What is Christmas without a gift, games, and fa la la la? How about some espionage to deepen the mystery of the holiday? It was a forlorn and homesick time of the year for the POWs in Europe in 1944, during World War II. The easiest way to make another day go quickly in a war zone was to play games.
The Geneva Conference conceived a brilliant idea. They concentrated their efforts on relieving the tensions between the countries. Still, meanwhile, the U.S. Army designed a way to reveal escape routes for the prisoners. Together, with the US Playing Card Company, Bicycle, they invented a deck of cards called a “map deck.” Maps of top-secret escape routes were placed between two layers of playing cards. When soaked in water, they peeled apart to show the POWs the best way to safety. How ingenious was this idea!
The next problem was how they could get these cards into the prisoner’s hands. Allied POWs were given the right to receive mail and packages from the Red Cross, especially at Christmas. What a perfect opportunity to smuggle these playing cards with maps!
The Red Cross delivered their Christmas gifts, and it didn’t take long before the prisoners figured out their presents. Bicycle cards and Monopoly games all contained hidden maps, escape routes, directions, and tips to reach friendly borders.
The Monopoly games had authentic German currency hidden within the game’s paper money, a metal file placed inside the board itself, and maps of the prison and its locality inside the hotel pieces. Section Nine of the British Directorate of Military Intelligence in the War Office printed the documents in the game.
Because of these espionage tactics, the “map deck” cards helped 35,000 POWs escape from Colditz Castle in Germany, and 316 attempts were made to scramble away from the prison. The Monopoly game was responsible for a third of the 35,000 prisoners fleeing their location.
It is unknown how many of the original decks exist today, but two of them serve as an exhibit in the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. The US Playing Card Company was kind and granted us permission to use the image of these cards shown above. This top-secret plan was not made known to the public for many years. In commemoration of the legendary deck, a reproduction of the cards is now available for purchase in stores, today, by the US Playing Card Company. Though the cards do not need soaked, you will find the map printed on the outside of the deck. What a holly jolly Christmas surprise for our POWs!! God bless Bicycle!
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