The Prisoners of War

Prisonniers de guerre belges
The First World War resulted in millions of prisoners of war. Men from all walks of life and socio-cultural classes, who had to live in often very difficult conditions of detention.

Painful conditions of detention

The first world conflict resulted in 7 million prisoners of war, of which the Germans took approximately 2,400,000.

From the beginning of the war, the number of prisoners (125,000 French soldiers in September 1914) surprised the Kaiser’s staff. From 1915 onwards, camps were set up (nearly 300 in all), some of them in the north and east of France.

Cold, hunger, disease, harassment- these were some of the harsh conditions of detention of hundreds of thousands of prisoners. However, the conditions of detention of the prisoners were much less extreme than during the Second World War. Being in a camp meant being cared for, fed, and looked after by the enemy. Some soldiers saw it as a blessing. Some prisoners were also hired to help with manual labor or farming. In these camps, soldiers came from many different backgrounds (French, Russian, British, Belgian, American, Canadian, Italian, etc.) but also from various social backgrounds (workers, farmers, civil servants, intellectuals, etc.).

Belgian prisoners of war
Belgian prisoners of war

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