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


General Anton Denikin (1872-1947) was a Russian general during the First World War and established the South Russian Government in the Ukraine in 1919.
General Nicholas Yudenich (1862-1933) commanded Russian forces in the Caucasus and Eastern Front during World War I; he led a White Russian offensive against Petrograd in 1919 but failed to take the city.
Russian prisoners of war pose for a photograph near the barbed-wire fence of an unidentified German prison camp in 1921, two years after the Armistice ended the war. Several men are seriously wounded (missing a leg) and require crutches. By 1920, over 156,000 Russian wapr prisoners remained in German facilities. The Allied High Command refused to allow these men to return home because they might be forced to bolster the Red Army. With the Bolshevik victory in the Russian Civil War, these men would soon be repatriated.
Portrait of Donald Lowrie (1889-1974), an American YMCA WPA Secretary who served in Siberia during World War and supervised WPA operations in post-war Geramny for Russian prisoners of war.
In this interesting wood block print, a Russian prisoner holding two birds is conversing through the camp fence with a German woman and a boy, under the scrutiny of a German guard. The Russian prisoner and German woman appear to be conducting some kind of transaction.
Post-war portrait of Ralph Hollinger (1887-1930), who served as a Miyak secretary in Russia from 1915 to 1918 and supported White Russian soldiers in Siberia from 1919 to 1921. Hollinger transferred to Berlin and conducted Russian work until 1923.
Portrait of Paul B. Anderson (1894-1982), an American YMCA secretary who worked with Russian soldiers in Siberia and Russian refugees in post-war Germany and France; he supervised the Berlin office of the American YMCA from 1919 to 1924.
Joseph J. Somerville (d. 1964) was an American YMCA secretary who volunteered for WPA service in Russia during the war; he transferred to Germany in 1920 and provided relief services to Russian POW's.
Photograph of the Allied prisoner graves outside of the prison camp at Bautzen.
This is probably a non-commissioned officers' room in Stargard, given the single beds and the variety of furnishings. The occupants enjoy a game of chess, read a newspaper, and leaf through a book. These POW's enjoy a comfortable existence in camp as evidenced by the chairs, benches, tables, ample supply of books on the shelf, cigars, spoon rack, and shelves full of bowls, dinner pails, and ladle. The prisoners also enjoy electric lights in their room.
This photograph shows the interior of the Association building at Crossen-an-der-Oder. Russian instructors, from the POW population, teach a class for their fellow countrymen. The YMCA strove to provide educational opportunities to prisoners of war to help them find better jobs and help their families after repatriation.
This is the cover of the Christmas program the Red Army prisoners at Parchim held in honor of M. V. Arnold, the American YMCA Secretary assigned to the prison camp, in December 1920. The cover highlights some of the Red Triangle activities including Christmas tree decorating, food, and boxing as well as some views of the camp. These Bolshevik soldiers still celebrated Christmas and they appreciated YMCA services on their behalf.
Russian prisoners of war are hard at work in a wood-working shop in the YMCA Technical School at Zossen-Wuensdorf. The American YMCA sought to make the extended captivity of these POW's as productive as possible by teaching them new trades, which would increase their income potential once they returned home.
Russian prisoners of war attend a mathematics lecture at the YMCA Technical School at Zossen-Wuensdorf. The students appear to be well equipped with books, paper, and supplies and the walls are covered with technical diagrams. Education in prison camps was deemed time well spent by the Association.
This Russian choir is singing inside the YMCA Hall of a German prison camp. Choirs were very popular in military prisons; they could be used in theatricals, perform at special events and festivals, and support religious services.
Members of a Russian choir perform a hymn in front of the altar at the prison chapel at Worms. While there is a Greek Orthodox cross on top of the altar, a Roman cross is stiched on the altar cloth which suggests that his chapel was also used by Catholic and Protestant prisoners as well. Note the arm bands on the upper left arms of the POW's to designate their prisoner status.
A Russian prisoner's belongings hangs on the wall of his barrack at Erlangen. These belongings include clothing, boots, bowls, eating utensils, towels, a variety of pictures (including two photos of pairs of horses pulling ploughs, flowers, and an American Indian), a pipe, a brush, books, and souvenirs from Ingolstadt and Erlangen.
Portait of Herbert Hoover (1874-1964), director of the American Relief Commission from 1914 to 1915 and the Commission for the Relief of Belgium from 1915 to 1918; he became the U.S. Food Administrator in charge of food aid to post-war Europe.
Russian medics treat wounded Russian prisoners at the dispensary at Ulm under the direction of the German medical staff. Many lightly wounded prisoners arrived in prison camps for treatment in the prison infirmaries and hospital wards. The Germans sent more seriously wounded prisoners to military hospitals for treatment until their conditions improved.
The medieval fortress at Narva, in Estonia, served as a repatriation center between Central Power prisoners of war leaving Russia and Russian POW's returning home. The YMCA established a relief station in the castle to provide physical relief to prisoners and their families as they passed through Estonia enroute their homes.
Captured German troops stand at attention in preparation for transfer to an American POW camp in September 1918. With the collapse of the German Spring Offensive on the Western Front, the Allies counterattacked and American troops captured large numbers of troops ordered to cover the German retreat.
Photograph of Jane Addams (1860-1935), leader in the American settlement house movement and a member of the American Friends' Service Committee delegation to Weimar Germany. This committee traveled to Germany to investigate starvation conditions of German children.
Photograph of Dr. Alice Hamilton (1869-1970), a leading American toxicologist and Harvard medical school faculty member; she accompanied the American Friends' Service Committee to investigate health conditions in Germany in 1919.
German and Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war muster in a Siberian prison camp compound for a work detail under the command of American troops. The Russian Civil War prevented the repatriation of these men and many embraced Bolshevik propaganda. Their presence in Siberia served to further undermine political stability in post-tsarist Russia.
This is a drawing of a Hungarian prisoner of war in an unidentified prison camp in Russia during World War I. This soldier was a member of the YMCA WPA Camp Committee which supervised Association programs in prison camps with the assistance of a Red Triangle secretary.
This is a drawing of a German prisoner of war incarcerated in an unidentified Russian prison camp during the Great War. He volunteered for Association service to support the War Prisoners' Aid program in his prison camp.
This photograph shows a demonstration of Central Power prisoners of war recently released from Siberian prison camps after the outbreak of the Russian Civil War. While freed from confinement, the war prevented their repatriation home and they became another political problem for the Russians.
General Simon Petliura (1879-1926) was a Ukrainian nationalist and formed a government in 1918 to overthrow Bolshevik rule; he was forced to negotiate an alliance with Poland but failed to save the Ukrainian republic.
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.
Portrait of General Josef Pilsudski (1867-1935), Polish nationalist and chief of state upon's the country's renewed independence in 1918.
General Maxime Weygard (1867-1965) served as the Chief of Staff for the French army during World War I; the French sent Weygard to assist the Poles during the Russo-Polish War of 1920-1921.
Baron Peter Wrangel (1878-1928) was a Russian general during World War I and became the commander of the White Russian army in the Ukraine in 1920.
Passport photograph of Paul B. Anderson (1894-1982), an American YMCA Field Secretary, associated with Russian Work in Siberia and in post-war Germany.
French prisoners of war line up to buy refreshments at the canteen in the prison compound at Erlangen. The canteen appears to be well stocked with provisions, suggested by the goods in the window. French and Russian prisoners relax in the shade of a shed to the right. A group of POW's in the middle of the photograph are in a playful mood; one of the French prisoners gives his fellow inmate a pair of "horns" with his fingers.
Model of the monument commissioned by the International Committee of Soltau in memory of the Allied dead in the Soltau cemetery. The Camp Committee raised the funds to erect the memorial from the proceeds from entertainment programs.
View of the interior of a ward in the lazarette at the prison camp at Soltau. The beds in this ward are full of sick and wounded Allied prisoners of war.
Merle V. Arnold was an American YMCA WPA Secretary in post-war Germany who provided POW relief work for Russian prisoners of war.
Amos A. Ebersole volunteered to serve as an American YMCA WPA Secretary in Austria-Hungary during World War I and resumed WPA work in Narva in 1920, which led to the development of the Estonian National YMCA.
Passport photograph of Herbert S. Gott (1887-1954); he served as an American YMCA WPA Secretary in Russia during World War I and transferred to Narva to support the POW exchange program during the repatriation process and assist refugees in Estonia.
The lazaret in the prison camp at Merseburg is busy with orderlies and patients. Most of the beds in the hospital ward appear in use by the sick or wounded. The lazarette is well heated and ventilated as demonstrated by the four large wood stoves in the center aisle and the numerous high windows.
Exterior of the YMCA Technical School which the American Red Triangle established in Zossen-Wuensdorf after the Armistice. Russian prisoners of war learned a variety of new trades and professions at the school during their post-war captivity in Germany.
Exterior view of the prison lazaret by the camp entrance in the prison camp at Ebersdorf bei Chemnitz. The Germans housed Allied prisoners in the newly constructed buildings of the casern in 1914 and Russian POW's remained in the camp long after the Armistice of 1918.
Russian sergeants and corporals enjoyed a higher standard of living in relation to the rank and file depicted in this drawing of a Russian non-commissioned officer's room in Muensingen. Not only does the non-commissioned officer have a single bed, wall cabinet, and desk, he has a number of musical instruments (a mandolin, balalaika, and accordion) and fans decorate the walls.
In front of a barrack in Ulm, Russian prisoners obtain copies of the prison camp newspaper. Many camps printed their own newspapers to provide POW's with information about camp news, social events, sports, and class and church schedules. Proceeds from the sale of newspapers often went to the camp Help Committee.
Prisoners of war enjoy a lively soccer match on the athletic grounds at the prison camp at Celle.
Photograph of the main gate of the prison camp at Celle, showing two sentry stands and the prison barracks.
Russian prisoners in the YMCA orchestra at Crossen-an-der-Oder perform in an outdoor concert for sick and wounded POW's at Crossen-an-der-Oder. The Association provided musical instruments and sheet music to prisoners to help them form bands and orchestras to provide entertainment to the general prison population.
Photograph of a European Russian prisoner of war at Altdamm.
Russian children play a game on a playground under the supervision of a YMCA secretary. These children were refugees whose families fled Russia to escape the ravages of the civil war and the Association provided assistance to these unfortunates in Germany, Eastern Europe, and Turkey.
These Russian children turn to look at the camera during a lesson in one of the classrooms set up for these refugees. The YMCA sought to help these children maintain a semblance of their childhoods by continuing their educations under trying conditions.
The YMCA staff in Berlin poses for this photograph at an Association playground after the war. Several workers "strike a pose" on the slide. These Red Triangle workers provided a wide range of social services to Russian refugees trapped in Germany.
YMCA staff members and Russian refugees pose for a photograph at a Red Triangle Russian Work Camp somewhere in Germany after the war. The refugees lived in the tents in the background and the Association provided these men with employment opportunities.
A YMCA club car serves American and White Russian troops somewhere in Siberia with hot coffee and cigarettes. Control of railway lines was critical to the war effort in the Russian Civil War and the Association operated "mobile huts" in railway cars across Russia and Siberia to meet Allied solider demands.
The YMCA staff in Moscow posed for this photograph in front of a pile of wood in June 1918. The Russian Civil War was well underway and the American Association attempted to provide assistance to soldiers in both the Red and White armies. The picture includes Paul B. Anderson, sitting on the left Crawford Wheeler, sitting in the middle, and Louis Penningroth, standing on the left.
This photograph shows the YMCA staff and volunteers standing outside of their office building (note the Red Triangle in the window to the left) in Esslingen in Wuerttemberg. They provided assistance to Latvian refugees stranded in Germany after World War I.
This Red Cross Post Card (Germany No. 20) shows a Russian Orthodox priest, in his vestments, and an assistant with a censor holding a religious service for Russian prisoners in the church in the prison camp at Guben. The POW's wear identification bands on their upper left arms. This photograph was posed--note the soldier to the right who is still wearing his hat inside the church.
This is a portrait of a Tartar soldier from the steppes in Russian service incarcerated at Hammerstein. The Russians mobilized troops from the breadth of the tsarist empire to fight the Central Powers.
The Russian Civil War made the repatriation process extremely difficult for German and Austro-Hungarian POWs in Russia as well as for Russian prisoners trapped in Weimar Germany. With the western border crossings in Poland and Estonia choked off, some Central Power POW's traveled east to Vladivostok, crossed the Pacific, and sailed home over the Atlantic via the United States. These former prisoners enjoy a meal at the YMCA in Honolulu.