If you’re a fan of the movie “The Great Escape” or even if you are just a fan of WWII history, Żagań will be a real treat. Though for many years there was little to see in Żagań, today - thanks to the work of diehard historians and RAF personnel - the Stalag Luft III POW camp has been partially recreated and houses the rather excellent Museum of the Prisoner of War. The site does a fine job recounting and recreating the camp conditions, paying tribute to the famous March 25th, 1944 escape, and even to the film (despite the fact that their stories differ considerably).
Situated out in the woods only a few kilometres from the city centre of Żagan, at Stalag Luft III you’ll find a number of recreations meticulously constructed to reproduce the camp in all its particulars. The watch-tower and barracks replicas are a bit chilling as are the guard posts and signs that read “Warning!! Upon entrance of this zone guard will shoot." The “Harry” Tunnel (the one used during the Great Escape) has an impressive recreation in the front courtyard completed by young engineering students sponsored by the EU. The two prominent memorials in front will bring a sober reminder of the true purpose and symbolism of the camp. The first is a small memorial to the “Long March” in which the surviving prisoners were brutally forced to march through the snow west into Germany to evade the Russian advance. The second is a huge and heart-breaking sculpture of an emaciated starvation victim curled in the foetal position having succumbed to the deprivations of the camp’s environment. For those who haven’t seen the film, all but three of the escapees were recaptured and most were summarily executed. So, while it is an amazing and inspiring film and place to visit, don’t expect a happy Hollywood ending.
While you’re in the area, the town of Żagań itself has a few sights of its own including the Augustine Monastery and complex, the ancient city walls, the Town Hall and a slew of old churches. Take a stroll before heading back to the train station and lighten your mood with a little sightseeing before saying goodbye to living history.