In its 1000 year historic past, the castle has witnessed a diverse range of use: from a medieval hunting lodge to a World War II POW camp, and a psychiatric hospital.
Colditz is mentioned for the first time in a historical document dating from 1046 when Emperor Heinrich III gave his wife the fort together with property and land which had previously belonged to Marquis Eckehard II.
A bakers apprentice caused a fire destroying the castle and most parts of the town in 1504. The castle was reconstructed two years later. In 1697, during the heyday of the Baroque period, when August the Strong became King of Poland; he and his family increasingly neglected the castle and the town.
Colditz Castle was used by the Elector for the last time in 1753. From this period onwards the castle fell into a state of disrepair. In 1787, the remaining furniture and paintings were sold at a public auction.
In 1800, Colditz Castle was turned into a poorhouse for the area around Leipzig, three years later it became a workhouse.
One of the first psychiatric asylums in Germany was established at the castle in 1829. Ludwig Schumann, a son of the composer Robert Schumann, and Ernst Georg August Baumgarten (who is considered to be the true inventor of the airship) were admitted soon after. The hospital was eventually closed in 1924.
During the years of the rise of the Nazi party, 1933-1934, the Castle was used as a “protective custody“ camp to imprison approximately 600 opponents of the National Socialist Movement.
Between 1939-1945 Colditz Castle became a prisoner of war camp for Allied officers from Great Britain and the Commonwealth, France, Belgium, The Netherlands and Poland. The official name of the camp was “OFLAG IV C” and it was claimed that the castle is escape-proof. However, some prisoners succeeded in making their escape in over 30 occasions despite the rocky crags on which the castle stands, the barbed-wire fences, the numerous guards and the searchlights.
The prisoners were generally treated according to the terms of the Geneva Convention. Every nation had its own escaping officer. However, POW life was not too bad at Colditz. When not busy planning their next escape attempts, the prisoners largely spent their days engaged in sports, playing music, reading, rehearsing and performing in plays and learning foreign languages. The castle and the local town were liberated by American forces on 16th April 1945.
Between 1946-1996 Colditz became part of the eastern region of Germany known as the German Democratic Republic under the Socialist rule until 1989. In the meantime, the castle was reverted back to a hospital.
After 1996, the castle was no longer used as a hospital or nursing home – an association was founded to establish Colditz Castle as a cultural centre. Nowadays it is used as a museum and hotel.