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File No. 763.72114/2738

The Secretary of War (Baker) to the Secretary of State



WASHINGTON, June 16, 1917. MY DEAR MR. SECRETARY: Referring to your letter of the 11th instant, in which it is reported that the State Department has been advised(a) That the National Committee on Prisons and Prison Labor

has been recognized by the War Department as a relief society and given facilities by that Department for visiting and inspecting the camps where are confined German

prisoners of war; (6) That delegates of that committee have already inspected the

camps at Forts Oglethorpe and McPherson.

The letter further states :

Since the Swiss Minister is in charge of German interests it would appear proper that any activities in behalf of German subjects, such as receiving the complaints of prisoners of war, making representations at their request, or relieving their necessities should be undertaken by him or his agents, and not by a private American organization.

This society is simply a relief society as understood in the sense of article 15 of the Hague convention. It has no function of inspection and is in no sense a medium of communication of complaints as between war prisoners and either the United States or German Governments—nor do its activities limit or circumscribe any effort that the Swiss Minister, as representing German interests, may care to take, by himself or his agents, looking to the welfare of these prisoners.

The War Department has been advised of no steps taken or contemplated by the Swiss Minister to systematically care for the welfare of German prisoners. As far as known no such efforts have been made.

However, to the end that the State and War Departments may work in harmony in this matter the National Committee on Prisons and Prison Labor and any other relief society recognized under article 15 Hague convention will be especially limited in its activities and denied further recognition as a relief society unless all its reports are made to the War Department.

It is not deemed advisable to deny these recognized relief societies the privilege of informing the War Department of any legitimate complaint that may come to their attention. This, however, is not a function of a relief society and would be most exceptional.

It is not clearly understood how or under what authority the Swiss Minister proposes to entertain the complaints of these prisoners or relieve their necessities unless under article 24 Prussian treaty 1785 and article 24 Prussian treaty 1799, both of which treaties provide That each Party shall be allowed to keep a Commissary of prisoners of their own appointment, with every separate cantonment of prisoners in possession of the other, which commissary shall see the prisoners as often as he pleases; shall be allowed to receive and distribute whatever comforts may be sent to them by their friends, and shall be free to make his reports in open letters to those who employ him.

* Not printed.

If such is the intention of the Swiss Minister, it is desired that the War Department be informed, as in default thereof the Department must avail itself of all lawful and authorized means provided by law for the care of war prisoners in its custody. Sincerely yours,


File No. 703.72114/2732
The Minister in Switzerland (Stovall) to the Secretary of State

BERNE, June 10, 1917, 10 a. m.

[Received June 17, 17.30 a. m.] 2055. Your 616, May 29. Organization completed as outlined my 991, June 2. Name “American Prisoners Central Committee.” 1 Suggest that instructions be issued to all officers and men, military and naval, sent abroad, in case of capture immediately to communicate with committee here.


File No. 763.72114/2756b
The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in France (Sharp)


WASHINGTON, July 5, 1917, 3 p. m. 2418. The Department is considering the whole question of the free entry and transit to Switzerland of all foodstuffs and clothing, whether in bulk or small packages, destined for American prisoners of war and civilians held in the Central Empires or interned in Switzerland. It is desirable that the privileges be as broad as possible. It is possible that it may be desirable occasionally to purchase supplies in France while awaiting the arrival of shipments from this country. Report details of the arrangement between French and British Governments on this subject and what formalities French Government require and your own comments. Early reply desired.

* After amalgamation with the Red Cross, the name of the organization was changed, in August, to "American Red Cross-Central Committee for American Prisoners."


File No. 763.72114/2781

The Ambassador in France (Sharp) to the Secretary of State


Paris, July 26, 1917.

[Received July 27, 10.30 a. m.] 2330. My 2307, July 18. Foreign Office informs me that only parcels destined to British prisoners of war in Turkey and AustriaHungary pass through France. Those for prisoners in Germany are forwarded through Dutch and Danish channels. These parcels are accompanied by certificates which ensure their transit through France without further formalities.

Bread destined to British prisoners of war in Germany is made in Switzerland from flour supplied by British Government which indicates to French Government monthly quantity required for which free passage is allowed through France. Free transit is allowed also parcels forwarded from Great Britain to British prisoners interned in Switzerland, accompanied by railway documents.

Note states that French Government is entirely disposed to grant similar facilities for shipments for American prisoners in enemy countries or in Switzerland but, as regards consignments to Germany, it would be well for American Government to make an arrangement with Swiss Government similar to the one made by the British in order that no difficulty should arise both as regards parcels and bread in Danish territory. Foreign Office requests that it receive in due time specimens of certificates which will accompany parcels from America to Germany as well as information as to various quantities of flour which will be sent to Switzerland for making bread.

As regards the purchase in France of food and clothing pending arrival of shipping from the United States, Foreign Office states that on account of the difficulty arising from the present situation in France the Government, to its great regret, is not in a position to satisfy a request of this nature and expresses the hope that the American Government may establish forthwith in France a depot of stores for the purpose. The sample of certificates sent with note covers following points: name of forwarding agent in Switzerland; statement that package contains comforts for American prisoners of war giving name of country where prisoner is located, this statement being in French, English, and in the language of the country of destination; the number of the case, list of contents, number of packages and a statement that the contents have been verified; by whom forwarded, with address and a statement that it is sent in bond giving the name of the place to which it is sent and from where it was forwarded.

*Not printed; see Department's telegram No. 2418, July 5, supra.


File No. 763.72114/2756a
The Secretary of State to the Minister in Switzerland (Stovall)


WASHINGTON, August 8, 1917, 6 p. m. 822. On June 6 the French Ambassador wrote this Department stating that the Director General of the Swiss Post Office had recently filed a request from the German Government for free transit through France of parcels not over 5 kilograms for prisoners of war in the United States and requesting statement of the attitude of this Government in the premises. This note was sent to Postmaster General on June 12 with recommendation that it be approved on basis of reciprocity with France, Switzerland, and Germany. His reply approving this basis was communicated to French Ambassador June 26.

The Department understands from Castle 1 that, in the absence of a parcel-post convention, you are negotiating with the Swiss Government for permission and facilities for free transmission of parcels to American prisoners in enemy countries or Switzerland. This agreement would presumably be similar to that made by British Government. French Government states that it is entirely disposed to grant similar facilities for shipments through France. Please cable status of your negotiations with Swiss Government.




William R. Castle, Jr., Director of Bureau of Communications, American Red Cross.

File No. 763.72114/2812 The Secretary of State to the Secretary General of the War Council of the American Red Cross (Cutcheon)

WASHINGTON, August 9, 1917. Sir: With reference to your letter of August 8, 1917, to Mr. Grew, in which you call attention to article 16, chapter 2, section 1 of the annex of the Hague convention of 1899, relative to the payment of carriage or duties of entry on gifts and relief for prisoners of war, I beg leave to refer to article 2 of the same convention which reads

The provisions contained in the Regulations mentioned in article 1 are only binding on the Contracting Powers, in case of war between two or more of them.

These provisions shall cease to be binding from the time when, in a war between Contracting Powers, a non-Contracting Power joins one of the belligerents.

Inasmuch as all the powers engaged in the present war are not parties to the convention the Department of State regards it as not binding as between the belligerents in the present war. In so far as the rules set forth in the convention are declaratory of international law, they are of course obligatory as being a part of the law of nations, but not by virtue of the convention in which they are laid down.

The Department is now, however, conducting negotiations with a view to arranging with the French, Swiss and German Governments for the reciprocal free transmission of parcels for prisoners in the United States and Germany respectively. I am [etc.]

For the Secretary of State:

ALVEY A. ADEE Second Assistant Secretary

File No. 763.72114/2799
The Assistant Secretary of State (Phillips) to the Ambassador in

Spain (Willard)

WASHINGTON, August 22, 1917. Sir: The Department will be glad to have you extend such assistance as may be necessary to Mr. Charles P. Howland, deputy com

No. 613

* Not printed.

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