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Interpreting the Evidence

German and Turkish Prisoners of War in Jersulaem

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    Global History and Geography
    World War I

  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:


  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load German and Turkish Prisoners of War in Jerusalem, 1918 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
German and Turkish prisoners of war in Jerusalem, 1918.
Historical Context
The number of soldiers taken prisoner is a reflection of the great scale of World War I.  In 1914, the British began to clash with the Ottoman Turks in the Middle Eastern theatre of the war.  The British and Commonwealth forces achieved many rapid initial victories.  In addition to capturing major towns and cities, the British also captured Turkish prisoners of war who surrendered by the thousands.

In 1917, British and Commonwealth forces led by Sir Edmund Allenby launched an attack to take Jerusalem.  Allenby’s forces moved into position in November, and by early-mid December, the Ottomans under command of German General Erich von Falkenhayn had lost control of the city to the British.  Despite an attempt by von Falkenhaym’s German and Turkish troops to retake city, the attacks failed, and Jerusalem was held by the British.

The practice of taking prisoners of war is centuries old.  Years before World War I began, the Hague Convention of 1907 included written expectations regarding the rights of prisoners of war and of their captors.  For example, prisoners were promised humane treatment while in captivity.  Relief organizations were also allowed to inspect prisoners’ facilities to ensure that accommodations were adequate.  In addition, prisoners were guaranteed release to their home country after the war ended.  

As for the captors, prisoners were not subject to the soldier or army that captured them, but were considered to be under the authority of the country who detained them.  So, the German and Turkish prisoners in the photograph were not the responsibility of any British military force, but of the British government.  Prisoners could also be ordered to work for their captors, though never in military-related jobs, and always under reasonable circumstances and for pay.

Although the Hague Convention of 1907 set forth rules governing the capture and treatment of prisoners of war, not all countries or facilities treated prisoners equally or acceptably.  The exact number of Turkish prisoners who died in captivity is not known, but what is certain is that the Turks did lose many men to harsh conditions and treatment, especially in Russia.  While some prisoners of war during World War I were able to return to their comrades through prisoner exchanges or escape, many remained prisoners until after war ended in 1919.
Essential Question
How does geography determine the effects of war?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and explain the situation of the people.
Historical Challenges
The Hague Convention of 1907 included guidelines for treatment of prisoners of war, but these rules were broken many times during World War I. Have the regulations about treatment of prisoners of war changed since World War I? What is different about the regulations of today?
Interdisciplinary Connections
ELA: Compare and contrast diary entries of prisoners of war from two different countries.
Math: If 65,000,000 soldiers fought in World War I and 8,000,000 were captured as prisoners of war, what percentage of all soldiers were prisoners of war? Round your answer to the nearest percent.