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

Media Index


This former British prisoner of war was recently released from a German prison camp.
Civilian internees simply collected their meager belongings and walked home from German prison camps after they learned of their release under the terms of the Armistice. They were eager to return home to Belgium and France and chose not to wait for transportation.
American prisoners carried their sports along, even to prison camp. This photograph captures the middle of a football game on the compound at Rastatt, as spectators line the sidelines.
These ten members of the American Help Committee at Rastatt volunteered to stay behind after the Armistice to care for the American sick and wounded in German hospitals. Note the overlapping between the American Help Committee and the American YMCA Committee members.
This train filled with American prisoners is greeted by American and Allied officers at a railroad station in Switzerland. They are met by an American Revolutionary War flag for the celebration.
A train from Germany carrying American prisoners of war arrives at a train station in Switzerland where they are met by American Red Cross nurses and Allied officials. They would reboard another train for their official release in France.
This bill-board stood on the bridge over the Rhine River at Coblenz and provided information for American doughboys, on occupation duty in Germany, regarding social services offered by the YMCA, the Knights of Columbus, the Red Cross, the Jewish Welfare Board, the Salvation Army, and the YWCA. Red Triangle services dwarfed those of the other American welfare agencies as indicated by the programs highlighted on this sign.
After their arrival in French territory, newly released American prisoners received "comfort bags" from the American Red Cross. Red Cross personnel stand to the right in front of the Red Cross truck.
This train, carrying American prisoners from Germany, passed through the railroad station in Bern, Switzerland. During the stop at the station, Red Cross nurses pass comforts to the American soldiers through the train windows.
James Perry established the first YMCA hut for American troops in Bourdeaux, France in 1917 and he supervised the distribution of relief supplies to American POW's crossing the French border from Germany after the Armistice. After the peace settlement, Perry became an Association missionary in Syria and was killed by brigands in February 1920 outside of Aintab.
Drawing of French, British, and Russian prisoners, in piteable condition, leaving a German prison camp and walking home. They are dressed in rages, some are barefoot, and many require walking sticks for support, but they are determined to return to their family and friends.
The Germans released recently wounded American and British prisoners under their care at the front after the Armistice. These men would travel by ambulance to military hospitals for treatment of their wounds.
This drawing depicts recently-released French prisoners of war, carrying their belongings on their backs, as they cross the frontier and meet two French soldiers (at the right) at Strasburg. They returned home one week after the signing of the Armistice, which required the Germans to release Allied prisoners.
British civilian internees stack their considerable belongings, which they acquired during their captivity, on to a cart at Ruhleben. They will haul the cart to the railroad station where they will catch a train and depart Germany. The Armistice of November 1918 required the Germans to release Allied civilians interned across the former empire.
A swarm of British civilians climb aboard a train with their belongings which will transport them from the prison camp at Ruhleben to the Dutch frontier. In the Netherlands, the former internees took a ferry home to England.
This cartoon was drawn by a British internee at the prison camp at Ruhleben, describing the long awaited day of the end of the war and repatriation. Some of the internees will march out of camp under a banner, others will stack their belongings on a cart, while most prisoners will scramble to gather some of their belongings and escape the confines of the camp for the waiting trains. Note the YMCA hall in the background of the drawing.
German Ministry of War recommendation for Conrad Hoffman, issued in December 1918 by the revolutionary government. Hoffman appears a bit thin in this photograph, probably the result of curtailed food rations during the war.
These former British prisoners were released by the Germans under the terms of the Armistice and had to be admitted to a military hospital because they suffered from disease and malnutrition as a result of their captivity.
Captivity in a prison of war camp was more difficult in some ways than time served in a peacetime civilian prison because POW's had no idea when they would regain their freedom. Prisoners longed for the day when the German authorities would release them from Muensinger and they could head home. This wood block print shows a prisoner walking down the road towards family and friends.
Group photograph of Indian troops who had been imprisoned in Germany but were released with the Armistice. These soldiers received YMCA hospitality during their brief stay in the Netherlands as they waited for a ferry to take them to England.
Group photograph of Indian prisoners who were entertained by the English YMCA in the London Association building after their arrival from the Netherlands.
Some French prisoners in northern German prisons traveled to Denmark and took ships home to France. This was the first ship to arrive at a French port carrying prisoners of war.
French prisoners climb aboard a railway freight car to return to France after the declaration of the Armistice in November 1918.
A YMCA truck and English Association women meet newly arrived British prisoners of war at the Cannon Street Station in London with food and hot drinks. The British POW's carry their belongings, including a German "Picklehaube."
British prisoners, just arrived by train after the Channel crossing, receive hot drinks from YMCA women secretaries at an open canteen on the railroad platform.
Queen Mary of Great Britain personally welcomes recently arrived British prisoners at the Cannon Street Station in London by the YMCA hut. The English YMCA set up this hut in the train station to provide services to British troops heading for or returning from combat in France.
Mrs. Norrie and these women ran the YMCA hut at the Cannon Street Station in London and provided a variety of services for British soldiers returning home from incarceration in Germany, including an open canteen. The banner behind the women declares, "The Red Triangle Welcomes You."
General Superintendant Paul Blau oversaw the administration of Polish prisoners of war in Germany in 1919 as fighting erupted in Upper Silesia over the controversy surrounding the new German-Polish border.
Paul Des Gouttes was the President of the World's Committee of the World's Alliance of YMCA's in Geneva and the Honorary General Secretary of the International Red Cross during World War I. Dr. Des Gouttes stands at the right, talking to Victor Schlaeppi, seated, in the Geneva office.
Post-war photograph of Archibald C. Harte (1865-1946) after he became the General Secretary in charge of establishing an Association in post-war Jerusalem.
Colonel Bogen, left, and Professor Carl Stange of the University of Goettingen, right, talk in front of the commandant's office at the POW camp at Goettingen. Both men supported the establishment of WPA operations in the camp by the American YMCA.
Photograph of a young Emmanuel Sautter (1862-1933), one of the World's Committee of the World's Alliance General Secretaries from 1911 to 1917; he took a leave of absence to organize the Foyer du Soldat program for soldiers in France.
John R. Mott (1865-1955), General Secretary of the American YMCA, receives the Distinguished Service Medal from Secretary of War Newton D. Baker (1871-1937) on the steps of the Capitol building.
Christian Phildius, left, and Emmanuel Sautter, right, work at their desks in the World's Alliance headquarters in Geneva, both men served as General Secretaries of the World's Committee, although Sautter took a leave of absence during the war to serve French troops in the Foyer du Soldat program.
F. Louis Perrot was a prominent member of the Executive Committee of the World's Alliance of YMCA's in Geneva; he is participating in a monthly session of the committee in this 1917 photograph.
Auguste Rappard was the Treasurer of the World's Alliance of YMCA's during World War I.
Dr. Eugene Choisy was one of the members of the Executive Committee of the World's Alliance of YMCA's in Geneva during World War I.
Edgar MacNaughten (1882-1933) stands between two other American YMCA Field Secretaries in front of a YMCA Club Car which served Polish soldiers during the Russo-Polish War of 1920.
This early photograph shows leaders in the pre-World War I World's Alliance movement. Charles Fermaud, standing, listens to Baron W. von Starck, center, reading a book. Victor Schlaeppi sits on the left while Christian Phildius flanks von Starck on the right.
Theodore Giesendorf served as the Chairman of the Commission Suisse Romande, a YMCA organization that provided relief services to French and Belgian POW's interned in Switzerland and recruited Red Triangle workers to serve as WPA Secretaries for the World's Alliance in France during the war.
This post-war photograph shows Archibald C. Harte (1865-1946), on the right, having tea with the Samaritan high priest in Jerusalem. Harte went to Palestine to establish an Association in Jerusalem after the war.
Post-war photograph of Sir Arthur Yapp (1869-1936), center, General Secretary of the English National Council of YMCA's and W. E. Easton of the South African YMCA, at the right.
Photograph of Colonel Edward House (1858-1938), a close friend and confident of President Woodrow Wilson, he spent several missions attempting to negotiate a peace to end World War I.
Darius A. Davis (1883-1970) was an American YMCA WPA Secretary in France and Italy early in the war and became the Senior American YMCA Secretary in France when the U.S. joined the Allies in 1917. He helped supervise service for French troops in 1.611 Foyers du Soldat.
Portrait of an older Karl Fries (1861-1943), founder of the World's Student Christian Federation with John R. Mott in 1895 and supporter of WPA efforts across Europe during World War I.
American forces cross the Rhine River at Coblenz to begin occupation duties in accordance with the terms of the November 1918 Armistice. A few German civilians watch the Americans march across the bridge. The Allied occupation of three bridgeheads on the eastern bank of the Rhine River eliminated Germany's historic defensive line in the West.
American troops at Coblenz have their picture taken in front of a city hall in the Rhineland. These occupation troops took over the Rhine bridgehead at Coblenz under the terms of the Armistice of November 1918, which ended the fighting on the Western Front.
American doughboys enter a castle overlooking the Rhine River on a sight-seeing tour. These troops occupied Coblenz after the withdrawal of German forces in fulfillment of the Armistice of November 1918. American YMCA secretaries accompanied these forces and continued to provide extensive welfare services.
African workers construct a missionary post in German East Africa before World War I as part of the Berlin Association's overseas work. The German YMCA sought to evangelize Africans but lost access to their missionary fields as a consequence of the Versailles Treaty.
African workers transport an invalid under the direction of German YMCA missionaries (the missionaries are standing in front of the litter). The Red Triangle secretaries sought to improve medical conditions in Africa as well as evangelize the Africans as part of their program.
Pen and ink drawing of Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), President of the United States from 1913 to 1921.
This montage shows five buildings where the American YMCA had established Red Triangle programs across the newly independent republic of Czechoslovakia. Several of these buildings are quite substantial and reflect the Czechoslovak's enthusiasm in setting up Association services, especially in light of the war work American Y secretaries provided to Czech Legionnaires in Russia and Siberia.
Queen Marie of Romania (1875-1938) was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and an ardent supporter of the YMCA. After Romania entered the war, she encouraged the introduction of Red Triangle services for Romanian troops and advocated the development of new Associations across the kingdom after the war.
These former prisoners of war have returned home to Czechoslovakia three years after the formal end of the hostilities. They went to war in the ranks of the Austro-Hungarian Army and were captured by the Russians. They then spent additional time in Bolshevik prison camps during the Russian Civil War before returning to their new homeland.
After the end of World War I, the American YMCA dispatched Physical Directors across Europe to work with the wounded in hospitals and to condition troops in the new armies of Eastern Europe. This photograph shows an American secretary leading physical therapy exercises for recovering soldiers in a hospital ward in Poland.
Two groups of Italian prisoners at Mauthausen are stripped to the waist to show the effects of tuberculosis on their decimated bodies. Tuberculosis was a serious problem in prison camps during World War I and especially bad in Austrian camps.
Prisoners at Mauthausen carry the coffins of their dead comrades past the barracks enroute to the cemetery on a daily basis. This was the final result of serious wounds and diseases like tuberculosis.
This poster aptly demonstrated the sea of humanity that became barbed-wire victims during World War I and the role of the American YMCA played in alleviating their hardships. The photos along the border show prisoners from around the world while the quotes in the center point out the assistance the Association was providing in terms of extending hope, food, and comforts. The motto for the War Prisoners' Aid service was "In Prison and Ye Visited Me," inspired by the words of Christ. These captives also helped Red Triangle secretaries establish a relationship with men from the four corners of the globe; this missionary effort could have paid off huge dividends after the war as these men returned home imbued with the Association spirit and mission.