'Living skeleton' Colditz prisoner denied compensation, archives reveal

Henry Bodkin
There were more than 30 successful escapes from Colditz - Credit: Germany Images David Crossland / Alamy Stock Photo

A Second World War secret agent who was brutally interrogated and then held as a “living skeleton” at Colditz was denied compensation because it was the wrong kind of camp, newly released official documents reveal.

Jack Thorez Finken-McKay, who was captured in Paris while on a mission for the Special Operations Executive, suffered partial blindness, memory loss and mental health problems as a results of his two-year incarceration at the “escape-proof” German Castle.

The files show that some people did miss out, but what's important is remembering they only had that £1 million to distribute

Lauren Willmott

Two decades later he was one of 4,000 British former captives to apply for compensation from a £1 million fund provided by the West German Government.

But as files made public today by the National Archives reveal, he was refused because, despite its notoriety, Colditz was technically a prisoner of war camp, not a concentration camp.

Archivists say his plight reflects the experience of the three quarters majority of British victims of Nazi abuse who applied unsuccessfully for the cash.

Under the 1964 agreement with the Federal Republic of Germany, former prisoners could only be compensated if they proved they were held in a “concentration camp or comparable institutions”, and that their mistreatment was meted out in “furtherance of national socialism”.

Despite his undoubtedly brutal experience, Finken-McKay never managed to convince the British Government, responsible for distributing the money, that his treatment had been far worse than that of a mainstream prisoner of war.

Dr George Hay, a National Archives historian, said: “It does sound like a particularly bad case.

But he added: “I don’t believe the Foreign Office was trying to make like difficult.

“They just had a set of criteria and applied it equally to everyone.”

Jack Thorez Finken-McKay was captured after three months Credit: Telegraph

Dr Hay said the case of Finken-McKay contrasted with that of the prisoners at Stalag Luft III, scene of the great escape, who eventually secured compensation because their compound was considered technically part of the wider Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

This money, however, came from a different fund.

Formerly an officer in the Royal Fusiliers, volunteered for the undercover unit, where his instructors described him as “likeable” and “thorough but not brainy”.

His mission to occupied France was cut short after only three months when he was  captured in Paris after being betrayed by a German agent in the French resistance.

While his quest for financial compensation was unsuccessful, Finken-McKay was far luckier than most of his fellow SEO agents, the majority of whom were executed.

Heroes of the Great Escape were among those remunerated from the £1 million pot, the documents show, with payouts of £2,293 offered to the families of Flight Lieutenants Edgar Spottiswoode Humphreys, Gilbert William Waleen, John Francis Williams, and Cyril Douglas Swain.

All these men fled the Stalag Luft III POW camp in 1944 but were recaptured and executed by the Gestapo.

Lauren Willmott, records specialist at the National Archives, said the British Government faced an impossible task in assigning compensation owing to the strict rules on providing official documentation that proved time spent in a concentration camp.

She said: "It was tricky - it was 20 years after the event.

"A lot of people held in the camps had died in the camps or died in the years since the compensation scheme came into effect.

"The files show that some people did miss out, but what's important is remembering they only had that £1 million to distribute so it was a sort-of impossible task for the Foreign Office as well on a case by case basis.

Colditz Fact File

READ MORE ABOUT:

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes