File No. 763.72114/2913

The Minister in Denmark ( Egan ) to the Secretary of State


1276. The following translation of a telegram to the Danish Red Cross from their representatives at Petrograd has been referred to this Legation:

Petrograd, 14th September, 1917.

In order to negotiate about prisoners of war the Russian General Staff has ordered representative for Russian War Department, General Kalishevsky, to Copenhagen.

Russian Red Cross sending Secretary General Chamansky and Count Bennigsen allotted [along] with secretaries.

Russian Red Cross ask Danish Red Cross to write [invite] to the conference representatives for German and Austrian Red Cross as well as representative from Austrian War Department; further to invite British and American representatives regarding the large victuals supply to Russian prisoners’ camps in Germany and Austria-Hungary.

The Russian representatives propose being in Copenhagen the 3d of October and ask for information whether necessary preparations can be made until that time.

I venture to point out the following factors as worthy of consideration aside from the questions of available supply and tonnage:

The very large majority of the Russian prisoners held by the Central Empires gave themselves up without a struggle, large numbers went deliberately over to the enemy carrying their rifles, for which cash bonuses were paid. They were then promptly distributed about the country to take the place of the peasants and laborers called to the colors. It was owing to the remarkably high percentage of voluntary surrenders early in the [war that the] former régime in Russia at times displayed a certain indifference to the fate of their men in German and Austro-Hungarian hands. It was deemed almost a practice among these captives to attempt escape in the hope that the record of it might count in their favor on return to Russia.
Judging from the past it is reasonable to suppose that supplies are now finding their way from Russia through the enemy lines. Quantities are certainly entering Sweden through Finland, which is frankly pro-German and which receives supplies from Russia proper.
Whether the feeding of the two million Russian prisoners in Germany and the Russians in Austria-Hungary, when taken together with the relief in kind introduced into Belgium and the relief funds sent to Poland, Palestine, etc., might be just the factor which would enable the Central Powers to tide over the coming winter and spring and so defeat the object of the blockade.
Their captors would be relieved by just so much from feeding the very men to whom they are chiefly indebted for the present harvest, as there would now seem to be no effective means of obtaining adequate guarantees that food introduced would not take the place of the prisoners’ regular rations. During the working season which extends from March to November the working prisoners of war who constitute the vast majority receive a ration of about three times the size of the regular civil ration, a fact which causes frequent bitter criticism on the part of the urban population.
Should it be decided to introduce large quantities of foodstuffs within the German lines for this purpose, why should Russia not [purchase] the surplus Danish cattle and swine, turn them into sausage or salted [meat], and so reduce the amount apparently available for general German consumption next spring?
Might it be possible that the Russians themselves would be incited to greater activity in reorganizing and tranquilizing their country by the knowledge that an effort on their part was required to succor their captive brethren of like political faith?
For abuses of our humanitarian endeavors I recall the removal from Servia of the foodstuffs from Roumania supplied by our Red Cross. Conger1 states that in August of last year he saw cultivated fields in Belgium and northern France laid out in huge squares the produce of each to be reserved for an indicated regiment, and the officer in charge in one corps told him they hoped after supplying their own needs to ship a surplus back to Germany. I have only recently heard of Belgian Relief condensed milk finding its way to central Germany and the cans being carefully returned to Belgium as proof of consumption there.

The conference will hold its sessions at the palace under the presidency of Prince Waldemar. Monsieur Zahle of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will represent the Danish Government. It is reported that the Russian delegates are already en route.

  1. Seymour B. Conger, Associated Press correspondent.