As well as eminent international statesmen, aristocrats and clergy, the group contained opposition German generals and civilian relatives of those who had plotted against Hitler, among them the family of Claus von Stauffenberg, who placed the bomb in Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair.
These hostages included a number of RAF officers, survivors of the famous ‘Great Escape’, and also Colonel John McGrath from Roscommon, a World War I veteran who had left his job as manager of Dublin’s Theatre Royal to rejoin the British Army in 1939. They had been held with Russian, Italian and Polish special prisoners as ‘Nacht und Nebel ’ – Night and Fog – prisoners, whose existence was a state secret. Although generally treated more favourably than regular concentration camp prisoners, they lived in constant danger of execution, a fate some did not escape, including Stalin’s son, who died following a fracas with the Irish prisoners.
Theirs is an astonishing and epic tale encompassing heroic endurance, escape, betrayal, tragedy and love.