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In addition to the above organization there is also a Russian section of the Danish Red Cross which is able under Danish regulations to send not more than 1,000 packages monthly to Russian prisoners in Germany.
File No. 763.72114/2819a
The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Great Britain
WASHINGTON, August 9, 1917, 5 p. m.
The French, Russian, Belgian, Serbian, and Roumanian Governments have asked this Government through their representatives at Berne to purchase and ship food supplies for their respective prisoners in Germany and Austria-Hungary. The matter has been turned over to the American Red Cross which has it, as well as the question of sending food supplies to American prisoners, under serious consideration. Great numbers of Russian, Serbian, and Roumanian prisoners in German and Austro-Hungarian camps are asserted to be actually and presently starving, such small relief as was supplied having entirely ceased.
The American Red Cross is considering the following projects:
1. The relief as urgently pressed by the Russian Government of all suffering Russian prisoners and also of all Serbian prisoners. The total relief thus projected would run as high as an average of 480 tons of war biscuit or its equivalent in food value per day. It is entirely unlikely that the American Red Cross will feel justified in undertaking any such amount of relief, even though money for the Russian portion thereof be furnished by or for the account of the Russian Government. This on account of lack of shipping facilities and independently of any political or military considerations. Nevertheless, the Department will be glad to have the views of the British Government concerning this suggestion, which is very urgently pressed upon the American Red Cross by the Russian authorities.
2. The supply of Russian, Serbian, and Roumanian prisoners who are actually in hospital or are incapacitated by wounds or disease. It is estimated that the whole number of such prisoners in Germany and Austria-Hungary may reach a total of 600,000, but it is believed that if a proper survey of such prisoners can be made the number of those who will be found to be in really desperate need of relief will be very largely reduced. For the purpose of considering this project the Red Cross are assuming that such survey would disclose the possibility of reducing the number to be relieved to not exceeding 300,000, and they are inclined to attempt the relief of such last-mentioned prisoners
if arrangements can be made for transportation, which seems difficult but perhaps within the bounds of possibility. This would mean the transportation upon the average of the tons per day of foodstuffs.
3. The relief mentioned under 2, adding thereto the relief of the remainder of the Serbian prisoners who are suffering from lack of food. It is assumed that this would add about 65,000 prisoners to the foregoing and would involve an average addition of 16 to 17 tons per day.
4. The Red Cross, of course, is intending, whatever else it may or may not do, to relieve the necessities of all American prisoners who have fallen or may fall into the hands of the enemy, adopting about the same scale of relief as that employed by the Canadians with respect to Canadian prisoners in German hands.
Before any concrete progress can be made it is important that the Department obtain a clearer understanding as to what will be acquiesced in and what objected to by the British Government. It is therefore desirable that the Department learn the attitude of the British Government towards the following points:
1. The amount of supplies that may be sent into Germany without objection upon the part of the British Government; whether supplies for the relief of Russian prisoners and prisoners of Allied nationalities, other than American, may be sent and if so to what extent; whether the attitude of the British Government will be different with respect to relief forwarded through Denmark or Holland, upon the one part, or through Switzerland, upon the other.
2. Physical shape in which such supplies may be sent, whether they may be sent in bulk, in standard packages or in individual packages, or by all three methods. It is assumed that biscuits or bread may be sent in bulk.
3. The conditions, if any, other than transmission through authorized organizations, which should be observed in order that supplies may be forwarded.
4. The Russian Government urges that supplies for their prisoners to the extent furnished should be sent to Copenhagen. The Department should be informed whether Great Britain would object to this, and if not, what means (shipping facilities) may best be employed in order to meet the convenience of the British Government in laying down food and other supplies in Copenhagen or other ports which are affected by the blockade of the Central Powers.
In your conversation at the Foreign Office you will take up these matters and endeavor to obtain at the earliest moment practicable a definite statement of the attitude of the British Government towards each of the points herein mentioned. Please regard the matter as urgent.
File No. 763.72114/2856
The Ambassador in Great Britain (Page) to the Secretary of State
LONDON, September 1, 1917, 6 p. m.
[Received September 2, 7.30 a. m.]
7084. Your 5282 August 9, 5 p. m. My 7023, August 24, 6 p. m.1 Foreign Office memorandum states that the question of supplies for Allied prisoners has been receiving earnest consideration.
Respecting Russian and French prisoners the British Government's activities have been limited to meeting so far as possible requests for supplies from this country. Respecting the Rumanians, however, the British Government has also financially assisted their relief organizations, and in the case of the Serbs the British Government has both provided funds and sent wheat from England to Berne through British General Headquarters in France. Thus Russian prisoners are now receiving no direct assistance from either the Britannic or the French Government, and it is therefore suggested that if British and American Governments can jointly find the necessary tonnage the American Red Cross might feel able to extend some relief to Russian prisoners.
Regarding shipping there are two proposals: (1) the Danish Red Cross desire to charter a Danish ship not required for general Allied purposes, or to persuade the German Government to lend a ship with neutral crew on condition that half her space be devoted to loading supplies for German prisoners in Russia; (2) the Russian Embassy has suggested the use of some of the Dutch ships now detained in the United States.
The British Government regards Allied prisoners as having as strong a claim to be fed as any other Allied persons not actively engaged in warfare, and will act on this principle subject to the consideration from time to time of the total Allied requirements and supplies and of the security in each case available as to the supplies reaching prisoners. The amount of the supplies allowed by British Government to enter enemy countries will be governed by these considerations regarding center of distribution:
[a] Berne as the sole center seems unsuitable because, first, the forwarding of sufficient supplies over French railways is already very difficult; second, Berne is the only center from which any particulars can be sent to Austria. For these reasons any additional relief to prisoners in Germany should so far as possible be given from Holland or Denmark.
(b) Food from Great Britain is mainly sent in parcels to individual prisoners, but the Allied countries mostly send it
in bulk consigned to camp committees, the British Government recognizing that the parcels system is inapplicable to Russians in Germany owing to absence of lists of names and to bad faith of large numbers.
(c) There are no other conditions.
The British Government has no objection to supplies for Russian prisoners of war being distributed from Copenhagen.
The British Government considers that a scheme should be drawn up for relief of Allied prisoners of war and proposes to avail itself of Mr. A. C. Harte's visit to England early in September to convene a conference for discussion of this question. It is hoped that the American Red Cross may be able to send a representative to this conference.
File No. 763.72114/2902
The Ambassador in Great Britain (Page) to the Secretary of State
LONDON, September 22, 1917, 12 a. m.
7232. Your 5282, August 9, 5 p. m., and 5392, September 7, 6 p. m.1 Howland 2 not yet arrived, but as A. C. Harte of Y.M.C.A. sails for United States today, a Foreign Office conference was held yesterday which he attended with representatives of the Embassy and the American Red Cross. Harte proposed a plan for feeding and clothing, via Copenhagen or Stockholm, as large a proportion as possible of two and quarter million Allied prisoners in Germany and one and a half million Central Power prisoners in Russia. Leverton Harris, Deputy Minister of Blockade, and Sir Eyre Crowe of Foreign Office, promised that this proposal would be considered and intimated that only questions were:
(1) Whether food and clothing could be spared;
(2) Whether security against diversion to enemy use would be adequate, particularly in Russia.
Harte considers Scandinavian base essential for administering this scheme, which he will explain to Department on arrival.
'Latter not printed.
Charles P. Howland, representing the American Red Cross in prisoner-relief
File No. 763.72114/2913
The Minister in Denmark (Egan) to the Secretary of State
COPENHAGEN, September 27, 1917, 12 a. m.
[Received September 28, 12.40 a. m.]
1276. The following translation of a telegram to the Danish Red Cross from their representatives at Petrograd has been referred to this Legation:
Petrograd, 14th September, 1917.
In order to negotiate about prisoners of war the Russian General Staff has ordered representative for Russian War Department, General Kalishevsky, to Copenhagen.
Russian Red Cross sending Secretary General Chamansky and Count Bennigsen allotted [along] with secretaries.
Russian Red Cross ask Danish Red Cross to write [invite] to the conference representatives for German and Austrian Red Cross as well as representative from Austrian War Department; further to invite British and American representatives regarding the large victuals supply to Russian prisoners' camps in Germany and AustriaHungary.
The Russian representatives propose being in Copenhagen the 3d of October and ask for information whether necessary preparations can be made until that time.
I venture to point out the following factors as worthy of consideration aside from the questions of available supply and tonnage: 1. The very large majority of the Russian prisoners held by the Central Empires gave themselves up without a struggle, large numbers went deliberately over to the enemy carrying their rifles, for which cash bonuses were paid. They were then promptly distributed about the country to take the place of the peasants and laborers called to the colors. It was owing to the remarkably high percentage of voluntary surrenders early in the [war that the] former régime in Russia at times displayed a certain indifference to the fate of their men in German and Austro-Hungarian hands. It was deemed almost a practice among these captives to attempt escape in the hope that the record of it might count in their favor on return to Russia.
2. Judging from the past it is reasonable to suppose that supplies are now finding their way from Russia through the enemy lines. Quantities are certainly entering Sweden through Finland, which is frankly pro-German and which receives supplies from Russia proper.
3. Whether the feeding of the two million Russian prisoners in Germany and the Russians in Austria-Hungary, when taken together with the relief in kind introduced into Belgium and the relief funds sent to Poland, Palestine, etc., might be just the factor which would enable the Central Powers to tide over the coming winter and spring and so defeat the object of the blockade.