Monday, January 13, 2020

POW Exchanges During World War II

Some POWs Were Repatriated

POW exchanges during World War II
Some of 1500 German Prisoners being loaded on ships in exchange for British prisoners waiting in Dieppe, France, 5 October 1941. There were several such trips during this exchange, including German women nurses repatriated for British nurses. Incidentally, notice that Luftwaffe officer with the cane? He's in the next picture below, too.
When you're captured by the enemy, that's it - right? That means a prison camp for the remainder of the conflict, which could be a long, long time? Well, not necessarily. There was a degree of international cooperation even during the thickest of the World War II fighting that saw some prisoners repatriated. There were scattered POW exchanges during World War II, increasing in number as the conflict grew longer.

POW exchanges during World War II
Here is the more famous photo of that particular German officer. Here, he is disembarking from a hospital ship at Newhaven on 5 October 1941. He doesn't seem to need his cane at this particular moment and is going ashore for some exercise (colorized).
There were exchanges of wounded/injured POWs in the European Theater of Operations done through mediation by Sweden. Gothenburg (Göteborg) was the usual exchange site. Count Folke Bernadotte, vice chairman of the Swedish Red Cross beginning in 1943, was the prime mediator. Everybody was skeptical of Bernadotte and his motives - he was assassinated after the war while mediating in Jerusalem - but he accomplished real results. He began long before his appointment to the Red Cross when he arranged the July 1940 release of some British trapped in the port of Petsamo in the far North (German internees also were released). One of the little-known facts of World War II is the role of private citizens as unofficial diplomats and emissaries (such as Electrolux employee Birger Dahlerus).

SS Gripsholm, used for POW exchanges during World War II
A postcard view of SS Gripsholm, one of two Swedish liners chartered for POW exchanges.
Two chartered Swedish ships were used, the Drottningholm and the Gripsholm. These exchanges took place between April 1942 and May 1945, but the vast majority began in a series of exchanges beginning in October 1943. In this first exchange, 3000 wounded/sick British POWs at Göteborg were released in exchange for 800 Germans and additional Germans released in North Africa. The ships made a total of 36 voyages (14 from Göteborg) and carried 29,600 diplomats, POWs, and wounded men.

POW exchanges during World War II
Prisoners being exchanged at Lorient, France, in November 1944 (Brigham Young University, Harold B. Lee Library, L. Tom Perry Special Collections (Heslop, J. Malan)).
All told, about 11,000 sick/wounded servicemen were exchanged due to Bernadotte’s assistance. Swedish mediation was critical since some earlier attempts at exchanging wounded/injured POWs directly between Germany and Great Britain in ports of occupied France failed due to mutual mistrust.

Death notice for Count Bernadotte, who arranged POW exchanges during World War II
Bernadotte was assassinated on 17 September 1948 in Jerusalem.
Not all of Bernadotte's initiatives worked. He tried to swap Stalin's captured son Yakov for General Paulus after the fall of Stalingrad, but the Soviets were not interested.

POW exchanges during World War II
German and United States Army officials arrange a POW exchange in Brittany, France, in November 1944. The man in black in the center of the photograph is Andrew Gerow Hodges, the American Red Cross representative who set up the exchange. Notice that the German officers are giving the Hitler salute (Hitlergruß) and the Americans are saluting in return. 
There was at least one other prisoner exchange besides the ones arranged by Bernadotte (some sources say only one). The American Red Cross arranged a POW exchange while fighting was still in progress in France. A total of 149 men from each side were exchanged. The Germans were not particular about who they exchanged, and one of them was Jewish Army Private Harry Glixon of 94th Infantry Division of US Third Army (Glixon claimed they were not aware he was Jewish but easily could have figured it out from his papers). He had been captured by the Germans near Lorient, France, during the fall. This exchange happened on 15 November 1944. Private Glixon was lightly wounded and in poor condition after 45 days in captivity but was back in the front lines within days - a violation of his terms of release. Harry Glixon survived the war and passed away in Sarasota, Florida, in 2007.

SS Gripsholm, used for POW exchanges during World War II
The Gripsholm in diplomatic markings as the POWs would have seen it. Even with those markings, it would have been a dangerous voyage because many clearly marked hospital ships were sunk during the way "by mistake."
The Gripsholm, chartered by the United States, also exchanged Japanese civilians in the United States for similar numbers of American civilians trapped behind Japanese lines. These exchanges were done through Mozambique, controlled by neutral Portugal at the time. Diplomats and others also were exchanged, sometimes on the same voyages as the wounded, sometimes separately.

The Swedes, incidentally, sent the British a bill of 349,252.10 kroner for these services (housing and feeding them, etc.) in 1947. The British paid £24,136 5s 9d.


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