Treatment of POWs and the International Red Cross in World War Two (Part 2 of 3)

The International Red Cross also inspected prisoner of war camps, arranged for the repatriation of the severely injured, inspected camps where civilian detainees were held, and delivered Red Cross parcels to POWs. In the last year of the war in Germany, many Allied POWs only survived because of the food sent to them in Red Cross parcels. It is fair to note that the Germans delivered these parcels even though they had to use desperately needed space in freight trains. (It is also worth noting that despite the urgent needs of the Wehrmacht for rail transport, trains carrying Jews continued rolling to the death camps until the last few weeks of the war.)

German POWs in American were so well fed most of them gained weight and asked their families to stop sending them Red Cross parcels. The Geneva Convention of 1929 required the belligerent nation holding POWs to treat those POWs in the same way they treated their own soldiers of different ranks. Proper food and nutrition were crucial to meet this standard. The United States strictly adhered to this policy, partly as a way to insure correct treatment of our men in German hands. According to the best and most comprehensive book on the subject, Nazi Prisoners of War in America by Arnold Krammer (four stars), a standard daily meal plan was as follows, this particular daily menu from Camp Clinton in Mississippi for 12 May 1944:

Breakfast: Corn flakes, cake or bread, marmalade, coffee, milk, sugar

Lunch: Potato salad, roast pork, carrots, icewater

Supper: Meat Loaf, scrambled eggs or boiled eggs, coffee, milk, bread

It is worth noting that most of these items were rationed for civilians in the US and almost all of these items were unobtainable in Germany except on the black market.

The irony in this is front line American GIs in Europe rarely ate this well. They subsisted on K rations for days at a time, never seeing hot meals. And if they were fighting in the winter of 1944/45, then the hot meals prepared for them in the rear were frozen by the time the food reached their forward positions.

Even more ironic, in July of 1944 the Provost Marshal General issued an order allowing individual camps to create menus more to the liking of the Germans as long as the food purchased wholesale did not exceed the cost of feeding the same number of American troops. German POWs began to eat better than they had eaten in Germany since the late 1930s.

[Images courtesy of Alabama Heritage, published by the University of Alabama.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website:

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