How Allied Prisoners Used ‘Monopoly’ To Escape Nazi POW Camps

Published December 2, 2017
Published December 2, 2017

Historians estimate that thousands of prisoners fled Nazi prisons all thanks to some truly unique board game sets.

Pows In Germany

Imperial War Museums/Wikimedia CommonsPOWs welcome their liberators. Fallingbostel, Germany. 1945.

During World War II, Allied soldiers in German prison camps used Monopoly games for more than just amusement. Thanks to an ingenious scheme by a branch of the British Ministry of Defense known as MI9, these soldiers were actually able to use Monopoly games to escape to freedom.

Allied prisoners received these games as part of aid packages that usually came from charities like the Red Cross. The packages helped ensure that the prisoners would receive the amount of food that POWs were supposed to receive according to the Geneva Convention.

Knowing that a violation of the Geneva Convention could prevent them from being able to exchange prisoners for needed goods, the Germans thus allowed their POWs to receive the packages.

Furthermore, the Germans believed that the games kept their POWs from planning to escape by providing them with amusement. Ironically, many of the packages’ Monopoly games were designed by their U.K. manufacturer to have the opposite effect entirely, and, in fact, secretly doubled as escape kits.

The plan involved having fake charities deliver aid packages containing these games, which, in truth, contained various escape tools, including “playing pieces” that were actually compasses or metal files that could be used to cut through barbed wire. Even the games’ “play money” was actually real French, German, and Italian money that could be used for food, bribes, or train tickets.

Hidden within their boards, the games also had silk maps that prisoners could use to travel to safety after leaving their prison camps. The manufacturer made the maps with silk so that they would neither deteriorate in water nor rustle when POWs unfolded them, thus not alerting German guards.

Silk Escape Map

Central Intelligence Agency/Wikimedia CommonsA silk map made to help soldiers escape prison camps during World War II.

Due to the secrecy of the mission to deliver the games to POWs, it is virtually impossible for the public to know for certain how many of them used the games to escape. However, British historians estimate that the games helped thousands of soldiers.

After the war, the British government decided to keep the games a secret in case another conflict called for their use in the future. In fact, it was not until the 1980s that the British public learned the astounding story of World War II’s Monopoly escape kits.

Next, see 20 strange versions of Monopoly that you never knew existed. Then, read up on the Rheinwiesenlager camps where American forces secretly killed as many as 1 million German POWs at the end of World War II.

All That's Interesting
Your curiosity knows no bounds. Neither do we.