Alvey Augustus Adee to Emily Greene Balch, March 30, 1920

Department of State,

March 30, 1920.


My dear Miss Balch:

Your letter addressed to the Secretary of State regarding the American Y.M.C.A. and prisoners in Siberia, is being answered officially, but as I have been closely in touch with this situation I want to add a personal word in the matter, on the understanding of course that you will not take this letter as in any way official and will not quote me personally.

This Department has always looked with great uneasiness upon the prisoners situation in Siberia and I can assure you that it has done everything that could be done to bring about an improvement and above all to get the prisoners repatriated. I think you perhaps do not realize the difficulties that are encountered. In the first place it was impossible to get ships. You will understand that nations which were using their ships to repatriate their own prisoners or their own soldiers, would not remove ships from this very necessary service to bring back the German, Austrian and Hungarian prisoners from Siberia. Furthermore, the question of finance was an extremely difficult one. The Government of the United States, I think you will understand, had no more say in the matter than the government of any other country, and certainly had less say than the Russian Government in Siberia. We had not the means or the ships to take the prisoners home. We were always, on the other hand, ready to do our share and made repeated suggestions as to ways and means. We could not urge that the prisoners be repatriated before the Czechs were repatriated, because after all, the Czechs also have suffered, and they were fighting in Siberia for the Allies. They were eager to get home and are now being taken home in ships furnished by this government and by the British Government. It is my understanding that as soon as this Czech repatriation is finished, which will be very shortly, the prisoners who can be reached from [Vladivostok] will also be repatriated.

In more than one instance the story has reached me from Europe that the American Y.M.C.A. had offered to repatriate the prisoners, that the British & French Governments had accepted the offer, and that the American Government had refused. Who started this fantastic story, I have no idea. It certainly is not true, so far as the American Government is concerned. The Y.M.C.A. has been working for the prisoners in Siberia and we have done all we could to help that [organization]. It has not done as much as the Red Cross and perhaps not as much as the Joint Distribution Committee. When the question arose as to the cost of the repatriation of the Austrian and Hungarian prisoners, it being clear that those two countries could probably not pay, Dr. [Keppel] of the Red Cross took the matter up very vigorously and tells me that he believes the money can be raised. The Red Cross will contribute very generously. The first organization asked by them to assist was the Y.M.C.A., and although I have no doubt the Y.M.C.A. will assist, it has not yet given an answer. Undoubtedly the Joint Distribution Committee will do all it can and probably fairly large amounts can be raised among the Austrians and Hungarians in this country.

I am writing you in this way because I do not want to allow the story to grow in Europe that either the Government of the United States has made any difficulty about this repatriation, since it has not, nor the story that help is not being furnished by individuals and organizations in America. When the prisoners actually get home, it will be undoubtedly more by reason of the Generous American aid than by any other. This is not boasting about our own country, but is a mere statement of fact. You see this prisoner situation very vividly. So do I. But it is possible that you may not see as clearly as we do here the other great needs in various parts of the world and that you may not [realize] as clearly as we do here the other great needs in various parts and [illegible] of the world and that you may not realize that the calls for assistance are multitudinous and all so appealing, in many cases so vital, that American assistance cannot be confined to any one. -----