Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, 1915, Supplement, The World War
File No. 763.72114/123
The Ambassador in Great Britain (Page) to the Secretary of State
[Received December 21.]
Sir: I enclose herewith a copy of a letter from Mr. Chandler Anderson, and a memorandum concerning the treatment by belligerents of detained enemy aliens and prisoners of war, and the relief work undertaken through the American embassies in belligerent countries. I would like to call your attention to, and express my approval of, the suggestions made at the close of Mr. Anderson’s memorandum.
I have [etc.]
Mr. Chandler P. Anderson to the American Ambassador in Great Britain (Page)
Dear Mr. Ambassador: I have had occasion, as you know, to give considerable attention to the treatment of prisoners of war and enemy aliens detained in belligerent countries during the present war, and to discuss this subject at the foreign offices of several of the belligerent powers, and consequently am somewhat familiar with the difficulties of the situation and the work which the representatives of the Government of the United States have been, and will be called upon to do in that connection.
It seems appropriate, therefore, that I should submit for your consideration certain observations and suggestions which have occurred to me about the situation thus presented, and which I have embodied in the accompanying memorandum, with a view to having these transmitted to the Department of State, with your endorsement, if they meet with your approval.
Memorandum concerning the treatment by belligerents of detained enemy aliens and prisoners of war, and the relief work undertaken through the American Embassies in belligerent countries
Each of the belligerents in the present war adopted at the outset a policy and standard of its own regulating the detention of enemy aliens and the treatment of detained civilians either at large or in concentration camps, and of the military prisoners of war.
release of detained civilians
The necessity for adopting a common basis regulating the release and exchange of detained civilians was recognized by the belligerent governments early in the war. Proposals for the adoption of a common understanding on this subject were submitted by Great Britain on the one side and by Germany and Austria-Hungary on the other, through the good offices of the Government of the United States as the representative of their respective interests in enemy territory, and finally after inevitable delays, arising from the difficulty of carrying on negotiations during the existence of war, and slowness of communication between the belligerent countries, an agreement partially covering the subject was reached.
Under this agreement these Governments undertook not to detain any women or children, or males under 17 or over 55, between Great Britain and Germany, or under 18 or over 50 between Great Britain and Austria-Hungary, [Page 998] or physicians or clergymen, unless some special reason justified detention in individual cases.
In addition to the arrangements already adopted, these Governments have under consideration further arrangements for the exchange and release of detained enemy aliens, which arrangements, and the respective positions of the belligerent governments with respect thereto are understood to be as follows:
- Both sides are disposed to arrange for the reciprocal release of all civilians physically disqualified for military service.
- The German and Austro-Hungarian Governments are prepared to agree to the reciprocal release of civilians over the age for compulsory military service under their respective laws, which in Germany is 45 years, and Austria-Hungary 42 years of age. The British Government have refused as yet to reduce the age below 55 in the case of Germany, and 50 in the case of Austria-Hungary, but this question is under consideration, and they may reconsider their position.
- Both sides have expressed a willingness to agree to an exchange, man for man, of civilians of military age on lists to be proposed on each side for the approval of the other, but the action of the British Government in arresting several thousand Germans and Austro-Hungarians in Great Britain while these arrangements were under negotiation interfered with their progress.
- The British and German Governments are disposed to observe the provisions of Articles 6 and 7 of the eleventh Hague convention of 1907 regarding the crews of enemy merchant ships captured by a belligerent, but there seems to have been a difference between the two Governments as to the meaning of these provisions.
The German Government interprets these articles as meaning that the crews of captured ships are not only to be released from imprisonment, but permitted to return to their own country without hindrance if they so desire, under parole against employment in any service connected with the operations of the war.
The British Government, on the other hand, interpret these provisions as merely requiring the liberation on parole in Great Britain of the crews of captured merchant ships, and under reservation that subsequently they will be treated no more favorably than other Germans residing in Great Britain.
It is understood, however, that the British Government are reexamining these provisions in the light of the meaning attributed to them by the German Government.
This question has not arisen between Great Britain and Austria-Hungary, as these two Governments reached an agreement at the beginning of the war, releasing each other’s merchant ships.
release of wounded military prisoners
The arrangements under consideration do not contemplate any exchange of prisoners of war, and no proposals have been made for the exchange of such prisoners, but it is understood that both sides are disposed to agree to the reciprocal return of all wounded military prisoners who are permanently disabled for military service, and each Government seems to be awaiting a formal proposal from the other on this subject.
treatment of prisoners
Each of the belligerent governments has established for itself standards and rules governing its treatment of military prisoners of war, and civilians in detention camps. They have all announced their willingness, on condition of reciprocity, to give effect to Articles 14 and 16 of the Annex to Hague Convention IV of 1907, which provide for the establishment of a prisoners-of-war inquiry office, for furnishing information about prisoners, in each country, and the delivery of mail, money and parcels to prisoners of war.
In many other respects the arrangements adopted are similar on both sides, but as is inevitable where no common basis of treatment is established, there are also many important differences.
It is unquestionably true that each government desires to deal with this very difficult situation in a manner which will be satisfactory to all concerned in so far as circumstances permit. Nevertheless, in view of the known differences, and the lack of confidence on each side in the good faith of the other, [Page 999] inspired by the intense hostility existing between them, there naturally have been misunderstandings and misgivings on both sides about the treatment of their subjects who are held as military or civilian prisoners in enemy territory. This situation has been aggravated by sensational stories of abuse and maltreatment of prisoners, which have been given wide circulation in the German and Austro-Hungarian newspapers, and although for the most part without foundation of fact, have been popularly accepted as true. The result of all this has been to excite and inflame popular opinion in those countries to the extent of demanding retaliation and reprisals, and the German and Austro-Hungarian Governments are in a mood to yield to these demands.
In this difficult and dangerous situation the Governments of Great Britain, Germany, and Austria-Hungary have called upon the Government of the United States, as the friend of all parties, and the representative of their interests in enemy territory, for information, assistance, and advice. Perhaps the most important and useful service which this Government, as the custodian of their interests, could render to these belligerent nations, would be to bring about through the exercise of its good offices a better understanding among them as to the existing facts and the best method of dealing with this situation in the future.
In order to accomplish this, it is essential that each government should prepare, for the information of the other a full statement of the standards which it has established, and the regulations which it has adopted for the treatment of prisoners. Each government has expressed its willingness to do this, and these statements, when prepared, will be communicated by each side to the Government of the United States for transmission to the other side. It will undoubtedly be found that there is very little cause for criticism or complaint about the standards and regulations which have been adopted, but it will also be found that it would be to the advantage of all to bring these various standards and regulations up to the level of the best in each.
It is also necessary that the standards and regulations thus established should be carried out in good faith in their practical application, and under existing conditions, neither side can be expected to take this for granted. At the request of the belligerent governments, an inspection of many of these camps on both sides has already been made by representatives of the Government of the United States, and reports have been submitted setting forth the facts with entire impartiality. The treatment and condition of the prisoners has been found to be very much the same on both sides, and nothing has been found to sustain the sensational stories of ill-treatment and abuse which have made the situation dangerous.
But there are many camps on both sides which have not been visited and reported on. There are about 20 camps in Great Britain, less than half of which have been inspected, and although there is only one civilian prisoners camp in Germany, and that has already been reported on, there are several hundred thousand military prisoners there, of whom about twenty thousand are British, and these are scattered among a large number of military camps, many of which are in remote and inaccessible places. There are also a large number of German prisoners in France, where the German interests are also entrusted to the care of the United States.
The best safeguard against abuses in prisoners’ camps on both sides, and against further misunderstandings which are sure to recur if unwarranted criticisms continue, would be to arrange so that both sides should have available, at all times, accurate and reliable information about the treatment of prisoners, and conditions existing in all these camps, and this can only be secured through the good offices of the Government of the United States. The situation, therefore, seems to demand that the Government of the United States, in fulfilling its obligations to the several belligerents whose interests have been entrusted to its care, should establish in each country some systematic and organized method of inspecting and reporting from time to time on prisoners’ camps. The requests which the several belligerent governments have already made to the United States for information and assistance in dealing with this situation indicate their desire that the United States should undertake this work, and it is anticipated that the belligerent governments will insist upon bearing any expenses which are incurred by the Government of the United States in this connection.
Since Turkey became a party to the present war, a situation similar to that above described has arisen between the British and Turkish Governments with relation to their detention and treatment of each other’s subjects.[Page 1000]
In this connection it must also be noted that the United States Government has been entrusted with the care of the German and Austro-Hungarian interests in France and Russia, and with the French interests in Austria-Hungary, and the United States will be expected to look out for the welfare of their respective subjects held as prisoners in these countries.
relief work among enemy aliens in belligerent countries
One of the most serious problems involved in the treatment of enemy aliens in belligerent countries is to provide them with the supplies necessary for their health and comfort. Enemy aliens detained in belligerent countries may be classified generally into military prisoners of war, both officers and soldiers; civilian prisoners interned in detention or concentration camps; and civilians who, although not under arrest, are not allowed to return to their own countries, and the wives of such civilians—the men and women of this class being merely required to register with the police and observe certain police regulations. There are many in each of these classes whose resources are sufficient to enable them to procure for themselves whatever supplies they may require in addition to those furnished by the government of the country where they are detained, but there is a pressing need, which is bound to increase as time goes on, for providing supplies of various kinds in addition to those furnished by the captor government, to the great majority of the soldier prisoners, and also to the civilian prisoners, both in camps and at large. Officer prisoners of war stand on a different footing from the others, and their requirements will be considered separately.
Each government supplies its military prisoners and enemy subjects who are detained in camps, with food on a scale which is understood to correspond roughly with the rations of their own army. The standards are different in each country, but in each case the prisoners receive a supply of food which is amply sufficient for them to live on. The British Government undertake to furnish free of charge, medicines, suits, underclothes, shirts, boots, soap, towels, forks and spoons, and even combs and brushes to their military and civilian prisoners who are in need of these things, except that there seems to be some difficulty about furnishing suits to military prisoners because in the prisoners’ camps of some of the belligerent countries they are required to wear military uniforms, an additional supply of which can only be obtained from their own governments. Germany and Austria-Hungary, on the other hand, have not undertaken to furnish any, of these things, except medicines, either to civilian or military prisoners.
Most of the military prisoners have only the clothes they were wearing when captured, which in many cases are of thin summer weight, and all are in need of additional and warmer underclothes and uniforms, and also overcoats.
Civilian and military prisoners are allowed to receive money from their own governments, or from other outside sources, and are supposed to be paid some compensation for any work they are required to do, but few of them have much money at any time, and most of the time few of them have any. Those who have money are at liberty to buy such additional supplies of clothing, food, and other things as they may require.
Each government has established a fund of money for the relief of its own subjects who are held in enemy territory, and this money is distributed through the American embassies in those countries in the purchase of supplies for distribution in the camps or in the payment of small allowances, or in supplying food to detained civilians who are not interned in detention camps. This outside relief does not present any serious difficulties except those involved in the organization and administration of the relief work, which differs in each country in accordance with local conditions, but it generally is carried on under the direction of the ambassador through some members of the embassy staff with the assistance of the American Consular Service and local relief organizations or committees.
This work is of considerable magnitude in Great Britain where there are some forty thousand German and fourteen thousand Austro-Hungarian subjects outside of detention camps, most of whom are unable to support themselves on account of the prejudice against them as enemy aliens. It should be noted, however, that British-born wives of enemy aliens, whose husbands are not in a position to support them, and there are many such, receive from the British Government a small regular allowance covering only their actual necessities.[Page 1001]
Under the provisions of Article 16 of the annex to the fourth Hague convention of 1907, which are being observed in thiswar, presents and relief in kind may be sent to prisoners of war, and in this way supplies are reaching some of the prisoners in addition to the supplies furnished by the captor governments and those which are purchased by the American embassies with the funds supplied for that purpose by the prisoners’ own governments.
Up to the present time, some private and comparatively unimportant volunteer relief work has been done, but the only relief which has been extended by their own governments to British prisoners in Germany, and German prisoners in Great Britain, has been the purchase and distribution through the American Embassies in Berlin and London, of two or three thousand pounds’ worth of underclothing. Information in regard to what has been done for the German prisoners in France and in Russia is not at present available, but it is known that the Spanish Ambassador in Berlin, to whose care the French, Belgian, and Russian interests in Germany have been entrusted, has received absolutely no money from the Russian Government for the relief of Russian prisoners in Germany, and there are no funds available for the relief of the Belgian prisoners there, and although he has received a substantial amount from France for the relief of French prisoners there, he had, until recently, been able to expend very little of it for that purpose.
It must be remembered that Germany alone claims to have upwards of 450,000 prisoners of war, consisting of about 20,000 British, over 200,000 Russians, and over 200,000 French and Belgians. There are several thousand German prisoners of war in Great Britain in addition to the 12,000 or more German and Austro-Hungarian civilian prisoners interned in concentration camps. Many thousands of German and Austrian soldiers are known to be held as military prisoners in France, and the number of prisoners of war who have been taken on both sides between Russia and Germany and Austria-Hungary is known to run to very large figures.
It has already become evident that the relief work which is being done along the lines above indicated, although beneficial and indispensable, is wholly inadequate to meet the requirements of the great majority of the prisoners on both sides, who are in need of clothes and various supplies for their personal comfort and welfare, and some varieties of diet, and also medicines essential to their health.
The British and German Governments have expressed themselves as prepared to establish with the American Ambassadors in London and Berlin, any additional funds which may be necessary for purchasing supplies needed by British and German prisoners of war of those countries. There is some uncertainty, however as to whether the Russian and Belgian Governments are prepared to provide funds for the relief of Russian and Belgian prisoners in Germany, and this somewhat complicates the situation, because it is reported that Germany is disinclined to permit any discrimination to be made in distributing relief among the Allies’ soldiers who are prisoners of war in Germany. The reason of this is understood to be that any discrimination or partiality in the treatment of prisoners leads to bad feeling and disturbances in the prisoners’ camps. If this objection on the part of the German Government cannot be overcome, it remains for the Allies to consider whether or not they wish to provide any funds on a joint account for the relief of their respective subjects who are prisoners of war in Germany.
The need for a large amount of clothing and other supplies for prisoners of war, in addition to the supplies furnished by their captors, is so great already and will be so much greater as the winter advances and the number of prisoners increases, that it is generally recognized that these supplies, or the money to procure them, must be provided. Whether this is done by the governments themselves, or by private contributions, or by both, is immaterial. It may be that the governments will find that the best solution is to arrange for a common basis of treatment on a more liberal scale than they have at present adopted, with the understanding that each government will ultimately bear some portion of the expense of the maintenance of its soldiers who are prisoners of the enemy, on an adjustment of accounts at the close of the war, or at stated intervals during the war, or it may be that some other solution will be found. Undoubtedly some solution will be found, and relief work of this character on a large and steadily increasing scale will be carried on until the close of the war, and should be undertaken at the earliest possible moment. [Page 1002] This sort of relief work is analogous to the Red Cross work among the wounded prisoners, and equally important.
In the annex to the fourth Hague convention of 1907, it is provided in Article 17 that officers taken prisoner shall receive the same rate of pay as officers of corresponding rank in the country where they are detained, and that the amount shall be refunded by their own government. It is understood that some of the belligerents are acting in accordance with this provision, and some of them are not, but that they are all allowing some pay to prisoner officers, and although in some countries this is understood to be less than the provisions of this article call for, yet in all cases the pay allowed is sufficient to enable the officers to provide themselves with their actual necessities. They are expected out of this pay to bear the expenses of their own food and clothing, and to pay some compensation to the military prisoners who are assigned to them as servants.
It probably would be advisable that some steps should be taken to ascertain whether or not the officer prisoners in any of the belligerent countries require any supplies in addition to those provided by the captor government, and those which are sent to them by their relatives and friends.
organization of relief work
If the Government of the United States, as seems inevitable, is called upon to undertake the administration of this work on behalf of the governments whose interests are entrusted to its care in enemy territory, some systematic and organized method of carrying it on should be established in each country. The work will naturally be under the direction of the American Ambassador in the several countries where the interests of all the belligerents are entrusted to his care, and in those countries where some of the belligerents are represented by the Spanish Ambassador, some plans for cooperation will be necessary, but in all of the belligerent countries the work will be so extensive, and of such a character, that it cannot successfully be dealt with by an embassy staff. It will probably involve the purchasing of large quantities of supplies of various kinds, and their delivery at a large number of camps widely separated, many of which are in inaccessible places, and the distribution of these supplies among soldiers of different nationalities interned in these camps. It will also involve the handling of and accounting for considerable sums of money, and the apportionment among the different nations of the expenditure made on their account. The American Consular Service in each country will be available, and can conveniently be used for a good deal of this work in connection with the work of keeping the several governments informed about the treatment of prisoners in these camps, but some special organization will be necessary to take charge of the purchasing of supplies and the keeping of accounts. This part of the work is so important, and the responsibility for properly carrying it out is so great, that if the Government of the United States undertakes this responsibility it cannot afford to delegate it to volunteer assistants or unofficial organizations. For that reason, as well as for reasons of efficiency, it must be placed in charge of competent governmental officials. It would seem advisable to designate for that purpose some experienced officers from the Quartermaster’s Department and the Paymaster’s Department of the United States Army or Navy, to act as a board in charge of this work in each country under the direction of the American Ambassador, and assisted by the American Consular Service.
In this way the work of inspecting these camps and distributing relief can beeffectively coordinated and carried out, but it remains for the several belligerent governments to set this work in motion, for the Government of the United States can take only such means as the belligerent governments are willing to have taken towards bringing about a better understanding among them in regard to the treatment and relief of enemy subjects under their jurisdiction.