1939-1945: years of blood and fire


The ICRC’s work during the Second World War was unprecedented. It assisted hundreds of thousands of suffering people worldwide, and its Central Agency for Prisoners of War registered the names of millions of captured soldiers, making every effort to assist and protect them. 

However, this was also a time of failure, the failure to help and protect the millions of people who were exterminated in the death camps. The ICRC has publicly expressed its regret regarding its impotence and the mistakes it made in dealing with Nazi persecution and genocide.


The ICRC runs representations (delegations, missions) in more than 80 countries and employing nearly 13,000 staff members.

Facts and figures

  • In 1945 the ICRC conducted its work out of 76 permanent delegations around the world, employing 179 delegates.
  • For the first time in its history the ICRC used a shipping fleet to transport relief goods; 43 ships were made available to it.
  • Computers were used by the ICRC for the first time in December 1939, to help with the activities of its Central Agency for Prisoners of War.
  • Telegram from Hiroshima

    First page of the telegram sent on 30 August 1945 by ICRC delegate Fritz Bilfinger about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
    > PDF

  • Atomic testings

    Interview of Marcel Junod.
    > Listen to audio

  • Serbian prisoners of war

    Germany, Dortmund, Stalag VI D. Serbian prisoners of war.

  • Stalag XI B camp

    First page of the ICRC report on its visit to the Stalag XI B camp (Fallingbostel), 9 November 1944.
    > PDF