I Surrender under the Geneva Conventions

European and American solders in World War Two would battle the Germans and their allies until the Allies stopped or the Germans quit. In spite of the men they had killed or wounded, when the enemy surrendered, he had to be treated according to the Geneva Conventions. These were not always observed.



German soldier surrenders to US Army troops outside of St. Lo July 1944. This French town sat astride a key crossroads and during the Allied campaign in Normandy was the scene of  and intense battle between American troops and the German Wehrmacht. Most of the town was destroyed before the Americans managed to lever the Germans out.


US M10 tank destroyer named “Hun Chaser” makes its way into the destroyed city of St. Lo.


German POWs (1)

“Art. 27. Belligerents may employ as workmen prisoners of war who are physically fit, other than officers and persons of equivalent statue, according to their rink and their ability.

Nevertheless, if officers or persons of equivalent status ask for suitable work, this shall be found for them as far as possible. Non-commissioned officers who are prisoners of war may be compelled to undertake only supervisory work, unless they expressly request remunerative occupation.”

From the Third Geneva Convention of 1929. You can find that specific document here:

3rd Geneva Convention on Treatment of POWs 1929



In many World War Two movies and novels, characters often make reference to the  Geneva Convention  and the protection it affords them if captured by the enemy. They are actually referring to the Third Geneva Convention of 1929 governing treatment of prisoners of war which was in effect during World War Two along with the First and Second Geneva Conventions.




According to the International Red Cross, there are four Geneva Conventions in effect today:

1) The First Geneva Convention is the “Convention (I) for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field. Geneva, 12 August 1949”. This agreement provides for the protection of all medical facilities, their personnel, and any civilians aiding the wounded. Of special note, the first convention gives the Red Cross international recognition as a neutral medical group. This convention was originally negotiated and signed in 1864 and subsequently amended and ratified by the High Contracting Parties in 1906, 1929, and 1949.

2) The Second Geneva Convention is the “Convention (II) for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea. Geneva, 12 August 1949.” This convention extended protections of the first convention to combatants at sea as well as shipwrecked sailors. It was originally promulgated in 1906 and subsequently amended and ratified by the High Contracting Parties in 1929 and 1949.

Of special note, this convention defines and gives protection to hospital ships of the High Contracting Parties. This protection was usually but not always observed between the Western belligerents. A number of protests were made to the International Red Cross from Nazi Germany about their hospital ships being attacked by the British and vice-versa.

3) The Third Geneva Convention is the “Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949”. In World War Two and in World War Two movies and books, this is the Geneva Convention usually being referred to and is the one which specifically concerns POWs. Originally promulgated and ratified in 1929, it was updated with the other conventions in 1949.

4) The Fourth Geneva Convention is the “Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949.” This treaty was specifically adopted as a result of the deaths of millions of innocent civilians in World War Two.

According to the International Red Cross, any person caught up in an armed conflict is covered by one of these conventions. There are issues with this interpretation by the Red Cross as one might imagine particularly where terrorists are concerned.

Those acting in the name of an ideology rather than a state pose vexing questions for international law. Personally, I find it hard to imagine extending the protection of the Geneva Conventions to men and women who kill and maim civilians, especially children, in the name of God, or Maoist Revolution, or any other ideology.

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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: http://charlesmccain.com/

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