gathered up this significant historical material and carried it with them on this difficult force-march is most unusual and reflects their deep sense of history. One officer carried on his back several large ledgers filled with the names and brief accounts of how each of 2,000 prisoners was shot down and captured. Another prisoner brought out a file of weekly camp newspapers.

The collection began in 1974 with a scrap book compiled by Lt. General A. P. Clark after he retired as Superintendent of the Academy. He was a POW in this camp himself and donated his extensive collection of photographs and important documents to the Library. Gradually the collection grew in size and significance.

The Air Force Academy values this collection highly. It constitutes a rich source of unique historical documents and is widely studied by the Academy’s cadets who thus learn the importance of using primary source material for their research papers. Each year a growing number of scholars also use the collection. It has also been the subject of numerous documentaries which have been carried on network television.

About the Exhibit

A brief summary of the contents of selected panels and cases from this exhibit follows. For a more extensive treatment of this topic, see the Stalag Luft III Collection. (Link Right)

Stalag Luft III

Stalag Luft III, located 100 miles southeast of Berlin at the small town of Sagan, was opened by the Luftwaffe in April 1942. It was administered generally in accordance with the Geneva Conventions of 1929. When evacuated in January 1945, the camp held over 11,000 Allied prisoners of war.


American Personalities

The difficulties the Germans faced in running this camp are recorded in the memoirs of the Kommandant, “The flyers were all between 21 and 30 years old, as flyers, they had been trained well, physically as well as technically. Their escape attempts were aided by materials cleverly hidden in packages from home as well as items smuggled into camp.” Colonel Fredrich-Wilhelm Von Lindeiner-Wildau.




German Personalities

The Luftwaffe garrison of Stalag Luft III consisted of non-flying officers and enlisted men who were not qualified for front line duty. While the enlisted men may have been content not to be on the Russian Front, the officers surely had drawn one of the least desirable duty assignments.



Food was one of the most critically important elements in a Kriegie’s life. The Geneva Conventions require the prisoners to be given the same ration as the captor’s garrison troops. The Germans failed to do this and without the efforts of the International Red Cross, the Allied POWs in Germany would have been seriously undernourished.



Although generally overlooked in the historical record, two hundred and sixty-two escape attempts were made from Stalag Luft III prior to the “Great Escape” of March 24, 1944. Planning and preparing for escape was the main occupation for at least half of South Camp Kriegies.

The March

On Hitler’s orders, Stalag Luft III was evacuated on the night of January 27, 1945. On thirty minutes notice, South Camp became the first column as 11,000 POWs were forced-marched westward to avoid their liberation by the advancing Russian Army. After three days and nights of marching under guard in very severe winter weather, they reached Spremberg, about 75 miles southwest of Sagan. They were locked in box cars for the remainder of the journey to Stalag VIIA at Moosburg, near Munich, in Bavaria.


By April 1945, Stalag VIIA was severely overcrowded. Approximately 130,000 Allied POWs of all nationalities and ranks were either behind the wire or bivouacked in the local area. The crowding and filth in the camp had reached crisis proportions. Stalag VIIA was ripe for an epidemic. Fortunately the war soon ended.


The 14th Armored Division of the U.S. 3rd Army liberated Stalag VIIA at Moosberg on the morning of April 29, 1945. Former Kriegies remember this day as one of the happiest of their lives. Official estimates of the number of Allied prisoners at Moosberg vary from 110,000 to 113,000 including about 30,000 American officers and men.

The Next 50 Years

The trauma, anxiety, hunger, and even more importantly, the fellowship of the POW experience was not quickly forgotten. So the last fifty years have been filled with the joys of reunions, the nostalgic returns to the scene of the combat or the camps, the finding and thanking of those who gave assistance and even friendly meetings with former foes. Some of these latter experiences have been very heart-warming. Cy Widen’s experience is a classic example.



The Exhibit Opening

From the November 1997 Newsletter:

For their annual Spring exhibit, The Friends chose to display selected holdings of the Stalag Luft III Former Prisoners of War Historical collection. This marvelous collection contains memoirs, diaries, photographs and memorabilia largely brought back from Germany by liberated prisoners of this camp at the end of World War II. This collection is one of the major historical collections in the Special collections Branch of the Academy Library.

The speaker for the opening evening program held on the evening of April 25 was to have been Colonel Arthur Durand, USAF (Ret), the author of the well-known book: Stalag Luft III, The Secret Story. Colonel Durand fell ill, however, and the Friends were fortunate to have Mr. Henry Soderberg, the Swedish Representative of the International YMCA who serviced this POW camp during the war, consent to speak instead. Mr. Soderberg’s extensive collection of materials which depict his wartime service in Germany, during which he provided for the physical and spiritual needs of the thousands of Allied prisoners forms an important part of the POW collection and of the exhibit. (We regret to report that Henry Soderberg died on September 21, 1997 of a heart attack.)

On April 25th, the night of the opening of the exhibit, the ground was covered with 18 inches of snow. Traffic was snarled and traveling on the steep hills of the Academy site was difficult and dangerous. Yet in spite of nature’s prank, several hundred people, including cadets, managed to arrive at Doolittle Hall and the affair went off on schedule.

Except for this special weekend, the exhibit was displayed on the third level of the Academy Library from March 15 through June 15. During this time, most of the Academy’s 4,000 cadets, faculty, and staff, as well as thousands of Academy visitors, examined it. The Friends deeply appreciate the generous support of the exhibit by the American Numismatic Association and Cowen’s Storage/United Van Lines of Colorado Springs.

Before being disassembled, the exhibit was photographed in both traditional and digital format. In the future, the exhibit will be made available for research on the internet.