tower
Five Years Behind
Hitler's Barbed Wire

barbed wire
edited by Jacqueline Collins

The Story of Oflag XVIIA

Where 5,000 French officers were POWs for five years

The translation of a day-by-day diary portrays the atmosphere of the community and the achievements of men determined to maintain their honor and dignity despite overcrowded barracks, lack of food and sanitation. Not being required to work, the officer POWs were idle most of the day. Early on, the men decided to organize and over time by hook and by crook created the likeness of a small town in which they could participate and transform their captivity into meaningful endeavors.

Written in secret, the diary tells only what could be seen. Its coded language, allusions and unusual statements needed some interpretations. Extensive commentaries accompany the diary, bringing to light the clandestine activities, behind the scene events, good humored pranks at the expense of the Germans, as well as the cultural, historical, and political context.

Steadfastly and tenaciously, the men challenged their humiliation by their actions and achievements. Five years Behind Hitler’s Barbed Wire provides documentation in real time of the life of officer POWs and of a community’s remarkable solidarity.


“Barbed wire on the left, barbed wire on the right,
Barbed wire in front, barbed wire behind,
Barbed wire everywhere at all times.
The only way to escape the obsession of this cursed grid:
When the earth is warm,
Lying down on one’s back, following the moving changes of a cloud,
The whirling of the larks,
The migration of birds in full flight
Plunging into the infinity of the blue sky,
For they have not yet thought of putting a grid on the sky.
Diary, June 12, 1942