Wikipedia describes the way the US ambassador and other members of the diplomatic corps were treated. Ultimately they were exchanged for German prisoners. Is that usual to exchange diplomats for other prisoners? Why were they not immediately sent to a neutral country or put on a neutral ship? I understand that after Pearl Harbor Japanese diplomats were sent home.

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    For comparison, Soviet diplomats were exchanged for German ones one week after the June 22, 1941 attack (via Turkey). My guess, that in the case of US diplomats, the main problem was logistical difficulties of transporting Germans across the Atlantic to Portugal. Jul 25, 2017 at 9:31
  • One might have thought after Pearl Harbor the Japanese diplomats were in trouble and perhaps something other than repatriating them was indeed considered but they were eventually returned to Japan. Americans however don't always follow the rules -- nothing like due process was extended to suspected nazi leaders, for example, after German surrender. (Due process was often skipped with domestic criminal suspects also in that era.)
    – Jeff
    Jul 25, 2017 at 9:50
  • Not sure how to interpret the last sentence of your comment. Are you saying that you find the Nuremberg Trials unsatisfactory? Are you also implying that they were run just by the US rather than by the Allies (US, USSR, GB, etc)? Jul 25, 2017 at 9:56
  • I am saying that while in custody some abuses, by modern standards, occurred but nothing much worse than what happened to suspects in, say, Chicago of that time at the hands of police. I am no fan of nazis but I am a huge fan of the state behaving better than the individuals it punishes and of innocent until proven guilty. To give you an idea of my stance, I feel Eichmann should have been imprisoned for life in Israel or even given a suspended death sentence and sent back to Argentina or given to Egypt. (This was Buber's stance.)
    – Jeff
    Jul 25, 2017 at 10:05
  • @Jeff: One of the great fallacies of history is to judge past events by today's standards, especially when those events took place during a globe encompassing war. Treatment of both POW's, citizens of hostile nations, and diplomats by the US was far better than any of the Axis powers, and better than the British, although that was more a reflection of the desperate situation the UK was in, not a character deficit. Hopefully, we won't face a situation like that again, so it can only be judged by the context in which it happened. To do otherwise is to inaccurately demonize.
    – tj1000
    Jul 25, 2017 at 18:44

1 Answer 1


Sounds to me they were kept in a secure location until they could be repatriated (remember there were no ways to do so using normal means at the time as there was no shipping between the countries while they were at war).

As the USA also held German nationals in similar conditions, it was a natural that they would be handed over at the same time, both groups in effect serving as hostages for the well being of the other.

While they reported of a lack of food, that was probably no worse than not having their normal excess they were used to in pre-war Berlin. The entire German population was on rationing, it would be quite normal that the US diplomatic group was similarly limited in what they had available to them (in fact the same was true of POW camps, while indeed conditions there were harsh and food scarce, it was not much more so than for the population in the surrounding towns and German authorities (probably correctly) assumed that if they supplied enemy prisoners with more food than the local population they'd have riots on their hand).

  • my understanding is that for pragmatic reasons, diplomatic immunity is pretty sacred -- you want your own diplomats treated well and in general germany and the usa treated pows of the other side well so i expected diplomats too. food: in 1941 germany already had food problems?
    – Jeff
    Jul 25, 2017 at 8:15
  • @Jeff: Yes, starting in 1939, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Jul 25, 2017 at 9:23
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    the same was true of POW camps, while indeed conditions there were harsh and food scarce, it was not much more so than for the population in the surrounding towns This is a serious inaccuracy and/or oversimplification. There was a qualitative difference between conditions in the German camps for Soviet POWs and their camps for western POWs. The former were often open fields surrounded with barbed wire, with no shelter from the elements. There were death marches and mass deaths aboard trains. There was little food, and many died of starvation.
    – user2848
    Jul 26, 2017 at 6:07
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    And the Germans were not surprised when the victorious Red Army treated Berliners rather badly. The only way prisoners actually starve to death is if rank and file soldiers cooperate. Even if there had been no Holocaust, there was this.
    – Jeff
    Jul 26, 2017 at 20:06

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