The International Prisoners of War Agency: The ICRC in World War One

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The ICRC established the International Prisoners of War Agency in Geneva on 21 August 1914. Its role was to restore contact between people separated by war – prisoners of war, civilian internees, and civilians in occupied territories – and it recruited hundreds of volunteers. ICRC & Musée international de la Croix-Rouge et du Croissant-Rouge, Geneva, 2007, 11 pp., 15 x 21 cm, English, French / Price CHF 2.- / ref. 0937 http://www.gva.icrc.priv/web/eng/siteeng0.nsf/html/p0937
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  THE INTERNATIONALPRISONERS-OF-WAR AGENCY The ICRC in World War One  In August 1914 the world went to war,and for 52 months humanitywas torn apart by brutality,violence and suffering.Death,grieving,imprisonment, separation, deportation, famine and cold, and thedestruction of the socio-economic environment,were inflicted oncountless victims of war – mutilated survivors, prisoners-of-war,deportedcivilians,mourningfamilies,refugees,hostagesandvictimsof reprisals. 1 List of prisoners-of-war. International Committee of the Red Cross19 Avenue de la Paix1202 Geneva,Switzerland T + 41 22 734 60 01 F + 41 22 733 20 57 E www© ICRC,November 2007  3 Listof Afghan prisoners-of-warin Germanhands.These prisonerswere capturedatLaBasséeon the Western front on 20 December 1914 and held in the camp at Wünsdorf bei Zossenbefore being transferred to Göttingen camp. International Prisoners-of-War Agency Inthe HeartofEurope ,astheAustianwriterStefanZweigdescribedit,the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also wentto war – in the humanitarian field. TheICRChadbeenthepromoterofthe1906GenevaConventionfortheAmeliorationoftheConditionoftheWoundedandSickinArmiesin the Field, but in 1914 the organization only had about tenmembers,andnomandatetoprotectdisplacedpersonsorprisoners-of-war.Butinthe50yearsfollowingitsinceptionin1863ithadwonthe confidence of governments and played a part in the creation of over50RedCrossandRedCrescentSocietiesthroughouttheworld.On the strength of this support, its ambition was to extend itshumanitarianactiontoasmanyvictimsaspossible,andthroughoutthe conflict it took initiatives to relieve their suffering. The ICRC established the International Prisoners-of-War Agency inGeneva on 21 August 1914.Its role was to restore contact betweenpeople separated by war – prisoners-of-war, civilian internees,and civilians in occupied territories – and it recruited hundredsof volunteers. The Agency’s archives testify to the extent of the suffering.Sevenmillion military personnel were taken prisoner.Civilians in enemyterritory were interned en masse, and millions of others weresubjectedtomilitaryoccupationorfledtheareaoffightingandtheoccupied territories. 2  5  ThesearchivesprovideaninsightintotheICRC’seffortstohumanizeconditionsofdetentionandtoprovideameansoftracingthefateof eachofthetwomillionvictims,whocamefromeverycontinent.ThewealthoftheAgency’sarchivesopensupnewprospectsforstudyinginternational relations from the humanitarian viewpoint. Theindividual data are an invaluable resource for researching familyhistoryandgenealogyandforresearchonthesociologyofcaptivityand the experiences of prisoners.PartofthesearchivesisondisplayintheInternationalRedCrossandRedCrescentMuseum.Intermsofvolume,thisisbothanimpressiveexhibitandemblematicofthefoundingeventofthecontemporaryworld. Globalization of war and humanitarian action  The Great War had momentous consequences for the world andworldhistorybyvirtueofthescaleofthearenaofoperations(mainlyEurope,butalsotheMiddleEast,theFarEastandAfrica),thenumberof warring parties (44 States and their colonies by 1918),the mobi-lization of the colonies and the involvement of the entire civilianpopulation.Atotalof65millionmenservedtheircountries,andninemillion of them were killed in action. TheAgency’sarchivesreflectthisglobalaspectofthe1914-1918war.It negotiated with all of the belligerents,particularly on the protec-tion of enemy civilians on their territories. ICRC delegates visitedprisoner-of-warcamps,notonlyinEuropebutalsoinAfricaandAsia. Theprisoners-of-warandcivilianinterneeswerehousedincampsorworked in labour detachments – in factories,on farms or in mines. AfterdeclaringwaronGermanyon3August1914,JapanattackedtheGermanpossessionsinChina and the Pacific.This list of prisoners-of-war was published by the Japanese imperialinformation office for prisoners-of-war in June 1917. 4
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