The Acting Secretary of State to the Secretary of the Navy (Forrestal)14
My Dear Mr. Secretary: I refer to the memorandum dated March 9, 1945, from the State, War, Navy Coordinating Committee to Mr. Stettinius concerning the interpretation of the United States-Soviet reciprocal agreement on liberated prisoners of war and civilians and to my letter in reply thereto dated March 24, 1945, in which I concurred in the proposed action to be taken by the United States Government as set forth in this memorandum.15 Under this interpretation of the agreement this Government is returning to the Soviet authorities all Soviet citizens captured in German uniform other than those who demand that they be retained as German prisoners of war and thus come under the Geneva Prisoners of War Convention.[Page 1096]
As you know there have been several exchanges of notes with the Soviet Ambassador with respect to the retention in United States custody of approximately 118 German prisoners of war who claim to be German soldiers and who the representatives of the Soviet Embassy believe to be Soviet citizens. The Soviet Ambassador was informed that these persons are being retained in a prisoner of war status because of their having insisted upon being treated as German prisoners of war thereby bringing themselves within the scope of the Geneva Prisoners of War Convention. The Soviet Ambassador was further informed that in order to safeguard the protection under the Geneva Prisoners of War Convention of American prisoners of war in German custody this Government reserved the right to retain these persons in its custody until organized resistance in Germany ceased and there were no longer any American prisoners of war in the custody of the German armed forces. The Soviet Ambassador was assured that at that time the disposition of these persons would be taken up again through diplomatic channels.
I assume, now that Germany has unconditionally surrendered, that all American prisoners of war held by the German armed forces have been liberated and that therefore there no longer exists any danger that the German authorities will take reprisals against American prisoners of war. I therefore believe that it would be advisable to turn over these 118 persons to the Soviet authorities for repatriation to the Soviet Union, as well as any other persons of similar status who may be found in United States custody in the future. However, the policy which has been adopted with respect to the repatriation of the other categories of persons mentioned in the memorandum of March 9, 1945, from the State, War, Navy Coordinating Committee should remain unchanged.
I am also of the opinion that it would be advisable to transfer to the custody of the authorities of the other Allied Governments all persons believed to be of their respective nationalities who were captured by the American armed forces while serving in German military formations in German uniforms who insist upon being treated as German prisoners of war.
I should appreciate an expression of your views in this connection at the earliest opportunity. I am also addressing a similar letter to the Secretary of War.
- The questions raised in this letter were considered by the State–War–Navy Coordinating Committee at their eighteenth meeting on May 18, 1945. The Committee approved the turning over of the 118 Soviet citizens held as German prisoners of war to the Soviet authorities for repatriation to the Soviet Union, and agreed to defer action on the proposal by the Secretary of State to give blanket approval to similar transfers of custody in all cases where persons of Allied nationality were held as German prisoners of war pending further study of the entire problem. The Committee decisions were communicated to the Secretary of State in a memorandum dated May 23, 1945, not printed (740.00114 EW/5–2345).↩
- The Acting Secretary of State’s letter of March 24, 1945, not printed, but see footnote 82, p. 1077.↩