Pursuit of an 'Unparalleled Opportunity'
The American YMCA and Prisoner of War Diplomacy among the Central Power Nations
during World War I, 1914-1923.
by Kenneth Steuer

Key Figures


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Halil Bey

See also:
Chap. 15, p16
A leader in the Young Turk movement, Halil Bey was a Turkish politician and statesman. He was the president of the Parliament before the war. Halil Bey became the Turkish Foreign Minister during World War I and conducted the empire's foreign policy. The U.S. embassy negotiated with Halil Bey on behalf of Allied prisoners of war in the Ottoman Empire in December 1915, seeking YMCA access to Turkish prison camps to institute War Prisoners' Aid relief operations. The American YMCA received diplomatic support from the German embassy in support of this proposal, in light of WPA operations conducted in Germany and the Allied countries. Halil Bey turned the proposal over to Enver Bey and the Ministry of War for a final decision.

Edgar Halyburton

An American soldier, Halyburton enlisted in the U.S. Army in July 1909. He participated in Pershing's Mexican Expedition in 1916 and became a sergeant. Halyburton was assigned to the First Division and was in the first American regiment sent to Europe after the United States declared war against Germany in April 1917. Halyburton and eleven other American soldiers were captured in a German trench raid in November 1917. He was sent to a number of German prison camps and eventually ended up in Tuchel. As a result of Conrad Hoffman's negotiations with the Ministry of War, the Germans transferred the majority of American non-commissioned officers and enlisted men to Rastatt in Baden. In August 1918, Halyburton arrived at Rastatt and demanded that the Germans appoint him the senior American non-commissioned officer. He immediately imposed military discipline on the American POW's, requiring them to clean themselves up and punishing prisoners who traded with the German guards. Halyburton demanded better treatment for the Americans from the camp officials but gained their wrath when he undermined German propaganda campaigns in the camp. Halyburton refused to permit the circulation of German publications, Americans in Europe and The Continental Times, the former developed by the Württemberg Ministry of War, in the prison camp. As punishment, the Germans transferred Halyburton to the punishment camp at Heuberg in Baden. When Hoffman learned of the transfer, he immediately protested the order to the Ministry of War in Berlin and the Germans sent Halyburton back to Rastatt. After the signing of the Armistice in November 1918, the Germans opened up the prison camp, but Halyburton posted American guards and kept his men inside the facility. Hoffman expanded WPA operations in the prison camp to offer the former prisoners greater entertainment and diversions until repatriation. Halyburton and the last of the American prisoners left Rastatt in December 1918 and he rejoined his regiment in the United States after a sixty-day furlough.

Alice Hamilton (1869-1970)

See also:
Chap. 18, p16
An American toxicologist, Dr. Hamilton became the director of the Illinois survey of industrial poisons in 1910. She then worked as an investigator for the U.S. Bureau of Labor of industrial poisons from 1911 to 1921. Hamilton took time off to accompany the American Friends Service Committee delegation to visit Germany in June 1919 to survey social conditions in the new German republic. The delegation noted the devastating impact the Allied Blockade had on the health of German children, especially in regard to nutritional diseases. They recommended that the U.S. government immediately begin food shipments through the American Relief Administration to improve the diets of young Germans. Hamilton taught as a professor at the Harvard University Medical School from 1919 to 1935.

George Herbert Harries (1860-1931)

A major general in the United States Army, Harries was a newspaper reporter and became an associate editor of the Washington (DC) Evening Star. He was a volunteer aid to General Nelson Miles during the Wounded Knee campaign in South Dakota from 1890 to 1891and removed the northern Cheyenne to Montana from 1891 from 1892. Harries became president of the Washington Railroad Company from 1895 to 1896. Promoted to the rank of brigadier general, he became the commander of militia of the District of Columbia in November 1897. He served as a colonel in the 1st D.C. Infantry, U.S. Volunteers in the Spanish-American War in 1898 and fought at Santiago de Cuba. Harries was part of the Cuban Army of Occupation, before returning to the United States to become vice president of the Washington Railway and Electric Company from 1900 to 1911. Promoted to major general, Harries retired from the army in May 1915. When the United States declared war on Germany in February 1917, Harries became a brigadier general and commander of the First Brigade of the Nebraska National Guard in June 1917. He commanded a number of brigades in France from August 1917 to September 1919. The Army assigned Harries as chief of the U.S. Military Mission in Berlin in December 1920 and he worked closely with the American YMCA to provide WPA services to Russian prisoners of war remaining in Germany. Harries became a major general again in September 1924 in the U.S. Army Auxiliary.

Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934)

See also:
Chap. 02, p02
A German general and statesman, Hindenburg emerged at the end of World War I as the most famous leader in Germany. He was born in Posen and joined the Prussian Army, fighting in the Six Weeks' Week against the Austrians in 1866 and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. He attained the rank of lieutenant general in 1900, but retired from military service in 1911. When Germany went to war in August 1914, the army recalled Hindenburg as a full general and assigned him command of the German armies in East Prussia. The unexpectedly swift Russian mobilization and invasion provided Hindenburg, and his new aide, General Erich von Ludendorff, with an opportunity to save the German Empire. Hindenburg and Ludendorff stopped the Russian advance at Tannenberg and expelled the Russians from East Prussia in the Battle of the Masurian Lakes in September 1914. These battles resulted in the destruction of two Russian armies and the capture of thousands of prisoners of war. Hindenburg and Ludendorff became national heroes (the Kaiser made Hindenburg a field marshal) and the Germans continued their eastwards advance, capturing Russian Poland in 1915. When Field Marshal Erich von Falkenhayn's offensive at Verdun on the Western Front failed in 1916, Kaiser Wilhelm II appointed Hindenburg as the new imperial Chief of Staff. Hindenburg and Ludendorff consolidated power and became virtual military dictators, with Ludendorff emerging as the dominating figure in the partnership. During the last two years of the war, Hindenburg and Ludendorff controlled the German military, economy, and civilian population in a total war effort. After authorizing the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare in January 1917, which brought the United States into the war on the side of the Allies, Hindenburg and Ludendorff launched one last, massive offensive on the Western Front. When the Spring Offensive of 1918 failed, Hindenburg recognized that the war was over and called on the imperial government to negotiate an armistice. With the signing of the Versailles Treaty in June 1919, Hindenburg again retired. Hindenburg entered politics in 1925 and successfully ran for president of the Weimar Republic. He supported the Treaty of Locarno and approved Germany's admission into the League of Nations. Hindenburg defeated Adolf Hitler in the presidential elections of 1932, but was compelled to yield to growing National Socialist Party power by appointing Hitler Chancellor in 1933. Hindenburg died in office in 1934.

Herbert Clark Hoover (1874-1964)

See also:
Chap. 03, p31
See also:
Chap. 18, p18
Thirty-first President of the United States, Hoover worked as a mining engineer and humanitarian before entering U.S. government service. He became the Chairman of the American Relief Commission in London from 1914 to 1915 and led the Commission for Relief in Belgium from 1915 to 1919. The Wilson administration appointed Hoover as U.S. Food Administrator from 1917 to 1919 and he became responsible for the distribution of American food aid to Europe during World War I. During the Armistice period, Hoover supervised economic relief measures as Europe began the process of post-war reconstruction. Hoover was well-versed on the adverse impact of Britain's blockade of Germany and the German policy of unrestricted submarine warfare on European welfare. After the war, Hoover directed U.S. government relief efforts in Eastern Europe to avert famine conditions. Warren G. Harding appointed Hoover as his Secretary of Commerce in 1921 and he served through the Coolidge administration. Hoover was elected president in November 1928, but his administration was unable to avert the national economic collapse of the Great Depression.

Edward Mandell House (1858-1938)

See also:
Chap. 16, p27
Colonel House was an "unofficial" American diplomat, who served as the personal representative of President Woodrow Wilson. House was the friend and confident of the president and conducted peace negotiations with the belligerents, making several trips to Europe in 1914, 1915, and 1916. After the United States declared war on Germany, House became the chief presidential liaison with the Allies and was appointed by Wilson to act on behalf of the country in negotiating an armistice with the Central Powers in 1918. House was instrumental in helping to frame the Fourteen Points and persuading the Allied Powers to accept them as the basis for the peace. He was a member of the American Commission to negotiate peace from 1918 to 1919 and served as a commission member to frame the Covenant of the League of Nations.

King Hussein ibn 'Ali of the Hejaz (c. 1854-1931)

See also:
Chap. 15, p40
As a result of the Young Turk movement in Constantinople, Hussein became the Emir of Mecca from 1908 to 1916. After a series of negotiations with the British government, Hussein allied the Arabs with the British against the Turks. He declared Arab independence in 1916 and became the first king of the Hejaz. Arab forces were instrumental in assisting the British defeat Turkish forces in Palestine and Syria during World War I. In 1919, Hussein refused to sign the Versailles Treaty because of British and French colonial acquisitions in the Near East through the new League of Nations mandate system. He failed to reach an agreement with the British in 1924 regarding a settlement of Arab problems. Hussein was forced to abdicate his throne when the Wahhabiyah, led by Ibn Saud, defeated Hussein's forces in 1924. He went into exile in Cyprus from 1924 to 1930. Hussein was succeeded by his son, King Ali ibn Hussein of the Hejaz, and two of his sons became kings of Jordan (Abdullah) and Iraq (Faisal I).

Izzet Dey

This Turkish official was the Chief of the War Prisoners' Aid Department of the Red Crescent Society. Izzet Dey was responsible for medical and sanitary supervision for Allied prisoners of war in the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Izzet Dey participated in the January 1918 conference between Christian Phildius and other Turkish officials regarding the implementation of War Prisoners' Aid relief operations for Allied POW's by the World's Alliance.