Wednesday, January 2, 2019

CYBILS SENIOR HIGH NONFICTION: The Grand Escape by Neal Bascomb


At the height of World War I, as Allied and German forces battled in the trenches and in the air, any captured soldiers and pilots were sent to a web of German prisons. The most dangerous POWs, the ones most talented at escape, were sent to the camp of Holzminden--better known as "Hellminden." Protected by every barrier imaginable, its rules enforced with cruel precision, the prison was the pride of a ruthless commandant named Karl Niemeyer.

This is the story of a group of ingenious and defiant Allied pilots and soldiers who dared to escape from Holzminden, right under Niemeyer's nose. Leading a team that tunneled underneath the prison and far beyond its walls, these breakout artists forged documents, smuggled in supplies, and bribed guards. Twice the tunnel was almost exposed, and the whole plan foiled. But in the end, a group of ten POWs escaped and made it out of enemy territory in the biggest breakout of WWI, which inspired their countrymen in the darkest hours of the war.


Neal Bascomb tell the compelling tale of a group of prisoners of war who during World War I plotted and executed an almost unbelievable escape from a German prison camp.  The daring individuals who came together to set this escape into motion are briefly described along with their backgrounds.  But the focus of the book is on the circumstances that led up to the escape, the escape itself, and the aftermath.  The conditions of the camp, the actions of the camp commandant and the tremendous determination the prisoners exhibited are all a part of the story.  What makes the book so compelling though is the way the author tells it.  The book reads like a thriller, with near misses, plenty of setbacks, and failures detailed along the way.  The inclusion of photographs of the tunnel, the camp, and the people involved make the story feel all the more real.  The maps and diagrams help the reader visualize the setting and circumstances involved in the story.  A fabulously told story that proves the adage: truth is stranger than fiction.

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