How were diplomats and their staffs treated when World War II was declared?

How were diplomats and their staffs treated when World War II was declared?


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This could be a large and varied subject so I will restrict it to the 20th century and give two instances.

In Sept 39, after Poland was invaded, the British diplomat in Berlin handed a note to the German government stating that if they, the Germans, did not cease hostilities against Poland a state of war would exist and a deadline was given. So post that deadline the countries were at war and so the diplomats were, I suppose, enemy belligerents. What happened to them and indeed the German diplomats in the UK? I presume they were allowed to pack up and leave?

The second case is the Japanese delegation which was translating the Japanese demands which were a virtual declaration of war but because of lack of staff etc. they failed to deliver the note until Pearl Harbour and a de-facto declaration of war had been made. Again, here I presume they were allowed to pack up and leave, but as the diplomatic niceties had not been adhered to there could have been problems.

I presume that there were rules and that also the two side acted rather like hostages for the others. In this case I suppose timing of your diplomats leaving etc. was important?


When a war starts, the diplomats lock down the embassy and leave through a neutral country. They are neither molested nor harassed, and their diplomatic immunity is not disputed. The embassy building and the property therein is taken care of by the neutral country representing the interests of the belligerent (or some other arrangements may be made).

The major point is that both belligerent nations recognize that the war is a temporary affair in their long-term relationships and that a decent treatment of diplomats serves both sides.

One exception I know of is the treatment of the Polish diplomats in USSR in the fall of 1939 after Poland was divided between Germany and USSR. They were allowed to leave USSR (for England via Romania) unmolested, but as private citizens. I.e., the USSR made an effort to demonstrate that Poland is not a Nation anymore. Still, Romanians were allowed to take care of the Polish embassy building &c.

Related: What became of Nazi Germany's embassies in neutral countries?


As for the case of the Japanese diplomats stranded in Washington: the wikipedia page about one of them says they were interned in Hot Springs, Virginia, and then, in July 1942, sent to a neutral country by a neutral ship. This web page seems to imply that they stayed at the luxurious Homestead resort in Hot Springs through May 1942 and then were transferred to the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs in West Virginia until being repatriated in July.


German, Italian and Japanese diplomats (and others) were repatriated in exchange for Americans using Swedish ships to cross the Atlantic (Drottningholm and Gripsholm) that sailed alone with full lights and a distinctive paint coat. European axis diplomats were exchanged in neutral Portugal, where the Americans were brough by train. Exchanges took place at neutral ports; at Lourenço Marques in Mozambique or Mormugoa in Portuguese India with the Japanese, and Stockholm or Lisbon with the Germans.

This site has lots of information on the Swedish ships



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