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

Appendix 6a

Das Gefangenlager in Göttingen

(The Prison Camp in Göttingen)

This fifty-nine-page book describes the establishment and development of the prisoner of war camp in Göttingen in the Prussian province of Braunschweig (Brunswick). The Germans set up the camp in September 1914, planning for a maximum population of ten thousand prisoners. By August 1915, the number of POW's had swelled to twice that number, consisting of British, French, Belgian, and Russian prisoners.

image Professor Carl Stange, of the University of Göttingen, wrote the book in mid-1915 as an overview of the facility and the German military's practices. Stange was very active in the German YMCA Movement and sought to improve the conditions within the prison camp as his Christian mission. When the German Ministry of War reached an agreement with Archibald C. Harte and the American YMCA to establish three Association huts in prison camps, Göttingen was among the initial selected sites. Stange worked with Harte and helped get the YMCA building completed by April 1915. This Association became the first of many organizations established across Europe during the war. During the conflict, Stange worked with the prisoners, setting up correspondence courses so that college students interned in Göttingen could resume their educations.1

In this book, Professor Stange provided an in-depth overview of the construction of the prison camp and its administration. Written in response to Allied criticisms of the poor treatment of POW's in German prison camps, he detailed the prison camp experience at Göttingen. In his text, Stange addressed hygiene and sanitation practices, designed to ensure the health of the prison population; daily food rations and dietary practices; the distribution of charity gifts to needy POW's; the postal system which delivered correspondence and relief packages from friends and family; the hospital and medical system; the living conditions found in the barracks; and the social activities designed to help prisoners pass the hours during the monotony of incarceration. Prisoners had the opportunity to check out books from the lending library and peruse books and magazines in the reading room; they could write for the prison newspaper or find out about activities around the camp; they could attend and participate in theatrical performances; they could continue their educations by attending classes ranging from basic reading courses to university lectures; and they could worship in the religious services of their creeds. The YMCA building became the center of these varied activities and became a virtual lifeline for prisoners with a great deal of time on their hands. Stange also wrote about the nationalities represented in the camp. Following German military policy of integrating Allied prisoners, the camp held British, French, Belgian, and Russian POW's and he described the Ministry of War's general principles for the treatment of prisoners. In addition, Stange included some statistics regarding life in the prison camp such as letter and parcel shipments, library activity, and the accounts of the French Welfare Committee. Printed on high quality paper, which was common in the early years of the war, the book also features thirty-eight photographs of various activities around the prison camp.


Note 1: Carl Stange. Das Gefangenlager in Göttingen. Göttingen, Germany: Verlag Louis Hofer, 1915. Armed Services Records Box-54, Folder: "German Language Publications, ca. 1918," Kautz Family YMCA Archives, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN. back