ICRC in WW II: German prisoners of war in Allied hands


In the first part of the war there were relatively few German POWs. This was to change after the Normandy landings.


©ICRC/Ref. hist-3237/33 
France: German prisoners of war in a camp in Voves. 

During the first few years of the Second World War, the German army was victorious and there were consequently few German prisoners of war in Allied hands.

Following the landing in Normandy of the Allies, and their subsequent advance into Germany, the number of German soldiers taken prisoner grew considerably.

The surrender of Germany on 8 May 1945 led to the capture of millions of German soldiers who could no longer count on the assistance of their government nor on th at of their families, themselves in a situation of dire poverty. On the victorious side, public opinion held that the Germans were only getting what they deserved, and the ICRC found itself virtually alone in interceding on their behalf.

The ICRC made approaches to the authorities of the four occupation zones and, in the autumn of 1945, it received authorization to send both relief and delegates into the French and British zones. On 4 February 1946, the ICRC was allowed to send relief into the American zone, and on 13 April 1946 it obtained permission to extend this activity to the Soviet zone.

The quantities received by the ICRC for these captives remained very small, however. During their visits, the delegates observed that German prisoners of war were often detained in appalling conditions. They drew the attention of the authorities to this fact, and gradually succeeded in getting some improvements made.