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 8c

Liederbuch-Hymn Book-Cantiques

Supplemental Content:

see Hymnal

YMCA secretaries distributed these hymnals to prisoners of war in German prison camps during World War I to serve as the musical basis for religious services. The book was arranged by the War Prisoners' Aid program of the World's Alliance of YMCA's in Geneva and published by the Westdeutscher Jünglingsbund (West German YMCA) in Barmen, Germany. The hymnal contains forty-eight songs in its ninety-one pages of music and verses are printed in English, French, and German. While the intended audience of the hymnal was British, French, and Belgian (and later American) prisoners, the German verses were included for the benefit of the prison camp staff.1

When selecting the music for the contents of the hymnal, the YMCA did not include special festivals, such as Easter hymns or Christmas carols, probably due to the limited use of such selections to short periods of the church calendar. Instead, the Association published a hymnal that met war prisoners' spiritual needs over the course of the year. The selections focus on evangelistic themes, such as "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name," "Onward, Christian Soldiers," and "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty," or on hymns of spiritual comfort, such as "Nearer My God, to Thee" and "Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me." These hymns would hold special significance for men far from their loved ones, incarcerated for an undetermined sentence.

The musical program for religious services varied widely between prison camps. At the very least, prison camps formed choirs, while others organized orchestras to accompany the church service. Association secretaries not only distributed hymnals and music to prisoners, they also provided a wide range of musical instruments which helped relieve the boredom of prison camp life for musicians and enhanced the spiritual experience of church services for the other prisoners. Although this hymnal was written for the piano, skilled musicians could expand the scores to include choir and instrumental accompaniments as well.


Note 1: Liederbuch-Hymn Book-Cantiques. Barmen, Germany: Westdeutscher Juenglingsbund, 1914/1915. Armed Services Records Box-53, Folder: "Prisoner of War Work for Germany-1914-1915," Kautz Family YMCA Archives, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN. back