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How Monopoly Saved Thousands of WWII POWs

For the Allies, Monopoly was more than just a game. Back in WWII, England was busy manufacturing escape kits for prisoners of war (POW). Escape kits tucked safely away in Monopoly games no less.

With over 200,000 POWs in Germany alone, escape was difficult. Hitler had moved most POWs about 1000 miles from the English Channel in order to make further escapes almost impossible. He also took care to place concentration camps far apart from each other. Most of these concentration camps held a capacity of several thousand prisoners each.

As such, the question of the hour became how to help POWs make it safely across the English Channel. How could a map make it past securely from the Germans to POWs hands? The answer came in the form of John Waddington, England’s manufacturer for Monopoly.

England’s Secret Service had been toying awhile with the idea of sending maps printed on silk. Why? Silk printed maps were less fragile and noisy than paper ones. Even better, they could be folded into ridiculously tiny places. This is where John Waddington came in. Luckily for Secret Services, this Britain was the sole man in England who had perfected the silk printing method.

That’s when they came up with the brilliant plan of sending these silk printed maps in Monopoly games. Believe it or not, ‘games and pastimes’ was one of the few categories that was permitted to be sent by International Red Cross packages.  Thus, when Secret Services asked to include these silk maps in secretly marked Monopoly games in 1941, Waddington was only too happy to oblige.

Although the silk maps with individual escape routes were by far the most valuable ‘gift’ included in these Monopoly sets, Secret Services and Waddington didn’t stop there.  Waddington ingeniously managed to hide small magnetic compasses and metal files within a playing token. Even better, Waddington stashed real German, Italian, and French currency underneath the fake one in Monopoly. Pure genius.

For 66 years, all Monopoly craftsmen, POWs, and officials involved were sworn to secrecy. All of the remaining games were secretly destroyed after the war. Finally in 2007, the story was declassified from the British Official Secrets Act and the surviving Waddington firm and workers were honored publically for their courageous act of service.

It is estimated that out of the 35,000 escaped POWs from Germany and Italy, almost one-third of them credited the contraband Monopoly games for their escape.

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