How the American Red Cross Served Prisoners of War

By , November 12, 2015

Recently in the Metro Archives, we have begun processing a collection donated to us by the American Red Cross, Nashville Chapter. This collection contains a number of slides, photographs, uniforms, and scrapbooks ranging from the 1930s to the 1990s, and gives a wide overview of the Red Cross’s efforts in Nashville to assist during wars, floods, and other disasters throughout most of the 20th century.

The first issue, published June 1943

The first issue, published June 1943

Buried in all these materials were several issues of an intriguing publication called Prisoners of War Bulletin. The newsletter was published by the American Red Cross and sent free of charge both to relief workers and to those registered as next of kin of POWs, and it contains a wealth of information. Anything from the rights of prisoners of war  to how to send care packages from home to tips on writing letters is addressed in hopes “that anxious relatives of our men and women who are held in prison and internment camps may find in these pages the answers to many questions.”

With Veteran’s Day fast approaching, it only seemed right that we showcase this remarkable find. The information contained in these bulletins gives us a peek into World War II history that we often don’t see. Here, we see the small details of POW relief efforts done by the American Red Cross, descriptions of a war prisoner’s needs, and everyday life in a war camp.

POW-Bulletin-1943002Perhaps the most stirring pieces in Prisoners of War Bulletin are the letters from POWs published near the end of each issue. These letters are often brief, but the first-hand accounts and detailed descriptions are invaluable. We learn about the day-to-day activities in the camps and how POWs were treated – sometimes very humanely, and sometimes not. What I found most interesting were the descriptions on how the whole experience had affected and changed American soldiers imprisoned in war camps.

Letters from POWs

Letters from POWs

For example, Lt. Colonel Clark, a Senior American Officer at Stalagluft III in Germany, wrote in a letter to his family, “I, myself, have profited in many ways from my misfortune. One learns above all tolerance and patience. One learns how to help others and you’d be amazed to see how unselfish most people here are.”

These long-forgotten publications are remarkable in that they represent something more than their original purpose. The American Red Cross not only gave answers and comfort to anxious families; it also gave us insight into a piece of America’s military history and into the diverse experiences of American POWs.

- Kelley

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