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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Alfred Garnet Scattergood (1878-1954)

An American humanitarian, Scattergood led the American Friends Service Committee's German Child Feeding Program in Germany in 1920. Herbert Hoover, director of the American Relief Administration (ARA), asked the American Friends to take over the feeding program the ARA established for German children in the Fall of 1919. Scattergood led the first team of eighteen Quaker relief workers to Germany in January 1920 to set up food distribution operations. The AFSC initiated operations in fifteen German cities and by July 1920 the Quakers fed over 800,000 children on a daily basis. This food distribution program was a critical post-war relief undertaken to improve political stability in central Europe.

William Graves Sharp (1859-1922)

See also:
Chap. 04, p30
See also:
Chap. n, p03
An American lawyer and diplomat, Sharp established a law practice in Ohio and developed the Lake Superior Iron and Chemical Company. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Sharp as U.S. Ambassador to France and he remained in Paris until his resignation in 1919. Sharp recognized the grave challenges neutrality placed on the U.S. Consular Service and strongly supported the YMCA's War Prisoners' Aid program during World War I.

Baron von Spiegelfeld

An Austrian humanitarian, Freiherr von Spiegelfeld was an official in the Austrian Red Cross and the International Red Cross in Geneva. He became the President of the War Prisoners' Aid Committee of the Austrian Red Cross and became a major promoter of this relief service. Von Spiegelfeld used his influence to expand WPA operations in Russia and to introduce POW services in the Ottoman Empire. In 1916, von Spiegelfeld wrote a letter of introduction to the President of the Red Crescent Society in Turkey for Christian Phildius, the World's Committee General Secretary. Von Spiegelfeld outlined the success of the WPA in Germany and the Dual Monarchy and hoped that the service would be quickly organized in the Ottoman Empire.

Baron von Spitzenburg

A German nobleman, Freiherr von Spitzenburg served as the Privy Counselor to Kaiserin Augusta Viktoria of Germany during the First World War. Von Spitzenburg became a member of the German YMCA War Prisoners' Aid Committee in April 1916. Archibald C. Harte established this organization in Berlin to oversee WPA operations in the German Empire and it became the model for WPA relief services in other nations.

Paolo Springardi

An Italian general, Springardi was the Minister of War before Italy joined World War I on the side of the Allies. The Italian Ministry of War appointed Springardi to serve as the President of the War Prisoners' Commission, an organization which administered the Italian prison camp system in the kingdom. In October 1915, Darius A. Davis met with the Italian Minister of War, the Minister of the Interior, and Springardi to investigate opportunities for the American YMCA to set up War Prisoners' Aid operations. In November 1915, Springardi granted Davis permission to visit internment camps on the island of Sardinia. With Davis' return and his submission of a positive report on the conditions he observed, Springardi extended permission for Davis to visit any prison camp in Italy of his choice. Springardi recognized the value of the Association's WPA program and supported Davis' request to send American secretaries to organize WPA relief for Central Power prisoners in Italy.

Josef Stalin (Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili) (1879-1953)

See also:
Chap. 19, p32
A Bolshevik political leader and Soviet statesman, Stalin was born near Tiflis, Georgia. He attended an Orthodox seminary, but was expelled for promoting Marxism. Stalin joined the Social Democratic Party in 1896 and followed Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks when the party split in 1903. Tsarist officials repeatedly sent Stalin into exile in Siberia from 1904 to 1913, but he always managed to escape. Imprisoned again from 1913 to 1917, the Russians released Stalin after the February Revolution in March 1917 and he became a close associate of Lenin. Stalin participated in the October Revolution of November 1917 and became a political officer in the Red Army. He participated in the failed invasion of Poland in 1920. From 1920 to 1923, Stalin was a member of the Revolutionary Military Council and served as the Commissar for Nationalities from 1921 to 1923. He rose in power to become the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in 1922 and a member of the Comintern Executive Committee. After Lenin's death in 1924, Stalin challenged Leon Trotsky, Grigori Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, Nikolai Bukharin, Aleksei Rykov, and other Bolshevik leaders. From 1926 to 1927, he conducted his first series of purges and became the virtual dictator of the Soviet Union. Stalin introduced a series of Five Year Plans to speed up the industrial development of the USSR. He conducted purges of the Communist Party from 1936 to 1937 and of the Red Army in 1937, and he embraced the ideological perspective of "Socialism in One Country." In regard to foreign policy, Stalin mounted a vicious propaganda war against the National Socialists in Germany and stunned the world in August 1939 by announcing the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact. Over the next two years, the Soviets seized territory in eastern Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, northern Romania, and eastern Finland. The Germans turned on the Soviet Union in June 1941 by launching a massive invasion, and the Wehrmacht pushed to outskirts of Leningrad, Moscow, and Rostov by December 1941. Stalin became the Commissar of Defense and Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars, taking over supreme direction of military operations. German and Soviet forces mauled each other on the Eastern Front as Stalin pleaded with the Western Allies to launch a Second Front. In the Summer of 1943, the Red Army took the offensive at the Battle of Kursk and put the Wehrmacht on the defensive. The Soviets regained their lost territory and occupied Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Hungary by the end of 1944. In January 1945, the Red Army seized Poland and began the Battle of Berlin, which led to the German surrender in May 1945. As the Soviets established Communist governments in most of Eastern Europe under Red Army control, the Cold War developed between the Russians and the Western Allies. Unable to reach a consensus on a post-war Europe, Churchill depicted the Soviet policy in the east as an "Iron Curtain." Stalin died in 1953 and relations between Moscow and the West temporarily improved.

Pleasant A. Stovall

See also:
Chap. 12, p12
An American statesman, Stovall served as the United States Minister to Switzerland during World War I. In early 1918, Stovall supported Archibald Harte's plan to relax blockade restrictions on shipments for Russian prisoners of war in Germany, including the distribution of food parcels from Berne. Due to the Russian decision to withdraw from the war, after the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918, Allied blockade officials rejected Harte's proposal.

Dr. von Studt

A retired German Minister of State, Dr. von Studt served with the German Red Cross during World War I. He became a member of the German YMCA War Prisoners' Aid Committee in April 1916, an organization set up by Archibald C. Harte in Berlin. This committee oversaw WPA operations in the German Empire and became the model of WPA relief services in several countries.

Vladimir Sukhomlinov (1848-1926)

General Vladimir Sukholminov served as the Russian Minister of War for the first year of World War I. Sukholminov served in the cavalry and fought in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878. He commanded the cavalry school in St. Petersburg in 1886 and became a general in 1898. As a close advisor to Tsar Nicholas II, Sukholminov became the Minister of War in 1909. He attempted to modernize the Russian Army's military strategy and succeeded in persuading the Duma to increase military expenditures, but conservatives rejected his many of his recommendations, including Grand Duke Nicholas. During the July Crisis of 1914, Sukhomlinov envisioned a short war and assured Nicholas II of the full combat readiness of the Russian Army. He recommended that the Russian Army launch an immediate offensive against both Germany and Austria-Hungary simultaneously. He chose to remain the Minister of War and avoided becoming the Commander-in-Chief, an honor which fell to Grand Duke Nicholas. With the debacle in the Battle of Tannenberg in the Fall of 1914, the Germans blunted the Russian offensive. The Minister of War met with Archibald Harte in mid-June 1915 to discuss the establishment of War Prisoners' Aid (WPA) operations in Russia and granted the American YMCA Secretary's request to visit prison camps in European Russia and Siberia. This decision led to the eventual establishment of WPA operations in Russia and the expansion of POW relief operations in Germany and Austria-Hungary. Despite his claims that the army was well-supplied, Sukhomlinov became the target of criticism for the increasing shortage of arms and ammunition. Coupled with military defeats on the Eastern Front, Nicholas II dismissed Sukhomlinov on 26 June 1915. Extremely unpopular, Sukhomlinov came under house arrest in April 1916 after one of his subordinate officers was charged with treason. Although Nicholas II released the general in October, the Provisional Government again arrested Sukhomlinov in September 1917. Sukhomlinov gained his freedom in May 1918 and fled into exile, first to Finland and then to Germany. He died in Berlin in 1926 after publishing his memoirs two years earlier.