This is the year that begins the numerous events, exhibitions, memorials and commemorations of the one hundredth anniversary of the First World War. France, Germany, Belgium, Britain, the United States, Switzerland and many others will be remembering the insane slaughter in some way or other. These have been in planning and preparation for some time and are now beginning to appear. Some of them are long awaited by genealogists and historians.
One of the first series of documents expected to appear online this year is the massive collection of files on prisoners of war from the archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross. The ICRC created in Geneva the International Prisoners of War Agency on the twenty-seventh of August, 1914, the purpose of which was to put families and prisoners in touch with one another. The Agency helped families to find out where soldiers were imprisoned. Via the Agency, prisoners and families could exchange messages; by the end of the war, millions of messages had been exchanged. Since the summer of 2010, the ICRC has been filming and digitizing these archives and expect to have them available to researchers online later this year.
The archives of the International Prisoners of War Agency contain:
- two thousand registers of lists of names of prisoners of war, with their details as given by the government under which they were held;
- over six million cards on individuals, which were updated when the prisoner was moved, received medical care or died;
- two hundred boxes of the International Prisoners of War Agency's administrative correspondence.
They are a record of loss and of intense suffering and a documentation of the Agency's work to alleviate prison conditions (many prisons were visited), to protect civilians who had been wrongly taken prisoner and to enable families to re-establish contact. With these archives, it is said to be possible to follow the fate of over two million prisoners of war held by German or by Allied authorities in Europe, Africa and Asia. If your family, French or not, contains someone who was taken prisoner during the First World War, this archive could be of great interest.
©2014 Anne Morddel