Memorandum for the Files by the Acting Director of the Office of Eastern European Affairs (Reinhardt)


Subject: Effort to Assist American and other UN Prisoners-of-war in North Korea.

Recent reports from Korea have indicated that United Nations prisoners-of-war were being subjected to the most brutal treatment at the hands of their North Korean captors. The latest reports indicate that many of the POW’s were being forced to accompany North Korean units in their withdrawal toward the western and northern borders of Korea under conditions which have already caused many of them to lose their lives. The impending final collapse of North Korean resistance and the possibility that the POW’s might either be exterminated by the North Koreans as a final gesture of defiance or alternatively taken across the frontiers into communist Manchuria or the Soviet Union have rendered it imperative that a serious effort be made to protect UN POW’s at this critical juncture.

Despite the improbability that the Soviet Government would agree to exercise any influence in this matter and the probability that any approach to the Soviet Government by this Government would only meet with a crude rebuff, it was nevertheless felt that the circumstances outlined above dictated that these risks be run even if there were only a remote chance that thereby some amelioration in the situation of the POW could be achieved.

On Saturday, October 21, EE drafted a telegram for the Embassy in Moscow, instructing the Chargé d’Affaires to seek an immediate interview with the Acting Foreign Minister and to request of the Soviet Government, which had diplomatic relations with the North Korean authorities, its good offices in this matter. He was to point out the gross mistreatment which the POW was suffering and its sharp contrast to the treatment being accorded the POW held by UN forces, [Page 993] who were being detained under conditions as prescribed in the latest Geneva Convention, and to whom representatives of the International Red Cross have regular access. He was to refer to General MacArthur’s surrender terms of October 1 and request that the Soviet Government use its good offices to the end that UN POW’s would receive treatment equal to the humane treatment accorded North Korean prisoners.

This message was approved by Messrs. Matthews and Jessup. Mr. Lovett1 thought it was an excellent idea and perceived no objection to it himself but requested that before transmission it be cleared with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. General Bradley, whom it was not possible to reach until late in the afternoon, was of the opinion that such a direct approach to the Soviet Government would run a very great risk of rebuff and that in view of our general policy of handling matters of this kind arising out of the Korean conflict only through the United Nations, this démarche as well should be made through that channel.

Following consultation with USUN, in the course of which the Department stressed the importance that if this undertaking was to have any success it must be handled in the strictest confidence and with speed, the Department was informed that Senator Austin agreed that this was a matter which should be handled through the UN and was of the opinion that the Secretariat General rather than any other organ of the USUN would be the appropriate channel. In view of Mr. Lie’s delicate position at the moment it was believed that M. Cordier, the Assistant Secretary General, would be the appropriate channel through which to approach the Soviet Delegation. Mr. Gross discussed the matter with M. Cordier Saturday night and the latter agreed to take it up the following day with Mr. Malik.

This morning Mr. Maffitt of USUN telephoned to report that Cordier had taken the following steps: Sunday morning he had telephoned M. Ruegger, head of the International Red Cross, Geneva, to ascertain whether the latter had any new information with respect to the POW situation in Korea. M. Ruegger said he had nothing beyond what was published in the press but that the IRC was very distressed and concerned by these reports and, since it had not succeeded in getting representatives into North Korea, was most desirous that the UN do anything it could to improve the situation. With this conversation as additional backing, M. Cordier proceeded to call on Mr. Malik, with whom he spent an hour and a half Sunday afternoon. He told him that although he was speaking quite confidentially and personally, he was conveying the earnest desire of the UN, the UN Command and the IRC that the Soviet Government, in view of its diplomatic relations with the North Korean authorities, use its good offices to improve the treatment [Page 994] of POW’s in North Korean hands. This was a matter which world opinion took most seriously. After lengthy discussion, which included a good deal of Soviet fencing, Mr. Malik agreed to take the matter up with Mr. Vyshinski but refused to give any commitment beyond that. Finally, Mr. Maffitt stated that USUN would submit a full report2 of M. Cordier’s conversation with Mr. Malik and of course report any development which might result therefrom.3

  1. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Lovett.
  2. Not printed.
  3. On October 30, Mr. Reinhardt drew up the following memorandum for the files:

    “Mr. Maffitt (USUN) telephoned this morning to report the following on this subject:

    “At Mr. Maffitt’s request M. Cordier had had another conversation with Mr. Malik, apparently on Saturday, October 28, at which Malik told him that he had taken the matter up immediately with Vyshinski following the original conversation and that they had sent off a message to Moscow on the subject. As yet there had been no reply from Moscow. Cordier thanked Malik for his cooperation and again emphasized the importance of the matter and the closeness with which it was being followed by world opinion. He also took the opportunity to leave with Malik a copy of an International Red Cross appeal on this subject which has apparently just been released. …” (611.95A241/10–3050)