Five Years Behind Hitler’s Barbed Wire

A Diary of French Officers in a German Prison Camp, 1940–1945


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About the Book

On July 3, 1940, 5,000 exhausted and hungry French officers reached a high plateau of the Moravian Mountain range in Austria. Prisoners of war of the Third Reich, they had arrived at Oflag XVIIA, a quad of grim looking barracks encircled by barbed wire, their new home for the next five years. Determined to maintain their dignity and show their “fierce will” to resist, they immediately organized and within a year created a dynamic community, complete with a university, library, newspaper, theater, orchestra and sport teams. More than 20 clandestine radios connected them with the outside world. In 1943, they executed the largest Allied POW escape of the war with 132 escapees, twice as many as the famed “Great Escape” from Colditz. Seventy years after their liberation, this translation with commentary of two officers’ diaries reveals a never before told story of struggle and triumph.

About the Author(s)

The late Henri Natter was taken prisoner in at La Bourgonce in Alsace on June 22, 1940. During captivity, he encouraged his comrades to write about their experiences so he could publish a documentation of camp life upon his return. He returned to France on May 11, 1945, as did most of his fellow officers. He died in 1981.

The late Adam Réfrégier was taken prisoner at La Bourgonne in Alsace on June 22, 1940. Born in 1892, as a World War I veteran he was repatriated to France on August 13, 1941.

Jacqueline Vautrain Collins retired after a 16-year ministry of the Unitarian Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Her article on “the Grand Escape” was published in the World War II History Magazine. She lives in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.

Bibliographic Details

Henri Natter and Adam Réfrégier

Translated and Edited by Jacqueline Vautrain Collins

Foreword by John B. Romeiser

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 268
Bibliographic Info: chronology, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2015
pISBN: 978-0-7864-9980-9
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2220-0
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Foreword by John B. Romeiser 1
Preface by Jacqueline Vautrain Collins 5
1. Called to Serve Their Country (1 September 1939–17 June 1940) 13
2. Capture (17 June–1 July 1940) 18
3. Betrayal and Humiliation (22 June–3 July 1940) 25
4. Defiance (4–20 July 1940) 36
5.  Settling In (21 July–15 November 1940) 47
6. Eight Months in Nuremberg (September 1940–May 1941) 65
7. Creating a Town Behind Barbed Wire (16 November 1940–20 May 1941) 76
8. La Semaine de France (the French Week) (25 May–September 1941) 100
9. Barbed Wire Blues (October 1941–May 1942) 118
10. Reaching ­Mid-Point (June–December 1942) 138
11. The Great Adventure (January–14 October 1943) 150
12. Wait: The Leitmotiv of the Prisoner (Late October, 1943–15 April 1945) 169
13. Trekking Eighty Miles to Freedom (16 April–11 May/19 June 1945) 191
Epilogue by Jacqueline Vautrain Collins 219
Background 231
Chapter Notes 241
Bibliography 250
Index 253

Book Reviews & Awards

“Quite extensive and thorough for even the smallest details… Collins is careful, however, to keep the voices of the men who were there at the fore-front of the storytelling and uses her own commentary to enhance their writing rather than overshadowing it.”—HNet Reviews