Move the mouse pointer over a red word in the main text, to view the glossary entry for this word.

The History of the Novel The Password Is Courage, by John Castle

Under their pseudonym of John Castle, Ronald Charles Payne and John William Garrod published the novel The Password Is Courage, based on the life history of Charles Joseph Coward, in 1954. Coward was one of hundreds of British prisoners of war who were interned between fall 1943 and January 1945 in the E715 prisoner of war camp at Auschwitz and had to do forced labor at the construction site of I.G. Farben.


The Password Is Courage is written as an adventure novel set in wartime. It attempts in its plot development to tell about Auschwitz in this medium as well, repeatedly stressing the camp’s horrors and providing all the more cause for heroic actions of resistance. In narrative terms, the novel concentrates on the actions of the British POWs, and in so doing repeatedly gives clear, sometimes emotional, descriptions of their fears, hopes, hatreds, and motivations. Coward appears as a shrewd hero, who manages to find in every situation another way to put one over on the Germans. But Auschwitz entails a change for him, as he is forced to realize that the Germans here are prepared to kill helpless people in a way that is unheard of in “normal” warfare. Not even the status of the POWs offers them protection from the Germans’ capriciousness, as becomes clear when the British POW Reynolds is shot by an SS-man for refusal to obey the latter’s work orders. The situation of the concentration camp inmates appears all the more dramatic.


The novel appeared in 1954 in two versions. The British edition (Souvenir Press, London) contains two episodes concerning Coward’s detention in the prisoner-of-war camps at Limburg and Lamsdorf, which are not present in the American edition (Ballantine Books, New York). The omission of several emotionally worded repetitions in regard to the hero’s current situation also makes the American edition appear more action-oriented and in particular more invested in the happenings in Auschwitz. A German translation is not available.


The Password Is Courage was filmed by MGM in 1962, with Dirk Bogarde in the role of Coward. Director Andrew L. Stone, however, lets the story end in 1943. A potentially difficult portrayal of the events at Auschwitz was replaced by voice-over information at the end of the film.

(MN; transl. KL)


Castle, John: The Password Is Courage. London: Souvenir Press, 1954.

Castle, John: The Password Is Courage. New York: Ballantine Books, 1954.

White, Joseph Robert: “‘Even in Auschwitz…Humanity Could Prevail’: British POWs and Jewish Concentration-Camp Inmates at IG Auschwitz, 1943–1945.” In: Holocaust and Genocide Studies 15 (2001), No. 2, pp. 266–295.

White, Joseph Robert: “The British Connection to Auschwitz: Work Camp E715 and the IG Farben Chemical Plant, 1943–1945.” Last altered on February 25, 2008, (accessed on March 18, 2008).