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


Harte's Second Inspection Trip of Siberia

Russia Harte Trip December

Archibald C. Harte's trip to Russian prison camps in Siberia in June 1915 was important in convincing German and Austro-Hungarian officials that tsarist authorities were committed to establishing welfare relief services for Central Power prisoners under their control. Harte returned to Germany in August 1915 and made a report to the German government. The International General Secretary for War Prisoners' Aid received considerable financial support for the distribution of food parcels, musical instruments, and song books to needy German war prisoners as well as letters to establish communications between POW's and their families. He then proceeded to Vienna and met with Dual Monarchy officials to discuss the POW situation in the Russian Empire. Austro-Hungarian benefactors provided additional financial support for indigent Dual Monarchy prisoners in captivity. On 1 October 1915, Harte returned to Russia in preparation for a second prison camp inspection trip in Turkestan and Siberia. To meet German and Austro-Hungarian demands for reciprocity, the Russians established the Committee on War Prisoners' Aid on November 30, an organization which coordinated POW relief services between Russia, Germany, and Austria-Hungary. Harte then set off for an extended six week tour of prison camps across Siberia. He traveled on the Trans-Siberian Railway and arrived in Irkutsk on 23 December 1915. The International General Secretary traveled east and reached the Vladivostok region by 12 January 1916. He then proceeded west on the Chinese Eastern Railway system across northern Manchuria and resumed his visits of Russia prison camps in central Siberia on his trip back to European Russia. His last prison camp visit took place at Kurgan on February 9 and he then returned to Petrograd to report his findings. Harte was able to provide a great deal of solace to Central Power POW's who had not been in contact with their families since the start of their incarceration. His efforts firmly established WPA operations in the Tsarist Empire and laid the ground work for POW relief service expansion in Central and Western Europe.

Source: Archibald C. Harte to John R. Mott, 25 June 1915. Box X391.2 War Prisoners' Aid, YMCA, 1914-1920. Folder: War Prisoners' Aid of the YMCA's, Russia." World's Alliance of YMCAs Archives, Geneva, Switzerland.