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File No. 811.142/2575
[Received 7.25 p. m.] 7714. Your 5724, 3d. Foreign Office informs me British Government are not in principle averse from scheme put forward by American Red Cross provided that [it is] quite clear that it will not interfere with carriage of supplies, munitions, or men essential to Allied cause. In present political situation, however, they believe United States Government will agree that execution of any such scheme must necessarily be deferred pending clearer prospect as to future position of Russia towards war,
File No. 811.142/2575
WASHINGTON, November 17, 1917. 5846. Your 7714, 16th. Please acknowledge to Foreign Office and state that no scheme, if any, will be presented which would interfere with the military necessities of the Allies. Matter is held in abeyance pending clearing up of political situation as regards Russia's attitude.
File No. 763.72114/3082b
WASHINGTON, December 1, 1917, 4 p. m. 1876. Referring to Department's and other telegrams concerning Copenhagen conference for exchange of prisoners, please advise whether you have received from Copenhagen or other sources final text which shows that part of the exchange of prisoners is made absolutely contingent upon direct exchange through the lines. In spite of existing conditions please follow this matter closely and make every effort to have the exchange of prisoners limited strictly to individuals who can be of no military value and to have the exchange effected through neutral countries and not through a neutral zone.
File No. 763.72114/3091
[Received December 11, 5.17 a. m.] 2078. Your 1876, concerning Copenhagen conference for the exchange of prisoners. Military mission has furnished the Embassy a memorandum of an interview of December 7 between Captain Riggs and Mr. Chamansky, head of the chancery of the Russian Red Cross, wherein the latter made the following statements:
1. The proposition to exchange prisoners across the Danube and by the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea, in addition to existing arrangement through Sweden, was proposed by the Austro-Hungarian Government some six months ago. Safety of transport on the Baltic Sea could not be guaranteed by the Germans and the exchange of prisoners by the Danube and the Black Sea was not agreed to by the Russians.
2. At a Red Cross and Prisoners-of-War Committee conference in Copenhagen which adjourned about ten days ago the question was again brought up and was categorically refused by the Russian Red Cross representative.
3. About ten days ago Prince Charles of Sweden addressed a letter to Trotsky asking that the question be again raised.
4. What decision will be taken by Trotsky is not known at this time but the Red Cross will protest against any method of liberating or exchanging prisoners except through Sweden.
5. The Red Cross cannot guarantee the safety of enemy prisoners of war who leave prison camps except under negotiation auspices.
6. The officer in charge of war-prisoner section in the General Staff, Colonel Mascaloff, knew nothing of any new arrangement day before yesterday.
7. It is thought that the Danish Minister may also protest against an exchange of prisoners except through Scandinavia.
Judson 1 adds: “I gather that unofficially many enemy [prisoners], particularly those near the front, have already been informally liberated, perhaps without (authority?) from the central authorities.”
File No. 763.72114/5528
The British Embassy to the Department of State No. 615
MEMORANDUM The British Embassy have received a telegram from the Foreign Office with regard to the question of forwarding supplies for the use of Russian prisoners in Germany. The British Government are anxious, in view of the present Russian situation, to find some means of withholding such supplies for Russian prisoners, at all events until it is possible to ascertain the result of the present Russo-German negotiations. These negotiations might well result in the release of the Russian prisoners, the food supplies intended for them being kept in Germany, or the result might be the conclusion of a separate peace, the Russian prisoners being detained in Germany to work there. Either of these two results would be an important advantage for Germany.
* Brig. Gen. W. V. Judson, Military Attaché at Petrograd.
The British Government are, owing to the anti-British sentiment now existing in Russia, unable to make an open announcement that supplies must cease to go forward, and they have found it necessary to allow the shipments already received to be distributed. It would make the situation very much easier if the United States authorities could, pending further developments, find a way of preventing further supplies coming forward. In taking any measures with this subject, it is important that no public notice should be given of the cessation of supplies.
WASHINGTON, December 17, 1917.
File No. 763.72114/5528
Ambassador (Spring Rice)
WASHINGTON, December 22, 1917. MY DEAR SIR CECIL: On the 17th you handed me a confidential memorandum from your Government in regard to forwarding supplies for the use of Russian prisoners in Germany. I find upon inquiry that the only food supplies that have been shipped from the United States in the last few months to Russian prisoners of war in Germany consist of 140 tons of flour and 40 tons of sugar. These shipments were made by the Committee of Relief for Russian Prisoners of War at Berne, Switzerland.
Mr. Bouimistroy of the Russian Embassy has agreed to discourage any further shipments of food from the United States to Germany for prisoners of war until the result of the armistice between Germany and Russia was clearly known. Yours sincerely,
[FRANK L. POLK]
File No. 763.72114/3169
Department of State (Polk)
WASHINGTON, December 29, 1917. MY DEAR MR. Polk: I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter, personal and confidential, of the 22d instant, with regard to the question of food supplies being shipped from the United States to Russian prisoners of war in Germany.
Since my memorandum of the 17th December was written, I have been in further communication with the Foreign Office, who state that they fully concur in the view expressed by the United States Government—that it is important to do nothing which might result in losing touch with Russia. The British Government, however, are doubtful whether the relations between Russia and the other Allies would be much improved by furnishing supplies for prisoners in Germany, as it is quite likely that under present conditions a proportion at least of such supplies may never reach the prisoners. It is agreed that it would be most undesirable to make any public announcement that the forwarding of supplies was prohibited, and it was only intended to suggest that further consignments might be withheld by means of private instructions to the Customs, or by some similar departmental action.
The events of the past week seem to the British authorities to show that there is considerable danger in such consignments being made for the present, and the Russian Prisoners-of-War Help Committee in London is very shortly to bring its work to an end of its own initiative.
A further consideration in this matter is that of the employment of Russian prisoners while in Germany. It is understood that some 750,000 of them are employed in the manufacture of munitions, a kind of labour which has always been resisted by prisoners from the other Allied armies. It is also believed that there is now an ample supply of corn in Russia, but that the peasants are unwilling to sell it. A report on this point was, it is believed, forwarded to the United States Government by the American Legation at Copenhagen on the 31st October last. In view of all these circumstances, the British Government think that it is hardly justifiable at the present crisis to allow food-stuffs to continue to go forward to Russians in Germany.
In this connection I may add that we were informed some days ago that the War Trade Board were considering the question of granting an export license for 10,000 pairs of woolen hose and three cases of sole leather, to be consigned to the Y.M.C.A. at Copenhagen for the use of Russian and Roumanian prisoners of war in Germany. The British Government are quite prepared to authorize the issue of letters of assurance for such of the goods as are destined for Roumanian prisoners but, for the reasons indicated above, they would prefer that export licenses should not be issued for goods for the Russian prisoners, if this can be arranged. Believe me [etc.]
1 Not printed.
(For the Ambassador)
File No. 763.72114/3169
The Counselor for the Department of State (Polk) to the Counselor
of the British Embassy (Barclay)
WASHINGTON, January 2, 1918. MY DEAR MR. BARCLAY: I beg to acknowledge receipt of your letter of December 29, 1917, relative to the shipment of supplies to Russian and Roumanian prisoners of war in enemy countries. In reply I may state that I have recommended to the War Trade
Ι I Board that in view of present conditions, any licenses which had been issued for the exportation of such supplies from the United States be revoked, and that none be issued in the future until the situation in Russia and Roumania as to separate peace is cleared up.
In this connection I should add that within the past ten days, under a license granted by the War Trade Board to the Russian Red Cross at New York for the shipment of 2,000 tons of foodstuffs to Russian prisoners of war in Germany via Switzerland, 140 tons of flour are now on the Atlantic in transit. This came to my attention only a day or two ago, and the Department is now endeavoring to arrange with the Russian Embassy here, that the consignee at Berne will turn over the shipment to the American Red Cross upon its arrival at Berne.1 I am [etc.]
FRANK L. POLK
File No. 763.72114/3175
[Received 6.45 p. m.] 8243. Foreign Office reports that in view of present undesirability of facilitating supplies for Russian prisoners of war in Germany, the suggestion has been made that British censor detain correspondence
* In a telegram of May 31, 1918, the Minister in Switzerland reported: “I have only lately ascertained that the whole shipment was sequestered by French Government either as consequence of instructions received from Washington or suggestion from French Embassy here." (File No. 811.142/3471.)