A couple of Saturdays ago a few friends and I went to visit one of the old forts around the outskirts of Torun.
There are about 15 forts in total which were built in the 19th Century under Prussian rule initially to defend Torun from the Russians (they were apparently useless). Later though, many of the forts were used in the Second World War as POW camps. Fort XI was one of these camps.
Before heading to the fort we met Piotr our guide at his museum hidden in the back of a school in the centre of Torun. Piotr is the German teacher and the museum is his and a few of his students' work in progress. It was quite a small room but packed with remnants from the war and we got plenty of stories about different soldiers who had survived the war and about life in the POW camps.
Comparatively speaking it seemed that British and other soldiers were treated considerably well by the Germans, they had food packages, footballs, chocolate and cigarettes and so on, whereas the Russians were forced to eat grass to save them from starving and had a pretty rough time of it. There were also stories of a few soldiers who had managed to bounce around countries and fight in as many as 5 different national armies to survive, incredible stuff.
It was also interesting for me to see pictures of Torun under occupation during the Second World War which is something obviously I'd heard about but never seen. It was strange to see Nazi flags hanging from the Town Hall tower and soldiers marching on the square and in places that at the moment I visit in my day to day life.
At the museum we also met a woman whose father had been a British POW and was imprisoned in the fort we were due to visit. Putting a face and a name to such things always makes them seem so much more real so it was quite interesting to hear her (dads) stories along with Piotr's historical research.
After the museum we headed to the fort to explore. It's now private property but luckily still open for people to sneak in to and have a walk round. We met Piotr at the fort who had brought with him another personal addition to our tour; a guy who had played with the soldiers at the fort when he was a child and it was a POW camp.
He could tell us a lot about what went on in and around the fort including things like where the boxing ring was and where everyone went to play football. Seemed he had quite happy memories of it and he brought a lot of photos with him too.
Inside the fort we saw a lot of graffiti that had been left by the POWs. There were these cool drawings all over one wall but mainly messages of anger and hate at the Nazi's by prisoners held there. It made for very interesting reading and the tour was excellent; we saw the booby trapped floor where people would be dropped into a pit and killed if they tried to enter the fort, the place where the canons and arms kept guard over the outside world and the area outside which once contained all the food packages sent by the Red Cross and still had a number of old tins, packets of coffee and such like.
I would recommend anyone interested in WWII and in the Torun area to check out the fort and the museum at Toruń's Historical War Museum. Great day!