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Security and Humanity in the First World War

The Treatment of Civilian ‘Enemy Aliens’


11–13 April 2019

Convener: Professor Arnd Bauerkämper (Berlin)
Venue: German Historical Institute London
This conference is organised in conjunction with the London School of Economics and the Gerda Henkel Foundation.


In the First World War, politicians and officials had to strike a balance between security demands and humanitarian requirements, not only in democracies such as Britain, but also in authoritarian states such as the German Empire and Tsarist Russia. The conference will deal with this intricate and multi-layered relationship, concentrating on repressive measures taken against civilian “enemy aliens” on the one hand and humanitarian efforts on their behalf on the other. Government policies ranged from restrictions on mobility to the internment of ‘enemy aliens’ and the annihilation of minorities that were either citizens of enemy states or associated with them (in the case of the Armenians). Whereas many governments, nationalistic elites and populist movements pressed for the wholesale interment of these citizens, national and international humanitarian organisations strove to protect their basic rights. Pointing to the danger of reprisals, these associations exploited the principle of reciprocity that rulers had to take into account. Ranging from the International Committee of the Red Cross to the ‘Society of Friends’ (Quakers) and the YMCA, these associations provided civilian internees with relief. Apart from universalistic and humanist aspirations, international humanitarian organisations were driven by vested interests. Not least, the conference will deal with neutral powers such as Switzerland and the Netherlands that served as mediators and protecting powers of civilian internees.


Conference programme (PDF file)

Conference report (PDF file), published in: GHIL Bulletin 41 (2019), Vol 2