Lubuskie

Prisoner of War Camps Museum

Famous for the 'Great Escape' from Stalag Luft III in 1944 (thanks to Hollywood's fictionalised account), Żagań/Sagan has been home to multiple POW camps throughout its history. During WWI, prisoners of war from every Allied country were held in Sagan, and in 1919 the captured participants of the Wielkopolska Uprising were imprisoned here as well. In 1939, Stalag Luft VIIIC was built on 48ha outside of Sagan and at one point held about 50,000 prisoners in absolutely appalling conditions. Stalag Luft III was built adjacent to it in 1943, and it's primarily these two main WWII camps (though there were others in the area) for which the Prisoner of War Camps Museum serves as a memorial, museum and meeting place for former POWs and their descendants from all over the world. The museum site and surroundings are home to a multitude of historical exhibits, cemeteries, memorials, ruins and recreations of camp structures and conditions, including the famous 'Harry' tunnel used during the 'Great Escape.' A very worthwhile place to visit for anyone directly connected with the site's history, fascinated by the film or interested in WWII history.
The kind of interactive, hands-on educational exhibits kids love. [photo by M. Kitson]
 

The 'Great Escape'

For anyone who isn't already aware of the most famous story associated with this site, one of the largest escapes of WWII was attempted from Stalag Luft III in March of 1944. The operation was led by RAF Squadron Leader Roger Bushell and involved the participation of over 600 POWs, and the digging of three parallel tunnels over many months. The longest of these - the 'Harry' tunnel - was nine metres underground and about 110 metres long. On the night of March 24/25th, 1944, 76 imprisoned Allied pilots (of a planned 200) were able to escape through the 'Harry' tunnel. Although glorified in the Hollywood film 'The Great Escape,' starring Steve McQueen on a motorbike (of course), the famous operation wasn't actually much of a success and ended with all but three of the men recaptured and 50 of them executed. For more information about the actual escape and film, read our feature dedicated to 'The Great Escape'.

 

Visiting the Museum

Recreation of the 'Harry' escape tunnel. [photo by M. Kitson]
The museum is set in a socialist-era building close to where Stalag Luft III once stood, and this should be your first port of call. Head up the stairs to find the ticket office. After watching a short film on the history of the town and the camp, you can head off on your own to explore the exhibits and former grounds of the camp. First off, peruse the exhibits showing a variety of Stalag Luft III items found in the remains of the camp, service uniforms, plagues and memorials from survivor associations, as well as a model showing how the camp looked. From there head outside where you’ll find a number of meticulously constructed reproductions of the camp. The watchtower, guard posts and signs that read ‘Warning!! Upon entrance of this zone guard will shoot’ give you an idea of how the camp would have looked, while the replica of the barracks, built from scratch in less than a fortnight by volunteers from the RAF, contains more interesting exhibits and photographs of the prisoners.

Outside again, make sure to see the recreation of the Harry’ Tunnel (the one used during the 'Great Escape'), completed by young engineering students and sponsored by the EU. In touching tribute, the names of each man who escaped through the tunnel is engraved on this recreation (see photos here), and it ably demonstrates the scale of just how far they dug and crawled to try and reach freedom.

The two prominent memorials in front of the museum building 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 life in the Żagań camps, reminding visitors that this is tragic memorial site, not a celebration of Allied ingenuity, and there weren't happy endings for most of those interred here.
Victims memorial at the POW Camps Museum. [photo by M. Kitson]
 

Getting There

Although situated only a few kilometres outside of the centre of town to the south-west, the lack of signs can make finding the museum and former site of the camp a little bit of a challenge. If you have your own vehicle, follow road 296 towards Iłowa and you’ll find the museum and the remains of the camp on your left about 4km outside the centre of Żagań.
Achtung, baby.

If you've arrived in Żagań by train or bus, these transport stations (in the same location) are remarkably close to the former POW camp (hmm, wonder why that would be?). In fact, if you're able to cross over the train tracks to ul. Towarowa at the station, it's just a 10min walk to the 'Harry' Tunnel and 30mins to the ticket office of the museum on foot across the former territory of the camp.
Make a break for it!  Żagań train tracks. [photo by M. Kitson]

Alternatively, you can take a local Fenix bus from the stop in front of the station in the direction of Iłowa or Gozdnica and get off at 'Betoniarnia Tanden'; this puts you 300 metres from the museum. If a bus headed for 'Wesoła' arrives instead, that also works; get off at 'Staszica' and you're about the same distance. Bus tickets cost 2zł.
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Open

Open 10:00-16:00. Sat, Sun 10:00-17:00, Closed Mon.

Price/Additional Info

Admission 8/5zł, Tue free. Guided tours 100zł per hour (regardless of number of people); please book foreign language tours in advance.

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