Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Eastern European Affairs (Durbrow)3
While it is felt that it would be advisable to make plans ahead of time in order to prevent the Germans from causing any harm to American prisoners of war, it is felt that the suggestions contained in the second proposed warning of the Joint Chiefs of Staff should be given very careful consideration before it is adopted.
I do not know whether we have decided, in general, whether we wish to acquiesce in the indicated Soviet policy of using large numbers of German citizens to reconstruct devastated areas in the Soviet Union and, if so, whether we might feel it would be advisable to agree upon the method of selection of these German citizens, etc.
It is felt, therefore, that until we have clarified our own policy on this matter, we should give careful consideration to the various implications which would arise from a public statement on our part that we shall retain one thousand German prisoners for each Allied prisoner murdered; for instance, we must give consideration to the possibility that the Soviet Government might, if it felt in its interest to do so, use this method to retain social democrats, members of the non-communist left, or any other democratic groups which it considered to be anti-Soviet.
Moreover, from an internal American point of view, consideration should be given to the reaction of labor groups to the use of “slave labor” which might be considered as competing with American labor.
For these reasons, I feel that it might be advisable to work out a statement along the lines of the British suggestion rather than the Joint Chiefs of Staff.4
[In a memorandum for the President of January 23, 1945, Acting Secretary of State Grew described the warning proposed by the United Kingdom and the two statements proposed as an alternative by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mr. Grew attached copies of the documents and commented that although there were certain merits to the proposal of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it was felt “that the threat to retain a thousand German prisoners to be employed in the interest of the Allied nations for each American prisoner murdered carries with it definite political implications which it would be best to avoid.” Mr. Grew requested the President’s instructions (740.00114 E.W./1–2345).
President Roosevelt apparently took no action in the matter at that time, but it was discussed in a meeting of Secretary of State Stettinius and Foreign Secretary Eden and their advisers on board H.M.S. Sirius in Grand Harbor, Malta, on February 1, 1945. The Agreed Minutes of this meeting includes the following:
“15. Anglo-American Warning to Germany about Allied Prisoners of War.
“Mr Matthews said that the State Department were disposed to agree with the text proposed by the Foreign Office but that the United States War Department had some views on the subject.
“It was agreed that the timing of any statement would be important and that the proper time would be when the German collapse seemed imminent or when some German outrage was threatened.”
For the full text of the Agreed Minutes, and for other details of the meeting, see Foreign Relations, The Conferences at Malta and Yalta, 1945, pp. 498–507.
An undated note attached to the President’s copy of Mr. Grew’s memorandum states that the memorandum was taken to the conference at Yalta but that Mr. Bohlen had said that it was “Not Used” there (762.00114/1–2345).]