[From St Stephen's House, 1920]
EXTRACTS FROM REPORT OF SECRETARY OF AMERICAN Y.M.C.A.
(WAR PRISONERS' AID-GERMAN SECTION) ON WORK IN PRISONERS OF WAR CAMPS IN GERMANY, APRIL, 1917.
WE now have nine secretaries in the field, each assigned to specific army corps. In addition to these nine, Mr. Schaffhauser, book-keeper and accountant, yours truly, and seven stenographers. We are waiting for three other neutral secretaries, one from Switzerland and two from Sweden.
On the basis of the War Ministry's permit, each secretary has permission to visit all camps and hospitals in his territory. Permission for visitation of the working commandoes can be granted by the respective General Kommando of the individual Army Corps. Thus far all our secretaries have received this permission. Mr. H.'s case deserves special attention as he has a written permission to visit these commandoes without the presence of a guard or interpreter. He has access to commandoes to which practically no other neutral civilian can go, e.g.- .
In a small town he had arranged for a Church service for the British prisoners on the working commandoes in and about the town. Permission had been given him to use the town Church for this service. The village teacher voluntarily offered to play the organ. It was a most impressive sight to see the six or seven groups of British prisoners, each accompanied by a German guard, come to the Church. In the gallery were a number of prominent citizens of the place, at the organ the teacher, in the pulpit our secretary and before him the audience of British prisoners. Our secretary suggested to the German guards that there was no need of their remaining in the Church if they desired to go elsewhere during the service. His suggestion was followed, so that he was left alone with his audience. After the service he conversed with the prisoners and learned of a rather happy incident which had occurred. It seemed that two brothers had met for the first time since their imprisonment. Each knew that the other was a prisoner, but up to that date had no correspondence with the other. Naturally their surprise and joy were unlimited. The incident afforded a happy conclusion of this remarkable service.
During the month of March we have sent to the various camps and commandoes somewhat over 700 individual parcels of supplies ranging from phonographs and musical instruments, footballs, and athletic supplies to make-up paints for theatricals. As we reported to you in the case of Mr. H., where he visited one of the camps without an interpreter or guard so this permission is gradually being obtained by all the secretaries, as they become better acquainted and win the confidence of the authorities.
Another typical illustration of the liberties given our men is the following experience of Mr. R. On a visit to the camp at Meschede he was accosted by the Italian prisoners who com plained that they were cold and more or less discontented. It was a beautiful sunshiny day and he at once hit upon the happy thought of calling all the Italian prisoners out of doors and after having secured permission from the attending officer ranged them in gymnastic order and conducted free body exercises with them. These had two results; in the first place it warmed up the prisoners bodily and secondly gave them a good time which was evidenced by their smiling faces and hearty laughs.
So far as our activities are concerned there is practically no limit, provided the men proceed wisely and diplomatically. Thus Mr. A. has time and again secured permission for prisoners to accompany him on shopping tours in towns adjoining the camps. Mr. R. writes of the organisation of study groups and schools in each of the camps in his territory. Mr. Diehl has furnished every camp in his territory with book-binding materials including presses, twine and paste.
All the secretaries have permission to hold religious talks and avail themselves of this privilege frequently. This is especially valuable for their work on the working commandoes where practically no other neutral visitors ever came. Time and again the prisoners tell them that they are the first outside party to visit them.
You already know our scheme of providing gramophones and series of records which can be exchanged every month. Up to date we have provided some sixty gramophones in this way. You also know of the permission we have in securing lists of recent arrivals, especially British Officers. Unfortunately this is confined essentially to Karlsruhe, but as the largest share of captured officers came to this camp we thus receive comparatively full data.
We have permission to draw books from the University libraries for loan to student prisoners. Our first permission was granted by the Royal Library here in Berlin, since then it has been extended to the libraries in Dresden, Leipzig and Munster. Musical instruments are a big item of our expenditure. I have now a bill for forty-two dozen mouth organs and twelve harmoniums, it is one of many similar bills. Handicraft supplies are continually being furnished, also drawing instruments and artists materials. In most camps where there are a considerable number of British prisoners special English newspapers are printed for which we often furnish paper, etc.
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