The Acting Secretary of State to the Chargé of the Soviet Union (Novikov)

Sir: I refer to your Embassy’s Aide-Mémoires dated January 4, and January 18, 1945,64 as well as to our previous correspondence [Page 1068] with regard to the German prisoners of war segregated at Camp Rupert, Idaho.

The American military authorities have informed me that, in compliance with assurances given your Embassy in our note of November 8, 1944,65 persons captured by the United States armed forces in German uniforms who claim Soviet citizenship are being permitted to return to the Soviet Union. The military authorities state that approximately 2600 of these persons who claim Soviet citizenship have departed on Soviet ships bound for Siberian ports. Approximately 1200 additional persons are undergoing processing at Camp Rupert by representatives of your Embassy and of the War Department. Groups of these who are found to be claimants to Soviet citizenship are going forward from time to time as Soviet shipping is available.

I am informed that a difference of opinion has arisen between your Embassy’s representatives at Camp Rupert and the American military authorities with regard to the cases of a small number of German prisoners of war who maintain that they are German soldiers and officers and demand that they be treated as such under the provisions of the Geneva Prisoners of War Convention66 to which the United States and Germany are both parties.

Since your representatives at the Camp have apparently misunderstood the motives behind the treatment that has been given to the cases of these persons, I should like to outline to you the reasons why in the opinion of the American authorities these persons cannot, without creating serious difficulties, be delivered for shipment to the Soviet Union. In this connection, I can assure you that the action taken by the American military authorities in regard to these persons arises from no desire on the part of the American Government to hold Soviet nationals or to prevent the return to the Soviet Union of individuals who have established claims to Soviet citizenship.

This action has been taken because the Geneva Prisoners of War Convention does not specifically provide for situations such as that which has arisen from the incorporation by the Germans of captured persons of foreign nationality into German military formations. It appears to the appropriate American authorities, who have given most careful consideration to this situation, that the clear intention of the Convention is that prisoners of war shall be treated on the basis of the uniforms they are wearing when captured and that the detaining power shall not look behind the uniforms to determine ultimate questions of citizenship or nationality.

[Page 1069]

There are among enemy prisoners of war held by this Government a number of prisoners who have claims to American nationality. This Government is not, however, screening out these persons for special treatment since it desires to avoid a violation of what appears to be the intent of the Convention and weakening its ability to protect every wearer of an American uniform who may fall into enemy hands regardless of his nationality.

There are numerous aliens in the United States Army, including citizens of enemy countries. The United States Government has taken the position that these persons are entitled to the full protection of the Geneva Convention and has informed the German Government over a year ago that all prisoners of war entitled to repatriation under the Convention should be returned to the custody of the United States regardless of nationality.

In view of the fact that the United States has taken this position in regard to American prisoners of war in German hands, it is the opinion of the competent American authorities that, if we should release from a prisoner of war status persons who claim protection under the Geneva Convention because they were captured while fighting in German uniform as members of German formations, the German Government might be afforded a pretext to subject to reprisal American prisoners of war in German hands.

Your Government, I am sure, will readily understand that this Government cannot justify to the American people the taking of any steps that might jeopardize the situation of American prisoners of war in enemy hands.

While we have and will turn over to Soviet control those prisoners of war captured in enemy uniform who themselves are claimants to Soviet citizenship and who do not fall into the above category, the United States Government, in view of its fundamental interest in protecting the status of American prisoners of war in German hands, must reserve the right to retain as prisoners of war persons whose detention is deemed to be vital to the protection of American personnel in the hands of the enemy.

The complaints made by Mr. Gromyko to me as well as those recited in your Aide-Mémoires of January 4 and January 18 have been forwarded to the military authorities for investigation. The military authorities are conducting thorough investigations in order to uncover the full facts in each incident alleged and be in a position to take such action as may be warranted on the basis of the results of the investigations. The American military authorities have informed me that [Page 1070] additional time must ensue before these investigations can be completed, but as soon as they are terminated you will be advised further.67

In regard to the status of the Soviet nationals under discussion, I feel that I must in all sincerity remind you that they were not captured by American forces while they were detained in German prisoner of war camps but were serving Germany in German military formations in German uniforms. They are not, therefore, to be compared with American or Soviet military personnel who may be liberated from German prisoner of war camps.

Soviet military personnel found by advancing American armies on German or German-controlled territory in a prisoner of war status will, of course, be returned without question by the American authorities to Soviet control. In like manner, the American Government expects that American military personnel found by advancing Soviet armies in a prisoner of war status in Germany or German-controlled territory will without question be returned to American control by the Soviet authorities.

The persons now at Camp Rupert were not, however, found in the status of prisoners of war held by the enemy. Instead, as pointed out above, they were taken by American forces in German uniform employed against American troops. There was no reason to believe, until these German soldiers declared themselves, that they were anything but German military personnel. They were therefore classified by the American military authorities as German prisoners of war and so notified to the appropriate German authorities. They were fed, clothed, and otherwise treated as prisoners of war in accordance with the provisions of the Geneva Prisoners of War Convention and the regulations issued by the American authorities to carry out this Convention.

All German prisoners of war, except commissioned and non-commissioned officer personnel, are compelled to work. The information you received to the effect that German prisoners of war in the United States are not compelled to work is not correct.

After their preliminary segregation, some claimants to Soviet nationality continued to be employed at Camp Winchester and other places as a contribution to the Allied war effort. For such labor they were paid at the established rate of 80 cents per day. You will recollect, [Page 1071] in this connection, that your Embassy was asked in our note of November 8 for its views as to the general types of work upon which it would be agreeable to have these persons employed while awaiting transportation to the Soviet Union and it was stated that pending receipt of your views it was the intention to employ them in suitable civilian occupations, primarily though not exclusively, in agriculture. No reply was received to this communication. In this connection it should be pointed out that upon their final segregation at Camp Rupert, your nationals were not required to perform any labor except in connection with the administration, management, and maintenance of the facilities occupied by them. In this they are on the same footing as American soldiers who police and take care of the camps occupied by them.

As I have previously assured you, this Government has not propagandized and has no intention or desire of allowing the propagandizing of your nationals or suggesting to them that they not return to Soviet control. If any of the American personnel at the camps where they have been held have engaged in any such propaganda in violation of this policy, you may be assured that appropriate steps will be taken with regard to them.

I feel certain that your Government will agree that the comprehensive steps, taken by the American authorities to turn over to Soviet control, as soon as practicable under the circumstances, prisoners of war captured in enemy uniform who themselves are claimants to Soviet citizenship and who could be released without contravening the United States Government’s obligations under the Geneva Convention, have amply proved our good faith in endeavoring to meet the wishes of the Soviet Government. I feel further assured that your Government fully understands, in view of the extraordinary circumstances under which these Soviet nationals fell into the hands of the American military authorities, that until their status was determined they were naturally and rightfully treated as German prisoners of war. At all times and as required by the Convention, every effort was made to accord them treatment similar to that given to the American Armed Forces.

Considering the sincere and full efforts which have been made by the American authorities to handle this complex and difficult situation in order to meet in a most sympathetic and friendly manner the wishes of the Soviet Government, it is difficult to understand the unhelpful attitude assumed by certain Soviet officials who have been assigned to collaborate with the American military authorities in this work.

You may be certain that the United States Government will continue to do everything within its power to comply with the wishes of your Government with respect to these persons provided, as explained [Page 1072] above, any action taken in this regard will not jeopardize the lives or treatment of American prisoners of war in German hands.

Accept [etc.]

Joseph C. Grew

[On February 11, 1945, at Yalta, representatives of the United States and the Soviet Union concluded an Agreement Relating to Prisoners of War and Civilians Liberated by Forces Operating Under Soviet Command and Forces Operating Under United States Command; for text, see Foreign Relations, The Conferences at Malta and Yalta, 1945, page 985, or Department of State Executive Agreement Series No. 505, or 59 Stat. (pt. 2) 1874. For additional documentation regarding the conclusion of the agreement, see Conferences at Malta and Yalta, pages 413420, 440, 445, 455, 506, 687688, 691697, 751752, 754757, 863866, and 946.]

  1. Neither printed; they set forth Soviet complaints regarding the treatment by American authorities of claimants to Soviet ciizenship among German prisoners of war in damps in the United States (711.62114/1–445, 1–1845).
  2. Foreign Relations, 1944, vol. iv, p. 1262.
  3. The International Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, signed at Geneva, July 27, 1929, ibid., 1929, vol. i, p. 336.
  4. In a note to Ambassador Gromyko dated March 8, 1945, the Acting Secretary of State stated that as a result of investigations by the Office of Inspector General of the War Department, necessary remedial action had been taken in the few cases where the Soviet complaints were found to be substantiated. The Acting Secretary of State also brought to the attention of the Soviet Ambassador the information that the War Department investigations had revealed a substantial lack of military courtesy on the part of certain Soviet officers assigned to collaborate with American authorities and that the attitude of the Soviet officers contributed to the friction which developed and was responsible for many of the complaints made. (711.62114/2–545)