Welcome to Toszek
In May 1940 popular British novelist PG Wodehouse, creator of the masterful valet Jeeves and his hapless employer Bertie Wooster, was captured by the German army at his home in France. In September he was moved to a civilian internment camp in German Tost, now Toszek.
The prison was set up within the grounds of the psychiatric hospital, and its sinister story didn’t end with the Germans – after the war it operated as a political prison of the Soviet Union’s feared NKVD secret police. Though you can’t enter, you can get a good view of its grim red-brick exterior from the dishevelled park across the road. Within the complex are grounds that were used as an exercise yard for the prisoners, beyond which was their dining hall and hospital.
Wodehouse, then 58, coped well with the privations of camp life, but was unimpressed with what he could see of Toszek through the barred windows, writing: ‘If this is Upper Silesia, what must Lower Silesia be like?’
The internationally famous author was treated well by his captors, being allowed to work on a rented typewriter. Then, in 1941, he was invited by the German authorities to make a series of radio broadcasts to reassure his readers in still-neutral America of his good health. Naively, Wodehouse agreed, unaware of the defiant mood in the UK after the Blitz and the Battle of Britain. The broadcasts caused an outpouring of indignation and accusations of collaboration.
Although after the war British intelligence secretly cleared Wodehouse of any wrongdoing, the incident left its mark. The author never returned to Britain, living out his days on Long Island, New York.
Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse died in 1975, aged 93, just six weeks after receiving a belated knighthood from his homeland. He is survived by almost 100 books, including the one he completed while a prisoner in Toszek – Money in the Bank.
If you’re interested in visiting Toszek, there are 10 trains a day from Opole (14zł, 50 minutes). From the train station, turn left and take a 20-minute walk along ul Dworcowa to the town centre.