Holocaust-era Footage Chronicles Escape From Nazi Prisoners' Camp

Video, filmed in secret by French prisoners of war, provides rare insight into life inside the Nazi camp and the clandestine construction of the tunnel that allowed 132 prisoners to escape.

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Haaretz
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Haaretz

Rarely-seen footage that documents the construction of an escape tunnel from a Nazi camp has recently resurfaced in Paris.

The 30-minute documentary, filmed in secret by Allied prisoners during World War II, is called "Sous Le Manteau" (Under the Cloak) and also shows daily life inside the Oflag 17A camp.

There were 5,000 inmates at the camp, of which a few hundred were Polish and the rest French officers. They were held as prisoners of war following their defeat in the Battle of France.

According to a report by BBC, the prisoners risked their deaths in order to record the footage on a secret camera, which they constructed using materials smuggled into the camp in sausages. "The prisoners had discovered that German soldiers would only check food sent in by cutting it down the middle. The parts were hidden in the ends," wrote the BBC.

"The camera they built was concealed in a hollowed-out dictionary from the camp library. The spine of the book opened like a shutter. The 8mm reels on which the film was stored were then nailed into the heels of their makeshift shoes," wrote the BBC.

The footage provides an insight into the Austrian camp's living conditions, the minimal food that was given to prisoners, and the surprise searches conducted by German soldiers, according to the BBC.

In addition, it shows the prisoners working on one of 32 tunnels dug during the camp's lifetime - the tunnel that enabled the historic escape from Oflag 17A.

To escape from Oflag 17A, malnourished prisoners dug a 90-meters-long tunnel leading to just meters beyond the second line of barbed wire that bound the land of the camp. Shortly after weekend roll call on September 17, 1943, a large group of prisoners escaped through the tunnel, and, with the event going unnoticed by camp guards, the second group escaped the following night.

No fewer than 132 men escaped. However, according to the BBC report, 126 were recaptured within the first week, only two of the escapees managed to return to France, and only one remains alive today: Jean Cuene-Grandidier, who celebrated his 100th birthday last month.

According to the BBC, the breakout at Oflag 17A was the largest in World War II.

A prisoner-of-war enters a an escape tunnel from Nazi camp Oflag 17A, September 1943.Credit: Screengrab from 'Sous Le Manteau' (Under the Cloak)

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