Stalag Luft III
Part VII – YMCA
The International Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.). with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, undertook to preserve the quality of life for thousands of prisoners of war on both sides in World War II. The International Red Cross provided food, clothing, and medicines, while the Y.M.C.A. provided library supplies (largely books), athletic equipment, musical instruments, and chaplains’ supplies. Both were major efforts and contributed immensely to the well-being of POWs. Volunteers from neutral countries, such as Switzerland and Sweden, with great dedication and at considerable personal risk, served Allied camps in Germany throughout the war.
Swedish lawyer Henry Söderberg, as the representative of the International Y.M.C.A., was responsible for the region of Germany in which Stalag Luft III was located. He visited the camp regularly and went to great efforts to procure and deliver items requested by the various compounds. As a result, each compound had a band and orchestra, a well-equipped library, and sports equipment to meet the different British and American national tastes. Chaplains also had the necessary religious items to enable them to hold regular services. In addition, many men were able to advance, and in a few cases, complete their formal education.
Söderberg remained in touch with many of his American friends by coming from Sweden to attend their reunions until his death in 1998. He kindly donated his rich collection of official reports, photograph albums, letters, and other materials documenting his work on behalf of the prisoners of many nations to the U.S. Air Force Academy Library. It is available to scholars, other researchers, and cadets alike.