Seventy-nine years ago, 76 POWs from various countries broke free from the Nazi German Stalag Luft III camp through a long tunnel they had dug out in a daring exploit dubbed the Great Escape and considered to be one of the best organised mass escapes of World War II, Poland’s PAP news agency reported.
Only three of those who managed to flee the camp in March 1944 effectively reached safety. Seventy-three were recaptured, of whom 50 were subsequently shot on Adolf Hitler's orders.
The executed POWs came from Britain, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Lithuania, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, the Czech Republic and Greece. There were also six Poles among those killed, according to the PAP news agency.
The observances of the 79th anniversary of the Great Escape at the end of last week featured a flypast of two Polish Air Force F-16 fighter jets over Żagań, southwestern Poland, where the former camp was located, regional broadcaster Radio Zachód reported.
Polish, British and American soldiers took part in the commemoration, it said.
On Saturday, a group of American soldiers stationed in Poland and 50 British Royal Air Force (RAF) servicemen and women competed in an annual cross-country run to honour the courage of the Allied POWs, news outlets reported.
The sports competition was accompanied by a display of weaponry used by Poland's 11th Lubuska Armored Cavalry Division, the PAP news agency reported.
Żagań was once part of Germany and is now in Poland as a result of postwar border changes.
The story of the daring breakout was made into the 1963 film The Great Escape, starring Charles Bronson and Steve McQueen. In 1988, a sequel entitled The Great Escape II: The Untold Story also appeared, with Christopher Reeve in it.
Source: IAR, PAP, zachod.pl/zachod.pl, zagan.naszemiasto.pl