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


Dr. Paul Des Gouttes, President of the World's Committee of the World's Alliance of YMCA's, sits at the head of the table, looking down at some notes, during the monthly session of the Executive of the World's Committee in 1917.
Portrait of Archibald C. Harte (1865-1946), the chief American YMCA negotiator in Europe; he gained access to German, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian prison camps for WPA Secretaries. Harte became the General Secretary in Europe for War Prisoners' Aid operations during the war.
Carlisle V. Hibbard (1876-1954) negotiated with the French and British governments to begin WPA operations in 1915; he became the Associate General Secretary of the National War Work Council in New York during World War I.
German internees pack the Association hut in an unidentified prison camp in Britain waiting for the beginning of a concert. British officers sit in the front row to the left and there are a number of German millionaires and at least thirty barons in the rows behind them.
British soldiers line up outside the Queen Alexandra Association hut in England. The British YMCA opened huts across the breadth of the kingdom to provide soldiers and sailors wholesome entertainment while they were off duty or on leave.
Photograph of Sir Arthur Yapp (1869-1936), General Secretary of the English National Council of YMCA's from 1912 to 1934.
Photograph of Walter Hines Page (1855-1918), United States ambassador to Great Brtiain from 1913 to 1918, taken in April 1917 when the United States declared war against Germany.
William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925), the Democratic Party's standard bearer in three presidential elections, served as Secretary of State for the first two years of the Wilson administration.
Various views of activities at an unidentified prison camp in France early in the war. The top left photograph shows a German prisoner of war high-jumping over a bar in a sports competition organized by a YMCA secretary. The top right photo illustrates German prisoners competing in a soccer match, while other POW's watch from the sidelines. The Association provided the equipment and organized leagues for the prisoners to keep up their physical fitness and to provide diversions. The middle right photograph provides a general view of the facility--the prisoners lived in tents and provided the labor for the construction of wooden barracks. Prisoners wash their clothing in the lower right photograph, while another prisoner makes a pot of coffee in the lower left photo. These photographs depict conditions in French prison camps early in the war.
Portrait of Alexander Millerand (1859-1943), French Minister of War from 1912 to 1915 and from 1918 to 1919.
Portrait of Carlisle V. Hibbard (1876-1954); he negotiated with the French and British governments to begin WPA operations in 1915; he became the Associate General of the National War Work Council in New York after his return from his European diplomatic trip.
Photograph of Ambassador James W. Gerard (1867-1951), United States ambassador to Germany from 1913 to 1917.
Photograph of a young Christian Phildius (d. 1937), was the first General Secretary of the German National YMCA and became the World's Alliance General Secretary from 1896 to 1922; he conducted negotiations to establish WPA programs in Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey during the war.
A group of German and Austrian officers pose for a photograph outisde of their barracks in the prison camp at Tomsk in Siberia. Archibald C. Harte, an American YMCA secretary, met these men in 1915 during his first vist to Russia on a mission to establish War Prisoners' Aid work in the Tsarist Empire as a condition for expanding WPA services in Germany.
Grand Duchess Luise of Baden (1856-1923) organized a number of women's relief organizations in Germany during World War I and supported the WPA program for Allied prisoners of war.
French, Belgian, English, and Scottish prisoners of war at Doeberitz pose for a photograph in front of their barrack.
Civilian internees assigned to Barrack 5 at the prison camp in Ruhleben line up with their soup buckets for their ration of cabbage soup at the camp kitchen. Note the bars across the window of the kitchen, designed to improve internal security.
Russian prisoners administer the book collection in this library in an unidentified German prison in 1915. The YMCA provided a large number of these books for the benefit of the POW population, including hard to find Russian language books and journals.
A German sentry stands watch on an elevated guard house platform between the wires at Langensalza. From this vantage point, the guard can see most of the prison compound, even at night.
Despite early successes in invading East Prussia, the Germans, under General Paul von Hindenburg, bolstered the German defenses and soon drove the Russians back into Russian Poland. This photograph shows 15,000 Russian prisoners of war awaiting transportation to prison camps in Germany.
The YMCA provided Bibles in a wide range of languages to prisoners of war and organized Bible study classes as part of the Red Triangle program. The Bible took on a new meaning for men facing death, even in prison camps.
View of the one-story wooden barracks that characterized German construction practices at Goettingen. To the left side of the photograph, you can see the Bismarck Tower on the top of the hill.
The French orchestra performs an afternoon concert for recuperating sick and wounded prisoners of war in a garden outside of the lazaret at Goettingen. The civilian standing to the extreme left, talking to the wounded Russian soldier is probably Archibald C. Harte.
Dr. Carl Stange was a faculty member at the University of Goettingen and organized education classes for Allied POW's at Goettingen during World War I.
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.
Russian prisoners stand in front of the central watch tower at Crossen-an-der-Oder. The Germans set up a defensive position at the base of the watch tower which included a number of field guns designed to allow the guards to maintain control of the camp in the event of a general rebellion. German officers stand inthe defensive position while German NCO's organize the Russian prisoners. The central guard tower provided a commanding view of the entire facility.
Colonel Bogen was the commandant of the prisoner of war camp at Goettingen, Germany, during World War I.
A scene in the kitchen of the officers' prison camp in Hannoverisch Muenden. The kitchen staff stands in the background with German non-commissioned officers and several Allied officers. Note the conventional stove in the kitchen instead of the huge pressure cookers designed for mass food production found in enlisted men's camps.
General view of the rows of barracks at the prison camp at Kassel-Niederzwehren with the Wilhelmshoehe Mountains in the background. This type of barrack arrangement was used in a number of German prison camps constructed during the war.
Belgian and French prisoners arrive at the Sennelager railway station with their meager belongings early in the war. A German officers prepares them for the march to the prison camp and captivity.
This graph demonstrates the huge numbers of Allied prisoners captured by the Germans and Austro-Hungarians by July 1915 (1.9 million) as reported in the Frankfurter Zeitung. The Germans had captured the vast majority of these prisoners (1.4 million).
The Frankfurter Zeitung published these graphs in July 1915 showing the losses in battleship tonnage and the nationality of Allied prisoners of war in Central Power hands. The number of Russian POW's (1.5 million) dwarfed the numbers of other Allied countries.
Photograph of Crown Princess Margaret of Sweden (1882-1920); she established a relief system for Allied prisoners of war in Germany during World War I and worked closely with the American YMCA in support of the WPA Program.
A German labor detachment is hard at work cutting and stacking wood somewhere in France. Like the Germans, the Allies utilized POW labor to bolster their war economies to replace workers mobilized for the army. The YMCA sought to improve the lot of prisoners on work details by sending them Red Triangle circulating libraries and recreation chests.
Photograph of 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 French soldiers.
French prisoners captured in the fortress at Meubeuge parade before their surrendered weapons and General von Zwehl and other German officers in August 1914.
German prisoners of war work on a French pier, loading newly delivered railroad rails on to a flat car. Railroads played a critical role in supplying the troops in the front line with food and armaments and German prisoners provided some of the labor in unloading ships and loading trains in support of the Allied war effort.
Photograph of William Graves Sharp (1859-1922), United States ambassador to France from 1914 to 1919, strongly supported the American YMCA in the establishment and expansion of the WPA Program.
Portait of Darius A. Davis (1883-1970) during his wartime Association service; Davis was active in France and Italy and John R. Mott appointed him the Senior American YMCA Secretary in France when the United States entered the war.
A group of French Chausseurs Alpin stand in front of a Foyer du Soldat, operated by the YMCA, in an unidentified town in the Vosges. These men were elite, alpine troops and wore large berets. They visited the YMCA for the comforts afforded to soldiers on leave from the front lines.
French soldiers relax in a Foyer du Soldat, which had been recently opened somewhere in France. While most of the soldiers sit at tables and read, others stand in the back of the building near a canteen bar. The building is decorated with French and Allied flags as a patriotic message and to remind the soldiers that they were not fighing alone.
German prisoners of war march into captivity through a destroyed French village under British guard. The British captured these troops later in the war as several Germans are wearing the new steel helmet.
General view of a prison camp in Britain, possibly Stobs in Scotland. This photograph shows a British sentry on guard duty outside of the barbed-wire enclosure, guarding the dozens of barracks which housed German prisoners of war on the bill. The YMCA but was located in the center of the prison camp.
This is a photograph of the "Flying Squadron," volunteers who answered John R. Mott's call for men to serve in the prison camps of Europe in the Summer of 1915. They were known as the "second contingent," following in the footsteps of Archibald Harte and C. V. Hibbard to establish the War Prisoners' Aid service. The eleven are on board the deck of a ship in the middle of the Atlantic, preparing to offer aid to young men in prison camps and hospitals.
Portait of Robert Ewing (1878-1934), he supervised WPA operations in England early in the war and became the Senior American YMCA Secretary in Britain when the United States declared war on Germany.