- from the book 'Belgium in War-Time'
- 'By All and Any Means'
- by Commandant de Gerlache de Gommery, 1915
Atrocities Committed by German Forces in Belgium, 1914
from a French children's history of the war
From the time of their entry into Belgium the German troops displayed in every way an absolute contempt for the laws and usages of war and the Law of Nations.
Not only did they make abundant use of treacherous ruses, unworthy of a self- respecting army, but they rendered themselves guilty of abominable crimes, and presently there was not a single prescription of The Hague Conventions which they had not outrageously violated.
It was obvious that they had resolved to shatter our resistance not only "by force of arms," but also by all and any means.
For this reason, on the 8th of August, quite early in the course of the hostilities, M. Henry Carton de Wiart, the Belgian Minister of Justice, instituted a "Commission of Inquiry into the Violation of the Regulations of the Law of Nations and the Laws and Usages of War."
This Commission was composed of magistrates, diplomatists, university professors, and jurisconsults, all men of ripe age, unfettered conscience, and well-balanced mind, who, moreover, made it a rule to include in the reports which they addressed to the Minister of Justice only those facts which were rigorously established by reliable and consistent evidence, subjected to a searching criticism.
I have written this chapter principally by the aid of these reports.
Commandant de Gerlache de Gommery, 1915
two illustrations from British newsmagazines
Counting on the nobility of heart of their adversaries, the German troops often endeavoured to protect themselves by driving before them either Belgian soldiers who had been taken prisoners, or even civilians.
Impossible as it may appear, soldiers and officers have frequently resorted to this vile stratagem; this cowardly and treacherous manoeuvre has been practised in many different circumstances since the beginning of the war.
At the time of the fighting round Liege a body of German troops, passing through the interval between the Chaudfontaine and Fleron forts, had before it a number of civilians captured along the road; the majority had their hands tied behind their backs. Another group of civilians was forced to march in the midst of the troops, and among them was an old man of eighty years.
German artillerymen firing upon the Carmelite convent at Chevremont secured themselves against the fire of the fort by placing all round their battery men, and even women and children, captured in the neighbourhood.
On the 18th of August one Joseph Rymen, of Shaffen, was compelled, with two inhabitants of Meldert, to precede the German troops in their march through the town of Diest, and then to lead them to Montaigu.
On the 23rd of August the Germans placed at the head of their attacking column at the bridge of Lives, below Namur, women and children, of whom several were wounded by the fire of the Belgian troops.
In very many parts of Hainault the Germans forced civilians, men and women, to precede or accompany them. Thus a German column passing through Marchienne drove before it a group of several hundreds of civilians; it was marching upon Montigny- le-Tilleul, where the first important engagement with the rench took place.
To guarantee a bridge over the Sambre from any attempt at destruction, the Germans placed upon it men and womeneight of whom were nunsand children, who were forced to pass the night there.
At Tamines also, during a fight between German and French troops, the former drove civilians on to the bridge. When these poor people tried to take refuge in the house of the opposite bank (of the Sambre), the Germans fired upon them and mortally wounded several of them.
The German troops who entered Tournai on the 24th of August were preceded by several ranks of civilians. I might give many more such examples.
This stratagem, which consists in its essentials in saying to the enemy: "I know you will not fire on these unfortunate people, and I hold you at my mercy, disarmed, because you are less craven than I" 'this stratagem, so often employed by troops on the march, was also employed by patrols.
In the suburbs of Malines six German soldiers who were carrying off five young girls encountered, on their way, a company of Belgian soldiers. They kept in the midst of the young girls in order to prevent the Belgians from firing upon them.
And at the very outset of the hostilities a bicyclist who was going homeward was arrested on the way by one officer and eight hussars, who forced him to walk beside them, threatening him with death if the Belgian troops fired upon them.
Here again I could go on citing examples. I could also cite many cases in which contrary to the laws of warBelgian peasants were forced to execute defensive works for the Germans, and in particular to dig trenches.
from a series of postcards
Massacre and Incendiarism
Just before crossing the frontier, on the 4th of August, the German officers harangued their men, informing them that the outposts had been attacked by the population, and recommending them to punish the latter implacably at the firing of the first shot. From that moment, and during the whole period of the invasion, soldiers and non- commissioned officers lived in a continual dread of the attacks of francs-tireurs. This fear resulted in unheard-of panics. If any shots were heard, except in set battles, civilians were massacred instantlyunder the pretext of repressionand houses burned. And as the burning of houses was generally preceded by systematic pillage, this pretended repression, as a result of being thus stimulated, would extend to a whole village or an entire town.
In this way hundreds of peaceable Belgian citizens paid with their lives or their liberty for the frenzied libations of the invaders and the brawls which inevitably followed.
Others, in their hundreds again, expiated the resistance of the Belgian soldiers, that determined resistance which the Germans had certainly not foreseen, and which, from the first hours of the war, disconcerted them.
Some were even executedafter a summary trialfor giving our own troops information as to the advance of the German troops.
But in most cases these massacres, burnings, and all the rest were not committed as punishment or in revenge, but merely as a matter of preventive terrorisation!
I will try to give you here some idea of these horrible excesses.
On the 4th of August, about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, a few German officers arrived in a motor-car in the little town of Herve (4,700 inhabitants), which lies on the road from Aix-la-Chapelle to Liege. On their way they questioned two men whom they met upon a little bridge, and shot them down without giving them time to reply. Doubtless, in order to give themselves courage, these gentlemen had consumed a generous lunch before entering Belgium, and were now amusing themselves.
A little later on the same day German troops entered Herve. They took a few hostages, but otherwise they behaved comparatively well.
On the 8th of August, about 10 o'clock in the morning, some fresh troops, arrived, who immediately began to fire in every direction. They burned the railway station, as well as the house of Mme. Christophe, who was asphyxiated, with her daughter. Seeing that the fire was reaching her house, a neighbour, Mme. Hendrickx, rushed into the street, a crucifix in her hand; she was immediately shot down. After this, other murders took place; houses were sacked and burned; forty persons, of whom five were women, were assassinated; the town was pillaged from end to end, and more than 300 houses were burned.
On the 6th of August the village of Battice, which lies a few miles to the east of Herve, was pillaged and burned by the Germans, who were thrown back by the fire of the forts; thirty-five persons, of whom three were women, were massacred. And here the tragic adventure acquires a touch of irony: on the day before the invasion the cure, who was something of a Germanophile, felt it his duty to reassure his flock. "You have nothing to fear," he told them; "if you do not attack the soldiers, they will do nothing to you. Do you suppose they are going to sack your houses, burn the village, and assassinate the women and children? The Germans are not savages!" Now not only were these soothing statements promptly contradicted by facts, but the priest who had made them with such serene conviction escaped death only by a miracle!
Between Battice and Herve the majority of the houses which bordered the road here and there were reduced to ashes.
The road running from Herve, through Melen-la-Bouxhe, to Micheroux, was also bordered by ruins.
At Melen-la-Bouxhe the victims were no fewer than 120. Entire families were exterminated, on the 5th and 8th of August, by German troops infuriated by the resistance of the forts. Among the victims were old men of eighty years and children of five or six. One young girl, Marguerite W------, was sacrificed to the lust of twenty soldiers before she was shot beside her father and mother.
On the 5th of August, about 2 o'clock in the afternoon, some German troops, repulsed and thrown into confusion by the fire of the Fleron fort, entered Soumagne, a large village of 4,750 inhabitants. "It's your brothers who are firing on us from the forts!" they cried. "We are going to take our revenge!"
They arrested a hundred of the inhabitants, led them into a meadow, and there killed them by rifle-bullet or bayonet. The village was partially burned.
In the list of 105 victims I find the names of a baby of eleven months, a little boy of three years, a girl of thirteen, and several aged persons of either sex.
And everywhere, all along the great highways of the invasion, there were, with a few variations, the same excesses.
At Warsage six men were hanged.
At Micheroux an infant of seven weeks, Pierre Gores, was violently torn from the arms of the woman who was carrying him and thrown to the ground; when it was possible to pick him up the poor little thing was dead.
At Francorchamps, out of twelve persons shot, one was a little boy of six years, and four were old people. Of these latter two were women.
At Foret thirty-six Belgian soldiers passed the night of the 4th of August at the farm of the Delvaux family. On the 5th, about 8 o'clock in the morning, the Germans arrived in force. While retiring, the Belgian soldiers fired upon them, coming off pretty well. Result: vengeance. The farm was set on fire, and two of the farmer's sons were killed. The farmer and two surviving sons were driven before the troops, who were marching upon Liege. The communal schoolmaster, M. Rougy, was shot for refusing to trample underfoot the national flag, which had been torn down from the front of his school.
At Olm, M. Rensonnet, the vicar, and the communal secretary, M. Fondenir, raised the blind of a window to watch the troops passing; they were instantly arrested, dragged out of the village, and shot. This was on the 5th of August. In the evening, before proceeding to the assault of the Fleron and Chaud-fontaine forts, the Germansno doubt to stimulate their valourassassinated a poor old paralytic woman, the widow Desoray, as well as her daughter Josephine; they then set fire to their house. They drove M. Warnier, the schoolmaster, and his family out of their house, and shot M. Warnier before the eyes of his wife. "At a few paces distance," relates an eyewitness, "his two young daughters were treacherously shot from behind. The elder, her skull being merely grazed by a bullet, recovered consciousness in the ditch beside the road; a body was weighing upon her, that of her sister, killed outright by a bullet in the nape of the neck. The survivor remained where she was until the last of the soldiers had gone. She could hear, at a short distance, the death-rattle of one of her brothers. Not until later did this vigorous young girl notice that her left arm was broken in two places, while she had a wound in the head and bruises all over her body. Later still she found her mother and her little sister. The father, her sister, aged eighteen, and her two brothers, aged eighteen and seventeen, lay stretched upon the road with two inhabitants of Fairon and three of Foret. All the houses in the neighbourhood were reduced to ashes."
On the heights of the left bank of the Vesdre the village of Louveigne is in ruins. It was completely pillaged, and the greater part was burned. One hundred and fifty houses were burned; only a few were left standing. A certain number of men were shut up in a forge; then, after the lapse of some hours, the Germans drove them out into the open. "In other words," says a witness, "they opened the door of the cage, as in pigeon- shooting. The marksmen were waiting, and they brought down as many as they could; seventeen fell, never to rise again."
"Pepinster, August 12. Burgomaster, cure, schoolmaster shot and houses reduced to ashes," writes Adolf Schliiter, of the 39th Regiment of Fusiliers, in his memorandum book. "We resume our march."
At Sprimont, the owner of a chateau, M. Poirnez, and his son, were killed at the very moment when they were doing their utmost to satisfy the demands of the invader as to requisitions!
Visé was a delightful little town of 4,000 inhabitants, built on the flank of a hill overhanging the Meuse, some ten miles below Liege, and quite close to the Dutch frontier. It was more than a thousand years old. Princess Bertha, daughter of Charlemagne, built a church there about 800 A.D., and since then, of course, the little town had known many vicissitudes. In particular, for example, on the 30th of January, 1396, it was surprised in the night by a troop of German brigands, who sacked and pillaged it. But this was more than five hundred years ago, and in those days many things used to happen which in our times seemed impossible.
Fresh German troops coming from Gemmenich, by way of Warsage, Berneau, and Mouland, reached Vise on the 4th of August, about 2 o'clock in the afternoon. The bridge by which they expected to cross the Meuse had been destroyed; moreover, some Belgian soldiers, who were in ambush on the left bank of the river, opened a well- sustained fire upon them. Enraged by this resistance, the Germans spread through the little town, shooting half a score of the inhabitants, and then began to pillage. On the 10th of August they set fire to the church pretending that the town formed a mark for the guns of the Pontisse fort. On the following day the Dean and M. Meurisse, Professor in the University of Liege, and Burgomaster of Vise, were arrested as hostages.
On the 15th the inhabitants were forced to work upon the construction of bridges over the Meuse. Numerous troops arrived from the east. In the evening there were brawls between drunken soldiers; some shots were fired. Hundreds of the inhabitants were immediately driven from their homes; men, women, children, old people, sick people, all were driven by blows of the rifle-butt, and even by thrusts of the bayonet, to the open place by the railway station, where, under a strong guard, they were made to pass the rest of the night.
On the following day a poor old man, more than seventy years of age, one Duchesne, was shotwhy, no one knows having first been tied to a tree, his hands bound behind his back. His body was left on the spot. A man named Roujolle also was executed under similar conditions, and with no more reason.
A few hours later the men were ranged on one side, the women on the other. The women were authorised to take refuge in Holland. Three hundred to four hundred of the men were sent to Germany and interned in the Miinster camp. Others were forced to execute military works at Navagne.
All this time the troops were pillaging, loading their booty upon waggons, which took the road for Aix-la-Chapelle. Then, systematically, by means of reservoirs of benzine and hand-pumps, they sprinkled the houses and set fire to them. When the flames were slow in spreading they helped them by throwing incendiary pastilles into their midst.
Such was the end of Visé.
postcard showing a human-shield
From the 15th to the 18th of August the Germans gave themselves up to all kinds of excesses on the left bank of the Meuse as well.
At Haccourt, on the 18th, they pretended that the old farmer Colson had killed (or wounded) one of their horses. Without making any inquiry, and ignoring the denials of the accused, they set fire to his farm, after shutting his son and his daughter-in-law indoors. These two contrived to escape and hide themselves, but old Colson was unable to endure the shock, and a few days later he died.
At Heure-le-Romain 72 houses were burned; 27 persons were assassinated; among them a Mme. basset, and her child, five months of age.
At Hermee 12 persons were shot and 46 houses were burned.
Flemalle-Grande was the scene of unashamed pillage, incendiarism and murder. A man's head was cleft by the blow of a sabre in the presence of his wife and child; his death-rattle was still audible when the soldiers removed his watch and all else that he had about him.
At Tongres, on the 18th of August, some working-men's houses were sacked and burned, no one knew why. In the evening the most terrific drinking was followed by scandalous scenes;
German soldiers, outrageously drunk, donned feminine clothingOh, much-vaunted Prussian discipline!and so showed themselves in the streets. Others began to fire into the houses, killing ten persons thereby. Then, in the middle of the night, the town had to be evacuated, on the pretext that it was about to be bombarded. In all haste the mothers aroused their children; the sick had perforce to leave their beds, and there was a desperate flight into the open country. One sick man died at the gates of the town; the Germans immediately buried him, under the eyes of his wife and daughter.
Once masters of the place, officers and soldiers alike began to pillage at their ease. On the 20th they allowed the inhabitants to return to their homes. Six private houses had been burned; in particular that of M. Huybrigts, which contained a remarkable collection of vases, coins, inscriptions, and tombs of Roman colonists (Tongres dating from before the Roman invasion). These treasures had disappeared: the fruit of forty years' patient research! Why?
As for Hasselt, the market-town of Limburg, read the placard reproduced above, which Burgomaster Portmans had posted by order of the invader.
Aerschot.The enemy troops entered Aerschot, a town of 8,000 inhabitants, lying to the north-east of Louvain, on the 19th of August, in the morning. No Belgian force was left there. Suddenly the Germans shot six of the inhabitants and set fire to a number of houses.
In the afternoon the church was bombarded for two hours; then the soldiers ran through the town firing in all directions at random.
Suddenly some officers declared that their superior, a general, had been killed by the son of the burgomaster, a boy of fifteen! In his capacity as father and as burgomaster, M. Tielemans was doubly responsible. He was doubly deserving of death! It was for this reason, doubtless, that his brother was arrested simultaneously with his son and himself.
A large number of their fellow-townsmen were arrested at the same time. Forty were killed the same night. The rest, who were imprisoned, were not to be executed until the following day.
During the night the soldiers invaded the houses, turning everything upside down, breaking up furniture and strong-boxes, and starting fires.
Then, on the morning of the 20th, the burgomaster, with his son and his brother, and all their companions in misfortune, were led into a field beside the Louvain high road. They were lined up at random, and while the burgomaster, with his son and brother, were kept in the Jjne, of the rest two men out of every three were made tq step forward, the soldiers counting " One, two, three," and each time the third man was left in the row. Then all who remainedwho were selected by fate alonewere shot!
Thus, with those killed in the town, nearly 150 victims were executed! And all this because the son of the burgomaster, a child, was said to have killed a German officer, which, by the way, was never proved!
But this was not all. The "repression" was not sufficient.
The houses of the Grande Place were fired, and the wives of the prominent citizens were forced to look on, holding their arms in the air. This torture lasted for six hours. During this time the men who had been spared by fate were forced to dig great trenches, and to throw into them, pell-mell, the bodies of their unhappy fellow- townsmen.
And while the pillage and the flames were at their height, men, women and children were shut into the church, where they were left for several days, suffering from thirst and hunger.
It is impossible to tell all; one would fill a volume in relating the details of what each of these martyred towns endured. And what would it be if we had to enumerate the crimes committed in all the villages? But I will say a few words more, still guided by reliable documents, of what happened in the region, of old so flourishing, to which we have now come.
At Hasselt, to the north of Aerschot, 32 houses were burned; 23 persons were shot.
At Rotselaer 15 houses were burned, after suffering pillage.
At Schaffen, not far from Diest, at Lummen, Molenstede, and yet other communes, houses, farms and haystacks were burned, and everywhere hideous torments were inflicted.
"A little before Diest," writes the German lieutenant, Kietz-mann (2nd Company, 1st Battalion of the 49th Regiment of Infantry), "a little before Diest," he says in his note- book, "lies the village of Schaffen. About fifty civilians were hiding in the church tower, and fired on our troops from above with a machine-gun. All the civilians were shot."
Now nearly all the inhabitants of Schaffen had taken flight upon the approach of the Germans. When the latter arrived in the villages they found only a very few persons, whom they immediately massacred. And, if, instead of describing this tragedy as briefly as Herr Kietzmann has done, I were to enter into a few details, this is what I should tell you:
The Germans found, in a cellar, Mme. F. Luykx and her daughter, aged twelve; they were shot. A little girl named Ooyen, aged nine, was shot; Joseph Reynders, aged forty, was shot; his little nephew, a boy of ten, suffered the same fate; Andre Willem, aged twenty-three, was tied to a tree and burned alive; Gustav Lodtz and Jean Mahren, both aged forty years, were buried alive.
But what a singular country is Belgium! It has not enough rifles for its armyfor such was the case at the beginning of the campaignand vet every citizen in the. tiniest village, every man and woman, every little boy, every little girl, is armed! For it will, of course, be understood that the little Luykx and Ooyen girls, and their little comrade, the nephew of Joseph Reynders, were "executed" as francs-tireurs!
There are not enough guns in the forts, but the last village belfry is armed! Moreover, the cures too are francs-tireurs. At Gelrode-lez-Aerschot the cure was arrested by a German patrol as he was helping two sick people to enter a house. Accused of having fired on the German soldiers, he was imprisoned in the church at Aerschot. On the following day his hands were tied behind his back and his ankles were bound with iron wire. He was then placed with his face to a wall, and after several bullets had penetrated his head and back he was thrown into the river (the Demer).
In many rural districts in the neighbourhood of Aerschot, Diest, Malines, and Louvain the devastation was, comparatively speaking, greater than at Aerschot.
"Whole villages have been annihilated," we read in the fifth Report of the Commission of Inquiry. "The population took refuge in the woods. They had neither food nor shelter. In the ditches by the roadside lie unburied unfortunate peasants, women, and children who were killed by the Germans. Bodies have been thrown into the wells, contaminating the water. Wounded men have been abandoned without attention. A peasant took refuge, with his little family, in a manure-pit which he had first emptied. The Germans came, lifted the cover of the pit, and fired into the group. The man was terribly wounded in several places. He remained five days in this condition. When he was rescued, which was when the Antwerp garrison made a successful sortie, it was necessary to amputate one leg above the knee."
In the whole of this district men were requisitioned in large numbers; in defiance of the laws of war, the Germans forced them to dig trenches and carry out defensive works to be employed against our troops, their own compatriots!
Andenne.On the 22nd of August a proclamation was posted upon the walls of Liege, bearing the signature of the General and Commander-in-Chief von Buelow, of which we give a reproduction.
Delightfully situated in a semi-circular sweep of hills on the right bank of the Meuse, between Huy and Namur, Andenne was, in the Middle Ages, one of the favourite meeting-places of the chivalry of the neighbouring counties and duchies, which made the place famous by the tournaments held there.
In the nineteenth century Andenne had become an industrial and commercial country; boat-builders' yards, paper-mills, porcelain factories, pot-banks, chemical works, etc., were established there.
Andenne, which numbered 7.coo inhabitants, was connected by a bridge with the village of Seilles, which was built facing it upon the left bank of the Meuse.
Some Uhlans came to Andenne as scouts on the morning of the 19th of August. They could not cross the river, as Belgian soldiers had blown up the bridge some few hours earlier. They therefore withdrew after seizing the communal funds and bullying the burgomaster, Dr. Camus, a man of nearly seventy years of age.
The main body of the German troops arrived in the afternoon. The regiments spread through the town and the outskirts, waiting for the completion of a bridge of boats.
On Thursday, the 20th of August, this bridge being completed, the troops moved off toward the left bank. They made a lengthy procession, at which the inhabitants of Andenne and Seilles looked on from their windows.
Suddenly a shot rang out, immediately followed by a terrifying rattle of rifle-fire. The troops stopped short; disorder appeared in the ranks. The maddened soldiers began to fire at random. The massacre had commenced.
A machine-gun was posted at the cross-roads, and was used for firing upon the houses. A gun fired three shells into the town in three different directions.
A certain number of men who would not or could not escape were killed in their own houses.
Simultaneously with the massacre the sack and pillage of the unhappy town were commenced. Windows, doors, shutters were broken in with hatchets; articles of furniture were broken open and destroyed.
The soldiers rushed into the cellars, drinking to intoxication, smashing such bottles as they could not carry away, and finally setting fire to a certain number of houses. During the night the shooting broke out again at intervals.
On the following day, Friday, at 4 o'clock in the morning, the troops drove into the streets those who had remained in their houses, forcing men, women, and children to march with raised hands. Those who did not obey quickly enough, or did not understand the orders which were given them in German, were immediately shot. Those who attempted to escape were also shot down as though they had been dangerous wild beasts. Dr. Camus, against whom the Germans appeared to entertain a peculiar hatred, was wounded by a rifle-bullet and killed with an axe. His body was dragged some distance by the feet, and left on the edge of the pavement.
"It was a vision of hell," writes an eye-witness. " By the light of the flames I seemed to see soldiers driving back with their bayonets those who were trying to escape from their burning houses. To the crack of the rifles was added the sharp report of the machine- guns and the explosion of hand-grenades. It was an affecting sight to see all these old men, women, and children forced to march toward the Place des Tilleuls, where the population was rounded up; a paralytic was taken thither in a wheeled chair; others were carried."
The men were separated from the women and children. All were searched, but not a weapon was found. Then, at random, at the order of their officers, the soldiers set apart forty or fifty men, who were taken away and shot, some on the bank of the Meuse, some near the police-station.
While these horrible scenes were being enacted, soldiers were scattering through the town, killing, plundering, and burning.
Eight men belonging to the same family were led into a field; some were shot, others were killed and mutilated by hatchet-blows.
A child was killed by the blows of an axe while in its mother's arms; a little boy and a woman were shot.
About 10 o'clock in the morning the officers sent the women back, ordering them to pick up the dead and remove the pools of blood that reddened the streets and houses.
At noon some 800 men were shut up as hostages in three small houses near the bridge.
"In the evening," relates an ex-sheriff of the town of Andenne, "Colonel Schumann, commanding the Potsdam Chasseurs, had an immense bonfire lit in the Place des Tilleuls and organised a concert. The festival was terminated by a prayer."
All this time the "hostages" remained imprisoned, so crushed together that they could not sit down. Their torment lasted for four days.
To sum up, and to end this recital of horrors, we may say that those massacred at Andenne were not "about one hundred persons," but more than two hundred, and that if we add those killed in the suburbs of Seilles we arrive at a total of nearly three hundred victims.
As for the town, if it was not entirely burned, as von Bulow asserted in his proclamation, it very nearly amounted to that; several hundreds of houses, among them a number of working-class houses, were completely destroyed. Lastly, numerous inhabitants have disappeared.
YET NO GERMAN SOLDIER WAS KILLED, EITHER IN ANDENNE OR IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD.
TAMINES, MONCEAU-SUR-SAMBRE, and NIMY are other sorrowful stations of my country's grievous Calvary.
French detachments occupied Tamines on the 17th, 18th, and 19th of August.
On Thursday, the 20th of August, a German patrol advanced toward the suburb of Vilaines. It was received by the fire of some French soldiers and a body of Civic Guards from Charleroi. A few Uhlans were killed or wounded; the others took to flight. The inhabitants, with enthusiasm, began to shout, "Vive la Belgique! Vive la France!"
But the Germans very soon arrived in a body at the hamlet of Les Alloux. There they burned two houses and made all the inhabitants prisoners.
An action commenced between their artillery, posted at Vilaines and Les Alloux, and the French artillery, which was firing from Arsimont and Ham-sur-Heure.
On the 21st of August, about 5 o'clock, they seized the bridge at Tamines, crossed the Sambre, and marched through the streets of the village. About 8 o'clock in the evening some soldiers began to enter the houses, driving out the inmates and proceeding to plunder and to burn everything. "Not being able to get at those who had fired," says a correspondent of the Kolnische Zeitung, "the rage of the troops turned against the little town; it was pitilessly given to the flames, and has become a heap of ruins."
The pillage and incendiarism continued through the whole of the 22nd.
About 7 o'clock on the evening of the 22nd a body of 400 to 450 men was massed in two groups before the church, at a short distance from the Sambre. A detachment of troops opened fire upon them, but as they did not fall quickly enough, the officers had a machine-gun brought forward, which soon cut them all down.
Some, however, were only wounded. Groans and supplications arose from the bleeding mass. A few energetic bayonet thrusts put an end to these unseemly complaints.
That night some victims who had simulated death were able to escape by crawling; some, crazed with agony, threw themselves into the water to make an end of it all.
On the following day, Sunday, the 23rd, about 6 o'clock in the morning, some men who had been taken prisoner in the village and the neighbourhood were led into the Place. This is the narrative of one of these men:
"One of the officers cam! to ask for willing men to dig pits and bury the corpses. I stepped forward, as well as my brother-in-law and a few others; we were led to a piece of ground beside the Place, and made to dig a pit some 16 yards long, 11 yards wide, and 6 feet deep.
"We received a spade apiece. While we were digging the pit soldiers, with fixed bayonets, gave us orders.
"When the pit was completed it was at least twelve o'clock.
"They gave us some planks. We placed the bodies on these; then we threw them into the pit. So fathers carried the bodies of their sons, and sons the bodies of their fathers.
"The women had been brought into the Place and were watching us at work. All the houses around us were burned.
"There were soldiers and officers in the Place. They were drinking champagne. As the day drew on they became more and more intoxicated; and we became more and more inclined to believe that we should be shot.
"We buried 300 to 400 bodies."
There was no fighting at Monceau-sur-Sambre, nor in the immediate neighbourhood.
Yet the 56th Infantry and the 15 th Light Infantry committed when in drinkthe most frightful crimes. Three hundred houses were burned and sixty-one civilians murdered, some in the most horrible manner. The brothers S------, who had taken refuge in a shed, were shut up in it and burned alive. François P------, hidden in a cellar with his wife and child, was deliberately shot point-blank while holding the poor little thing in his arms.
An old man of seventy years, Jean Pierre H------, was killed just as he was crossing the threshold of his house, which the Germans had fired. The K------ family, father, mother, and children, were killed in their garden, where they thought they would be in safety. M. and Mme. H------, hidden in a cistern, were driven out of it by German soldiers; these latter dragged the husband away to shoot him; the wife they shut in a room, where they tore the clothes off her. ... In the middle of the night the unhappy woman, stark naked, succeeded in escaping, but some soldiers fired at her and she was grievously wounded.
Mme. D------ was horribly tortured before being killed; her butchers drew obscene pictures upon the walls of her room with her blood.
At Nimy, near Mons, more nameless horrors were committed.
The British and German troops had for some time been within a short distance of one another. The 23rd saw a violent engagement between them.
About 2.30 p.m. the inhabitants heard the sound of cheering; the Germans had crossed the bridge over the canal and entered the commune.
Murder, pillage, incendiarism, and the rest commenced immediately; 85 houses were reduced to ashes and 17 persons, four of them women, were murdered. One young girl, Irma G------, was odiously outraged; her martyrdom lasted six hours, and only death put an end to her sufferings. Her father, who had tried to rush to her assistance, was shot; her mother and sister were seriously wounded.
Five hundred persons, men, women, and children, were united in a procession and driven, by blows of the rifle-butt, before the troops which desired to pursue the English. The latter, on seeing these civilians, of course abstained from firing; the 84th and 85th Schleswig Regiments were able, sheltered by their living bucklers, to continue their heroic and triumphant march nearly to Maubeuge!
postcard depicting German excesses
Namur.As we saw at the end of the preceding chapter, the Germans entered Namur on Sunday, the 23rd of August, at 4 o'clock in the afternoon.
All went well that day; officers and soldiers requisitioned food and drink, paying sometimes in silver, more often in vouchers. These were for the most part fraudulent; but the trusting population, knowing nothing of the German language, accepted them without demur.
Tranquillity prevailed until the 24th. Precisely at 9 o'clock in the evening firing broke out simultaneously in two different places, and soldiers were seen advancing in skirmishing order up the principal streets. A huge column of flames and smoke was rising from the centre of the town; the Germans had started fires in the Place d'Armes and four other points: the Place Leopold, the Rue Rogier, the Rue Saint-Nicolas, and the Avenue de la Plante.
In the Rue Rogier six persons who were escaping from their burning houses were shot point-blank. The other inhabitants of this street, to avoid the same fate, escaped through their gardens, mostly in their nightgowns, having no time to collect money or clothing.
In the Rue Saint-Nicolas a number of working-class homes were burned. A larger number of houses and some timber-yards were destroyed in the Avenue de la Plante.
The fire in the Place d'Armes continued until Wednesday, the 26th. It destroyed the Hotel de Ville, with its archives and its pictures, the group of houses adjacent thereto, and the whole quarter included between the Rue du Pont, the Rue des Brasseurs, and the Rue du Bailly, with the exception of the Hotel des Quatre-Fils-Aymon.
The firing and the incendiarism claimed about 75 victims. I will only refer in passing to the taking of hostages, the rapes, and all the nameless infamies which, at Namur as elsewhere, marked the beginning of the German occupation.
- ruins of one of the main streets in Dinant
- on the heights in the background is the citadel
Dinant was a pretty little town of some 8,000 inhabitants a place of great antiquity, built principally on the right bank of the Meuse, some 17 miles above Namur.
Picturesquely situated in a pleasant landscape, this charming town enjoyed a well- merited renown among tourists, and this renown was one of its chief resources. The whole town contained only some two or three factories, and these were quite modest and retiring, doing no serious injury to the singularly charming beauty of the whole.
Like all old Belgian cities, whether Flemish or Walloon, small or great, Dinant had at times been the scene of sanguinary conflicts. But never, in all the course of the centuries, did anything befall the town comparable to the hideous drama which was unfolded there during several days at the end of August, 1914,
On the 15th of August there was in Dinant a violent engagement between French and German troops, which terminated in favour of the troops of the Republic. The town suffered little from this encounter; a few houses only were destroyed by German shells.
On the following day tranquillity returned. The hostile troops departed in opposite directions.
But this period of calm, alas! was only a lull in the storm.
On Friday, the 21st of August, about 9 o'clock at night, some German soldiers, coming from the east, fell upon the town as it was about to retire to rest, peaceful and unsuspecting.
Without any reason, without the occurrence of any incident either on this or on the preceding days which could be interpreted as an act of hostility on the part of the inhabitants, the German troops began to fire into the windows.
They killed a respectable working-man who was going home, and wounded another, whom they afterwards forced to shout "Hoch der Kaiser!" with them.
They then invaded the cafes, "requisitioning" all that they could find in the way of liquor, and becoming intoxicated.
When they at last withdrew, completely drunk, they set fire to a number of houses.
On the following day nothing unusual happened; except that many inhabitants, guided by the instinct of self-preservation, were happily inspired to flee and to gain the heights of the left bank.
On Sunday, the 23rd, some soldiers of the 108th Regiment of Infantry appeared in the early morning.
At 6.30 they entered the Church of the Premonstrants, driving out those of the faithful who were there assembled1; they divided the women from the men, and immediately shot fifty of the latter without trial and without distinction of age. Then, between 7 and 9 o'clock, they scattered through the town, giving themselves up to pillage and incendiarism, driving the inhabitants from their homes and shooting on the spot those who attempted to escape.
They seized in this way a large number of men, women and children of all ages and conditions, and, driving them before them with clubbed rifles, they assembled them in the Place d'Armes, where they kept them prisoners all day, amusing themselves by incessantly informing them that they would soon be shot.
At 6 o'clock in the evening a captain divided the men from the women and children and made them stand in two ranks along one of the walls of the estate of M. Tschoffen, a State Attorney. Those in the front rank had to kneel, while the rest had to stand upright against the wall. A platoon of soldiers was placed facing the group, and it was in vain that the women pleaded for mercy for their husbands, sons, or brothers; the officer gave the order to fire. Dead and wounded fell in confusion. For greater certainty the Germans fired again into the heap of bodies.
However, a few victims had escaped this double volley. They simulated death for more than two hours, remaining motionless among the corpses; then, at nightfall, they succeeded in escaping into the hills. But a hundred bodies remained in the Place d'Armes.
This was a bloody Sunday in many parts of Dinant.
M. Himmer, Consul of the Argentine Republic, with his wife, his children, his workpeople and their families, had all taken refuge in the cloth factory of which he was manager. Some neighbours had just joined them there. Now at the very time when the tragedy of the Place d'Armes was being enacted these unhappy people decided to leave their retreat. They gathered about a white flag, but hardly had they gone a few steps when the soldiers surrounded them; they were taken before an officer, who separated from the group M. Himmer and all the men and youths over sixteen years of age. In vain did M. Himmer refer to his position as Argentine Consul; without inquiry, without a trial, he was shot with his clerks, workmen, and foremen.
And in every direction this unhappy little town was the scene, on this day and the whole of the next day, of pitiless butcheries.
M. Xavier Wasseige, manager of the Banque Centrale de la Meuse, was led with his two elder sonsthey were boysto the Place d'Armes, where they were executed. One of these children (he was fifteen) lay dying for hours, begging for something to drink.
Four young men were shut up in a first-floor room; the Germans opened the windows and warned their victims that they would fire upon the first who leaned out; then they set fire to the house. Twelve persons were massacred in a cellar in which they had taken refuge. A poor old man, Edmond Manteaux, aged sixty-one, an invalid who had not for months left his room, was carried out in his armchair and shot in front of his house.
Six old women, all over seventy-five, and eight old men, all over seventy, were murdered in cold blood. Whole families were wiped out. In the list of the victims of this hideous butchery I find the names of ten children of less than five years of age. Poor little "francs-tireurs"!
At Neffe-lez-Dinant nearly all the men were executed in a body. An old woman and all her children were killed in a cellar. Other inhabitants of this suburb were led as far as Rocher-Bayard, and were there executed without trial.
Such was the case, notably, with M. Alfred Baujot, his wife, and three of their children: Marthe, Marie, and Bertha. M. Baujot succeeded in hiding behind him the youngest of his daughters, Bertha, a child of three and a half years. On the following day she was found covered with blood, but alive, under the bodies of her parents. And only in November did this tragedy come to the knowledge of relatives living in Brussels. By means of a memorial card, which we reproduce in facsimile, these latter announced to their friends and acquaintances "the cruel and irreparable loss which they had suffered in respect of M. Alfred Baujot, his wife, nee Anne Marie Looze, and their children, Marthe and Marie Baujot, aged respectively 46, 37, 14, and 6 years, deceased at Neffe- Dinant, the 24th of August, I9I4-"
And what moral tortures were suffered in connection with these massacres! How many tragic episodes there were of which the whole can never be told!
Here is the case of Dr. L------who was torn from the bedside of his wife, brought to bed only the day before. He was led out into the public square, and there put against a wall with three fellow-townsmen.
The Germans were about to shoot him, when suddenly he saw his wife appear, his wife, with her child, carried on a mattress by four soldiers 1 He begged the officer in command of the executions to allow him to embrace them one last time; he obtained this favour, and was even permitted, after much entreaty, to accompany them to the prison to which they were being taken. Just as the sad procession reached the Place d'Armes a lively outburst of rifle-fire was heard. "It's the French!" cried the soldiers. They abandoned the mattress, taking to flight. The little family was saved!
Dr. L------ carried his wife and child to the entrance of an aqueduct recently constructed beside the Meuse. He lived there with her for three days and three nights, stifling the cries of the poor infant lest they should betray their retreat, venturing out at night, along the river, to pluck the weeds which were their nourishment, and to scoop up in his hat the dirty water which quenched their thirst.
Then there were those unhappy women who, imprisoned at first in the Convent of the Premonstrants, where there was no food for so many people, were afterwards compelled, themselves half-dead with starvation, grief, and terror, to bury their husbands and fathers and brothers and sons.
And while they were engaged in this cruel task German troops went by in parade order, with bands playing at their head!
But, indeed, was not their triumph complete? Was not this, if ever, the time to shout a hymn of victory: 'Deutschland, Deutschland, ueber Alles
Nearly 700 Belgians, of whom 73 were women and 39 children, had been killed; and some 600 others who had been made prisoners had been sent to Germany, where they would be taught to live. Of the 1,400 houses which Dinant contained 1,200 were destroyed, burned from top to bottom, having first been pillaged; and the factories which had afforded a livelihood for several hundreds of hands, were now but heaps of ashes.
postcard of German soldiers tormenting a wounded Belgian soldier
Round about Dinant.Those who succeeded in escaping during the massacres in Dinant did not all escape death.
Some were hidden in the surrounding mountains, living on roots and herbs. When they ventured to leave their retreat they were tracked and shot down like beasts of prey. And of those who crossed the Meuse and sought asylum in the villages which occupied the plateaux of the left bank, many had no happier lot.
From Namur, which had just fallen, and from Dinant, the Germans had overrun all the country between the Sambre and the Meuse. And wherever they met with opposition on the part of the Frenchwho, alas! were all too few, and were always, despite their heroism, compelled to fall backwherever the Germans had been received by the fire of the French, they avenged themselves, as at Dinant, upon the civil population, drenching whole villages with blood and fire.
So, if we climb the heights of the left bank where it faces Dinant, we shall everywhere encounter desolation and devastation.
Of 200 houses which formed the wealthy agricultural village of Onhaye we shall find that hardly 20 were spared. Further, at Anthee, where there were at least 150 houses, we shall see that only five have remained standing.
And further still, in whatever direction we go, we shall again and again encounter the same spectacles of "the day after the cataclysm." Everywhere, even in isolated spots, we find nothing but ruins and charnel houses.
Here, for example, is what happened at the end of August, 1914, in a pretty, well-to-do village of 600 inhabitants situated in the canton of Florennes.
Suricethis was its namelay apart from the main highways, and was traversed only by roads of secondary importance. It would have seemed, therefore, that this little village should have remained a peaceful oasis in the midst of this ravaged countryside, which was turned into a desert. "So," says a witness, Mile. Dieriex de Tenham, "whole caravans of fugitives arrived there on Sunday, the 23rd of August, from Dinant and the surrounding district. We gave them shelter. However, on the following day a great many of our refugees thought better of it, and decided to go to Romedenne.
"On Monday afternoon, about 6 o'clock, we heard shots. It was the French machine- guns installed on the height between Surice and Romedenne; they were firing on the Germans coming from Soulme.
"This lasted about an hour, and when the French fell back they had, it was said, killed great numbers of their enemies.
"During the night there was more firing; guns were thundering. The Germans invaded the village and set fire to a number of houses. It was a night of dread for us.
"About 6 o'clock in the morning of the 25th some soldiers broke our doors and windows into fragments and, with fixed bayonets, they entered our house and forced us to leave.
"We were driven into the middle of the road and sent to the church, our lamentable procession increasing as it advanced. Among those who came to join us in this way were our cure, M. Poskin, with his aged mother, who was eighty years of age, his sister Therese, and his other sister Marie, with her husband, M. Schmidt, the Inspector of Schools from Gerpinnes, and their four children. The Schmidt family had come to the Surice presbytery on the previous day, thinking to take refuge there.
"Soldiers were setting fire to houses as yet untouched, and committing all sorts of atrocities before our eyes.
"We saw M. Ch. Colot, an old man of eighty-eight, shot on his doorstep. Further on, as we were passing the house of the postman, Leopold Burniaux, we heard piercing shrieks; Mme. Burniaux, whose husband had just been killed, was imploring mercy for her sons. Her supplications were useless; her sons, Armand, a young priest who had come to spend a few days' holiday with his parents, and Albert, were both murdered before her eyes. And as Albert Burniaux had just broken his leg, so that he could not stand, he was shot sitting in a chair. The unfortunate woman had one son left, Gascon, a teacher in the College de Malonne; clinging together, more dead than alive, they were forced to join our procession. A little further on we saw in a garden, which was at a lower level than the road, two little children crying by the body of their mother.
"From the church we were despatched along the Romedenne road, and were thus brought to a field of fallow land which lay beside this road.
"There were fifty to sixty of us there, men, women, and children.
"It was a little after 7 o'clock in the morning.
"An officer come up, who informed us: 'A young girl has fired on one of our superior officers; you ought all to be executed, but the court-martial (sic) has decided that only the men are to be shot.'
"Then the men, and even the boys, were detached from our mournful company, and what was done then cannot be described.
"There were eighteen. Besides the cures of Onhaye and Anthee, who had arrived the day before from their burning villages, besides Abbe Gaspard, who had come from Dinant, there was our good cure, M. Poskin, and his brother-in-law, M. Schmidt; then there was Dr. Jacques, of Anthee, who had taken refuge at Surice with all his family; there was Dr. Jacques' eldest son, a boy of barely sixteen; in addition to these, among those whose names I knew, there was Gaston Burniaux, the only man surviving of the unfortunate postman's family, M. Billy ind his son, aged seventeen, and, among others, a man from Dinant and one from Onhaye.
"A few minutes elapsed. Then, before our eyes, and in spite of our pleading, the unhappy victims were drawn up by the side of the road.
"At this momentI say it in all sincerityI saw one young soldier who was so affected that great tears were falling on his tunic.
"Young Henri Jacques cried out: 'I am too young to die. ... I have not the courage to die.' The others made us signs of farewell, some with their hands, other with their hats or caps. ..."
"And from the tragic, bewildered group of women and children, who were kept at a distance from the men by the German rifles, a voice was heard, the voice, infinitely sweet, of a little girl. 'Papa, papa!' she said, 'you are going to die; forgive me if I have sometimes given you trouble.'
"Unable to bear the sight any longer," writes Mile. Diericx, "I turned away, covering my eyes with my hands.
"The soldiers fired a volley, and all the men fell. Someone said to me: 'Look, they have fallen!' But some, who were not killed outright, were still moving; the soldiers finished them by blows of the rifle-butt on the head.
"Our hearts were wrung with agony and fear.
"There was not one of us but witnessed, in that unforgettable moment, the death of someone dear to her. The aged mother of our good cure saw her son and her son-in- law killed; Mme. Jacques witnessed the deaths of her husband and her eldest son; but the most sorely tried was the wife of the postman: this unhappy woman had witnessed in succession the violent deaths of her husband and her three sonsmen brought into the world and educated at the cost of what sacrifices God alone knows.
"The moment the massacre was over the Germans began to despoil the bodies, taking their watches, rings, purses, and pocketbooks. Many of the victims were refugees, who had brought with them all the notes or securities they had at hand; Dr. Jacques and M. Schmidt in particular were carrying on them relatively large sums of money, of which their widows and children were deprived.
"Our beloved village was still burning. Our house caught fire in its turn; then the church and the school. And seeing so many things disappear for ever to which, for me, so many dear memories were attached, I felt more heart-broken than ever.
"Not all the men had been brought together in this place of torment. There were some like my brotherwho had succeeded in making their escape; others were killed in their own homes; the sick were even burned alive in their beds."
Of one hundred and thirty houses only eight escaped burning. And all this because a young girl of fifteen, a child, was said to have killed a German officer. All without trial, without any sort of inquiry.
Mile. Aline Diericx asserts, moreover, that from the first days of the invasion the authorities had demanded the surrender of all weapons. "Even old fowling-pieces were thus collected and placed under lock and key in the communal offices."
It is therefore highly improbable that the young girl in question could have committed the offence imputed to her. But, after all, how many women in our poor, ravaged, bruised, polluted Belgium, how many women and young girls were the victims of assaults which would legitimise any means of defence!
One German newspaper at least referred to the piles of arms, all ticketed with the names of individual citizens, which were found in the communal offices, as proof that the Belgian Government had organised the entire nation as francs-tireurs.
There is not one of these charming villages of the Meuse basin, so peaceful and smiling in ordinary times, that has not suffered cruelly from the passing of the German troops.
At Anseremme fifteen houses were burned, and some of the inhabitants were assassinated.
At Waulsort six men were executed, and twenty houses were destroyed.
Farther up the river, at Hastiere-par-dela, that delightful village which was the favourite summer residence of many citizens of Brussels, twenty persons were shot, one of whom was Dr. Halloy, a Red Cross physician. One unhappy woman saw her husband, son, and father-in-law killed. Only some ten houses and the old church were left standing. But this church, a beautiful monument of the fourteenth century, which the cure, M. Schloegel, had loved with intelligent solicitude, causing it to be restored according to the original plans, was pillaged and polluted in a hateful fashion. Not only did it serve, as many others, as a lodging for men and horses, but the tables of the altar were broken, the relics were scattered, and the sacerdotal ornaments were subjected to the basest usage.
On the opposite bank of the river, at Hastiere-Lavaux, some houses were destroyed.
Further still up-stream we come to Hermeton, where of a hundred and ten houses eighty were burned and ten civilians were put to death. This was on the 24th of August, about 5.30 p.m. The cure of Hastiere-par-dela was in the basement of the church with his brother-in-law, M. Ponthiere, Professor in the University of Louvain, Mme. and Mile. Ponthiere, and two servants; the communal schoolmaster was there also, with his wife and children, and a few more inhabitants of the village. The Germans, having discovered them, made them all come up into the road, where they were confronted by some officers, some of whom were drunk. "Are you the cure here?" one of these scoundrels inquired of the Abbé Schloegel. "No, I am the cure of Hastiere." "Ah, we've got you at last! They've been firing from your village!" At this the women were separated from the men; the cure, M. Ponthiere, the schoolmaster, and seven or eight other men were shot. Now if shots were fired from Hastiere it was because the French troops had taken up their position in this village and defended it until the 22nd of August. Not a single shot was fired by the inhabitants.
Below Dinant what happened was equally atrocious.
In the Province of Luxemburg the Germans burned, without any military necessity, more than 3,000 houses. Here are some details:
Neufchateau, 21 houses burned; Etalle, 30 houses burned; Hondemont, 64 houses burned; Rulle is half destroyed; Ansart is completely destroyed; at Tintigny only three houses are left; Jamoigne is half destroyed; Les Bulles also; at Moyen 42 houses are destroyed; Rossignol is entirely burned; at Mussy-la-Fille 20 houses are destroyed; at Bertrix, 15; Bleid is largely burned; at Signeulx there is the same almost complete destruction; at Ethe five-sixths of the village is burned; at Beliefontaine 6 houses are destroyed; at Masson half the village is destroyed; at Baranzy 4 houses are left; at Saint-Leger 6 houses are burned; Semel is razed to the ground; at Maissain 64 houses out of 100 have been burned; at Villance nine houses are burned; at Aulay, 6. ...
As for the number of inhabitants shot, it amounts to about 1000! Here are some figures:
Neufchateau, 18 shot; Etalle, 30; Houdemont, 11; Tintigny, 157; Izel, 9; Rossignol, 106; Bertrix, 21; Ethe, about 300 shot, while 530 persons are missing; at Latour, 11 shot; at Maissain, 10 men, 1 woman, and 1 young girl shot, 2 men and 2 young people wounded; Villance, 2 men shot, 1 young girl wounded; at Auloy, 52 men and women shot; at Claireuse, 2 men were shot and 2 hanged. Everywhere hostages were taken.
At Arlonthe chief town of the province300 persons were publicly shot, "in order to make an example," who were brought expressly for the purpose from the communes of Ethe and Rossignol. They also shot without trial, and for a reason which was afterwards recognised as unfounded, a gallant police-officer.
At Le Pin, near Izel, some Uhlans captured in passing two young boys whom they found on the road. They tied them by the arms to their horses, and put the latter to the gallop. The bodies of the unfortunate children were found in a ditch, at a distance of some miles; their knees, a witness reported, were "literally worn through"; one of them had his throat cut and his breast laid open; both had been shot through the head.
Ln the province of Luxemburg, which is the least densely populated in the kingdom, contains only 232,500 inhabitants.
"Near Lisogne," relates an officer of the 178th Saxon Regiment in his note-book, "a chasseur of Marburg placed three women one behind the other and killed them with the same shot; and at Villers-en-Fagne the same officer saw curé and other residents shot" because "grenadiers of the Guard had been found killed and wounded."
In Luxemburg, as in the other Belgian provinces, the German troops pillaged, burned, and decimated the villages on whose territory certain of their soldiers had been killed, even when they knew that these deaths resulted from battles with regular troops of the enemy army. This is why the north of the province was spared, while the south, on the contrary, was abominably treated: here the French opposed the advance of the German Army while there the way was open.
Poor French soldiers! How they, too, were maltreated!
At Gomerythe cradle of my familyon the 23rd of August, some Germans broke into a hospital in which were numerous French wounded. "Es ist der Kreig des Tods!""It is the war of death! "they bawled. And they immediately gave themselves up to the most horrible carnage, killing wounded and surgeons indiscriminately, and ending by burning the hospital. Those victims who attempted to escape from this hell were shot by sentinels posted outside. Many remained in the furnace, and over one hundred were shot!
- illustrations from the British press showing the burning of Louvain
- and the execution of citizens outside the city
Louvain.When the entrance of the Germans into Louvain appeared immediate, the burgomaster, M. Colins, had a notice posted on the walls of the city exhorting his fellow- citizens to keep calm. Quite needless advice, for that matter, since those who had had the courage to remain were fully determined to submit to the inevitable occupation with dignity and composure. Moreover, all firearms, and even fencing foils, had been handed over to the communal administration, which had them stored in the Church of Saint- Pierre.
On the 19th of August, about two in the afternoon, a German advance-guard entered the city.
It immediately proceeded to make enormous requisitions of provisions. About 2.30 p.m. the bulk of the troops arrived, making a triumphal entry with bands at their head.
Officers and soldiers billeted themselves, by preference, in the houses of the citizens, leaving the barracks unoccupied, as well as the majority of the public buildings which had been placed at their disposal. They forced their way into deserted houses, breaking in the doors with their hatchets.
On the following day, the 20th of August, M. van der Kelen, senator, and M. Colins, burgomaster, were detained as hostages. Proclamations were posted on the walls: these forbade civilians to move about the city after 8.00 p.m., required themunder pain of deathto deliver at the Hotel de Ville all weapons, munitions, and benzine for motor-cars, and ordered the inhabitants of certain streets to leave their doors open all night and their windows lit up.
Moreover, Major Manteuffel, the "District Commandant," demanded the payment of a war indemnity, and liberated all offenders of German nationality who were confined in the prison for offences against the common law.
During the succeeding days fresh requisitions were made and more hostages were taken: the Rector of the University, the Vice-President of the Law Courts, a notary, and other notabilities. There were numerous cases of rape.
On the 25th, at nightfall, groups of non-commissioned officers and privates of the 165th Hanoverian Regiment began to scour the principal streets, entering some of the houses, and firing through the windows in all directions. A panic followed, and indescribable confusion. Fires broke out. The infuriated soldiery broke in the doors and started fires on every hand by means of incendiary grenades or rockets, or pastilles of gelatinous nitro-cellulose. If the unhappy townspeople tried to escape they were shot; many were thus killed on their doorsteps. Others, hidden in their cellars, were stifled, or even burned alive.
It was a tragic night, which I do not feel competent to describe.
On the 26th of August, in the morning, a group of a hundred persons, including priests and various notabilities of the city, was led to the Place de la Station. The men were brutally separated from their wives and children; and, after having been stripped of all their possessions and subjected to the most abominable treatment, they were driven in front of the German troops as far as the village of Campenhout. There they were confined in the church. On the following morning, about 4 o'clock, an officer came to say that they would be shot in half an hour's time. But about 4.30 they were simply set free! However, they were not at the end of their trials; shortly afterwards they were again arrested, and were forced to march in front of the troops in the direction of Malines. "They are going to give you a taste of Belgian machine-gun fire in front of Antwerp," an officer told them. Nevertheless, they were released in the afternoon, at the gates of Malines.
The women and children remained, without food, in the Place de la Station, during the whole of the 26th. They were present at the execution of twenty of their fellow- townsmen, among whom were several priests. A pretended execution of the Vice-Rector of the University was gone through in front of them. Convinced of the reality of the tragedy, they were forced to applaud when the volley rang out. These women and children were released during the night of the 26th.
A large number of persons were escorted to the railway station, crammed into cattle- trucks, and taken to Cologne, in order that the Cologne public might be able to see these famous "francs-tireurs." The following passages from a letter sent by a Belgian physician to his friend, Professor Deboir, Permanent Secretary of the Academy of Medicine in Paris, gives some idea of the adventures of these unfortunates:
"You ask me for news of my father- and mother-in-law. Here it is:
"They were in Louvain at the time of the sack of that city. The Germans separated them; my father-in-law, who is sixty-five years of age, was sent, although a civilian, to Cologne, as a prisoner of war. First, they forced him to make ... a tour of the city, in order to show him the fires; then they crammed him with thirty-nine other prominent citizens into a cattle-truck. After four days' confinement in this truck they reached Cologne. Three of them had become insane. During these four days they had nothing but a loaf of black bread and a litre of water. They were released owing to the representations of the United States Consul.
"As for my mother-in-law, who is also sixty-five years of age, the Germans forced her for four days to wander through the countryside. As each party of troops passed she had to kneel and raise her arms. Finally, exhausted, she fell into a ditch. There the horde left her. She was able, by dragging herself along, to reach Brussels, where she still is.
"I have not told you the half of their sufferings, for all this was accompanied by blows of clubbed rifles, threats of death, etc."
Finally, among those who were arrested on the 20th, several persons, and especially some of the priests, were led in the direction of Brussels. One of them, Father Dupierreux, was shot by the roadside.
The officer in charge of the escort had observed that Father Dupierreux possessed a note-book. He seized it, examined it, and read in it the following observation: "Omar destroyed Alexandria; the Huns have destroyed Louvain." No more was required to decide the fate of the unhappy priest; he was placed against a wall; on his back the officer drew with chalk a white cross, which the firing platoon were to take as their target. The other priests, drawn up in line a few paces distant, were forced to witness the sufferings of their colleague. Those who lowered or turned away their eyes, they were told, would be shot on the spot.
The pillage, the incendiarism, and the wholesale orgies of drunkenness continued for several days. Reinforcements arrived.
"We came to Louvain," wrote Gaston Klein, of the Landsturm of Halle, in his note- book, "on the 29th of August.
"Blazing and falling houses lined the streets. The battalion went forward with close- packed ranks to break into the nearest houses, to steal wine and other things too pardon, to 'requisition' them. They were like a pack of hounds broken loose; everyone did as he pleased. The officers led the way and set a good example." And another German soldier wrote to his wife, Anna Manniget, at Magdeburg:"We reached Louvain at 7.00 in the evening. I could not write to you on account of the dismal appearance of the city. It was burning in all directions. Where it was not burning there was nothing but destruction; we got into the cellars, and we got well filled up there!"
In order that the Germans might proceed to plunder the city more easily, the inhabitants were expelled from their houses.
Six to eight thousand personsmen, women, and children-were escorted to the riding- school, where they had to pass a night before they were released. They were so closely packed, crushed one against another, and endured such sufferings, that several women became insane, and young children died in their mothers' arms.
More than 10,000 other townsfolk were driven as far as Tirlemont, which lies at a distance of 12 or 13 miles. How describe their Calvaryhow speak of all the outrages to which they were subjected? Here is one example: Having been subjected to the grossest insults, thirteen priests, of whom one was a professor in the University of Louvain, were imprisoned in a pig-sty, from which the Germans had expelled the pig before their eyes; then certain among them were forced to remove all their clothing. All were robbed of the money and valuables which they had on them.
Finally, several hundred inhabitants of Louvain and the surrounding parts were deported as prisoners to Germany, where they were confined in concentration camps; a certain number of these became insane and had to be confined in cells.
The work of devastation lasted a week, pillage, as a rule, preceding incendiarism.
And here is the balance sheet:
Eighteen hundred houses were destroyed in Louvain and its suburbs. The Palais de Justice and the theatre were burned down. The majestic Church of Saint-Pierre, dating from the fifteenth century, has been severely damaged.
Of the University buildings nothing is left but a few of the columns of the crypt and a heap of bricks, stone, and calcined beams. Here is a description of these buildings from the pen of M. Paul Delaunoy, librarian of the University:
"The ancient halls of the library and the 'Hall of Promotions' occupied all the upper story; they were at once a gem of eighteenth-century architecture and a museum of relics collected by generous hands since the foundation of the University.
"The principal hall of the library, which was of enormous size, was altogether imposing in appearance; superb oak wainscoting, covering all the walls, presented a series of porticoes, with columns, of composite order, surmounted by canopies enshrining life- size statues of the most famous philosophers of antiquity; a ceiling covered with stucco decorations, a floor of oak parquet, and an iron door, a remarkable piece of workmanship, completed this wonderful interior. Another hall full of books, transformed a year ago into a workroom for the professors presented, with its fine oak woodwork and its graceful arches, a most delicate and intimate aspect.
"The so-called 'Hall of Portraits' was a real historical museum, in which were assembled the severe and sombre portraits of the illustrious professors of the ancient University. see them all, these masters who made the chairs of our University illustrious! There, in the centre of the hall, was Justus Lipsius; there, among so many others, Erasmus; Puteanus Jansenius, whose ascetic features lead us back as at a bound into the midst of the religious conflicts of the seventeenth century; and that old gloomy canvas of Andraeus Vesalius, which an English scientist had just had photographed as being one of the best of the creator of anatomy.
"The collection of books and manuscripts in our library formed a collection which was too little known; every visitor was shown one small manuscript from the hand of Thomas a Kempis, and the example on vellum of the famous work of Vesalius: De humani corporis fabrica, given to the University by Charles V.
"Five years ago the original bull of the foundation of the University in 1425 came into our possession. But I will pass over these bibliographical curiosities, which formed a trust that any ancient foundation would have esteemed an honour. At Louvain it was the collection of old printed books which formed the rarest and most precious possession of the University: old books on theology, old historical volumes, old works of literature.
"Two years ago we were able to begin the cataloguing of these treasures, and we received surprise after surprise; the whole religious history of the sixteenth and the first half of the seventeenth century was comprised in this ancient medley of documents, these Varia reformatoria.
"Our collection formerly contained more than 350 incunabula, and every day almost we discovered new editions. What a beautiful catalogue we could have published a few years hence! My private residence having suffered the same fate as the library, nearly all the notes collected on this subject have perished. ..."
Here is a detail which at once forced itself on the attention of those who were able to visit Louvain shortly after the disaster:
On many of those houses which were spared, and principally on those belonging to the Duke of Arenburg, a German subject, was observed the small adhesive placard which we reproduce in facsimilea placard which, even if it had not been printed in Germany well in advance of advents, would yet have been evidence of premeditation.
Certain houses which were spared, in Louvain as well as in Heverlee, where the chateau of the Duke of Arenburg stands, merely bore in large letters the word "Heverlee."
These facts, with many others, enable us to assert that the burning of Louvain was carefully prepared.
Confronted by the indignation of the whole civilised world, the Germans, of course, pretended that the "punishment" inflicted on Louvain was perfectly justified, that "francs-tireurs" had fired on the German troops. They have even gone so far as to pretend that at Louvain many of the houses were prepared in view of a war of francs- tireurs; that they had openings in the house-fronts through which the barrel of a rifle could be passed, and which were closed by movable metal covers. These openings must have been contrived by technical specialists (sic) with a view to the systematic (sic) organisation of the war!
If we are to believe our adversaries, we must certainly have entertained the most singular ideas as to the means of defending ourselves against their colossal and formidable military organisation!
The fact is that not a single civilian was found with weapons in his handsneither in Louvain, Vise, Aerschot, Andenne, Dinant, Tamines, nor in any of the other martyred towns or villages.
However, I propose to relate, a little further on, a few episodes of this pretended "war of francs-tireurs," which will enable you to judge of the value of German assertions.
In the Neighbourhood of Louvain.On the 25th and 26th of August the Belgian troops made a sortie from the entrenched camp of Antwerp, and succeeded, after desperate fighting, in repulsing the Germans who were before Malines as far as Vilvorde and Louvain.
Unfortunately the Germans, as they retreated, destroyed everything in their path, and in this district, which had been one of the most prosperous and thickly populated in Belgium, our soldiers found nothing but ruins. Villages had been given over to pillage; then they were wholly or partially burned, their populations were dispersed, while of such inhabitants as were met by chance many were arrested and shot without trial and without apparent motive.
At Hofstade, on the 25th of August, our soldiers found the body of an old woman who had been killed with the bayonet; she still held in her hand the needle with which she had been sewing when she was struck down. A woman and her son, aged fifteen or sixteen years, were lying side by side, pierced through by bayonet-wounds; and a man had been hanged.
At Sempst were found the partially carbonised bodies of two men. The legs of one had been cut off at the knees; the other had had his legs and arms cut off. A woman had been killed as she was leaving her house. A workman, whose body had been drenched with petroleum, had been shut up in a house to which the Germans had set fire.
At Bueken many of the inhabitants had been killed, including the cure, who was over eighty years of age. Horrors were committed here such as the pen refuses to describe.
Everywhere about the countryside were found the bodies of peasants lying in attitudes of supplication, their arms raised or their hands clasped.
Other Crimes.I might go on to tell you of what happened in many another village of Brabant or Limburg; and of the doings at Liege, where the Germans, one night at the end of August why, no one ever knewset fire to the houses on the Quai des Pecheurs and the Place de l'Universite, and fired on those who emerged from their burning houses, killing seventeen of them; of what passed at Charleroi too, and in many parts of Hainault; here, in.particular, many well-equipped workshops and factories were burned, on the pretext that French soldiers were hiding in them. And I might tell you of the abominable tortures inflicted on many of our wounded soldiers. But I should never come to an end were I to give you the full details of the martyrdom of my country. I will therefore refer those who wish to be more completely informed as to this painful subject to the reports of the British and Belgian Commissions of Inquiry.
Although I have scrupulously confined myself to the relation of such facts as are irrefutably established, and although, on the other hand, I have abstained from recording here such actions as werealthough only too realtoo incredibly cruel or unnatural, I think I ought to put before you, in the way of confirmation, some passages from the courageous pastoral letter of Cardinal Mercier, the Archbishop of Malines.2
"I have travelled through the majority of the worst ravaged districts of the diocese," says the eminent prelate, "and what I saw in the way of ruins and ashes exceeds all that I could have imagined, despite my apprehensions, although these were sufficiently keen. There are certain parts of my diocese which I have not yet found time to revisit which have suffered the same devastation. A considerable number of churches, schools, asylums, hospitals, convents are rendered useless or are in ruins.
"Whole villages have all but disappeared. At Werchter-Wackerzeel, for example, of 380 homes 130 remain; at Tremeloo two-thirds of the commune are razed to the ground; at Bueken, of 100 houses 20 are left; at Schaffen, of a total of 200 houses 189 have disappeared and 11 are left. At Louvain a third part of the city has been destroyed; 1,074 buildings have disappeared, and in the area of the city and its suburban communes combined the total of houses destroyed by fire is 1,823.
"Of that beloved city of Louvain, which I cannot put out of my mind, the superb collegiate church of Saint-Pierre will never again recover its pristine splendour; the ancient college of Saint-Ives, the Municipal School of Arts, the commercial and consular college of the University, the old market buildings, our wealthy library with its collections, its early printed books, its unpublished manuscripts, its archives, and the gallery recording its glories since the first days of its foundation, the portraits of rectors, chancellors, illustrious professors ... all is annihilated.
"Many parishes were deprived of their shepherds. I still hear the sorrowful tones of an old man of whom I asked if Mass had been held on Sunday in his battered church. 'It is two months,' he told me, 'since we have seen a priest.' The cure and the vicar were in a concentration camp at Miinster.
"Thousands of Belgian citizens have thus been deported to the prisons of Germany, to Miinster, Celle, Magdeburg. The Miinster camp alone contains 3,100 civilian prisoners. History will record the physical and moral torments of their long Calvary.
"Hundreds of innocent persons were shot; I do not possess the whole of this sinister necrology, but I know that 91 were shot at Aerschot in particular, and that their fellow- citizens were forced, under the menace of death, to dig the pits for their burial. In Louvain and the adjacent communes 176 persons, men and women, old folks, and children still at the breast, rich and poor, sick and whole, were shot down or burned.
"In my diocese alone I knew that thirteen priests or monks were put to death. One of them, the cure of Gelrode, in all probability died as a martyr. To my actual knowledge more than thirty were killed in the dioceses of Namur, Tournai, and Liege.
"We can neither count our dead nor measure the extent of our ruin. What would it be were we to turn our steps toward the districts of Liege, Namur, Andenne, Dinant, Tamines, and Charleroi; toward Vitron, La Semoy and the whole of Luxemburg?"
Cardinal Mercier continues:
"Many circumstances lead us to believe that the cure of Herent Van Bladel, a venerable old man of seventy-one years, has also been killed; up to this present, however, his body has not been found."
Since then the bodies of those persons have been exhumed who were shot at Louvain and buried in the Place de la Gare, in the space surrounding the statue of Sylvain Van de Weyer.1 A correspondent of the great Dutch Catholic newspaper, De Tjid, was present at the mournful operation, and here are some extracts from the account he gives of it:
"Twenty bodies were exhumed; it was a horrible piece of work. Twenty bodies crammed into a hole which did not measure more than four yards square! We were all overcome by emotion. The majority of the victims lay there with fractured skullsfractured not only by bullets, but by blows of the clubbed rifle as well! And that was not enough. All the bodies recovered had been thrust through with the bayonet. Some had the legs and arms broken."
The correspondent of De Tjid gives the names of the victims; among them were old men, and "a little boy not fifteen"; he tells how, beside this grave, they found a second, "which contained seven more bodies hidden beneath a foot of earth." Finally he ends his dismal narrative as follows:
"On the following day the work was resumed; two more bodies were brought to light from quite a small grave; they were those of Henri De Corte, a working-man of Kessel- Loo, and M. Van Bladel, the cure of Herent. Not a sound was heard when the tall body of the unfortunate priest was exhumed. Only Father Claes uttered these words: 'The curé of Herent!'
Have we not here a striking but wholly accidental proof of the extreme circumspection with which Cardinal Mercier formulated the accusations which I have just reproduced in support of my own?
Another proof: In a letter addressed on the 24th of January, 1915, to Colonel Count Wengersky, District Commander at Malines, the eminent prelate says:
"Other figures mentioned in my pastoral letter must to-day be increased; thus for Aerschot I gave the number of victims as 91; now the total number of the inhabitants of Aerschot whose bodies have been exhumed had increased, a few days ago, to 143."
In this same letter Cardinal Mercier says again: "The moment has not come to lay stress upon these individual facts. Their relation will find place in the inquiry which you give me grounds to hope for. It will be a consolation to me to see the full light thrown on the events to which I was forced to refer in my pastoral letter and others of the same kind. But it is essential that the results of this inquiry should appear to all as invested with indisputable authority.
"To this end I have the honour to propose to you, M. le Comte, and to propose, through your kindly offices, to the German authorities, that the Commission of Inquiry should be composed in equal proportions of German delegates and Belgian magistrates, and that the president should be the representative of a neutral country."
The Germans would not hear of any such commissionand with reason!
But the British Government, which wanted to know what to think of "the crimes which are said to have been committed by the German troops," instituted a Commission of Inquiry on the 15th of December, 1914, which Commission was composed of eminent lawyers, and presided over by Viscount Bryce.
It commenced its labours in a spirit of scepticism bordering on incredulity. Then, as it heard the depositions of more than twelve hundred witnesses, Belgian civilians who had entered the United Kingdom as refugees, with British soldiers and officers who had taken part in the military operations in Belgium, and as it analysed this evidence and compared it with the service notebooks found on German soldiers, its conviction of the truth was established and confirmed. And its report, which appeared a few months ago, corroborated the Belgian Commission in every respect.
Although numbers of priests were either killedsometimes with incredible refinements of crueltyor led into captivity, there were also, among the thousands of Belgian victims of this German war, a number of doctors. Dr. Philippe, of Brussels, the President of the "Association of Belgian Physicians refugees in England," writes to me on this subject: "Thirty-seven doctors were shot in the small communes (they were nearly all burgomasters). A large number of doctors' houses were burned. In the large towns more than 150 doctors have disappeared."
As for the military doctors, if those who fell into the hands of the Germans had their lives spared, they were, nevertheless, subjected to all sorts of exactions. Many of them were even taken to Germany. The Oberarzt who was in charge at Namur at the beginning of September, 1914, declared, moreover, that it was plainly in the interest of the Germans to refuse to allow the Belgian doctors to rejoin the army in Antwerp, for by depriving the army of medical attention the Germans would find yet another trump card in sickness and epidemics!
two illustrations from German magazines showing 'franc-tireurs' in Belgium
I promised the reader some stories of francs-tireurs. Here they are:
On the 8th of August, 1914, the beautiful village of Francorchamps, which lies in the neighbourhood of Spa, quite close to the frontier, was drenched with blood and fire. Why?
For four days the German columns had been passing through the village in a perfectly peaceable manner. It was hot weather, and the peasants had placed pails of water along the roadside so that the men might quench their thirst. The officers ate at the hotel; already the villagers and the holiday visitors from Brussels were growing accustomed to the passing of the troops.
But then, suddenly, about 9 o'clock in the morning, a few shots rang out. And at once the fatal cry was heard: "Man hat geschossen!"
The innocent must suffer for the guilty. The Germans began to shoot1 and plunder and burn. The village was wiped out.
Now it happens that we know to-day what was the origin of the few shots fired at Francorchamps on the morning of the 8th of August.
"Until mid-August," M. Waxweiler tells us,2 "small detachments of Belgian cavalry pushed their reconnaissances to the rear of the German lines, thanks to the woods, which are very plentiful in this district. This is how it was that early on the morning of the 8th of August two gendarmes and two lancers were hidden in the thickets of Francorchamps. Seeing a German column, they fired upon it.
"On the other hand, the Germans, not having encountered any Belgian troops in these parts since entering the country, immediately imagined that the shots fired could only be the work of civilians, and at once, without inquiry, a pitiless collective repression broke upon the village."
Another episode of the same kind:
On the 10th of August a German detachment found, upon entering Linsmeau, a little village in Brabant, a few peasants gathered about a freshly dug grave. Beside them lay the body of a German officer, which they were about to bury. The body was examined: the temple was pierced by a revolver bullet, and the wound was not such as would be received in battle. And the watch, the papers, and all the personal belongings of the dead man had disappeared. Thus there was no possible doubt: it was these peasants who had killed the German officer.
Now this is what the Germans would have learned had they made the slightest inquiry:
On that very morning a Belgian patrol, on the outskirts of Linsnieau, had encountered an officer and some German soldiers on reconnaissance. Shots were exchanged; the German officer fell, and his men fled. The Belgians, whose first taste of action this was, were much affected; they drew near to the officer who lay stretched upon the ground, and their own officer bent over him with solicitude. Then the German suddenly raised himself, and, seizing his revolver, took aim at the Belgian officer. After this it was the most legitimate thing imaginable for the latter to fire. Struck in the temple, his treacherous adversary fell, this time to rise no more.
However, before this lifeless corpse the pity of the little party of Belgians increased; and their commander compassionately conceived the idea of having all the personal belongings of the dead man taken to the cure of a neighbouring village, in order that they might be sent to his family. Then, calling some peasants who were passing, and who were inhabitants of Linsmeau, he instructed them to dig a grave for the body.
This is what an inquiry would have revealed.
But the Germans made no inquiry; they never do make inquiries, for that matter, until it is too late, when the supposedly guilty persons can no longer be heard.
No inquiry was made; but ten farms were immediately given to the flames; the entire village was sacked; women were raped, and fifteen persons, of whom one was a woman, were shot!
At Dolhain a German sentinel, fatigued by the long day's march, fired into the darkness, obsessed by some hallucination.
The guard immediately turned out, there was a terrible burst of firing, and the principal street was burned.
At the end of August Liebknecht was travelling by motor-car to Louvain. He came to a place where great excitement prevailed; he inquired what was happening; the Germans there had found three of their soldiers killed in the road, and accused the peasants of having shot them. Liebknecht questioned the peasants, and proof was quickly forthcoming that the German soldiers had been killed by Belgian carabineers. This inter- vention on the part of the Socialist deputy saved the supposed francs-tireurs from death.
At Huy shots were fired during the night; two Germans, a non-commissioned officer and a soldier, were seriously wounded. Naturally the civil population was immediately accused of the crime. The burgomaster was arrested. "Shoot me," he said, "but I beg you will not do so before the bullets have been extracted from the wounded."
His request was granted. The bullets were found to be German.
Thanks to the burgomaster's presence of mind, thanks also, one must admit, to the good will of the district commander, the pretty little town was spared.
One of the highest dignitaries in the kingdom was dragged from his chateau and imprisoned all night in a cellar, with all his family, because of a rumour that twenty-five German corpses had been discovered in one of his woods. On the following day he and his only escaped the death hanging over their heads thanks to his insistence in causing it to be established that there was not a single corpse either in the wood in question or anywhere round about!
One last anecdotewholly horrible this time. The Saxon officer from whom we have already cited a few notes will tell it:
"August 26th.The delightful village of Gue-d'Hossus (Ardennes) was given over to the flames, although innocent, as it seems to me. I was told that a cyclist fell from his machine, and that in the fall his rifle discharged itself; whereupon they fired in his direction. At this they simply threw the male inhabitants into the flames."
The truth is that the German troops, who were, with extreme skill, "suggestionised" at the time of their entrance into Belgium, went about, while within our frontiers, in constant dread of the franc-tireur. "Away from the battlefield," says the Commission of Inquiry (12th Report), "the least sound makes them start and tremble. A bicycle tyre bursting; a detonator exploding under a tram, as at Jurbize; the explosions of a gas-engine, as at Alost; the detonation of chemical products in a burning laboratory, as at Louvain, invariably result in the cry, 'Man hat geschossen!' with all its sinister consequences.
"Throughout the Aerschot district it was forbidden to grind the corn necessary for the sustenance of the inhabitants, on the pretext that the sails of the windmills might be used for signalling. At Limburg it was pretended that the reflection of the moon in the windows of the church was providing the enemy with information. At Izel a flag which had been floating above the belfry provoked the same fear. At Sitaert the bows and arrows of an archery club were confiscated, on the pretext that the arrows might be poisoned and employed against the German troops!
"Is it surprising that in this mental condition the soldiers, suspecting ambushes in every direction, eventually get to firing at one another, or even at their officers ... while the civil population, previously disarmed by the care of the local authorities, are the trembling witnesses, through the cellar air-holes, of a bloody struggle of which it will presently have to pay the price?
"Directly order is restored the first care of the military authorities will be to conceal, or rather to distort, the incident, and the legend of an attack by civilians will be created."
One unhappy woman, confronted by the body of her husband, asked an officer: "What had he done to you?""He fired.""And that one?" she cried, pointing to the body of a little child, massacred by the side of his father. "Did he fire too?" The officer made off without replying.
No, it is not pleasant to contemplate, and it is not the mark of a truly strong nation, the manner in which the Germans have made war upon us!
No, there was no war of francs-tireurs in Belgium. Everything goes to disprove the German allegations in this connection.
The Belgian Government did not "publicly encourage the population to take part in the war," as the Kaiser asserted in a message to the President of the United States;it had not "for a long time been making careful preparations for such participation."
It is not true that "a general rising of the people against the enemy was organised long ago," as an official German communique pretended, and that "stores of weapons were established in which each rifle bore the name of the citizen for whom it was intended."
On the contrary, if any reproach could, strictly speaking, be brought against those who "for a long time past" have succeeded to power in Belgium, it would be that they were not sufficiently disturbed by the preparations for invasion and conquest which "for a long time past"in spite of explicit and reiterated assuranceshave been made by one of those Powers which guaranteed our neutrality and our independence!
But this is a matter of the past, and we must confine ourselves to present facts. Now these are such facts, essential and undeniable: the German invasion surprised the Belgian Government as it was beginning to reorganise its army, and, far from being able to distribute arms to the civil population, it was unable, owing to an insufficiency of rifles, to accept at the moment all the volunteers who offered themselves, or to call to the colours the class of 1914.1 Far from organising the armed resistance of the civil populationalthough by the terms of The Hague Conventions such "organisation" would have been perfectly lawful2the Government, on the 4th of August, sent to the 2,700 communes of the kingdom the most categorical instructions which absolutely forbade civilians to take part in the hostilities. Everywhere, on the approach of the enemy, the governors of provinces and the burgomasters communicated these instructions to their fellow-citizens by means of placards such as those we have reproduced. Lastly, if the Germans discovered "stores of weapons in which each rifle bore the name of the citizen for whom it was intended," it was precisely because, as a measure of precaution, the communal authorities had ordered private individuals to surrender such weapons as /they possessed. Did not the very fact that these rifles bore the names of individual citizens prove most obviously that they were weapons which, having been taken from private persons, would be restored to them at the close of hostilities? It is not the custom, in arsenals, to mark weapons in advance with the names of the soldiers who are to bear them.
In reality, the extremely prudent measures which were taken by the Government and the communal authorities most unhappily delivered thousands of defenceless victims to the rage of the invaders.
It was the regular forces alone which, valiantly and loyally, resisted the advance of the invaders.
Is it not significant, by the way, that, excepting at Aerschot, wherewholly without justificationthey accused the burgomaster's son of killing one of their officers, the Germans never designated any guilty or supposedly guilty person by name?
But supposing that it could be established that Belgian civilians had fired on the German troops: nothing would authorise the latter to commit collective reprisals. Here, by the way, is one of the numerous drawingsnot from lifeby means of which our treacherous enemies have spread the legend of Belgian francs-tireurs through Germany. In the matter of composition and execution there is not much to be said for it. But let us suppose for a moment that it is genuine, and corresponds with some actual event. Well, frankly, considering the two soldiers with spiked helmets, and the "civilian," armed with Heaven knows what blunderbuss, who is emerging as an avenger from the ruins of his village, do you not think the civilian would make the best showing in face of the universal conscience?
But in the majority of cases, and precisely in the worst cases of allit was not in expiation of crimes, imaginary or real, that the German Army drenched my poor country with blood and tire; our in virtue or a system, or a rigorous application or the principles of Bismarck: to do the greatest possible injury to the civil population of the enemy country, to torture it in every possible way, in order to force it to bring pressure upon its rulers in favour of capitulation. These principles, I may say, have been codified. "The horrible things which have happened in Belgium," says an Italian publicist, Luigi Barzini, a close observer of that work of devastation of which I have been able to give but the slightest notion, "the horrible things which have happened in Belgium were merely the application of a rule established by the German Great General Staff. It rejects as detrimental all the chivalrous, generous, and noble elements which had survived in warfare. Germany has created her own' theory of war, absolute, rigid, inhuman, monstrous; it comprises, from the military point of view, all those elements which are able to contribute to a speedy victory: terror, suffering, deportation.
"It was desired to give the soldier the momentum, blind, awful, and impetuous, but direct and efficacious, of a projectile. He must no longer be a man, but a pitiless machine; no feeling must hamper or divert his actions; his individual consciousness must be replaced by the collective consciousness, a thing of just, meritorious, and necessary fury. Tradition is suppressed; the law of nations is suppressed; sensitiveness, compassion, and humanity are attacked as an evil, a weakness, a mistake. The moral code of war has been simplified by instituting a new and facile concept of the lawful and unlawful: all that may conduce to success is lawful, all that may fetter it is unlawful. . . . This enormity was prepared without hatred, in the midst of peace, assiduously, scientifically, not in a spirit of violence, but as a matter of calculation, contemning all that does not conduce to victory, and insulating military matters from all considerations unconnected with efficacy of action.
"Led onward by the rigid, implacable, and ferocious logic of its formulae, the Great General Staff, in its Kriegsbrauch im Landkriege, has finally created a hideous code of reasoned and disciplined savagery, which proposes the application of many means which can produce a stupendous outbreak of systematic atrocity, all the more terrible because impersonal, mechanical, and inevitable. The German military conscience is based upon the concepts of this system. The soldier burns and massacres in certain pre-determined cases as in others he fights and manoeuvres. For him this is warfare, the only warfare, the true warfare. He obeys; he does not judge, because to judge is an offence. The word of command is as sacred as a dogma. The regulations of the Staff are the soldier's Bible. He acts within the law.
"What does the world accuse him of? Krieg ist Krieg!"
Some women of Dinant were lamenting over the bodies of their husbands. One of the officer-executioners approached them, and spoke to them almost with courtesy: "Come, look you, ladies, you must be reasonable; it is war!" And to the women of Andenne some soldiers spoke, saying: "Don't cry like that. We aren't doing the quarter of what we ought to do!"
The German Army was marching to victoryor believed that it was doing soand the end would justify the means any means! When the Bishop of Liege told Marshal von der Goltz his opinion of the crimes committed in his diocese by German soldiers, and remarked that History, the impartial, would record these crimes to the eternal shame of Germany, the gentle Marshal replied: "History, Monseigneur? We shall be the ones to write it, for we shall be the victors!"
Now as it was conceived and anticipated by the military leaders and the rulers of Germany, victory meant the territorial diminution of France and Russia, together with their material and political ruin; in the meantime, until something better could be ac- complished, the prestige of England would be seriously damaged; Belgium was to be annexed, andto begin withSwitzerland, Holland, and Denmark. The political vassalage of Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire being from the outset an accomplished fact, the dreamed-of victory would have meant, little by little, and without long delay, the certain domination of the whole of Europe: a glorious goal in the eyes of the German rulers, which to their thinking was well worth the employment of all and any means.
Yes: the German troops resorted to terrorism according to system, in order to induce us to capitulate, to leave them "an open road."
Apart from the similarity of the methods employed and the coincidence of dates, there are facts which enable us to assert that the massacres and burnings at Dinant, Andenne, Namur, Aerschot, and Louvain, in particular, were premeditated in cold blood.
On the 17th of August a German officer found lodgings in the house of a Belgian magistrate in the Ardennes. In conversation, speaking of various charming spots in the Walloon countryside, my compatriot mentioned Dinant. "Dinant, a town condemned," said the officer, perhaps unthinkingly. This was a week before the martyrdom of the charming little city.
M. X------, of Dinant, at the time of the invasion, was in another part of the country. There he made the acquaintance of a German officer. Now about the 20th of August this officer said to him: "You come from Dinant? Don't go back then; it is a bad place; it will be destroyed." At the same time he asked M. X------ for details as to his home in Dinant. He went away, but returned after the 23rd. Extracting a statuette from his luggage, he showed it to M. X------, saying, "Do you know this?" "Why, yes, it comes from my house!" "In that case I was not mistaken: I have saved your house; it has not been burned."
The German troops marching toward Andenne announced, in the villages which they passed through, that they were going to burn the town and massacre the inhabitants.
At Louvain, on the 25th of August, an officer who had been received with courtesy and kindness by a family of good standing called at the house of his hosts about 11.00 o'clock in the morning and urged them all to leave for Brussels without delay. While apologising for the fact that he could give them no explanations, he insisted so that they finally decided to go. A soldier advised M. R------van K------to leave "because the town was going to be burned and levelled to the ground." A witness heard by the Commission of Inquiry declared upon oath that he heard an officer tell some of his menthis again was on the morning of the same daythat so far they had only seen villages burning, but that soon they would see a city ablaze.
And on the outbreak of the fire the German authorities had the fire-engines and fire- escapes destroyed.
At Aerschot, several hours before the massacre, a soldier advised one of the residents to escape. "They are going to smash the town to pieces," he said.
At Namur the chief of the fire brigade was arrested in the street just as he was making ready to do his duty and was sent home under escort!
It seems established, moreover, that Louvain was sacrificed in order to spare Brussels. At first the people of Brussels were most obligingly permitted to go to Louvain, there to contemplate the smouldering ruins. It was a wonder that they were not urged to do so! No doubt it was considered that Louvain formed a salutary and educative spectacle for this refractory population. We read in the Kolnische Zeitung for the 10th of February, 1915:
"The burning of Battice, Herve, Louvain, and Dinant had the effect of public warnings. The destruction effected, the rivers of blood shed during the first days of the war in Belgium, had saved the great Belgian cities from the temptation of attacking the weak garrisons which we were obliged to leave in them. Does anyone imagine that the capital of Belgium would have tolerated us, who to-day are living in Brussels as though in our own country, if the Belgians had not trembled, and did not still tremble, before our vengeance?"
Finally, it is asserted that all the great fires were started by specialists, who were stationed at given points, and who had at their disposal special implements and materials which were particularly effectual: pumps to throw petrol, incendiary grenades and rockets, and compressed tablets of gelatinised nitro-cellulose. These implements and materials were not improvised. The invaders were furnished with them when they entered Belgium on the 4th of August. Such things formed part of their munitions of war.
Back to Index