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POW Camp

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During wars, captured enemy soldiers must be kept somewhere so they cannot return to their own side, so a Prisoner of War Camp is built. As soldiers on the battlefield, these two groups are enemies. For whatever reason, a group of soldiers has been captured by the very guys they were trying to kill just the day before. The camp guards will not like the prisoners because those same prisoners may previously have been responsible for the death and destruction visited upon their homeland. Typically, the guards will not treat their prisoners well.note  In fiction, stories about POW camps often focus on escape plans.

Since governments don't like having large numbers of "potential enemies" running around loose in their own back yard, something must be done about them. The answer to this problem is building an internment camp, which is basically a POW camp for civilians. Since they are almost always run by the military, we can consider them to be closely related, and therefore included. The concentration camp, meanwhile, is the evil twin to the internment camp.note  Its objective is not merely to contain political prisoners but to keep them available for slave labor and/or execution. While detainees at an internment camp are generally not mistreated, those at a concentration camp can expect nothing but constant pain and hunger or instant death at any moment. Any way you look at it, you seriously don't want to be a resident of any of these. Unless you're a guard.

As a Sub-Trope of Prison, most Prison Tropes will apply. This camp can readily turn into a Hell Hole Prison. If it is sufficiently escape-resistant, it can become The Alcatraz. You will always see plenty of heavily armed guards, menacing guard dogs, guard towers with machine guns, fences and spotlights. Expect miles of barbed wire, often in tangled loops. Sometimes, the wire can be connected to high voltage for added deterrent to escape attempts. Frequently, you will see someone working on a Great Escape (indeed, in Real Life, trying to escape when the opportunity presents itself is often expected or required of military personnel). Many Military and Warfare Tropes will be seen as well.

  • Important to remember: the Geneva Conventions are a series of international treaties and protocols that set standards for how POWs are supposed to be treated. They haven't always been honored, either in fiction or in Real Life, as camp guards often figure that it's Not Cheating Unless You Get Caught — but if someone does get caught, it's Serious Business of the "kiss your military career goodbye" variety. Similarly, members of most militaries are taught that the first duty of any prisoner of war is to attempt to escape their captors and return to their unit, so would-be escape artists often figure that it's Not Cheating Unless You Get Caught — but if someone does get caught, it's Serious Business of the "kiss your freedom or even your life goodbye" variety.

The POW Camp as a setting is a major fixture of many war films as well as many TV Series. In many FPS games, the PC must rescue a fellow soldier from a POW Camp.

No Real Life Examples, Please! There's too many specific ones to count.


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    Comic Books 
  • Several issues of Jonah Hex deal with Jonah's experiences in the Union prison camp of Fort Charlotte during the American Civil War.
  • Jon Sable, Freelance: In "M.I.A", Jon goes back to Vietnam in search of missing P.O.W.s and breaks into a camp still holding American servicemen.
  • One that the Grey Smurfs set up for the captured Smurfs in The Smurfs story "The Smurf Threat".
  • Star Wars (Marvel 2015) has Sunspot Prison, crossing over with The Alcatraz, a space station in low orbit around a sun where the Rebels keep their imperial prisoners, awaiting trial. Unfortunately, one of the rebel agent who's aware of its location gets a bit extremist, and goes there to execute everyone for their crimes.
  • The Transformers (IDW) continuity has one for each faction, Styx for the Decepticons and Garrus-9 for the Autobots. Both are targeted by the opposing sides for prison breaks.

    Films — Animation 
  • Parodied in Chicken Run. The farm is meant to invoke a prisoner of war camp, with wire fences and constant patrols as well as regular inspections.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Another Time, Another Place has an offscreen PoW camp that houses some of the prisoners working in the village.
  • The Bridge on the River Kwai: Captured British soldiers are forced to build a railroad bridge by a Japanese officer.
  • The Burmese Harp is about a Japanese unit held in a PoW camp in Burma after the end of the war.
  • The British war film The Captive Heart (1946), starring Michael Redgrave and his real life wife, Rachel Kempson, is about a Czech soldier who escapes from a German concentration camp and steals the identity of a dead British soldier to mingle in with British PoWs.
  • The Colditz Story, from 1955, is about British, Dutch, French and Polish officers in the infamous Colditz Castle Camp. The stroy is not centered around one escape attempt, but several, reflecting the many schemes which were hatched in the real-life Colditz Camp.
  • Eastern Condors: The squad is captured by the Vietnamese and incarcerated in a POW camp where they are forced to play Russian Roulette.
  • Fate of a Man (aka Destiny of a Man) is a film about a Russian soldier's experiences in various German PoW camps—and it is a very dark story, since Germans were far more brutal to their Russian prisoners in World War II than they were to prisoners of the western Allies.
  • The Grand Illusion: A 1937 film set during World War One.
  • The Great Escape Dramatized account of a major breakout by mostly British prisoners from a German PoW Camp.
  • The Great Raid: A 2005 dramatization of the 1945 liberation of Camp Cabanatuan in the Philippines.
  • In The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Blondie and Tuco end up in a Union PoW camp after their scavenging of Confederate uniforms backfires on them. Angel Eyes is running the show. It's nasty.
  • Escape to Victory (Victory in North America). Most of the movie takes place in a World War II Nazi PoW camp, where a group of Allied prisoners train to play in a soccer game vs. a German team.
  • Hart's War: Immediately after the start of the Battle Of The Bulge, Lt. Hart is sent to a camp where there is an escape attempt brewing. One prisoner murders another to keep him silent and Hart must conduct the court martial.
    • Interestingly, the adjoining camp filled with Polish PoWs is run more like a concentration camp, complete with prisoners not being fed and being forced to work in a nearby munitions factory.
  • Flashbacks in Jane Got a Gun show that Dan was held for years in a P.O.W. camp during the American Civil War.
  • Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence: A 1983 film set in a Japanese camp in Java. Stars David Bowie.
  • Red Tails: Junior is forced to bail out and ends up being the only black prisoner in a camp full of embittered white officers. He is warmly welcomed by the other prisoners, because there's no way a black prisoner could be a German spy.
  • Stalag 17 After a failed escape attempt, American prisoners suspect a traitor tipped off the Germans.
  • Two Arabian Knights (1927) is a comedy featuring two American doughboys who escape from a German PoW camp before getting up to other amusing hijinks.
  • Unbroken: After crashing at sea, US Olympian turned military aviator Louis Zamperini finds himself in a liferaft before being captured by the Japanese Navy.
  • Very Important Person is a comedy about a scientist vital to British aircraft research who is shot down on a ride-along on a bombing raid. Imprisoned according to his false identity as a Naval officer, he initially riles up his fellow inmates but when his true identity is revealed, they agree to help him escape.
  • Von Ryan's Express begins in a POW camp in Italy. After Italy surrenders, the guards flee and the prisoners escape, only to be recaptured by the Germans and placed on a train to be transported to a new POW camp in Germany.
  • The Wooden Horse, made in 1950, probably the Ur-Example of the British PoW Movie.

  • Andersonville is a novel by MacKinlay Kantor concerning the Andersonville prison.
  • The beta plot of Tom Clancy's Without Remorse is about a group of American prisoners in a secret PoW camp in North Vietnam during The Vietnam War, and an attempt to rescue them. The prisoners are kept in isolation from each other; however, they are not tortured, because the GRU (Russian military intelligence) officer there believes that the best way to get information from them is to get the prisoners to let down their guard by treating the prisoners well and acting friendly.
  • Days of Infamy is a two-novel Alternate History of the initial stages of the Pacific War by Harry Turtledove. It features Japanese internment camps in Hawaii, which, as you might guess, are as brutal as their Asian counterparts in China and Burma.
  • Honor Harrington has these in the background. The events of the first book are used as a pre-text for not sending the lead character to one of these when she is captured by the enemy while much latter on having to build one on very short notice after defeating and capturing a numerically superior force mostly intact is something of a minor headache for Michelle Henke.
  • King Rat by James Clavell tells the story of a WWII Japanese camp for multi-national POWs. The story focuses around the elaborate schemes and followings of one of the American POWs.
  • Mask (2020): It's revealed in the beginning of the book that Akiko's family was moved to a U.S. Internment Camp along with the rest of America's Japanese-American population due to Executive Order 9066 being in effect at the time. She takes Josie and Mae there.
  • Red Cap is a Historical Fiction Children's Literature novel by G. Clifton Wisler. The main character is a drummer boy that ends up in the Andersonville prison camp.
  • In Shards of Honor, Cordelia gets captured by the Barrayarans near the end of the 120 Days War and interned in a POW camp while the negotiations happen for her and the other prisoners to be repatriated. She hears some nasty stories about what it was like earlier in the war, but her own time there is fairly uneventful because the end of the war comes with a new commander who is serious about treating prisoners properly, who winnows out the guards who were mistreating prisoners and has the former camp commander executed for letting things get out of hand.
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe:
    • The Courtship of Princess Leia features a large political camp on the planet Dathomir. It was taken over by the native Force-sensitive Nightsisters, prompting the Emperor to put the world under interdiction - there was only room for one Dark Side-using megalomaniac in his galaxy, thank you very much.
    • A chapter in one of the later New Jedi Order books takes place inside a camp administered by the Yuuzhan Vong.
    • In the X-Wing Series, Ysanne Isard's prison Lusankya is part this, part prison for political dissidents, and part Manchurian Agent factory.
  • Several characters in Harry Turtledove's various series spend time in one PoW camp or another. Often, the viewpoint character from a losing side (Japanese in End of The Beginning, Confederate States Army in Timeline-191, and Gyongosian in the Derlavian War) reflects with dismay on what the luxurious prison camp shows about the relative wealth of the two sides.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The 1996 TV Movie Andersonville, directed by John Frankenheimer, tells the story of the notorious Confederate prison camp.
  • Auf Wiedersehen, Pet parodies films like The Great Escape in the first series, and a later series contains various Shout Outs to The Bridge on the River Kwai.
  • British series Colditz is about the German PoW camp of the same name. It is partly based on the film The Colditz Story which itself was based on a book by that name.
  • Hogan's Heroes: Comic misadventures of prisoners trying to disrupt the German war effort from right under their noses.
  • JAG: In "King of the Fleas", paraplegic Vietnam veteran Roscoe Martin tells Harm about his experiences as a PoW and the Despair Event Horizon it was. It all comes down to that he’s seeking legal representation for a fateful stabbing he had committed the same day on a Vietnamese immigrant, who actually turned out to have been the camp commander.
  • "The Great Potty Escape" was Michael Bentine's Potty Time's comedic take on Colditz.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "Quality of Mercy", Major John Skokes is captured by the aliens with whom humanity is fighting a losing war and is sent to a POW camp on a moon or asteroid. He shares a cell with Cadet Bree Tristan.
  • The Ripping Yarns episode "Escape from Stalag Luft 112B" was set in a PoW camp.
  • The season 7 Stargate SG-1 episode "Orpheus" showed a camp run by the System Lord Ba'al.
  • The "In Purgatory's Shadow"/"By Inferno's Light" two-parter of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has Worf and Garak captured by the Jem'Hadar and taken to a Dominion POW camp on an asteroid. When they arrive, they find that their cellmates include Enabran Tain, who led a failed attack on the Dominion homeworld two years earlier; General Martok, whose Changeling imposter had been exposed and killed months earlier; and Doctor Bashir, meaning that there's currently an imposter on the station.
  • One episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles deals with Indy being imprisoned in a Colditz-like castle with Charles de Gaulle, and their attempts to escape.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The board game Escape from Colditz is about a group of prisoners trying to escape from one of these.

    Video Games 
  • In general, it's pretty common in strategy video games to have PoW on some maps that you can rescue to add to your army. Why their weapons were stored close enough to the PoW Camp that they could retrieve them is a question you should not ask.
  • In Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, one of the missions revolves around storming an enemy PoW camp to free your soldiers in the middle of a snowstorm.
  • More than one game in the Call of Duty franchise have featured PoW camps.
    • Call of Duty: WWII, Zussman is captured and Red fights like hell to go after him, even disobeying direct orders and passing up a ticket home (due to his wounds). Zussman manages to hide his dogs tags in the snow, hiding that he is Jewish and is sent to a camp to work.
  • A Dummied Out feature in Command & Conquer: Generals allowed the basic infantry for each side to subdue enemy infantry, which was then ready to be picked up by a PoW truck to a faction specific building (the PoW Camp for the USA, the Prison for the GLA, the Propaganda Center for China), which would charge a faction specific power.
    • In the vanilla game, the USA Detention Center can be built, but with the POW system being removed it only serves to activate the CIA Intelligence ability note  once in a while. It was finally removed in the Zero Hour expansion pack, with the Intelligence ability being moved to the Strategy Center.
    • A few missions in both the vanilla game and the expansion feature POW camps that can be raided to acquire more units.
  • The Yuriko campaign in the Uprising expansion of Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 has Yuriko breaking out of an Allied Camp X-Ray in Guam by freeing various PoWs being held by Cryo-Legionnaires and starting a riot to escape.
  • Commandos has one that you need to rescue all of the prisoners from, as well as two of your squad. This is a Shout-Out to The Great Escape, complete with a prisoner named McQueen as well as a mole. Commandos 2: Men Of Courage follows suit with a camp on the river Kwai complete with a prisoner named Colonel Guinness and later in the game, Rescuing prisoners from Colditz Castle is a primary objective.
  • The Great Escape has a video game version for the PlayStation 2.
  • The aptly named cult classic 6th generation game POW Prisoners Of War was set in a PoW camp, and cast the player as an American airman with the objective of escaping.
  • A level in Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader involves a raid on an Imperial PoW camp near Kessel.
  • The classic arcade game Rush'n Attack has you trying to "Rescue the prisoners of war"note 
  • In the Wolfenstein franchise, the titular castle is a PoW camp for "special" prisoners. Escaping from the castle forms at least part of the plotlines of Castle Wolfenstein,note  Wolfenstein 3-D,note  Return to Castle Wolfenstein,note  and Wolfenstein: The Old Blood.note 

    Web Comics 
  • Bumrape Island: An extremely juvenile webcomic about an Australian soldier attempting to escape a Japanese POW camp in WWII. As the title implies, it is NSFW.
  • The town in High School Lessons was used as one in World War II. Prisoners were allowed to wander the town freely, because they had no place to run.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • In the "Puppet Master" episode, Hama tells the gang how she, and the other water benders from the Southern Water Tribe, were rounded up and taken prisoner by the Fire Nation. There, they were kept in cages, with their hands shackled, so they couldn't bend. The warden even pumped in dry air as an added measure. And while they were given food and water, it was only enough to keep them alive, but just barely.
    • An earlier episode had a similar camp for earth benders. They were kept on an island build with steel on the sea specifically to prevent an escape through bending powers, which prompted the Gang to get creative.
  • In the Sequel Series The Legend of Korra, Kuvira puts all non-Earthbenders, as well as bandits and those that disagree with her, into "reeducation camps".

Works featuring the Concentration / Internment Camp:

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Big Red One has the squad liberate a concentration camp near the end of the film. The soldiers are horrified.
  • Empire of the Sun tells the story of Jamie "Jim" Graham, a young boy who goes from living in a wealthy British family in Shanghai, to becoming a prisoner in the Lunghua Civilian Assembly Center, a Japanese run internment camp in occupied China, during World War II.
  • Escape from Sobibór is a 1987 prison escape/war/Holocaust movie set in 1943, in the Sobibor extermination camp, where inmates who have been selectively spared for their skills in manufacturing material goods plot their escape from the camp, in part utilizing the skills they possess.
  • The Grey Zone takes place at Auschwitz, just prior to and during the revolt by the camp's sonderkommando.
  • Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay They aren't inmates, though.
  • The end of The Hiding Place was set in a concentration camp.
  • Hunger is about Bobby Sands' hunger strike in protest of human rights violations against Irish internees by the British government during The Troubles.
  • Life Is Beautiful. A man and his son are sent to a concentration camp, the father acting like it's all a game to hide the truth from his son.
  • Schindler's List shows glimpses of the horrors of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

  • The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a heavily fictionalized (and probably inaccurate) child's eye view of Auschwitz with a terrible twist ending.
  • The end of The Hiding Place was set in a concentration camp.
  • Journey To Topaz follows one Japanese American family following the attack on Pearl Harbor as they're sent to Tanforan and then to Topaz.
  • In Parable of the Talents, which takes place 20 Minutes into the Future, the protagonist Lauren Olamina and her followers are placed in a "reeducation camp" by the Christian America religious sect because of their belief in Lauren's new religion/cult Earthseed.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Band of Brothers: Easy Company found and liberated a concentration camp in one episode.
  • In Never Have I Ever, half-Japanese Paxton's Oji-san (Grandpa) was interned in the Japanese-American concentration camp in Manzanar, California, per Executive Order 9066. Paxton reads in his Oji-san's diary of this experience, and shares this in the Facing History class.
  • Tenko is a BBC TV Series about an internment camp for women in the far east during the second world war.

  • Rush: "Red Sector A" seems to be a concentration camp run by non-humans. Word of God indicates that the nameless camp depicted is based on real concentration camps with the Serial Numbers Filed Off, staffed by ordinary humans who surrendered their humanity to be part of a totalitarian state.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The backstory of Shadowrun includes Native Americans being put in 're-education' camps. The re-emergence of magic let them escape and reclaim half of North America.


    Video Games 
  • Detroit: Become Human has a chapter that involves Kara being sent to the Android version of one of these. Whether they make it out alive is dependent on whether the rebellion succeeds, which is contingent on the actions of the two other protagonists.
  • In the Fallout series' backstory, an increasingly-fascist United States of America erected a great many of these during its final war with China, to contain Chinese-Americans suspected of being foreign agents. You can visit a few of them in the games: Turtledove Detainment Camp in Fallout 3's "Point Lookout" expansion is located in a miserable swamp that was simultaneously used as a prison and toxic dumping site, while in Fallout: New Vegas: Old World Blues, the Big Empty's "Little Yangtze" internment camp supplied human subjects for the research center's twisted experiments. These camps are still populated, 200 years later, by prisoners ghoulified by the nuclear war.
  • Giten Megami Tensei features a number of demon-run labor camps, of which two are visited — one in Shinjuku, which gets raided by Pentagramma, and another one in Yoyogi, where Ayato gets sent after he gets captured in the Metropolitan Government Office.
  • Nimdok's scenario in I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream is set in a concentration camp (specifically Auschwitz), although any explicit references to the Nazis and the Jews are obfuscated by AM until the very end of the scenario.
  • You are running one in KZ Manager.
  • The human ranches in Tales of Symphonia are basically concentration camps by another name.
  • Valkyria Chronicles has a mission to liberate a concentration camp of Darcsens.
  • Between Warcraft II and III, the victorious Alliance split up the survivors of the orcish Horde among internment camps across the kingdom of Lordaeron, where the orcs' painful defeat was only exacerbated by withdrawal from the fel magic they'd wielded while serving the Burning Legion. Thrall liberated the camps over the course of Lord of the Clans, but the settlements remained, and you can visit several of them in World of Warcraft, where various factions have taken them over for their own use. Hammerfall, the Horde's outpost in the Arathi Highlands, is one such former camp, named for Orgrim Doomhammer, the former Warchief who was slain during the camp's liberation.
  • Wolfenstein: The New Order has BJ infiltrate a concentration camp in order to locate and free a valuable prisoner.


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