The fact that Russian World War I soldiers remained prisoners of war well after the November 1918 Armistice is one of the more obscure aspects of the war’s history. But with civil war raging in Russia, concerns arose over repatriating soldiers that might return to reinforce the Bolsheviks. This meant large number of Russian soldiers remained in camps well after the end of the war.
It so happens that the papers of Otto Pickhardt held at the New-York Historical Society contain a small collection of photographs taken in 1919 at one of these camps. A doctor born in New York City to German-immigrant parents, Pickhardt served in both World War I and II. The photos in question document his time with the American Expeditionary Forces at Camp Sagan in 1919. Located a few miles outside of the town of Żagań, in western Poland, the camp was then considered part of eastern Germany.
Below is a selection yet a significant representation of the collection as a whole. Despite being few in number they are of special interest, suggesting what camp life might have been like in the early months of 1919, and more importantly, they provide us with a reminder of this largely forgotten chapter of one of the world’s bloodiest conflicts.