On March 1944 seventy-six Allied prisoners of war (POWs) escaped from their German prison camp, Stalag Luft III. Nearly all were recaptured; fifty were later shot on Hitler's express order. In this paper, I focus on what happened in the period between the recapture of the POWs and the interment of their remains at Stalag Luft III.  I will discuss the treatment of the escaper's bodies by German authorities, the dual narrative the grieving POW camp community composed to make sense of their comrades’ deaths, and their construction of a memorial vault to house the dead prisoner's remains. The paper reveals the deep emotional resonance of what came to be known as ‘the Great Escape’.  It addresses a long-neglected aspect of the history of this infamous event of the Second World War and provides an example of some of the broader themes I am exploring in my ARC DECRA project: “Between Death and Commemoration: An Australian History of the War Corpse”.

Presenter: Dr. Kate Ariotti

Kate Ariotti is a historian in the School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry at the University of Queensland. Her research focuses on understanding the social and cultural impacts of war in Australia. She has published extensively on histories of wartime captivity and the experiences of Australian POWs, as well as the ways in which Australians have remembered and commemorated wars. Her current research project, funded by an ARC DECRA Fellowship, examines the changing treatment of the remains of Australian war dead between the First World War and recent wars in the Middle East. Before commencing her position at the University of Queensland, Kate worked as a Historian in the Military History Section of the Australian War Memorial and, most recently, in the School of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Newcastle.