The Secretary of War (Stimson) and the Secretary of the Navy (Forrestal) to the Secretary of State

Dear Mr. Secretary: Reports of a number of incidents in which brutal atrocities have recently been committed against American prisoners of war captured by the Germans have caused great concern to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the War and Navy Departments. We believe that there is urgent need for vigorous action on the part of this [Page 701] Government, in association with the British and Soviet Governments if they so desire, to protect our prisoners of war from further atrocities.

We recommend the following courses of action on behalf of this Government:

That a warning be issued to the Commander-in-Chief of the German Armed Forces, military commanders and officers of the High Command that they will be held accountable for atrocities committed against prisoners of war in areas under their command, whether or not the abuses are perpetrated by or under the direction of political officials, political police or special military units operating under political control. A draft of such a warning on a tripartite basis is attached hereto as an Appendix.
That atrocities committed by the Germans against prisoners of war, and the names of individuals and units involved, be published to the German people and to the German Wehrmacht, with detailed statements as to any punishment meted out to such of them as are captured.
That full information along similar lines be given to American units down to and including the individual soldier.
That vigorous protests be made to the Protecting Power on all such atrocities and that full publicity be given to such protests and to answers received thereto.

Since the proposed warning, with the exception of one paragraph, is the same as a proposed tripartite warning which the British Government has heretofore submitted to the United States and Soviet Governments, we recommend that it be presented to the British and Soviet Governments for their agreement.

In this connection, we have been advised informally by the State Department that the French Government may desire to participate in addressing such a warning to the German Government. We see no objection, from the military viewpoint, to French participation in issuing the proposed warning, providing no undue delay will result therefrom. However, we understand that the French desire to include the treatment of deportees, as well as prisoners of war, in the terms of the warning. This would pose major difficulties, particularly as the responsibility of German military commanders would seem to be quite different as regards these two categories of personnel. We are therefore of the opinion that the present action should be confined to prisoners of war, and that the matter of civilian deportees should be considered a separate subject.

Since the purpose of all of the actions proposed above is the same, we recommend that when the other interested governments are approached [Page 702] with, regard to the issuance of the warning, they also be informed of the other courses of action proposed above.5

If the proposed warning is to be issued, we assume that the first and last suggestions made above should be carried out by the Department of State and that the second and third suggestions should be carried out by the War and Navy Departments in conjunction with the Office of War Information.

The views expressed above have the concurrence of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Sincerely yours,


Secretary of the Navy
Henry L. Stimson

Secretary of War


Text of the Proposed Warning

“The Governments of the United Kingdom, United States and U.S.S.R. hereby issue a solemn warning to the Commander-in-Chief of the German Armed Forces, to all commandants and guards in charge of Allied prisoners of war in Germany and German-occupied territory and to members of the Gestapo and all other persons of whatsoever service or rank in whose charge Allied prisoners of war have been placed, whether in battle zones, on lines of communication or in rear areas. They declare that they will hold all such persons, no less than the German High Command and competent German military, naval and air authorities, individually responsible for the safety and welfare of all Allied prisoners of war in their charge.

“They regard the treatment of Allied prisoners of war as the particular responsibility of the High Command of the German Army, Navy and Air Forces. They give notice that the officers of the High Command and the military commanders in any area where such abuses occur will be relentlessly prosecuted and brought to punishment. Accountability of these officers is in no way changed by the [Page 703] fact that the actual abuses may be perpetrated by or under the direction of political officials, political police, or special military units operating under political control.

“Any person guilty of maltreating or allowing any Allied prisoner of war to be maltreated, whether in battle zone, or lines of communication, in a stockade, camp, hospital, prison or elsewhere, will be brought to punishment.

“They regard this responsibility as binding in all circumstances and one which cannot be transferred to any other authorities or individuals whatsoever.”

  1. The substance of these recommendations and the text of the proposed warning were sent on March 17 by the Acting Secretary of State (Acheson) to the American Embassies at Moscow and London as telegrams 638 and 2101, respectively, with instructions “to take up this proposal with the Government to which you are accredited and ascertain whether it is willing to be associated with the other two Governments referred to in the proposal in the courses of action recommended”. (711.62114A/3–1745)

    Ambassador Winant replied in telegram 3408 of April 4, 6 p.m., from London, that Mr. Churchill had meanwhile raised the question directly with President Roosevelt, that the latter had agreed to the proposed warning subject to concurrence by Marshal Stalin, and that this concurrence was now awaited. Mr. Winant also reported on some detailed comments by the British Foreign Office. (77.62114A/4–445)