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This could be a large and varied subject so i will restrict it to the 20th century and give two instances.

In Sept 39 after Poland was invaded the British diplomat in Berlin handed a note to the German government stating that if they, the Germans, did not cease hostilities against Poland a state of war would exist and a deadline was given. So post that deadline the countries were at war and so the diplomats were , i suppose, enemy belligerents. What happened to them and indeed the German diplomats in the UK. I presume they were allowed to pack up and leave?

The second case is the Japanese delegation which was translating the Japanese demands which were a virtual declaration of war but because of lack of staff etc. they failed to deliver the note until Pearl Harbour and a de-facto declaration of war had been made. Again here I presume they were allowed to pack up and leave, but as the diplomatic niceties had not been adhered to there could have been problems.

I presume that there were rules and that also the two side acted rather like hostages for the others. In this case i suppose timing of your diplomats leaving etc. was important?

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The notion of diplomats endangered by the outbreak of war is just silly: if they were, diplomats wouldn't exist in the first place. –  Lohoris Mar 31 at 10:50
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up vote 11 down vote accepted

When a war starts, the diplomats lock down the embassy and leave through a neutral country. They are neither molested nor harassed, and their diplomatic immunity is not disputed. The embassy building and the property therein is taken care of by the neutral country representing the interests of the belligerent (or some other arrangements may be made).

The major point is that both belligerent nations recognize that the war is a temporary affair in their long-term relationships and that a decent treatment of diplomats serves both sides.

One exception I know of is the treatment of the Polish diplomats in USSR in the fall of 1939 after Poland was divided between Germany and USSR. They were allowed to leave USSR (for England via Romania) unmolested, but as private citizens. I.e., the USSR made an effort to demonstrate that Poland is not a Nation anymore. Still, Romanians were allowed to take care of the Polish embassy building &c.

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and were no doubt extradited from Romania to Germany and ended up in the gas chambers? –  jwenting Aug 2 '13 at 5:29
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@jwenting: no, they travelled safely to England. –  sds Aug 2 '13 at 12:11
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