If you’re a fan of the movie “The Great Escape” or even if you are just a fan of WWII history, Żagań will be a real treat. Though for many years there was little to see in Żagań, today - thanks to the work of diehard historians and RAF personnel - the Stalag Luft III POW camp has been partially recreated and houses the rather excellent Museum of the Prisoner of War. The site does a fine job recounting and recreating the camp conditions, paying tribute to the famous March 25th, 1944 escape, and even to the film (despite the fact that their stories differ considerably).
Although situated just a few kilometres outside of the centre of town to the south-west, the lack of signs can make finding it a little bit of a challenge. Follow the road 296 to Iłowa and you’ll find the museum and the remains of the camp on your left about 4km outside the centre.
The museum is set in a socialist era building close to where Stalag Luft III once stood and this should be your first port of call. Head up the stairs where you’ll find a lady selling tickets and souvenirs. She’ll show you a short film on the history of the town and the camp before you can head off on your own. First of peruse the exhibits showing a variety of Stalag Luft III items found in the remains of the camp; service uniforms; plagues and memorials from survivor associations as well as a model showing how the camp looked. From there head outside where you’ll find a number of meticulously constructed reproductions of the camp. The watch-tower, guard posts and signs that read ‘Warning!! Upon entrance of this zone guard will shoot’ give you an idea of how the camp would have looked while the replica of the barracks, built from scratch in less than a fortnight by volunteers from the RAF contains more interesting exhibits and photographs of the prisoners. Outside again you’ll see a simulation of the ‘Harry’ Tunnel (the one used during the Great Escape) has been completed by young engineering students sponsored by the EU. The two prominent memorials in front will bring a sober reminder of the true purpose and symbolism of the camp. The first is a small memorial to the “Long March” in which the surviving prisoners were brutally forced to march through the snow west into Germany to evade the Russian advance. The second is a huge and heart-breaking sculpture of an emaciated starvation victim curled in the foetal position having succumbed to the deprivations of the camp’s environment. For those who haven’t seen the film, all but three of the escapees were recaptured and most were summarily executed. So, while it is an amazing and inspiring film and place to visit, don’t expect a happy Hollywood ending.
Finish off by taking a souvenir photo of yourself as Steve McQueen or James Garner in the poster to the film. The museum's website also has a number of interesting texts in English which have been contributed to it over the years and which help tell the story of the camp in greater detail.