The Great Escape glossary A-M

The story both at Sagan and particularly after The Great Escape, when recaptured POWs were in the hands of the SS and Gestapo, involves a mix of slang, German names, official ranks and security organisations. This glossary will hopefully help people understand the terms used. 


Please note: it is common practice to refer to a particular POW camp by the town it was located in or closest to it.


Abwehr – German Military Intelligence.


Abort – German word for toilet. Standard English usage refers to a failed or abandoned attempt (like an aborted landing).


Aktion Kugel – German for Bullet Order. Issued by Gruppenfuhrer (Major General) Heinrich Muller, Head of the Berlin Gestapo, on 6 March 1944, this top secret and infamous order detailed the action to be taken by the Gestapo in dealing with recaptured POWs. Essentially, the detailed instructions for the Gestapo to follow, as a result of the German High Command's Stufe Romisch III order issued the previous month.


Amt (plural Amter) – German for 'Department'. Usually shortened to Amt. Amt IV (Department IV) controlled the Gestapo. Amt V (Department V) controlled the Kripo.


Appel (also spelt Appell in some accounts) – German for roll call. A headcount of prisoners usually held twice (09:30 and 15:00) a day, although at Schubin it was held three times a day as a punishment. Appel would be held immediately after a break out was discovered or suspected (in one camp, suspecting a break was imminent, there were 5 snap inspections daily). Prisoners would usually try to either try to fool the Germans into thinking missing inmates were still there (to delay the alarm, which gave them more time to get free) or sabotage it so the Germans didn't have an accurate idea of how many to look for, which meant it could last several hours.


Arbeitdienst – German for Work Service (some translate it as Work Corps)


Arbeitserziehungslager – German for Work and Educational Camp. A type of camp set up and run by the Gestapo during WW2. Primarily, for disciplining workers and dealing with workplace issues. Sentences usually lasted 21-56 days. Four Great Escapers and other Prominenten were briefly held at one during their journey through a collapsing Germany.


Auswiese – German for Pass. Type of travel document.


Autobahn – German for motorway.


Barth – Location for Stalag Luft I. Commandant Luftwaffe Flak Major Horst Burchard.


Bei fluchtversuch erschossen – German for 'shot while trying to escape'.


Blitz tunnel – Smaller escape tunnels, often involving only a few people. These would often be close to the wire and use features like blind spots, holes from removed tree roots, a trench the Germans initially dug in the hope of uncovering major tunnels (but quickly filled in)...They often used hazardous techniques, like mole tunnelling (where the escapers were sealed in). The Wooden Horse escape, also from Stalag Luft III, was the most successful example of a blitz tunnel.


Buchenwald – Established in 1937. One of the first and largest camps set up in Germany. Although not an extermination camp an estimated 43,000 prisoners died here. The SS operated a medical facility here which used inmates as test subjects.


Black List – Guards who were deemed to be hostile towards the prisoners had their names – with a small black cross, cut from obituaries in German papers next to it – listed on notices nailed to a post in the camp recreation ground at Schubin. This helped a rumour that the British were making a list for reprisals after the war. Which helped the prisoners by discouraging guards from further misconduct (real or imagined). Also, once the news began to get worse for the Germans, guards were easier to bribe or more willing to cooperate.


Cooler – Solitary confinement cells used to punish prisoners for breakouts and other offences. However, often with large escape attempts there were so many offenders they would often end up having to share cells. While in some camps there was a more relaxed regime that allowed prisoners in solitary confinement to mix.


CROWCASS – Central Register of War Criminals and Security Suspects. Body set up to coordinate the hunt for suspects wanted for war crimes. It was based in Paris, France.


Dachau Concentration Camp – Established in March 1933, shortly after Adolf Hitler became German Chancellor. Eventually the main camp had a network of around 150 smaller satellite camps. Was the main camp used by the Nazis for conducting medical experiments with inmates as test subjects. Exact number of prisoners who died here is not known but is estimated in the tens of thousands.


Dick – One of the three main tunnels (Tom, Dick and Harry) dug as part of The Great Escape. Started on 11 April 1943 with the others, it was located in Block 122, with its entrance in the washroom drain. Later abandoned and used to store the spoil from the other tunnels.


Dienstauweise – German permit entitling holder to be on Army property. In order to deter escapers and keep sensitive sites secure there were a number of security zones set up which had restricted access.


Dulag Luft – See under 'Durchgangslager Luftwaffe'.


Durchgangslager Luftwaffe – Usually shortened to Dulag Luft. German Air Force Transit Camp. Main German interrogation centre for Allied aircrew at Frankfurt-on-Main. While it was routine for captured aircrew to pass through this centre before being sent to a permanent camp, there were a few Allied officers that formed part of a permanent contingent here. In a couple of cases they were later charged with being collaborators ie. traitors.


Duty Pilot – Originally the extra duty carried out by pilots at British airfields, involved recording aircraft arrivals, departures, refuelling, weather forecasts and other activities. Adapted to describe the person charged with keeping watch and recording the entrance and exit of German camp staff (sometimes ferrets tried to conceal themselves inside the camp in a bid to uncover escape activities). Using a system of runners and lookouts they also kept track of their whereabouts within the camp. Started at Stalag Luft I, it later became standard practice in other British camps.


Ferret – Allied nickname for a type of German guard. Unlike the men in the guard towers and on the gates they were dressed in overalls and often carried a long metal probe. Their job was to prevent escape attempts, discover tunnels and concealed hiding places. They were known to try hiding themselves in the camp or watch with binoculars and telescopes from 'hides' outside the wire for suspicious activities. In some camps there were permanent mobile guard patrols in place of ferrets (although they were introduced in Schubin following the Asselin tunnel breakout).


Flossenberg Concentration Camp – Established in 1937. Mainly used as a forced-labour camp, with 15 satellite camps. Later, used as a transit point and holding station for Jewish people being sent to extermination camps.


Food Acco – Oorganisation set up inside the camp to barter food, and other items like cigarettes, among the POWs. One of its founders was Kenneth Seymour Toft (70879).


Fudge – Type of energy-rich mixture, which had to be carefully formulated to avoid leaving the escapers with headaches or nausea (a result of suddenly eating a lot of fat and sugar after months of poor nutrition). Cocoa base (unlike 'Goo', which had a cereal base).


Geheime Staatspolizei – Secret State Police. Usually shortened to Gestapo. Originally formed in 1933 under the command of Herman Goering. Command passed to Heinrich Himmler, Head of the SS, in 1934. In 1936, along with the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo), came under the command of the newly formed Sicherheitspolizei (Sipo).


Genickschuss – German for 'neck shot'. The SS favoured way of killing prisoners – a bullet through the back of the neck. Years of experience taught them it was easier to kill when people weren't expecting it (otherwise they tended to make a break for freedom or try to attack their killers). In camps prisoners would be routinely taken to a supposed medical examination facility and made to stand against a wall to have their height measured. Except there would be a hole in the wall and a German executioner with a pistol on the other side. This arrangement was 'upgraded' in places with an automatic trigger linked to the measuring device.


George – The fourth major Stalag Luft III tunnel. Commenced after The Great Escape tunnels: Tom, Dick and Harry. Not used.


Gepruft – German for 'Approved'. The Germans used a team of women censors to check prisoners mail as part of their intelligence operations linked to Dulag Luft. Letters from home could contain useful information like the state of morale, and even an indication of damage inflicted on targets in Britain. Letters passed through the German censors were stamped 'Gepruft' and the number of the censor. The German women came to know individual POWs and their families and would often speed up delivery of letters containing important news. Post-war they held their own reunions and some former POWs even attended them. The POWs also censored their own outgoing mail to ensure there was no sensitive information in them. Fortunately, as it happens, because after the discovery of 'Tom' one thoughtless person wrote in a letter home "Today the Germans discovered one of our tunnels".


Gestapo – See under 'Geheime Staatspolizei'.


Ghosts – Prisoners who hide themselves to fool the Germans into thinking they had escaped, and diverting resources into hunting for them. It also made it difficult for the Germans to be sure exactly how many people were inside the camp.


Goo – Second type of energy-rich mixture, which had to be carefully formulated to avoid leaving the escapers with headaches or nausea (a result of suddenly eating a lot of fat and sugar after months of poor nutrition). Cereal base (unlike 'Fudge', which had a cocoa base).


Goons – Prisoners term for their German guards. Based on a Daily Mirror cartoon strip which depicted them as low-browed, apemen of great strength and stupidity. When asked they told the Germans that it stood for German Officer, Non Commissioned.


Hauptsturmfuhrer – German SS rank, equivalent to Captain.


Harry – One of the three main tunnels (Tom, Dick and Harry) dug as part of The Great Escape. Started on 11 April 1943 with the others, it was located in Block 104, with the entrance under the tiled base of the stove. It had a pump room and work shop and two substations over its 365ft length, complete with electric lighting. All the tunnels were only about 2ft sq, so trolleys on rails and rope to pull oneself along were used to move along them (aided by the person ahead in the substation or tunnel extremity). Harry was the tunnel used to launch The Great Escape after the initial choice, Tom, was discovered.


Heydekrug – Name of the Lithuanian town where a POW camp (Stalag Luft VI) for Allied NCO aircrew was based.


Hitler Jugend – German for 'Hitler Youth'. Similar to the Boy Scouts it was to prepare young boys for eventual military service. Many actually fought and died in the closing battles of the European Theatre of WW2.


Honey Wagon – Cart used to periodically empty the contents of the latrines. The term is an ironic reference to the contents and their smell.


Hund Fuhrer / Hundfuhrer – German for Dog Leader. Basically, German guard with a dog ie. dog handler.


IS.9 – Intelligence School 9. A cover name for the organisation responsible handling information between London and the POWs. Later known as MI.9.


JAG / JAGD – Judge Advocate General / Judge Advocate General's Department. Deals with legal matters relating to the British armed forces. Also responsible for prosecuting war criminals. The Judge Advocate General is a civilian member of the judiciary who reports to the Lord Chancellor, in order to remain independent of the military.


Judas Hole – Name given to the peephole in the door, used by guards to check on their prisoners.


Karfactor – German for 'Trusty'. Essentially, a prisoner who is given slightly more freedom to carry out basic work linked to the running of the camp and the care / abuse of its inmates.


Kennkarte – German identity card.


Klipfish – Dried cod (rumoured among prisoners to have been left over from WWI).


Kommandantur – German Camp Commandant's Office.


Kriegie – The name Allied POWs gave themselves. Derived from shortening the German word for POW (Kriegsgefangener).


Kriegsfahndung – German for War Emergency Manhunt. Essentially, a massive manhunt across German and Occupied Europe involving the RHSA, police, Gestapo, Hitler Youth and Land Watch.


Kriegsgefangener – Prisoner of War (POW).


Kriegsgefangenenwesen – German for POW Office / Administration. Overall German department responsible for POW affairs.


Kriminalassistant – German Kripo rank. A junior grade.


Kriminaldirektor – German Kripo rank, equivalent to Chief Inspector. Often individuals also held the equivalent SS military rank, in this case a Major.


Kriminalkommissar – German Kripo rank, equivalent to Detective Inspector. Often individuals also held the equivalent SS military rank, in this case a Captain.


Kriminalobersekretar – German Kripo rank.


Kriminalpolizei – German for 'Criminal Police'. Usually shortened to Kripo. 


Kriminalrat – German Kripo rank.


Kriminalsekretar – German Kripo rank.


Kripo – See under 'Kriminalpolizei'.


Landwacht – German for 'Land Watch'. Name of an auxiliary police formation created in 1942. When Heinrich Himmler heard of the escape he is reported to have said it would need 60-70,000 of his men to search for the escapees.


Leicester Square – name of the second of the two interchange stations in the tunnel (Harry). Roughly 30 yards from the exit shaft. Named after the London Underground tube station.


Mespot – A Mespot letter was what is commonly referred to by Americans as a Dear John letter ie. a rejection from a love interest or partner. Mespot being a shortened term for Mesopotamia (now Iraq), site of an early RAF overseas base. A posting there often led to strain on and eventually breakdown in relationships.


Man of Confidence – From the German 'Vertrauenman'. A prisoner representative, usually relates to NCOs and junior ranks. British officers were usually represented by the Senior British Officer (SBO).


MI.9 – Military Intelligence, Department 9. A branch of the British secret services set up to aid escapers and handle code messages to and from POWs.


Mixture – Name for escape rations. The energy-rich mixture had to be carefully formulated to avoid leaving the escapers with headaches or nausea (a result of suddenly eating a lot of fat and sugar after months of poor nutrition). Also see 'Goo' and 'Fudge'.


Mole Tunnel – a method of covert tunnelling where the escapers, having made a big enough hole, are sealed inside the tunnel. They then pass the earth excavated from the front face to behind them. An extremely hazardous form of tunnelling.

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