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Episodes & Studies Volume 2

Outside Help

Outside Help

Although only a small proportion of escapers had friends outside before they escaped or any outside help arranged beforehand, few escapes succeeded without a great deal of help from sympathisers in the enemy country itself. Some of the help was involuntary; the friendship of guards was cultivated (the contents of Red Cross parcels, as happened in so many different departments of prisoner-of-war life, were admirable bargaining weapons), and they were induced to page 7 bring into camp much that was essential for escapers, from the inks and dyes needed for forging papers or altering clothes to the currency of the enemy country. In Italy before the armistice of September 1943, few Italians had dared to help escaped prisoners, but after the armistice the help given them by the Italian people was on a vast scale. In Germany the numerous bodies of foreign workers were largely hostile to the Germans: with them it was a question of risk, and an escaped prisoner had to be helped without acute danger to the helper. This in part made up for the hostility of the German people as a whole, for most Germans would always surrender or betray an escaped prisoner.

In Greece and in Crete the chances of help were very good. Only a small number of Greeks, sometimes men of substance whose possessions were in jeopardy from the Germans or Italians, were hostile to the escapers. On the other hand Greek help might not be unlimited, and it was given or withheld much more capriciously than in Italy after the armistice. In Bulgaria the people as well as their rulers were pro-Axis. A story was circulated in Greece that three English prisoners of war who jumped off a train going to Germany had been beheaded by the Bulgarians; although this story cannot be authenticated, Bulgarian spite is otherwise corroborated. Hungary provided comfortable conditions of internment and some private sympathy, and the Yugoslav underground in Austria helped prisoners to escape.