The Singen Route. The Stories of Nineteen Allied POW Soldiers and Their Escape to Ramsen, Switzerland, Between 1941 and 1943


Essai, 2017
81 Pages

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Table of Contents

1 The Road from Singen to Gottmadingen

2 Hans Larive

3 Singen instead of Basel

4 Singen, a near-the-border town

5 Villa Welzhöfer

6 Mysterious Spiesshof

7 Singen → Soest → Juliusburg → Colditz

8 April 1941: The first two [Dutch] "home runs" along the "Singen Route"

9 Next in line: Larive himself and another Dutchman

10 One month later: September

11 January 1942: The first British officer on the "Singen Route"

12 Eight months later (September 1942): Another mixed couple

13 Almost a mass evasion (October 1942): Three English officers and one Canadian

14 No fences, no walls

15 Two submariners (petty officers) in December

16 A bunch of three: A butcher, a student and a salesman (October 1943)

17 Swiss territory - apparently inviolate

18 Annex 1: Alain Le Ray

19 Annex 2: Pierre Mairesse-Lebrun

20 Summary

21 Timeline

1 The Road from Singen to Gottmadingen

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This map from 1942 shows the road from Singen to Gottmadingen touching a salient of Swiss territory at a location called "Spiess", west of a mountain called "Rosenegg" (which is in Germany) and north of a hamlet called "Hofenacker" (which is in Switzerland). The Singen-Gottmadingen railway line is a little bit further north.

Now imagine yourself walking from Singen either along the road or the railway line and then turning south, just west of Spiess (and the distance from Singen is just about 5 km), and you are in Switzerland!

It is the route taken by 19 Allied officers (Dutch, British, one Canadian) in the years 1941-1943. They were prisoners of war but had escaped from captivity, the majority of them from Colditz in Saxony, and had made it by railway either directly to Singen or to train stations near Singen. They knew which way to walk in order to reach Switzerland because they had the necessary knowledge: maps and instructions. They were following "the Singen Route", which had been discovered and named by the Dutch naval officer Etienne-Henri (nickname: Hans) Larive.1

If you wanted to walk the route today, it would take you a little more than an hour:

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Source: openstreetmap.org.; Distance, roughly 5 km.

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The Swiss territorial salients in the Schaffhausen area and the situation of Spiesshof

2 Hans Larive

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Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Larive#/media/File:Hans_Larive.jpg

In May 1940, 24-year-old Hans Larive was on his way "home" into the Netherlands from service in the Dutch colony of the Netherlands East Indies (which today is independent Indonesia). The so-called "phony war" had been lasting ever since September 1939. After Germany had invaded Poland, Great Britain and France had declared war against Germany, but nothing had happened for more than eight months. There was a state of war but no fighting.

Then Germany suddenly attacked and defeated the Netherlands. Larive's boat was involved in a skirmish, but after a week the Dutch forces capitulated. Larive could have signed the following declaration2:

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But he didn't and became a German POW (= prisoner of war). Prisoners of war, depending on whether they were common soldiers or officers, were treated differently. Officers were kept separately and did not have to work whereas common soldiers were often used as farm or factory labourers.

During World War II, the so-called Hague Convention (a predecessor of the 1949 Geneva Conventions) was in vigour. It had been ratified by Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom in 1909. The total number of ratifying states was 38.

Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its annex: Regulations concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land. The Hague, 18 October 1907.

Annex to the Convention: Regulations respecting the laws and customs of war on land - Section I : On belligerents - Chapter II : Prisoners of war - Regulations: Art. 6. 6

Art. 6. The State may utilize the labour of prisoners of war according to their rank and aptitude, officers excepted.

(https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/applic/ihl/ihl.nsf/ART/195-200016?OpenDocument)

Hans Larive was taken to a POW camp for officers, a so-called "Oflag" (German abbreviation for "Offiziersgefangenenlager) in Soest in Westphalia, from which he escaped already two months later. He had managed to obtain civilian clothes, he had some Dutch money (which he could exchange for German money). He decided not to flee towards Holland because he suspected that the Germans would look for him there, but headed towards Switzerland. The particulars of his flight can be found in his book

3 Singen instead of Basel

Larive's first idea was to get somehow to Basel, which he knew was a Swiss city near the German border. But as he studied a map of the German railway network - as it used to be on display on a wall in the railway carriages - he was struck by the proximity at which the railway line from Singen to Schaffhausen (via Gottmadingen - Bietingen - Thayngen) passed a protruding bit of Swiss territory.

At points where a railway line directly entered Swiss territory, there were certainly strict controls. But where the railway line only came close to Swiss territory, chances to cross into Switzerland might be better, he calculated.

Larive reached Singen with some difficulty and left "the village" (as he calls Singen in his book) walking westwards. He had no map, no knowledge of the countryside, but thought that the border would be about 10 km away - which was wrong! He overestimated the distance and found himself in Gottmadingen, beyond the point where he wanted to turn south. Before that, he had even followed the wrong railway tracks of the so-called "Randenbahn" towards Hilzingen and Riedheim.

The Randenbahn no longer exists (it was abandoned in 1966), but it was a winding one-track line whereas the connection to Schaffhausen was straight and double-track. If you look at the map, you see that Larive could have made it into Swiss territory even from Riedheim. But as he asked some farm labourers for the route to Schaffhausen, they reacted with suspicion and sent him back to Singen from where he followed the right tracks walking, however, too far (as mentioned above).

In Gottmadingen, he smuggled himself into a train that was about to leave for Schaffhausen. But at the last stop before the border (Bietingen), he was caught and arrested and taken to Singen where he was questioned by the Gestapo the next day.

4 Singen, a near-the-border town

Hans Larive was not entirely wrong about calling Singen a "village"3. Singen had long been an insignificant place - until the railway came. For topographical reasons, Singen became a crossroads of several railway lines. At the end of the 19th century, several Swiss enterprises established German branch factories - just a few miles from the border - in Singen from where their goods could be easily distributed via rail throughout the German Customs Union ("Zollverein") without the import duties which would have to be paid for any merchandise that came directly from Switzerland.

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The Maggi factory buildings behind the Singen railway station

Earliest and foremost among those Swiss enterprises was Maggi. Although Hans Larive must have seen the Maggi factory upon his arrival in Singen (it is just behind the station building - there was even a footbridge over the railway from the Maggi factory into the town), he does not mention it in his book. Nor does he seem to have been struck by the sight of Hohentwiel, a mountain of volcanic origin which towers over Singen.

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Hohentwiel mountain behind the Maggi factory

Airey Neave, who in January 1942 was the first British officer to use the Singen Route, came through Singen at night and, during the blackout, skirted Hohentwiel together with his Dutch companion Anthony Lutejn and thought it was a "slag heap"4. Even today, as railroad transport has become less important than when Singen was granted town privileges (in 1899), Singen is characterized by its vicinity to the Swiss border. It has become a major shopping town that attracts numerous Swiss customers (who usually will arrive in their own cars), who find prices much cheaper in Germany than in their own country. The border can hardly be called a checkpoint any more. Since Switzerland joined the Schengen Area in 2008, the border can be passed anywhere, even on footpaths and hiking trails, and there are only spot or random checks - and these need not be precisely at the border itself.

In 1940, Singen, admittedly a small place, but not a village any more, had a building at the edge of town, a villa which had been inhabited by one of the directors of GF, a factory that produced malleable cast iron fittings. It had been seized by the Gestapo and was used for interrogations. This is where Hans Larive found himself on the day after he had been arrested at the Bietingen railway station.

5 Villa Welzhöfer

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The Gestapo villa my own photograph, taken in 2017)

The villa was named after the GF Fittings Company director who had lived there: Villa Welzhöfer. It was in Waldstraße, at the edge of town. It still stands today but is privately owned and inhabited.

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Singen as a small town - between the River Aach and a forest that belonged to Württemberg map obtained from the City Archives of Singen

In his book, Hans Larive describes the Gestapo agent who questioned him as a "big brute" and nicknames him "the bull"5. Larive abandoned the story which he had told the police in Bietingen (that he was a Dutch student in Switzerland who had strayed across the border on a hiking tour, that his papers were in Schaffhausen) and admitted that he was a Dutch officer. Trying to escape from a POW camp was not a crime as such. An escapee who was caught and gave himself up was simply returned to his prison camp and punished by one month of solitary confinement.

As the Gestapo agent had worked as a cook at a hotel in Holland before the war, he became rather friendly towards Larive once that the true identity of the Dutchman had been established. He told him that it had been clever to travel by train to Singen because Singen was the last train station before the border where not every train passenger's identity papers were checked. But that it had been foolish to board a train again in Gottmadingen. He asked Larive why he had not simply run across the border between Singen and Gottmadingen. As it became obvious that Larive did not know where exactly the border was and whether or how it was guarded, the "bull" showed him a staff map and explained to him how he should have gone in order to reach Switzerland safely. He also told him that the border was not guarded at all and certainly not defended against the "damned Swiss", that Larive could have walked simply across it.

The Gestapo agent was convinced that the war would be over by Christmas 1940, won by Germany of course, and that Larive would not take the risk of a second escape attempt. He was wrong on both points. The war lasted till 1945 as everybody knows, and Larive escaped again one year later. And not only did he escape again himself but had passed on the very useful information that he had obtained during his interrogation at Villa Welzhöfer to fellow POW officers.

Major Patrick Robert Reid, who would be no.11 in the list of successful escapees along the Singen Route, later acted as an advisor to various film and television productions about the Colditz POW camp and the escapes from there. That is why he figures in the Internet Movie Data Base (imdb). He knew Larive's story of course and had written a book that included an account of Larive's interrogation in Singen. He must have been grossly misunderstood by whoever collected the information for imdb because the version of what happened in Villa Welzhöfer in the Data Base is as follows: "The route they followed into Switzerland was a route that other escapee's [sic!] had used before. The German commander of the area was so confident the war was going to end soon he allowed escapee's [sic!] to cross into Switzerland."

(http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0717384/bio?ref_=nm_dyk_trv_sm#trivia - retrieved on Feb.24th, 2017)

6 Mysterious Spiesshof

Larive writes about his interrogation: "He [The Gestapo agent] asked me whether I remembered a certain house at the edge of a wood and the road leading past that house into the wood - the sharp bend further down? Well, a quarter of a mile beyond that bend I should have turned left off the main road and followed a path."6

After the war, Larive revisited the location and photographed the house that the Gestapo agent had mentioned.

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What Larive did not know and did not discover either during his 1957 visit to the area and what the Gestapo agent had not told him is that the house at the bend of the road was already in Switzerland. Its name is "Spiesshof" and it was built at this location some time before World War I, when the border was open, to attract German customers who travelled along the Singen - Gottmadingen road. It was an inn and wine bar then. Witness this advertisement from 1907, where the address of the house is given as "Switzerland, near Singen":

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A map from 1850 shows that the very tip of the Ramsen salient was empty, that there was no building.

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The present 2017 situation is the following:

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The house is no longer an inn or a farmhouse but an institution for the treatment of drug addicts, not open to the public of course. One can cross the border right west of it and then follow the asphalt road to Hofenacker and Ramsen. Which is what a group of British travellers of the Colditz Society did in October 2016 - they wanted to walk the Singen Route as exactly as possible and follow in the footsteps of Airey Neave.

The house is no longer visible from the Singen - Gottmadingen road if you come from Singen. Trees have grown up and hide it from view.

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If one travels the other way round, however, from Gottmadingen to Singen, the house is well visible, and until recently a rusty signpost signalled Swiss sovereignty.

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The sign has been taken away in the meantime, has been repainted and is now in the centre of Ramsen.

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But what about Spiesshof in 1940? Could Larive had entered it and been in Switzerland? Was it a farm or a Swiss border post? Why did the "bull" in Singen tell Larive that the way into Switzerland was a quarter of a mile beyond it?

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An aerial photography of Spiesshof and surrounding area from the 1960s (ETH archives)

If you ask people in Singen or Gottmadingen about Spiesshof today, most of them will not know the place. Others have wrong notions like: "It is a Swiss exclave", or "Isn't that the place where the border runs right through the kitchen of the house?"

Until the 1970s, when the Swiss franc was lower than the German mark, Spiesshof was an inn. German customers could park their car in Germany, then cross the border on foot and eat and drink in Switzerland. As the Swiss currency rose more and more against the German mark, restaurant prices in Spiesshof were no longer attractive for German customers, and the inn closed. A sign "Gasthaus Spiesshof", advertising Swiss Falkenbier, has remained close to border marker no.176 to this day (2017). In summertime, it is hidden though by the surrounding vegetation.

In a book published in 1996 on the occasion of the 1150-year anniversary of Ramsen7, a short paragraph is devoted to Spiesshof. But it simply says that the wooden beams of the house have seen a lot over the past 150 years and would have a lot to tell, without going into details. But apparently, Spiesshof was in some way fenced off in 1940. Commuters between Gottmadingen and Singen, who had bought their daily duty-free allowance of Swiss tobacco there on their way home from work, could no longer do so.

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Germany is on the left and in the forefront, Switzerland is on the right and in the background.

7 Singen → Soest → Juliusburg → Colditz

Enriched by his knowledge about how to escape successfully from Singen into Switzerland, Hans Larive returned to the Oflag in Soest. An German camp officer came all the way from Soest to pick him up and accompany him back.

After a while, Larive was transferred to another Oflag, Juliusburg in Silesia (today in Poland). He passed on his knowledge about the "Singen Route" to two fellow countrymen, captain Hugo Trebels (born in 1905) and lieutenant Frans van der Veen (born in 1908), who successfully escaped from Juliusburg and were the first escapees to arrive in Switzerland via the Singen Route.

Larive himself was transferred once again, to Colditz this time. Colditz in Saxony was a "Sonderlager", a maximum security camp for officers who had tried to escape and had been caught. Colditz Castle is an impressive sight even today.

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Colditz Castle (private photo taken in 2016)

In spite of enormous difficulties to flee from Colditz, there were 32 so-called "home runs", i.e. successful escapes into freedom.8 Many more attempts were made, but were detected or ended in recapture. One single flight attempt also ended in the ecapee's being shot to death in the park outside the castle. Hans Larive and his countryman Francis Steinmetz were numbers 5 and 6 of the successful escapees and the first ones to make it from Colditz into Switzerland via the Singen Route. Before them, four French officers had fled from Colditz, two of whom also reached Switzerland via Singen, though not along the flight path known to Larive, but in much more dramatic ways. See the annex for that.

8 April 1941: The first two [Dutch] "home runs" along the "Singen Route"

Based on material obtained from Swiss Archives: E4264#1988/2#10828* TREBELS, HUGO, 20.02.1905, 1940- 1941 and E4264#1988/2#10829* VAN DER VEEN, FRANZ, 26.09.1908, 1940-1941

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Source: Schweizerisches Bundesarchiv, E4264#1988/2#10828*, Az. P049976, Trebels, Hugo, 1940-1941

Upon their arrival in Switzerland, 36-year-old Hugo Trebels and 32-year-old Frans van der Veen were put into arrest (in German: "Haft") for crossing the border illegally (in German: "verbotener Grenzübertritt"). They were both transferred from Ramsen to Schaffhausen where they were questioned by the police and had to sign a declaration.

They had fled from Juliusburg in Silesia on Sunday, April 6th, 1941, had taken the train at Öls (about 13 km away) and, upon arrival at Singen, had marched to Ramsen without any difficulty. On April 8th, Trebels was questioned by the Schaffhausen police, van der Veen one day later. Only two days to reach Switzerland!

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A train connection from Olesnica via Poznan and Berlin today, in 2017, would take more than 16 hours, and by car it would take at least 8 hours to drive a distance of 962 km.

Two Dutchmen travelling in German trains at the time probably did not arouse much suspicion. On the one hand, they presumably understood and even spoke German quite well. On the other hand, there were numerous Dutch and Belgian "Fremdarbeiter" (literally: "alien workers") in Germany who replaced the German men who, as soldiers, were stationed in occupied France, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, or were fighting in North Africa and the Balkans (soon they would also be sent against Soviet Russia).

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Both Dutch officers had been born in the Netherlands East Indies (today: Indonesia), one of them in the capital Batavia (today: Djakarta). Both were professional officers, had attended a course in Holland when Germany invaded their country and, just like Hans Larive, had refused to sign a declaration of loyalty towards Germany whereupon they were treated as POWs, had been sent to Soest and later to Juliusburg. Both declared in Schaffhausen that they wanted to be allowed to contact the Dutch embassy in Berne and that they would like to return to the Netherlands East Indies. Two weeks later, they were in Geneva with the following conditions imposed on them:

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- Word of honour not to leave Switzerland without announcing their intention 24 hours in advance to the police
- Commitment to scrupulously follow the blackout instructions
- Commitment not to take part in public meetings and not to speak in such meetings
- Commitment not to leave Geneva without special permission by the police
- Obligation to stay at Pension Terraillet, with strolls into the vicinity allowed for health reasons allowed
- Commitment to behave with a maximum of discretion

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The above decision was taken in the light of the fact that

- the escapees were military persons,
- it was likely that they would be able to leave Switzerland, as Switzerland demanded it of all those who penetrated into its territory,
- that a space of time of 15 to 20 days was necessary, however, in order to obtain identity papers,
- that Switzerland reserved its right to take any measures considered necessary if any of the imposed obligations were not fulfilled or if the departure should turn out not to be possible.

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The last that we know about Trebels and van der Veen from the documents in Swiss Archives is that almost three months later, in July 1941, they were likely to leave Switzerland soon.

9 Next in line: Larive himself and another Dutchman

Based on material obtained from Swiss Archives: E4264#1985/196#2232* LARIVE, ETIENNE HENRI, 23.09.1915, 1941-1941 and E4264#1985/196#2233* STENMETZ, FRANCISCUS, 20.09.1914, 1941-1941

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Source: Schweizerisches Bundesarchiv, E4264#1985/196#2232*, Az. N02746, Larive, Etienne Henri, 1941-1941

4 months later:

Hans Larive and Franciscus Steinmetz took three days to reach Switzerland from Colditz in Saxony, one day more than Trebels and van der Veen had taken from Juliusburg in Silesia, which was much farther away from the Swiss border.

Notice the little difference between the Schaffhausen police reports about Trebels and van der Veen on the one side and Larive and Steinmetz on the other side. The investigation now concerns "illegal crossing of the border & escape from imprisonment in Germany".

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Schweizerisches Bundesarchiv, E4264#1985/196#2233*, Az.N02746,Stenmetz [sic!] , Franciscus,1941-1941

Both were navy officers with a large part of their lives spent in the Dutch colony of the Netherlands East Indies, Steinmetz had submarine experience but been captured on land during fights in Amsterdam. Just like Trebels and van der Veen before them, they had been to the POW camps of Soest and Juliusburg. But then they had been transferred to Colditz and were the first ones to make it from there to Switzerland via the "Singen Route".

Their flight was not totally smooth. They met a German border patrol on the Singen - Gottmadingen road, ran into the forest while a shot was fired after them. They hid in a bush, a search party with dogs could not find them as the weather - luckily for them - was rainy. They waited till it was dark, crossed the border but strayed off to the west and were at the German customs house on the Gottmadingen - Buch road. When a searchlight was directed at them as they were resting near a barn, they did not know whether they were in Germany or in Switzerland. But the guard turned out to be Swiss. They were safe. Hans Larive is one of three escapees who later related the particulars of his flight in a book.

The title of his book (published in 1975, see p.6 above) sounds like a variation of John le Carré's famous novel "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" (1963). It was the English version of what he had published 25 years earlier in Dutch, in Amsterdam, in collaboration with Johan Willem Frederik Werumeus Buning.

The Dutch title "Vannacht varen de Hollanders" means: "The Dutch run tonight".

And on the run both Larive and Steinmetz remained. In Geneva, they prepared for the second phase of their journey; Larive's words: "We had but reached the half-way house , England was our target."9

And indeed, a little more than two months later, Larive and Steinmetz had left Switzerland, as the following document confirms:

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Franciscus Steinmetz

An article by Martin Sugarman lists Franciscus Steinmetz as a Dutch Jewish navy commander (https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/ww2/sugar6.html, retrieved March 8th, 2017).

10 One month later: September 1941

Based on material obtained from Swiss Archives: E4264#1985/196#2308* GIEBEL, KONRAD, 09.07.1900, 1941-1941 and E4264#1985/196#2307* DRYBER, OSKAR LUDWIG, 04.04.1914, 1941-1941

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Another two Dutch officers made it in September 1941. 41-year-old Conrad Giebel is the first escapee for whom Swiss Archives have a report directly from Ramsen (and not only from the police in Schaffhausen). The report is stamped "HAFT", meaning "detention".

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Oskar Ludwig/ Louis Drijber Conrad Giebel (sometimes also spelled Dryber)

Giebel was and would remain the oldest officer to escape via the "Singen Route"; none of the others who would follow would be older.

Both officers had a past of commuting between their motherland and its Asian colony of the Netherlands East Indies. Drijber was also born there whereas Giebel was born in South Africa where his family lived when the Second Boer War broke out. Their itinerary through several German POW camps resembled those who had fled before them: Soest - Juliusburg - Colditz. They had reached Singen by train and had marched from the train station in Singen to Swiss territory without any difficulty. They were arrested by a Swiss customs official. A subsequent paper written by the Swiss authorities stresses the fact, however, that they are officers and should be treated as such.

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A special convention of those signed at The Hague in 1907 applied to prisoners of war who arrived in neutral territory.

CONVENTION RESPECTING THE RIGHTS AND DUTIES OF NEUTRAL POWERS AND PERSONS IN CASE OF WAR ON LAND

http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/hague05.asp#art13

Art. 13. "A neutral Power which receives escaped prisoners of war shall leave them at liberty. If it allows them to remain in its territory it may assign them a place of residence."

Switzerland thus had to leave Giebel and Drijber at liberty, but could assign them an obligatory place of residence. This is what happened. In a letter dated September 24th, 1941 (two days after their arrival in Switzerland), the Swiss Army told the police that both Dutch officers would have to stay at either Geneva or Nyon.

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Before being assigned to a place of residence in Southern Switzerland, they were allowed to contact the Dutch embassy in Berne. The language of contact with diplomats was French, of course.

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A few months later, both Giebel and Drijber had left Switzerland, Giebel in November 1941 and Drijber in January 1942.

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11 January 1942: The first British officer on the "Singen Route"

Based on material obtained from Swiss Archives: E4264#1985/196#2588* NEAVE, AIREY SHEFFIELD, 23.01.1916, 1942-1942 and E4264#1985/196#2587* LUTEYN, ANTON (TONNY), 10.02.1917, 1942-1942

Up to the end of 1941, all successful escapes along the "Singen Route" had been made by couples of Dutch officers. In January 1942, the first mixed couple, one Dutchman and one Englishman, were on their way from Colditz to Singen. But they could not reach Singen by train as all their predecessors had done.

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Anthony (Tony) Luteijn, also spelled "Tonny Luteyn" in Swiss documents and in Neave's book

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Airey Neave

They were almost-26-year-old Airey Neave and almost-25-year-old Tony Luteijn, a mixed couple not only because of their different nationalities, but also because one of them (Luteijn) was a career officer, who had spent his life in the army, and the other one (Neave) had been a lawyer before the war; he was mobilized in August 1939.

Presumably, only Tony Luteijn spoke German well or even fluently. A foreign accent was not necessarily something that would betray you in Nazi Germany. There were lots of foreigners or people with a foreign accent. In his debriefing, Neave declared:

"Advantage can be taken from the presence of two sorts of foreigners in Germany:

1 Volksdeutsche (German nationals) who may speak very little German and who have been repatriated from places like Bessarabia, Volkynia, and Lithuania. This is particularly useful for those escaping in Poland where large transplantations of the population have taken place.
2. Workers from occupied countries and Italy, especially Dutch, Walloons, and Flemish. There are many of these in industrial areas of Germany adjoining Holland. All of these speak only a certain amount of German."10

German spoken with an English accent would, of course, be a different matter. Therefore, as the couple Luteijn-Neave travelled through Germany, it can be supposed that Luteijn did most of the talking. Anyway, when they wanted to buy a train ticket to Singen in Ulm, they aroused suspicion and were taken to a building where they were told to wait. They fled, walked all the way to Laupheim (a distance of about 23 km) and, very cautiously, only asked for a ticket to Stockach at the Laupheim train station.

After arriving in Stockach, it was another 23-km walk to Singen, which they thought they could manage during the night and even reach Switzerland. But it was a sort of winter as we hardly have them any more nowadays, bitterly cold and with lots of snow.

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Source: Openstreetmap.de; distance: 23,7 kmà ca. 5 hours of walking

In the early morning hours, Neave and Luteijn met a party of loggers who did not believe their story that they were Polish "Fremdarbeiter" (forced workers from foreign countries). One of the loggers rode off on his bicycle saying that he would inform the police. The two officers ran off into the woods and found a hut in which they could hide and sleep. Heavy snowfall prevented a German search party from discovering them. In the hut, they found two white beekeeper's coats, which they took with them the next day and which they put on in the snowy landscape the next night when they crossed the border successfully. But before that, they had a critical encounter with some Hitler Youth as they approached Singen (which they later crossed during the blackout). The Hitler Youth had been dispatched with the express task of looking for escaped British officers who wanted to cross the border. Luteijn persuaded them that he and Neave were Westphalians returning from work into their Singen sleeping quarters. In the 1940s, the ordinary local people of Singen would speak Alemannic dialect and would only have a vague knowledge of other dialects within Germany. The two boys could be easily deceived. But in a private conversation after this encounter, the two Allied officers admitted that they would not have hesitated to strike down the two German youths with the spades which they were carrying and which they had also taken from the beekeeper's hut. At such a short distance from the border, they would not be stopped by a minor obstacle. Luckily, the German boys believed the story of Westphalian workers. If they hadn't, it might have cost them their lives.

Near the border, Luteijn and Neave observed a sentry. They hid in a ditch waiting for a propitious moment to move on. It was half past four at night when they crossed into Switzerland. Their stolen beekeeper's coats provided them with camouflage in the snow which was waist deep in some places. They arrived safely in the Swiss village of Ramsen where they had the most extraordinary welcome. Together with a Swiss guard, who still had his rifle on his shoulder, Neave and Luteijn danced in the snow and woke up the population of Ramsen. Neave writes in his book: "Never in my life, perhaps, will I ever know such a moment of triumph." "We were the children who travelled beyond the Blue Mountains. We had reached the Promised Land."11

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The Swiss police obviously found it remarkable that someone whose father's first name was "Izaak" should be a Catholic and put double red exclamation marks into their report. Luteijn carried a passport, also something exceptional among the escapees.

Luteijn was born in the Dutch East Indies, as so many Dutch escapees before him, but had lived in Holland ever since 1936. He had attended the Royal Military Academy at Breda and had been promoted to lieutenant on July 13th, 1940. From what Luteijn told the Swiss police, we learn that 200 Dutch officers and cadets of the Breda Academy had signed the declaration required by the Germans (see chapter no.2) and that only twelve, of whom he was one, had refused. After that, his itinerary had been the Oflags of Soest - Juliusburg - Colditz, which we already know from Larive, Steinmetz, Giebel and Drijber.

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Schweizerisches Bundesarchiv, E4264#1985/196#2587*, Az. N02992 Luteyn, Anton (Tonny),1942-1942

Luteijn also had some interesting things to tell the Swiss about conditions in a German Oflag.The treatment of Allied officers in POW camps by the Germans was correct, but the food was miserable. Fortunately, there were those parcels from home (yes, that was possible during WWII, thanks to the Red Cross). There had been an increase in black-market transactions between the Allied prisoners and their guards, although this was strictly forbidden. Cigarettes (received in those Red Cross parcels) were a commodity that the POW officers could trade. The use of the "Heil Hitler" salute by their German guards had decreased, according to Luteijn's testimony, which he attributes to war weariness ("Kriegsmüdigkeit"). Luteijn's intention was to get in touch with the Dutch embassy in Berne and to continue somehow to the Dutch East Indies.

Now, let us have a closer look at the first British escapee on the "Singen Route", Airey Neave:

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Source: Schweizerisches Bundesarchiv, E4264#1985/196#2588*, Az.N02993, Neave, Airey Sheffield, 1942-1942

Airey Neave was the most prominent of all the escapees along the Singen Route. He would return to Germany shortly after the war and be present at the Nuremberg trials. Later he would play a role in British politics. He was brutally assassinated in 1979 by a car bomb planted by the Irish National Liberation Army. This is what he told the Schaffhausen Police about himself:

"I was born in London. Four years after my birth, we moved to Essex, where I have lived ever since. I have a lawyer's office in London. During my studies, in 1931, I passed a military exam in the cadet corps, whereupon I was promoted to lieutenant. In 1936, I was a volunteer for military service. Until the outbreak of war, I did military service for two weeks each year with four trainings each week. When the war broke out, I was in the Voluntary Regiment, Artillery 1, and we were obliged by law to do military service. I was mobilized on August 24th, 1939, and our antiaircraft defence regiment was stationed in the vicinity of Brentwood until March 6th, 1940. During this time, I was an instructor in Hereford for two months. On March 6th, 1940, our regiment went to France. Our regiment defended the towns of Boulogne and St.Omer against aircraft attacks.

On April 15th, 1940, we marched towards the Belgian border. Here we defended the town of Armentières. Then we fought in Arras and Calais. On May 24th, 1940, I was wounded in Calais and was taken to the local hospital. On May 26th, 1940, I was taken prisoner while in hospital since the Germans had conquered the town. From Calais I was taken to the hospital in Lille. On July 15th, 1940, we marched via Belgium and Holland to Germany, partly we were transported by ship. I came to the POW camp for officers in Spangenberg near Kassel where I remained until March 1st, 1941. Allegedly as a reprisal because of bad treatment of German officers in Canada, I was taken, together with a group of officers, to a special camp in Thorn in Poland, where we were treated very strictly. On April 16th, 1941, I escaped from there together with a comrade. Our aim was to reach Russia. Near Warsaw, we were arrested by the Gestapo. We spent a week in a Polish concentration camp in Plock, then were taken back to Thorn. Here we served a sentence of 10 days in prison. After that, we were taken to the maximum security camp in Colditz in Silesia [wrong! Colditz is in Saxony]. It's a penal camp for officers who tried to escape, for officers who are Jewish and officers with an anti-German attitude. On January 5th, 1942, I escaped from the camp, together with a comrade; we were disguised as German officers. Outside the camp, we put on civilian clothes and walked to Leisnig. From there to Leipzig, we went by train and then, via Regensburg, on to Ulm. In Ulm, we were arrested by the police, but we managed to escape. From Ulm, we walked to Laupheim, boarded a train there and went to Schwackenreuthe [In his book, Neave would say later that they went to Stockach by train], from where we marched to Singen. Near Singen, we hid in a forest during the day. We met a patrol of Hitler Youth who were searching for us, but did not recognize us. On January 8th, 1942, at 10 p.m., we crossed the border near Spiesshof near Ramsen. In Ramsen, we were stopped by a border guard."

Was Neave bad in geography? In his statement, he put Colditz into Silesia, claimed that they walked to Singen from Schwackenreuthe, which he later corrected to Stockach in his book. But most curiously of all, he wrote in his book that the train ride from Ramsen to Schaffhausen went across German territory, which was a cause for a worried and frightened reaction on his part. Neave must have mixed up the train ride Ramsen - Schaffhausen with a later train ride from Schaffhausen to Zurich. On this route, the Swiss train actually runs through a salient of German territory (villages of Jestetten and Lottstetten).

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The policeman who accompanied Neave on the Schaffhausen-Zurich train ride assured him that he had nothing to fear. A letter dated January 10th, 1942, contains the exhortation that Neave be treated as an officer. Apparently, the Swiss authorities were aware that they had to do with an extraordinary person.

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It would take Airey Neave three months to get out of Switzerland. In these three months, he obtained permission to seek a medical treatment by Dr. von Erlach in Gerzensee, to study law at the University of Fribourg, to pay a visit to Mr. and Mrs. Haller in Gstaad. He was observed by the Swiss Police for his suspicious contacts with Mme Guillemette Lardy. Shortly before he left Switzerland, he was given permission to take up residence in Vevey. He left Switzerland on April 15th, 1942, three months plus one week after he had arrived in Ramsen. Lutejn, who had been assigned Geneva as obligatory residence, left Switzerland along with nine other Dutchmen shortly afterwards..

Browse now through the following documents, partly in French and partly in German, all of which have been preserved in the Swiss Federal Archives.

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Yet another spelling of "Luteijn" !

Neave and Luteijn had been closely followed by two more escapees from Colditz, John Hyde- Thomson and H. Donkers, who, however, only reached Ulm. "The arrival of two more 'Dutch electrical workers' asking for tickets to the frontier zone was too much for the bewildered railway police. John Hyde-Thomson and his friend were arrested, forced to disclose their identity and taken back to Colditz." (Airey Neave, They Have Their Exits, p.101)

12 Eight months later (September 1942): Another mixed couple

Based on material obtained from Swiss Archives: E4264#1985/196#4509* VAN DOORNINCK, DAMIAEN JOAN, 29.08.1902, 1942-1944 and E4264#1985/196#4501* FOWLER, HEDLEY NEVILE, 08.06.1916, 1942-1945

Damiaen Joan van Doorninck (aged 40) and Hedley Nevile Fowler (aged 26) were the second Dutch-British couple to arrive in Ramsen. On September 9th, 1942, six officers had managed to escape from Colditz Castle, but four of them were recaptured, and only van Doorninck and Fowler made it to Switzerland.

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Damiaen van Doorninck van Doorninck, photographed H. N. Fowler for a questionnaire by the Swiss authorities

The two were an odd couple with an age gap of 14 years between them. Fowler was an active RAF pilot who was shot down over France while van Doorninck was a navy officer who had left active service in 1937, but was mobilized again in August 1939.

Both had seen several POW camps before being transferred to Colditz, but the case of van Doorninck is especially noteworthy. A high-rank officer whose post was in the Dutch headquarters, he had been present at the capitulation negotiations between the Dutch and German high commands on May 15th, 1940, south of Rotterdam. He volunteered to keep General Winkelman, the Dutch commander-in-chief, company at Königstein Fortress, a POW camp for generals. Winkelman asked to be transferred to Hohnstein Castle because van Doorninck was not allowed to be at Königstein, which was reserved for generals. The Dutch commander-in-chief and his adjutant van Doorninck were, however, separated anyway in September 1940, when van Doorninck was taken to Colditz.

Van Doorninck could produce a Dutch passport upon his arrival in Switzerland with entries that had been forged at Colditz. It can be assumed that his German was excellent while Fowler's knowledge of German was probably poor.

Fowler and van Doorninck were the first Colditz escapees to modify the "Singen Route" since they only travelled by train to Tuttlingen, about 30 km north of Singen, and marched to Switzerland from there.

Two months after Fowler's and van Doorninck's arrival in Switzerland, Germany invaded the Vichy Zone of France in an operation called "Case Anton". In consequence, it became harder and even impossible for the Colditz escapees to leave Switzerland. Fowler managed to do so anyway, in a manner that the Swiss authorities have no record of. He joined the fighting again and died in March 1944, in an air test.

Van Doorninck and most of the other Colditz escapees who reached Switzerland from September 1942 onwards had to stay in Switzerland till the end of the war. The fate that the Swiss authorities had decided for them was "internment".

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The Swiss had meanwhile developed a kind of standard procedure with long sometimes bilingual (German/French) questionnaires. Here are two answers given by van Doorninck (he prefers to use French):

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"left service [i.e. the POW camp] without permission because that's the duty and the right of a POW"

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"Why can you not return to your home state?" - "Because of the treatment that I will receive".

In the end, van Doorninck was given a refugee ID ("Flüchtlingsausweis") and was spared internment because he could support himself by his own pay ("Sold" = military pay).

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An index card which is unique in the collection of Swiss documents for the Colditz escapees states that Fowler's "race" is "Aryan" and that his "country of origin" ("Herkunftsland") is Germany. He is to be interned. A hand-written documents argues that Englishmen should be treated from now on like everybody else.

This is contradicted, however, by another document which says that Fowler works at the [British] embassy ("arbeitet bei der Gesandtschaft") and that internment is not necessary.

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Finally, an enquiry by the Swiss police, dated December 1945, wondering whether Fowler still resides in Berne, yields the information that Fowler had left Switzerland in 1943.

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13 Almost a mass evasion (October 1942): Three English officers and one Canadian

Based on material obtained from Swiss Archives: E4264#1985/196#7275* LITTLEDALE, RONALD, 14.06.1902, 1942-1942, E4264#1985/196#7196* WARDLE, HOWARD, 14.08.1915, 1942-1943, E4264#1985/196#7154* REID, PATRICK ROBERT, 13.11.1910, 1942-1944 and E4264#1985/196#7280* STEPHENS, WILHELM, 09.08.1910, 1942-1944

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Deutsches Kriminalpolizeiblatt is a publication which existed from 1928 to 1945 and which filled the purpose that today would be done by computers, the storage and communication of data:

"Information about crimes committed, about the arrest of criminals, about fugitive or released criminals, about remand prisoners, about professional and habitual offenders who evade police surveillance, about searches for objects and objects seized etc."12

Only one day after four officers had escaped from Colditz, a special issue ("Sonderausgabe") was printed and circulated, calling for the arrest of the fugitives. Their crossing of the border was to be prevented "by all means".

But it was twelve days before the "Landrat" (chief administrative officer) of the district of Constance wrote to the police stations in his area that heightened attention near the border was necessary and that the population as a whole should be alerted to signal any suspicious person.

By that time, Littledale, Reid, Wardle and Stephens had already made it to Ramsen where they had arrived on October 18th and October 19th, after only 3-4 days "on the road".

Another week later, on November 2nd, 1942, a letter from the Gestapo in Singen to the chief administrative district officers ("Landräte") in Konstanz, Donaueschingen and Villingen states that several English and Dutch officers have crossed "the green border" and have been arrested (!) in Ramsen. The letter also has information about the false papers of the escapees and exhorts the police to pay increased attention to forged documents.

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Documents obtained from Staatsarchiv Freiburg V 200/1 Nr. 59

An inhabitant of Buch near Ramsen told me that it was general knowledge in Ramsen during the war that the German Gestapo was very present in the restaurant "Hegau" (on Swiss territory) near the customs house and was well-informed about what was going on in Ramsen. But of course, the Gestapo letter above is wrong: The officers were of course not "arrested" by the Swiss. In the Schaffhausen police documents, only one of them is "charged" with crossing the border illegally. "Escape from captivity in Germany" is what all four documents give as the reason for the questioning by the police in Schaffhausen.

Now let us look at each of the four officers. Patrick Reid is undoubtedly the best known of them since his later books about Colditz as well as his activity as counselor to the BBC are well-known.

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Reid tells the Schaffhausen Police that he was born in India, went to school in Ireland and became an engineer who worked throughout England, with his last job in Liverpool.

He volunteered for the reserve in 1935. After the war had been declared, he was first in the area of Cherbourg, later at the French-Belgian border where he became a German POW at the end of May 1940.

He had already attempted to escape from the first Oflag in which he was held (near Salzburg) and had tried to reach Yugoslavia. In his second successful attempt, he and his co-escapees had bought railway tickets to Rottweil - not to Singen! - and had left the train at Tuttlingen from where they marched to Ramsen. The Singen Route had thus become the Tuttlingen Route.

The very first escapee from Colditz, French officer Alain Le Ray (see below), had acted in a similar way. Anticipating German suspicion when anyone wanted to buy a ticket to Singen (a town so close to the border), he had bought a return ticket Tuttlingen - Singen - Tuttlingen and not a ticket with Singen as final destination.

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The distance from Tuttlingen railway station to Spiesshof is about 34 km, and it takes at least 7 hours to walk it.

Source: openstreetmap.de

Once in Switzerland, Patrick Reid managed to obtain a job at the British Embassy and was given diplomatic status, although with some hesitation from the Swiss side.. He was granted permission to marry. His wife was Jean Cabot, an American.

When Reid's car was involved in a traffic incident in Berne in April 1946, i.e. after the war, he could not be directly questioned by the Swiss police because of his diplomatic status.

Here comes a collection of documents pertaining to Patrick Reid, some of them in French.

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Patrick Reid's refugee card ("Flüchtlingsausweis")

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Reid's companion Howard Wardle was born in Canada, came to Britain at the age of 23 to train as a pilot. His case is unique in that he did not see much action but was shot down during the "phony war" in April 1940 during a mission in which he only dropped leaflets over Germany. He was taken to Colditz right away and stayed there two and a half years until his escape. The Swiss sent him to various places of internment that would be tourist dream destinations today: Mürren, Arosa, Vevey.

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Wardle told the Schaffhausen police that they had been a party of four "comrades" to escape from Colditz, but that he did not know what two of the others had become.

These other two escapees were 40-year-old Ronald Littledale from Cheshire and 32-year-old William Stephens from Belfast and thus the first genuinely UK couple. They arrived in Ramsen only a day later than Reid and Wardle and had apparently no difficulties to cross the border.

Littledale became a POW very early in the war, in May 1940, near Calais. He had joined the army at the age of 18 and had been in places as far-flung as India and Palestine. As a POW, he escaped from what he calls a "Vergeltungslager" (literally: "revenge camp") and spent six months in liberty, moving around in Poland, Hungary and Yugoslavia before he was caught in Bulgaria.

Stephens had been in the navy and had participated in the famous St.Nazaire Raid in March 1942. Of 611 men, 215 became POWs, while 169 were killed and only 228 returned to Britain.

In comparison to Reid and Wardle, Littledale and Stephens had spent only a short time at Colditz before their escape, just a few months.

Littledale succeeded in leaving Switzerland and joined the fighting again, but did not survive the war. See Wikipedia for more particulars. His Schaffhausen police report sheet carries the remark handwritten remark "abgereist" (= "departed").

Reid, who stayed in Switzerland beyond the end of the war, later was the third escapee officer to write and publish a book about Colditz, his flight and his arrival in Switzerland.13

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14 No fences, no walls

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A letter from the head ("Landrat") of the rural district ("Landkreis") of Constance to the police stations of several towns and villages in the area, exhorting them to be more watchful in order to prevent illegal crossings of the border

Today, there are border fences or walls between the USA and Mexico, between Hungary and Serbia, between Macedonia and Greece, between the Spanish towns of Ceuta/Melilla and Morocco, between Israel and Westbank areas, to name only a few. There was a dramatically long fence between East and West Germany during the Cold War, and there was the famous Berlin Wall.

None of the escapees who made it to Ramsen had to surmount such an obstacle; and the reasons remain mysterious. Was the material for a border fence not available in war time? Did the necessary manpower for the construction of a fence not exist? Was it too costly? According to a chronicle of Arlen, a village south of Singen, a 3-km fence between German and Swiss territory existed in 1944. The border section between Arlen and Ramsen was, however, at least twice as long. The total length of the land border between Germany and Switzerland around the Swiss canton of Schaffhausen is 137 km (excluding the border around the exclave of Büsingen).

One thing that the Germans apparently did not have to fear and to prevent was a mass exodus into Switzerland of Germans who were tired of the war or fed up with the Nazi regime. The situation was not like towards the end of the GDR when East Germans ran away from their country in huge numbers. The number of escapees and refugees who did cross the border (German deserters, Jews, French POWs - ordinary soldiers, not officers, who worked in German farms or in the Singen factories, POWs of other nationalities) was apparently negligible after all, only about 2-3 per day during the war years, with a peak of 5-6 in 1941. The Germans preferred to control the border with patrols, as did the Swiss on their side. The border patrols, however, were often ex-soldiers who had been wounded in combat and could not be sent back to the front. Their morale may have been flagging as perhaps in the case of the border patrol who controlled Pat Reid's and Howard Wardle's falsified papers. The Hitler regime also relied on members of the Hitler Youth ("Hitlerjugend"), school boys who were told to swarm out and watch for escapees but who did not have the necessary experience or stamina to detect and detain POWs on the run, as evidenced by the case of Airey Neave and Tony Lutejn.

The situation changed towards the end of the war in 1945 when escapes into Switzerland became frequent to the extent that the Schaffhausen police abandoned its statistics. But at that point, the construction of a border fence was certainly not feasible any more. The "Singen Route" had only been used from April 1941 to October 1943 in which period the border was basically open, though patrolled in a way that did not keep Allied officers from crossing it.

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15 Two submariners (petty officers) in December 1942

Based on material obtained from Swiss Archives: E4264#1985/196#10425* LISTER, DONALD, 30.05.1910, 1942-1943 and E4264#1985/196#10426* HAMMOND, FRIEDRICH WILLIAM, 20.08.1906, 1942-1943

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Friedrich Hammond, born in August 1906 Donald Lister, born in May 1910

The (non-commissioned) officers in chapters 15 and 16 all fled from Lamsdorf (Stalag 8b), today Łambinowice in Poland, far way from Colditz and much farther away from Singen than Colditz. And yet they must have known about the possibility to cross the German-Swiss border near Singen/Ramsen through a contact with Colditz. In what they told the Schaffhausen police this is not apparent. We have to turn to Henry Chancellor's book "Colditz - The Definitive History" to understand the connection.

Hammond and Lister did pass through Colditz in September 1942, where they stayed for only a little more than a month. But in that period, they must have learned from fellow prisoners about the Singen Route.

"In September 1942, Chief Petty Officers Wally Lister and Tubby Hammond arrived in Colditz with the Royal Navy contingent. They had been promoted to the rank of officer so that they might stay with their friends, but technically they were in the wrong camp, and after a month they applied to be transferred to the troop camp at Lamsdorf, where they joined work gangs in the local fields and factories: escaping was easy, and after a series of adventures, they crossed the Swiss frontier on 19 December [1942]." (Chancellor, p.210)14

A good guess is that they learned about the Singen Route in Colditz and applied for a transfer to Lamsdorf because they calculated that it would be easier to escape from there than from Colditz Castle. Their status as petty officers opened this "opportunity" for them. Their falsified documents according to which they were Belgian workers ("Fremdarbeiter") are also more likely to have been produced in Colditz than in Lamsdorf. This is confirmed by a British Internet site (http://www.conscript-heroes.com/escapelines/EEIE-Articles/Art-16-Escapersfrom-Germany.htm, accessed on May 5th, 2017):

"Hammond and Lister escaped from a working party at the nearby Breslau Gas Works on 13 Dec 1942. At Colditz they had acquired papers describing them as Belgian labourers and these passed several close inspections during their journey. They took a tram to Breslau railway station where they caught the first of a series of trains that took them to Ulm (west of Munich) two days later. After a night in a hotel they continued on to Tuttlingen and then walked through Engen to Singen where they followed the Singen-Schaffhausen railway line to the Swiss frontier. They crossed over the border near Ramsen in the early hours of 18 December."

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Source: Schweizerisches Bundesarchiv, E4264#1985/196#10426*, Az. N07033, Hammond, Friedrich William, 1942-43

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Source: Schweizerisches Bundesarchiv, E4264#1985/196#10425*, Az. N07032 , Lister, Donald, 1942-43

The Schaffhausen police reports about Hammond and Lister give interesting biographical details:

Hammond declared: "I was born and grew up in London. My father was a railway employee. He was a soldier in the last war in France as a sergeant in an English artillery regiment. He was killed in action in France in 1917. My mother died in 1918. I attended school for eleven years and then became a trainee in a factory for railway engines in London. In 1928, I had finished my studies and passed my engineering exam. I married in the same year and remained in the same factory as an engineer, until 1931. From November 1931 till May 1932, I attended the Navy school for officers at Chatham. Then, as an officer, I was stationed at Valetta on the isle of Malta, on a submarine tender. In 1935, I returned to England. For the next two years, I was on a submarine, L23 and "Shark". We moved to and fro between England, Gibraltar and Malta. When the war broke out in 1939, I was in Malta. Our submarine "Shark" immediately returned to England, to the naval port of Portsmouth. Our submarine then mainly patrolled the North Sea. On July 5th, 1940, our submarine was attacked and bombarded by German planes near the Norwegian coast, near Stavanger. In this attack, our submarine was hit and sunk. 38 men of the crew of 41 were saved by German ships and taken to Stavanger. After having been taken to Germany, we were in different POW camps. The last camp I was in was the Officer POW camp Lamsdorf (Silesia). In this camp, there are about 6000 English soldiers and 30-40 English officers. After the Dieppe incident, the English prisoners in this camp had their hands tied for four weeks, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. The treatment by the Germans was sometimes very bad. As long as the food parcels of the Red Cross arrived, we had enough to eat. On December 13th, 1942, I escaped from the prisoner camp together with three comrades, in order to reach Switzerland and from there, if possible, England. We split into two pairs of two, and with my companion I reached the Swiss border by train. We crossed it on foot last night near Ramsen. To facilitate our flight, we had forged documents for Belgian workers, valid for the area of the German Reich. With these papers we could get through everywhere."

Lister declared: "I grew up at the home of my parents in Wellington. My father was a merchant. From the age of 15 to the age of 22, I studied in a factory to become an engineer. Later I volunteered for the Navy. After passing several exams and a corresponding training, I was an officer. From 1932 to 1936, I served on the ship Kent. After that, I was on the submarine "Seal", which was part of the China fleet. When the war broke out, we were in the port of Aden, i.e. the British colony in Arabia. We were called back to England, where we arrived on October 20th, 1939. Later, we had to go with a convoy to Canada, from where we returned on December 6th. In May 1940, we were busy placing out mines in the Kattegat. During this work, our boat ran aground and into a German mine, it broke apart. We had to leave the boat and were picked up later by a minor German warship; we were taken to Frederikshavn (Denmark). At the end of May we were taken, via Kiel, to a camp in Thorn (Poland). In January 1941, we were moved to the navy camp ("Marlag") near Bremen. In April 1942, I tried to escape from there. I was caught in Lübeck and was taken to the camp in Lamsdorf. From there I escaped on December 13th [1942]. With a comrade, I travelled by train via Breslau, Dresden, Ulm to Tuttlingen. During the trip, we were controlled several times. As we had forged documents for Belgian workers, we were allowed to continue everywhere. From Tuttlingen, we walked to Singen, and from there along the railway in the direction of Gottmadingen. Last night, shortly after midnight, it was possible for us to cross the Swiss border illegally near Spiesshof/Ramsen. Our intention is to reach England from here."

Unfortunately, we do not learn more particulars. How did they obtain civilian clothing? How did they pay for the railway tickets, and where had they got the money from for those tickets? What were their (German) language skills?

One thing is evident, however. As they followed the Singen-Gottmadingen railway line, they did not repeat Larive's and Le Ray's mistake [for Le Ray, see the annex] and did not walk too far. They knew when to turn south into Swiss territory. Without the knowledge acquired during their Colditz stay, which they do not mention to the Swiss police, they could not have found the right itinerary so easily.

In Switzerland, Hammond and Lister were separated. We find one of them (Lister) in a hotel in Mürren, the other one (Hammond) in Arosa. Apparently, Swiss mountain resorts were not booked out in wartime, and hotels could be used to lodge officers escaped from POW camps in Germany.

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In spite of finding themselves in places that are dream locations for modern tourists, Lister and Hammond wanted to leave Switzerland and return to England, precisely as they had indicated during their questioning by the police in Schaffhausen. Swiss Archives has only preserved a document which proves that Hammond had secretly left Switzerland.

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We have to turn to an Internet source in order to learn how they succeeded. Although the Free Zone of France, or "Vichy France", no longer existed (the Germans had occupied it in November 1942 in "Operation Anton"), both officers ventured into France and were helped by French Résistance activists to continue across the Pyrenees into Spain. See:

Source:http://www.conscript-heroes.com/escapelines/EEIE-Articles/Art-16-Escapers-fromGermany.htm (accessed on May 8th, 2017)

16 A bunch of three: A butcher, a student and a salesman (October 1943)

Based on material obtained from Swiss Archives:E4264#1985/196#23882* BRADLEY, RICHARD, 06.01.1915, 1943-1944, E4264#1985/196#23883* BROWN, JAMES, 13.03.1921, 1943-1944 and E4264#1985/196#24083* SEARSON, ALFRED, 23.02.1916, 1943-1943

Richard Bradley, James Brown and Alfred Searson

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Richard Bradley, James Brown, Alfred Searson, born in January 1915 born in March 1921 born in February 1916

Two of these three non-commissioned officers (sergeants) had had an experience comparable to that of Hans Larive (see chapter 2): Richard Bradley and Alfred Searson. In a first escape attempt in July 1942, they had almost reached the Swiss border but were arrested between Hilzingen and Singen. Their accounts of from where they had fled are contradictory: according to Searson it was from Bremen in North Germany, but according to Brown it was from Lamsdorf in Silesia (today Łambinowice in Poland). In July 1942, they could not have learned about the Singen Route from Hammond and Lister (see previous chapter), who did not arrive in Lamsdorf before September 1942. Between October 1942 and December 1942, however, they may have been in contact with Hammond and Lister, who could have told them what they had heard about the Singen Route during their short one-month stay in Colditz in September 1942.

None of those five (Hammond, Lister, Bradley, Brown, Searson) mentioned Colditz (i.e. information gathered through contact with POW officers in Colditz) in their flight accounts to the Schaffhausen police. But it seems somewhat unlikely that they should have discovered the Singen Route entirely on their own. According to Bradley and Brown, knowledge obtained during their first thwarted attempt in July 1942 was helpful for the second successful attempt in October 1943. Additional information, thanks to Lister/Hammond and what could be called the "Colditz connection", about the exact location of the border in the Singen/Ramsen area may nevertheless have played a role.

In the October-1943 escape, Bradley and Searson were joined by a third sergeant, James Brown, who was five-six years younger. All three of them had taken part in the St Nazaire Raid (also called "Operation Chariot") on 28 March 1942 and had become German prisoners of war. Bradley and Searson had been wounded and had spent time at a military hospital before being taken to a "Marlag" (abbreviation for "Marinelager", i.e. "Navy camp") near Bremen. Brown had been sent there directly. From Bremen, the three of them were transferred to Lamsdorf and then detailed to a "working party" (in German: "Arbeitskommando") in Vosswalde (today Fosowskie in Poland), 70 km away from Lamsdorf.

A British Internet site has the following account of Bradley's, Searson's and Brown's escape:

http://www.conscript-heroes.com/escapelines/EEIE-Articles/Art-16-Escapers-fromGermany.htm (accessed on May 5th, 2017)

"Pte James Brown (2646) was serving with No 5 Commando when he was captured at St Nazaire on 28 March 1942. After a brief period at Rennes and then Marlag und Milag Nord, Brown was sent to Stalag VIIIB (Lamsdorf) in June 1942. He went out on numerous work parties (and escaped from three of them) before being sent to Wossvolda near Beuthen (Bytom) in Poland in September 1943 . L/Sgt Alfred C Searson (2709) was serving with No 2 Commando when he was captured at St Nazaire on 28 March 1942. He followed the same route as fellow Glaswegian, James Brown (2646) and accompanied him on two of his earlier escape attempts before being sent to Vosswalde near Beuthen in August 1943. L/Sgt Richard Bradley (2868) was serving with No 2 Commando when he was captured at St Nazaire on 28 March 1942. He followed the same route as Brown (2646) and Searson (2709) and accompanied Searson on one of his earlier escape attempts (when they almost reached the Swiss border) before being sent to Vosswalde near Beuthen in September 1943 ... Brown, Searson and Bradley escaped from the work camp at Vosswalde on 21 October 1943. They simply forced the lock on the main door of the camp with a bent nail while the guards were having dinner. The three escapers walked down the road to the railway station where they took a train to Oppeln and Breslau, then Dresden, Plauen, Nuremburg and Ulm to Tuttlingen. They only used slow trains and had no problems with their papers and there were no controls. From Tuttlingen they walked to Engen then Singen and after crossing the Singen-Gottmadingen railway line, headed for Ramsen. They crossed into Switzerland due north of Hofenacker on 25 October 1943. All three remained in Switzerland until leaving for the UK in October 1944."

With Bradley, Brown and Searson, we see a new kind of document in Swiss Archives, a kind of chronological table that lists

- date and place of being taken prisoner
- date, time and place of the escape
- time and place of crossing the border
- time and place of detention on Swiss territory
- committal in Schaffhausen
Moreover
- documents
- kind of clothing
- cash carried
- belongings are registered.

Bradley was wearing civilian clothes, had 7 Reichsmarks cash on him, had a wallet (but no ID documents), a tobacco pouch and pipe, a razor and shaving brush, a wristwatch, a knife, a cigarette case.

Brown was wearing civilian clothes, had 9.20 Reichsmark cash on him, had a wallet (but no ID documents), a cigarette case, a tobacco pouch and pipe, a razor and shaving brush.

Searson was wearing civilian clothes, , had 11 Reichsmarks cash on him, had a wallet (but no ID documents), a toiletries bag, a knife, a tobacco pouch and pipe, a cigarette case.

Whether this kind of document was not in use before or whether such a document has not been preserved in Swiss Archives for the escapees who arrived before Bradley, Brown and Searson cannot be ascertained. Only one of the three documents is reproduced here. It bears the stamp "HAFT", which means "detention".

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17 Swiss territory - apparently inviolate

In September 1938, Switzerland and the German Reich had concluded two treaties about the exchange of minor amounts of territory a) between Constance and the neighbouring Swiss canton of Thurgovia and b) along the complicated border between the canton of Schaffhausen and the surrounding German territory. Between Gottmadingen and Buch only a few square yards were swapped.

When war broke out in 1939, Switzerland feared a German invasion and fortified its territory. Bunkers were built on the south shore of the Rhine River. They are still there today.

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Two examples of bunker constructions on the Swiss south side of the Rhine River near Schaffhausen

Obviously, the Schaffhausen and Ramsen salients of Swiss territory north of the Rhine were impossible to defend; and no effort on the Swiss side was made to build a defence line close to the border itself. Astonishingly, however, the border was respected by the Germans all through the war. No demand of a border truncation was ever made by the Germans, which seems remarkable since Nazi Germany was not known for any qualms about bullying its neighbours. If a refugee or escapee had made it across the "green border", he was safe from German persecution. It could happen and did happen that the Swiss sent back refugees across the border - especially Jews and Polish POWs were threatened by such a fate. In the case of Allied officers, once they were on Swiss ground they had nothing to fear from the Germans any more. Nevertheless, it was essential for Pat Reid and Howard Wardle to reach the village of Ramsen and not simply cross the border because they were aware of rumours that the Swiss border guards might send people back into Germany.

The standard publication about the refugee situation at the Swiss-German border in the Schaffhausen area by Franco Battel15 lists only very few incidents of border violation by the Germans. In February 1945, a Soviet prisoner who had already crossed the border was shot at and killed. This incident led to a debate in the canton's parliament in March 1945.

The escapees from Colditz are only a short footnote in Battel's book. None of them is mentioned by name.

18 Annex 1: Alain Le Ray

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Alain Le Ray (Museum Colditz Castle collection)

In Colditz, there was comradeship but certainly also rivalry and competition between the different nationalities: French, Polish, Dutch, British

Certainly to the envy of the British, the honour of the first successful escapes went to those traditionally nicknamed "the Frogs", i.e. the French. The first British "home runner", Airey Neave, was preceded by ten Frenchmen, four Dutchmen and one Pole. And the first Frenchman, Alain Le Ray, was almost nine months ahead of Airey Neave in time.

The "Singen Route" could not be known in Colditz before the arrival of Hans Larive, and thus it is a pure coincidence that the very first escapee also came through Singen. Le Ray spoke German fluently, had studied in Germany, had spent holidays in the mountains of Tyrol. His first plan was to get to Tyrol and cross the mountains into the Grisons area of Switzerland. For lack of money, because he could not afford a train ticket to Tyrol any more, he changed his plan and travelled towards Singen instead. In a clever way, later adopted also by Pat Reid and others, he did not buy a railway ticket directly to Singen - which, he thought, might cause suspicion - but to intermediate stations on the way. The last ticket he bought was a return ticket Tuttlingen to Singen and back, but of course he did not intend to use the return option.

After his arrival in Singen in April 1941, he committed the same mistake that Hans Larive had made 8 months earlier in August 1940: he went too far, past the Ramsen-Spiesshof salient of Swiss territory. He reached Gottmadingen, hid in some bushes at the railway station and jumped onto the night train to Schaffhausen/Erzingen when it left the station after intensive controls by German guards. He sat like a figurehead between the two lamps of the engine and reached Schaffhausen towards midnight. There were no exit controls at Swiss railway stations. Le Ray could freely wander through the streets of the Swiss city. He probably never reported to the Swiss authorities, there is no trace of him in Swiss Archives. He reached France and joined "La Résistance". In the final phase of the war, he was a commander of the FFI (Forces Françaises de l'Intérieur). A square in Grenoble bears his name today. Le Ray published a book about his escape under the title "Première à Colditz"16, which could be translated as "First Escape from Colditz". Apparently, the book does not exist in English..

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19 Annex 2: Pierre Mairesse-Lebrun

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Pierre Mairesse-Lebrun (Museum Colditz Castle collection)

Another Frenchman, who had the most daredevil escape from Colditz (as described in Henry Chancellor's "Colditz - The Definitive History" from page 53 onwards17 ), preceded Larive by about a month. He also chose Singen as the place from where to make it across the border to Switzerland. He reached Singen by bicycle! As he did not know "the Singen Route", he continued towards south from Singen, on foot, into the Schienerberg area, where the border is especially tricky and complicated. He is the only escapee who saw the border markers, but did not know how to interpret them. Which side was Germany? Which side was Switzerland? There are more than 100 border markers around 1.6 square kilometres of Swiss territory that protrudes into Germany. In some places, Switzerland is north of Germany, and Germany is south of Switzerland.

Mairesse-Lebrun was interviewed by Chancellor's BBC research team. From what he told his interviewers, it can be guessed that he successfully approached a young Swiss woman near Oberwald (Switzerland), who was carrying milk to a German border post at Waldheim (Germany) (See map). She delivered the milk to the Germans and then led Mairesse-Lebrun safely downhill to Ramsen, into freedom. The cantonal archives in Schaffhausen have an index card that confirms Mairesse-Lebrun's arrival in Ramsen.

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Schienerberg area, about 7 km south of Singen. The yellow line is the border.

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Mairesse-Lebrun's later fate seems to have been tragic, according to Wikipedia. A photo of him by Manuel Litran/Paris Match from May 1957, in which he poses in front of a picture of Colditz Castle, is offered on the Internet (Getty Images) at the price of 565 € (February 2018).

20 Summary

Curiously, one major obstacle to reaching Switzerland was the invisibility of the border, its inconspicuousness. Imagine yourself stepping out of the Singen railway station, knowing that the border cannot be far away. But where exactly is it? How do you recognize it? When exactly have you reached Switzerland?

A question posted on August 18th, 2012, on Quora, an Internet question-and-answer site which claims to provide "the best answer to any question", asked what exactly "the Singen Route" was: "a gap in the wire, a tunnel under the road, an unguarded border post? What was it which allowed so many escapes?" The answer given was: "Essentially the 'Singen route' is a part of the Swiss-German border near Singen that is so higgledy-piggledy as to make it very difficult to guard. Specifically, the town of Ramsen forms a salient north of the Rhine that was very lightly guarded. If you look up Ramsen in Google maps, you should see what I mean."18

When a BBC team came into the area in the 1970s, they found the border, such as it was, too trivial to include it into their film series. The Swiss village of Buch was used to portray Pat Reid's and Howard Wardle's passage through a German village somewhere between Tuttlingen and the border; the railway bridge near Hemishofen (entirely in Switzerland) was portrayed as a bridge impossible to cross for the escapees, heavily guarded by a German patrol. The final scene of the series has the two officers in a mountain valley surrounded by snow-covered summits. One of them says to the other that the brook which they are running along must be the border. Apparently, the BBC decided that, for a British viewing public, Switzerland had to be represented by the Alps.

The border around the Schaffhausen salients of Swiss territory is marked by more than 1400 border markers of impressive size and weight if you come close to them, but not very conspicuous from afar and if you do not know their importance and therefore do not pay attention to them. The border is the direct line between two border markers, which are numbered. There is no such thing as a "no-man's-land" between the states. Wherever there is an angle in the border, however slight it may be, there is a new marker. The Schaffhausen border was marked in 1839 at a time when, on the German side, there was still the Grand Duchy of Baden. Most of the border markers thus have the inscription GB (= Grand Duchy of Baden) on the German side, and CS (= Canton of Schaffhausen) on the Swiss side. The only officer of whom we know that he saw the border markers was Pierre Mairesse-Lebrun (see chapter 19 above). In January 1942, when Airey Neave and Tony Luteijn reached Switzerland, the border markers were certainly buried under high snow.

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Two border markers near Spiesshof. 1839 is the year when the border was marked by these boundary stones. "GB" represents "Grand-Duchy of Baden" (today Germany), G stands for "Gottmadingen". Switzerland lies beyond the marker.

Four officers have written books about Colditz and their escape into Switzerland: Alain Le Ray, Hans Larive, Airey Neave and Pat Reid. Pierre Mairesse-Lebrun's flight is described by Henry Chancellor, based on an interview. None of the five could reach and cross the border without difficulty. There were some highly dramatic moments: Le Ray climbed into a tree top to hide from a patrol. Mairesse-Lebrun knocked down a German policeman with his bicycle pump and then took his gun. Shots were fired after Larive and Steinmetz, and a search party with dogs was organized to find them. Airey Neave and Tony Luteijn had to persuade some Hitler youth that they were Westphalians. Pat Reid and Howard Wardle were on the verge of knocking down a German border guard who checked their forged papers.

These difficulties do not appear, however, or are hardly mentioned in the Swiss documents, the report sheets written by the Schaffhausen police. Some of the escapees seem to have crossed the border smoothly, with no difficulty at all. Or maybe they did not tell the Schaffhausen police everything.

The nineteen Dutch, British, Canadian officers (or soldiers - since one of them, James Brown, was only a private) who reached Switzerland via the "Singen Route" are only a 0.6% minority among the 3238 military refugees (most of them ordinary French soldiers who had worked as agricultural labourers in German farms or as workers in the Singen factories) who came into Switzerland between October 1939 and October 1944 (statistics given by Franco Battel, see chapter 17). But in contrast to all those who fled from somewhere close to the border, they had ingenuously travelled hundreds of kilometres through enemy territory. And once they had reached the Singen area, they knew their way (in contrast to most Jewish refugees who also came to Singen from farther away and had to find a guide to show them the way across the border). Their escape was an important contribution to the final victory of the Allies as they provided valuable information about the situation in Germany or even joined the armed fight again.

As for the town of Singen, the existence of the "Singen Route" is nothing that it either can be proud of or must be ashamed of. Geography and History simply conspired to give it a railway station from which a one-hour walk could lead into freedom. More than 75 years after its first use as a road into liberty, it could probably be exploited touristically; but the Singen tourism office has shown no inclination so far to do so. Thus the "Singen Route" today remains an inside tip for the occasional Dutch or British tourist who visits the region. It is pleasant to walk and even more pleasant to cycle, especially the part from Spiesshof to Ramsen. From Ramsen, one can easily take a bus back to Singen or cycle north along the river Aach, also back to Singen. Singen has much more to offer than Ramsen by way of restaurants and is considerably cheaper.

As for Ramsen, it can really pride itself in the warm reception of Hans Larive, Francis Steinmetz, Airey Neave and Tony Luteijn (as described in the books by Larive and Neave). Probably all the others were well received, too. Mairesse-Lebrun was invited by the Swiss police to share their lunch. Neave calls Ramsen "the Promised Land" in his book They Have their Exits.

But Ramsen has forgotten the Allied officers. There is a chronological history table in Ramsen,

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near the Migros petrol station. The list has the following items: "1933-39 Political refugees from Germany, above all Jews", "1941-46 Restructuring of agricultural ownership / land consolidation", "1945 Towards the end of the Second World War, long columns of refugees, of 'Fremdarbeiter', of displaced persons cross the border. With French troops approaching, the population of Rielasingen, Arlen, in part even from Singen seeks refuge in Ramsen. Women and children spend the night in both churches." The Allied officers are not worth mentioning. Which is regrettable!

21 Timeline

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[...]


1 Larive published an account of his experiences in Dutch in 1950, translated into English in 1975 under the title: "The Man Who Came in from Colditz"; ttps://copac.jisc.ac.uk/id/30429135?style=html&title=man%20who%20came%20in%20from%20Colditz

2 Larive, op.cit. (see footnote 1), p.25

3 Larive, op.cit. (see footnote 1), p.67

4 Airey Neave, They Have Their Exits - The best-selling escape memoir of World War Two, first published in 1953, reprinted in 2006, ISBN 978 1 78159 472 8, p. 95.

5 Larive, op.cit. (see footnote 1), p.75.

6 Larive, op.cit. (see footnote 1), p.77

7 Ramsen : Heimatbuch ; herausgegeben zur 1150-Jahr-Feier der Gemeinde Ramsen, edited by Doris Fehrenbacher, 1996.

8 he full list can be found in: Henry Chancellor, Colditz - The Definitive History, London 2001, ISBN 0 340 79494 1, pp.393ff.

9 Larive, op.cit. (see footnote 1), p.133.

10 https://www.arcre.com/mi9/neave (accessed on March 3rd, 2019).

11 Airey Neave, op.cit. (see footnote 4), p.97.

12 My translation. In German, see: https://portal.ehri-project.eu/units/de-002409-de_its_1_2_2-1-2809000.

13 Patrick Robert Reid, The Colditz Story, London 1952; numerous editions and more Colditz publications by the same author.

14 Henry Chancellor, op.cit. (see footnote 8), p.210.

15 Franco Battel, Wo es hell ist, dort ist die Schweiz"- Flüchtlinge und Fluchthilfe an der Schaffhauser Grenze zur Zeit des Nationalsozialismus, Zurich 2000, ISBN: 3-905314-05-3.

16 Alain Le Ray, Première à Colditz, Grenoble 2004, ISBN 2-7061-1204-2.

17 See footnote 8.

18 https://www.quora.com/What-exactly-was-the-Singen-route. The content of this site is no longer the same as in 2012.

81 de 81 pages

Résumé des informations

Titre
The Singen Route. The Stories of Nineteen Allied POW Soldiers and Their Escape to Ramsen, Switzerland, Between 1941 and 1943
Auteur
Année
2017
Pages
81
N° de catalogue
V456807
ISBN (Livre)
9783668890961
Langue
Anglais
Annotations
This text about successful escapes of Allied POW officers from German camps during World War II is based upon material obtained from Swiss Archives in Berne, Switzerland. It is the long version of a talk given on April 7th, 2018, in London for members of the Colditz Society.
mots-clé
Singen Route, Colditz, POW, Ramsen, Airey Neave, Etienne-Henri Larive, Pat Reid, Bundesarchiv Bern
Citation du texte
Reiner Ruft (Auteur), 2017, The Singen Route. The Stories of Nineteen Allied POW Soldiers and Their Escape to Ramsen, Switzerland, Between 1941 and 1943, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/456807

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