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The Last Escape: The Untold Story of Allied Prisoners of War in Europe 1944-45 Hardcover – May 26, 2003

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 520 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (May 26, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670032123
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670032129
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.3 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #560,790 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The author of Tornado Down, former RAF Flight Lt. Nichol was a Gulf War POW, while Last Days of Glory author Rennell is the former associate editor of the London Sunday Times. They cleverly weave WWII policy decisions dealing with POWs with firsthand accounts of POWs inside prison camps in Europe and during the forced evacuation marches many endured during the last months of the war. As the Russians advanced in summer 1944, POWs were crammed into boxcars (and, later, ships), attacked by guards in retaliation for Allied bombing of Germany and sent on extensive forced marches, described here in horrifying detail. As the war ended, some Red Cross relief convoys got through, but General Patton failed in an attempt to liberate a POW camp holding his son-in-law behind German lines. The reluctance of Russians to return liberated British and American POWs to the West was balanced by the issue of forced repatriation of former Soviet POWs who didn't want to return to the Stalinist state. Nichol and Rennell offer anecdotal evidence that some POWs were killed by the SS, and retribution by prisoners against brutal guards also occurred. In the postwar lives of a few POWs featured, incarceration took a physical and psychological toll. While offering little in the way of new information, and failing to cover fully the complete spectrum of prison camps and prisoner nationalities, the authors provide a compelling account of the ways, means and effects of mass imprisonment during the last terrible century.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

The authors note that there were an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 British and American prisoners in camps across Germany in 1944 and 1945 who survived World War II. Nichol and Rennell admit that gathering precise information was a problem in their research for this book, and they remind readers that it is not a definitive history of the POW camps. Yet from such sources as interviews, diaries, and more than 60 books on the subject, they describe in vivid detail the horrendous conditions in the camps and the forced marches after the Allied landing in France on June 6, 1944, and the Russian army's advance from the east. Survivors tell of the bitter cold, illness, filth, lack of food, despair, exhaustion, and indignities. They relate their fear of being shot by the guards, their faith in God, and their homesickness. They remember how hidden radios kept them informed of the war's progress and how Red Cross parcels sometimes brought them much-needed food. An exceptional chronicle of bravery and endurance. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

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This was a very informative book that is at times very moving and at others very disturbing.
T O'Brien
This is a great story and should be read by all who have an interest in the Second World War, as this is a part of that story not told before.
Aussie Reader
He has drawn in biro on one of the maps in the book the route his camp marched through Poland and Germany in the closing months of the war.
Jayne L. Grant

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By L. Mayes on August 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Few history books will ever have a more immediate and visceral impact on a reader; this is a chronicle of horror, bravery, hate, love and uncertainty woven into a rich tapestry of human endeavor at the absolute limit of comprehension. The authors have put stark human faces on one of the great acts of treachery and inhumanity of the Third Reich. In the brutal winter of 1944-45 the Germans began moving over 200,000 allied POWs from the advancing Russian armies toward the west, for reasons not certain even today. The particular ordeals of POWs from a selected number of the camps are described in riveting detail, with the personalities and actions of key POW participants richly revealed in often first-hand accounts and from recent interviews and testimony. It is almost unreal the depth of depravity inflicted by the Germans, particularly the SS, on these marches, some hundreds of miles long and lasting over several months. It seems incomprehensible that as a signatory to the Geneva Convention and a generally Christian nation that the Germans could be so uncaring of fellow humans; and as badly as the American and British POWs suffered, the treatment of the Russian prisoners will leave the reader profoundly disturbed. The authors follow the main characters throughout the ordeal and in many cases through the happiness and disappointments they faced after liberation. The book is carefully constructed so that as events unfold on the ground the reader is given the backdrop of actions by the governments and military hierarchies of the USA, UK, Soviet Union and Germany which help to explain the cascading events leading to the tragedy. Like a really good novel, the books gives us a look at the aftermath, when both heroes and scoundrels get what they deserve, or, all too often, what they don't deserve.Read more ›
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By fastreader on June 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover
In December 1944, some 270,000 American, British, and Commonwealth prisoners were sent on the road so they wouldn't be liberated by the advancing Allied armies. Nichol (himself a PW during the first Gulf War) and Rennell have dug out the stories of these men, who were marched for hundreds of miles through one of the worst winters Germany has ever experienced--half frozen, generally unfed, racked with dysentery, and apt at any moment to be shot by a German guard or strafed by Allied aircraft who had no idea who they were. Afterward, their ordeal was forgotten by all but themselves. An excellent account of an unknown atrocity, which left thousands dead and other thousands crippled for life. -- Dan Ford
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Sharon on August 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Comparing suffering is a little like comparing husbands and wives: you can't do it. Yet for the thousands of Allied POWs in the second world war, comparisons were made between the German and Japanese treatment of those interred in the POW camps and which group had it worse. Yes, the inmates in Changi Prison had dysentary and work detail and died on forced marches by the score - but so did countless American and British soldiers and airmen in Germany, most notably within the last five months of the war. Who is to say that one group of POWs had a worse fate? Each of them suffered greater hardships and loss than most of us can contemplate. Yet for those reading up on that period of history, it's the horrors of the Japanese prison camps which first come to mind, not the POW camps in Europe.

The Last Escape, luckily, does not even attempt to compare the hardships of the two groups of POWs. Instead, it focuses squarely on the men interred in German POW camps, the misinformation that was given to the civilian public about their daily lives, and the reality they were experiencing. As the Russian and Allied front moved into Germany in the early part of 1945, the narrative follows the various Stalags in near-chronological order as they begin a series of forced marches deep into German territory. Mostly it is the memories and the words of those who survived the marches which tell the story (the authors highlight around fifteen veterans, who they either interviewed personally or were able to access privately published memoirs). All of the stories are horrific and utterly believable.

The book itself is easy to read, with maps strewn at various points within, clearly marked to follow the marches into Germany. I found the story quite gripping and interesting.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Edwin B. Burgess on July 24, 2003
Format: Hardcover
By June 1944, there were hundreds of thousands of Allied prisoners in German POW camps, many in eastern Germany. As the war ground on, Russian forces began threatening the easternmost camps. The Germans chose to march most of those prisoners west. It was winter, and the prisoners often had to walk hundreds of miles; many weere in poor condition after nearly six years of captivity. Allied policy on POWs was in serious disarray, but there was a great concern that SS or other authorities would massacre prisoners or hold them as hostages. Drawing on first-person narratives and published works, the British authors concentrate primarily on British POWs, secondarily Americans; virtually no attention is paid to the many other Western allies held in German camps. How the end game played out, the fates of those camps overrun by the Russians, and the general muddle, terror, deprivation, and determination of individual prisoners makes a complex story, and a valuable addition to WWII literature. Recommended for military and political collections, and public libraries. Nichol is a journalist, former RAF flier who became a POW during the first Gulf war, and author of Tornado Down. Rennell is a journalist and author of Last Days of Glory.
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