The Newest Exhibition at the National WWI Museum and Memorial is Open through Spring 2022

Nearly 9 million.  

During the four brutal years of the Great War, nearly 9 million people were held as prisoners of war at some point during the conflict. From the shores of Southeast Asia and the Siberian tundra to mere miles from the Western Front, they were imprisoned the world over — by both sides. Seldom told, their experiences are some of the most common during the Great War. 

Captured delves into the stories of life behind the wire: relationships among the prisoners and between the prisoners and their captors, a complex and unique dynamic of mundane daily life and the arduous conditions of captivity. Bound together by suffering and uncertainty, many prisoners and guards were encountering people of different races, religions, languages and cultures for the first time. This exhibition explores how their relationships sustained hope — on both sides of the barbed wire — amid bleak and uncertain circumstances. 

Their historical and personal accounts carry a modern and global impact still seen a century later. Images of WWI prisoners, gazing at cameras across the globe, document a historical juncture in which long-term mass incarceration was becoming a key outcome of fighting. Prominent international military and diplomatic leaders agreed to the humane treatment of prisoners, while evolutions in industry and technology changed the scale and duration of captivity.  

“The soldier may picture to himself the discomforts of trench life, the possibility of being wounded, of loss of limb or eyesight; he may have discounted the possibility of death in battle; but strangely enough, one rarely comes across in the prison camps a prisoner who had ever considered the possibility of being taken captive.”   

Daniel J. McCarthy, The Prisoner of War in Germany, 1917  

Captured is on display through Spring 2023 in the National WWI Museum and Memorial’s Wylie Gallery and is sponsored by Edward Jones. Admission is $10, or an additional $3 when combined with a Museum ticket.

“Captured But Not Conquered”

The statue depicts Edgar M. Halyburton, 16th Infantry Regiment, listed at the time as the first American Army prisoner of war in WWI. German propagandists distributed Halyburton’s image hoping to demoralize newly arrived American troops. But within days, the photograph was appropriated by the allies and reproduced internationally: An American soldier standing tall with one hand in his pocket and the other clenched in a fist at his side was seen as a message of defiance.


Handmade violin by German soldier August Christian Voigt while he was a prisoner of war of the French. The violin and case are made of scrap supplies provided by his guards. The top of the violin is marked P. G. 46 (Prisonnier de Guerre number 46). The back is marked “St. Loup Soumouse, 1918-19-20 Francoise,” indicating where he was held. (The prison camp was also sometimes spelled “Semouse.”)

Russian Wooden Box

The lid of this wooden box is carved with the dates 1914-15-16 and (translated) “Memory of POW” or “Remember POW.”

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