- 'Destruction in East Prussia in 1914'
- by by D. Thomas Curtin, American journalist
- from his book The Land of Deepening Shadow, 1916
The Lie on the Film
Russian soldiers in East Prussia, 1914
- Russian general Rennenkampf in Insterburg
- parading at the head of Russian troops
At the end of an absorbingly interesting reel showing the Kaiser reviewing his troops, a huge green trade-mark globe revolved with a streamer fluttering Berlin. The lights were turned on and the operator looked over his assortment of reels.
An American had been granted permission to take war films in Germany in the autumn of 1914, to be exhibited in the United States. After he had arrived, however, the authorities had refused to let him take pictures with the army, but, like the proverbial druggist, had offered him something "just as good." In London, on his return journey home, he showed to a few newspaper correspondents the films which Germany had foisted upon him.
The next film, gentlemen, will depict scenes in East Prussia," the operator announced.
Although I had probably seen most of these pictures in Germany, my interest quickened, for I had been through that devastated province during and after the first invasion. Familiar scenes of ruined villages and refugees scudding from the sulphur storm passed before my eyes. Then came the ruined heap of a once stately church, tagged Beautiful Church in Allenburg Destroyed by the Russians. The destruction seemed the more heinous since a trace of former beauty lived through the ruins, and you could not view this link of evidence against the Russians without a feeling of resentment. This out-of- the-way church was not architecturally important to the world as is Rheims Cathedral, to be sure, but the destruction seemed just as wanton.
The next picture flashed on the screen showed a Russian church intact, with the simple title, Russian Church at Potetschki. The moral of the sequence was clear. The German Government, up to the minute in all things, knows the vivid educative force of the kinema, and realises the effect of such a sequence of pictures upon her people at home and neutrals throughout the world. It enables them to see for themselves the difference between the barbarous Russians and the generous Germans.
The reel buzzed on, but I did not see the succeeding pictures, for my thoughts were of far-off East Prussia, of Allenburg, and of the true story of the ruined church by the Alle River.
Tannenberg had been fought, Samsanow had been decisively smashed in the swamps and plashy streams, and Hindenburg turned north-east to cut off Rennenkampf's army, which had advanced to the gates of Königsberg. The outside world had been horrified by stories of German crime in Belgium; whereupon Germany counter-attacked with reports of terrible atrocities perpetrated by the Russians, of boys whose right hands had been cut off so that they could never serve in the army, of wanton murder, rapine and burnings. I read these stories in the Berlin papers, and they filled me with a deep feeling against Russia.
One of the most momentous battles of history was being fought in the West, and the Kaiser's armies were in full retreat from the Marne to the Aisne, but Berlin knew nothing of this. Refugees from East Prussia with white arm-bands filled the streets, Hindenburg and victory were on every tongue, Paris was forgotten, and all interest centred in the Eastern theatre of war.
That was in the good old days when the war was young, when armies were taking up positions, when the management of newspaper reporters was not developed to a fine art, when Europe was topsy-turvy, when it was quite the thing for war correspondents to outwit the authorities and see all they could.
I resolved to make an attempt to get into East Prussia, and as it was useless to wait for official permissionthat is, if I was to see things while freshI determined to play the game and trust to luck.
Danzig seemed the end of my effort, for the railroad running east was choked with military trains, the transportation of troops and supplies in one direction and prisoners and wounded in the other. By good fortune, however, I booked passage on a boat for Königsberg.
The little steamer nosed its way through a long lock canal amid scenery decidedly Dutch, with old grey windmills dotting broad flat stretches, black and white cows looming large and distinct on the landscape, and fish nets along the water's edge. To the right the shore grew bolder after we entered the Frishes Haff, a broad lagoon separated from the Baltic by a narrow strip of pasture land. Red sails glowed in the clear sunshine, adding an Adriatic touch. Cumbersome junk-like boats flying the Red Cross passed west under full sail. Germany was using every man at her disposal to transport wounded and prisoners from the battle region which we were drawing near.
A smoky haze ahead indicated Königsberg. The mouth of the Pregel bustled with activity, new fortifications were being everywhere thrown up, while indistinct field-grey figures swarmed over the plain like ants. We glided through forests of masts and rigging and slid up to a pier opposite great sagging warehouses behind which the sun was setting.
As I picked up my bag to go ashore, a heavy hand fell on my shoulder and I was asked to wait until we were boarded from the police boat which was puffing alongside. My detainer, a government inspector, a man of massive frame with deep set eyes and a shaggy black beard, refused to say more than that the police wished to see me. They had been signalled and were coming to the boat expressly for that purpose.
American ammunition had not begun to play its part in German public opinion at that time, and, moreover, America was being hailed everywhere in Germany as a possible ally against Japan. Therefore, although only a few days previously Russian guns had been booming less than a dozen miles away, and Königsberg was now the base against Rennenkampf, my presence was tolerated, and I finally managed to get lodgings for the night after I had found two hotels turned into hospitals.
I spent the following day trying to obtain permission to pass the cordon of sentries outside the city, but I received only the advice to go back to Berlin and apply at the Auswärtiges Amt (Foreign Office). I did not wish to wait in Berlin until this campaign was over; I wished to follow on the heels of the army through the ruined land and catch up to the fighting if possible. American correspondents had done this in Belgium. I myself had done it with the Austrians against the Serbs, and I succeeded in East Prussia, but not through Berlin.
I was well aware that Germany was making a tremendous bid for neutral favour. I had furthermore heard so much of Russian atrocities that I was convinced that the stories were true; consequently I decided to play the role of an investigator of Muscovite crime. I won Herr Meyer of the Wolff Telegraph Bureau, who sent me along with his card to Commandant von Rauch, who at first refused to let me proceed, but after I had hovered outside his door for three days, finally gave me a pass to go to Tapiau, the high-water mark of the Russian invasion.
That night, "by chance," in the Deutscher Hof, I met the black-bearded official who had arrested me on the boat, and I told him that I had permission to go to Tapiau next morning. When he became convinced that I was a professional atrocity hunter who believed that the Russians had been brutal, his hospitality became boundless, and over copious steins of Munich beer he described the invaders in a manner which made Gladstone's expose of the Turks in Bulgaria, the stories of Captain Kidd, and the tales of the Spanish Inquisition seem like essays on brotherly love. He was particularly incensed at the Russians because they had destroyed Allenburg, for Allenburg was his home. One of the stories on which he laid great stress was that a band of Cossacks had pillaged the church just outside of Allenburg on the road to Friedland, after they had driven sixty innocent maidens into it and outraged them there.
A train of the Militär-Personenzug variety bore me next morning through a country of barbed wire, gun emplacements and fields seamed with trenches to Tapiau, a town withered in the blast of war. Two ruined bridges in the Pregel bore silent testimony to the straits of the retreating Germans, for the remaining ends on the further shore were barricaded with scraps of iron and wood gathered from the wreckage.
Landsturm guards examined my pass, which was good only for Tapiau and return. I decided to miss the train back, however, and push on in the wake of the army to Wehlau. Outside of Tapiau I was challenged by a sentry, who, to my amazement, did not examine my now worthless pass when I pulled it from my pocket, but motioned me on.
German refugees fleeing the Russian advance in East Prussia
The road ran through eye-tiring stretches of meadows pockmarked with great shell holes full of black water. I came upon the remains of an old brick farmhouse battered to dust in woods which were torn to splinters by shell, bullet and shrapnel. The Russians had bombarded Tapiau from here, and had in turn been shelled in the trenches which they had dug and chopped in the labyrinth of roots. Among the debris of tins, cases, knapsacks and cartridge clips were fragments of uniforms which had been blown off Russian bodies by German shells, while on a branch above my head a shrivelled human arm dangled in the light breeze of September.
I left the sickening atmosphere of the woods behind and pushed on to Wehlau, a primitive little town situated on the meadows where the Alle flows into the Pregel. Here my troubles began. Soldiers stared at me as I walked through crooked, narrow streets unevenly paved with small stones in a manner that would bring joy to the heart of a shoe manufacturer. The sun sank in a cloudless blaze behind a line of trenches on a gentle slope above the western shore when I entered the Gasthof Rabe, where I hoped to get a room for the night.
I had no sooner crossed the threshold, however, than I was arrested and brought to the Etappen-Commandant in the Pregelstrasse. I fully expected to be placed under arrest or be deported, but I determined to put up the best bluff possible. A knowledge of Germans and their respect for any authority above that invested in their own individual selves led me to decide upon a bold course of action, so I resolved to play the game with a high hand and with an absolute exterior confidence of manner.
Instead of waiting to be questioned when I was brought into the presence of the stern old officer, I told him at once that I had been looking for him. I informed him that Herr von Meyer and Commandant Rauch in Königsberg were in hearty sympathy with my search for Russian atrocities, but although I succeeded in quieting any suspicions which the Commandant may have entertained, I found winning permission to stay in Wehlau an exceedingly difficult matter.
Orders were orders! He explained that the battle was rolling eastward not far away and that I must go back. To add weight to what he said he read me a set of typewritten orders which had come from Berlin the day before. "Journalists are not allowed with the army or in the wake of the army in East Prussia." he read, in a tone which indicated that he considered the last word said.
But I had become so fascinated with this battle-scarred, uncanny, out-of-the-way land that I resolved to try every means to stay. I declared that on this particular mission I was more of an investigator than a journalist, that I had the special task (self-imposed, to be sure) of investigating Russian atrocities; that if Berlin reports were to be given credence abroad they must be substantiated by some impartial observer. If Germany would supply the atrocities, I would supply the copy. That she wished to do so was evidenced by the permissions granted me by Herr von Meyer of the Wolff Telegraph Bureau and Commandant Rauch of the capital of the devastated province. (I had passed beyond the point where I was told that I could go, but at any rate their names carried weight.) Would it not seem strange if the Commandant at Wehlau had me sent back after these great men had set their seal of approval upon my investigations? After Germany had made such grave charges against the Russians, how would it impress American readers that the German Commandant at Wehlau could not make good and had sent me back?
Then, as a finishing stroke, I pulled my passport from my pocket and showed Berlin's approval of me stamped impressively in the right-hand corner. This visé was not at all unique with me. It had been affixed to the passports of thousands of Americans of all grades, and was merely to ensure passage from Germany into Holland. As I did not wish to impose upon the time of the Commandant I did not burden him with these extraneous details while he feasted his eyes on the magic words: Gesehen, Berlin. Mount Olympus, Mecca, Imperial and Ecclesiastical Rome all rolled into onethat is authoritative Berlin to the German of the province.
"Gesehen, Berlin," he repeated with reverence, carefully folded the passport and deferentially handed it back to me. I saw that I was winning, so I sought to rise to the occasion.
"And now, Herr Commandant," I began, "can you suggest where I may best begin my atrocity work to-morrow? Or first, would it not be well for me to get a more complete idea of the invasion by seeing on the map just what routes the Russians took coming in?"
He unfolded a large military map of peerless German accuracy and regaled me for more than half an hour with the military features of the campaign.
"Just tell me the worst things that the Russians have done," I began, "and I will start investigating them to-morrow."
Then he anathematised the Russians and all things Russian, while his orderly stood stiffly and admiringly at attention and the other officers stopped in their tracks.
"First you should visit the ruins of the once beautiful old castle at Labiau destroyed by the beasts," he thundered. "And they also wantonly destroyed the magnificent old church near by."
He followed with an account of the history of the castle, and it was clear that he was deeply affected by the loss of these landscape embellishments which he had learned to love so much that they became part of his life, and that their destruction deeply enraged him against the enemy. Though I saw his point of view and sympathised with him, I questioned him in the hope of learning of some real atrocities. It was useless. Although he made general charges against the Russians, he always reverted, when pinned down to facts, with a fresh burst of anger, to the castle and church of Labiau as his pet atrocity.
The orderly had just been commanded to take me on a search for quarters for the night, when an automobile horn tooted beneath the window. Heavy steps on the stairs; a Staff Officer entered the room, looked surprised to see me, and asked who I was. The Commandant justified his permission to let me remain by eulogising the noble work upon which I was engaged, but though the Staff Officer's objections were hushed, he did not enthuse over my coming.
With intent to convince him that I was already hard at work I told him of the terrible destruction of the castle and church at Labiau, which I would visit on the following day.
"I have a sergeant below who was there, and I will have him come in," he said.
The sergeant entered, clicked his heels at attention; a doughty old warrior, small and wiry, not a civilian thrust into field-grey, but a soldier, every inch of him, a Prussian soldier, turned to stone in the presence of his superior officers, his sharp clear eyes strained on some point in space directly ahead. He might have stepped out of the pages of the Seven Years' War.
Nobody spoke. The pale yellow light of the oil lamp on the Commandant's desk fell on the military faces, figures and trappings of the men in the room. The shuffling tramp of soldiers in the dark street below died away in the direction of the river. I felt the military tenseness of the scene. I realised that I was inside the German lines on a bluff that was succeeding but might collapse at any moment.
Feeling that a good investigating committee should display initiative I broke the silence by questioning the little sergeant, and I began on a line which I felt would please the Commandant. "You were at Labiau during the fighting?" I asked.
"I was, sir!"
He did not move a muscle except those necessary for speech. His eyes were still rigid on that invisible something directly ahead. He clearly was conscious of the importance of his position as informant to a stranger before his superior officers.
"I have heard that the beautiful old castle and the magnificent old church were destroyed," I continued. "You know of this, of course?"
"Ja, ja, that is true! Our wonderful artillery knocked them to pieces when we drove the Russians out in panic!"
The sergeant was not the only one looking into space now. The Staff Officer relieved the situation by dismissing him from the room, whereupon the Commandant sharply bade the orderly conduct me to my night lodgings.
"No Iron Cross for the little sergeant," I reflected, as we stumbled through the crooked old streets in the dark. Is it any wonder that the German Government insists that neutral correspondents be chaperoned by someone who can skilfully show them what is proper for them to see, and let them hear that which is proper for them to hear ?
Everywhere in rooms lighted by oil lamps soldiers sat talking, drinking and playing cards. They were under every roof, and were also bivouacked on the flats along the river. In all three inns there was not even floor space available. The little brick town hall too, was crowded with soldiers.
repair work goes on while German lorries bring up supplies
At the pontoon bridge we were sharply challenged by a sentry. The orderly answered and we passed on to a crowded beer hall above which I was fortunate to secure a room. By the flickering light of a candle I was conducted to a dusty attic furnished with ferruginous junk in one corner and a dilapidated bed in another. No such luxuries as bed clothing, of course; only a red mattress which had not been benefited in the least by Russian bayonet thrusts and sabre slashes in the quest of concealed treasure. I could not wash unless I would go down to the river, for with the blowing up of the bridges the water mains had also been destroyed. The excellent organisation of the Germans was in evidence, however, for during my stay I witnessed their prompt and efficient measures to restore sanitation in order to avert disease.
I went downstairs and entered the large beer room, hazy with tobacco smoke, and filled for the most part with non-commissioned officers. They, like everybody else in the room, seemed to have heard of my arrival. I joined a group at a long table, a jovial crowd of men who chaffed good naturedly one of their number who said he wished to be home with his wife and little ones. They looked at me and laughed, then pointing at him said, "He is no warrior!"
But it was their talk about the Russians which interested me most. There was no hate in their speech, only indifference and contempt for their Eastern enemy. Hindenburg was their hero, and they drank toast after toast to his health. The Russian menace was over, they felt; Britain and France would be easily smashed. They loved their Army, their Emperor, and Hindenburg, and believed implicitly in all three.
They sang a song of East Prussia and raised their foaming glasses at the last two lines:
- "Es trinkt der Mensch, es säuft das Pferd,
- In Ostpreussen ist das umgekehrt."
While they were singing a man in civilian clothes entered, approached me with an air of authority, and announced in a loud tone of voice that he had heard that I had said that I had come to East Prussia in search of Russian atrocities.
"My name is Curtin," I began, introducing myself, although I felt somewhat uneasy.
"Thomas!" was all he said.
"Good Heavens!" I thought. "Is this man looking for me ? Am I in for serious trouble now!"
Instead, however, of Thomas being an interrogation as to my first name, it was his simple introduction of himselfa strange coincidence.
Although he was addressing his remarks to me, he exclaimed in a tone which could be heard all over the room that he was Chief of Police during the Russian occupation of Wehlau for three weeks, and took great pride in asserting that he was the man who could tell me all that I wished to know. He was highly elated because the Russians had employed him, given him a whistle and invested him with authority to summon aid if he detected any wrong-doing. They had furthermore paid him for his services. Although he now roundly tongue-lashed them in general terms, there was no definite personal accusation that he could make against them.
He told me of a sergeant who went into a house, ordered a meal and then demanded money, threatening the woman who had served him. A lieutenant entered at this moment, learned the particulars of the altercation, and struck the sergeant, whom he reproved for disobeying commands for good conduct which had come from Headquarters. "Just think of such lack of respect among officers," Thomas concluded. "One officer striking another for something done against a person in an enemy country. That is bad for discipline. Such a thing would never happen in the German Army."
The moral of the story as I saw it was quite different from what he had intended it to be.
A few days later I was again in the crowded beer hall when Herr Thomas entered. He liked to be in the limelight, and had a most extraordinary manner of apparently addressing his conversation to some selected individual, but carried it on in a tone which could be heard throughout the entire room. The Russian whistle which he still wore, and of which he was very proud, threatened to become a millstone about his neck, for returning refugees were accusing him of inefficiency during his reign, since they asserted that the Russians had stolen their goods from under his very nose.
After he had hurled the usual invectives against the invaders for my benefit, two splendid looking officers, captain and lieutenant, both perfect gentlemen, said that they hoped that I would not become so saturated with this talk that I would write unfairly about the Russians. They added that they had been impressed by the Russian officers in that region and the control which they had exercised over their men.
Early next morning I met the big man with the black beard who was either on my trail or had encountered me again by chance. When I said that I was going to Allenburg, of the destruction of which I had heard so much, he practically insisted that I go with him in his carriage. A mysterious stranger in brown was with him, who also assisted in the sight- seeing.
We rode through a gently undulating farming and grazing country to the Alle River, where we boarded a little Government tug which threaded its way through dead cows, horses, pigs, dogs, and now and then a man floating down the stream. Battered trenches, ruined farmhouses splintered woods, the hoof marks of Russian horses that had forded the stream under German fire, showed that the struggle had been intense along the river. The plan of battle formed in my mind. It was clear that the Germans had made the western bank a main line of defence, which, however, had been broken through.
"Just wait until we reach Allenburg," said the man in brown, "and you will see what beasts the murdering Russians are. Wait until you see how they have destroyed that innocent town!"
According to the course of the battle and the story of the Russian destruction of Allenburg, I expected to find it on the western bank, but to my great surprise it is on the eastern, with a considerable stretch of road separating it from the river. We left the boat and walked along this road, on each side of which lay willows in perfect rows where they had been skilfully felled by the Russians. This sight evoked new assaults from my guides upon "the beasts" whom they accused of wanton and wilful violation of the arboreal beauty which the Allenburgers had loved.
I put myself in the place of the citizens of Allenburg, returning to their little town devastated by war; I understood their feelings and I sympathised with them. I was seeing the other side of Germany's page of conquest. The war map of Europe shows that she has done most of the invading, and during all the days I spent in the Fatherland I never heard a single word of pity for the people of the regions overrun by her armies except, of course, the Pecksniffian variety used by her diplomats. It was now my rare privilege to return with German refugees to their ruined country, and they vied with one another when they talked to me in the presence of my guides in accusing the Russians of every crime under the sun.
The war had been brought home to them, but in the meantime other Germans had brought the war home even more forcibly to the citizens of Belgium and northern France, but the thing could not balance in the minds of those affected.
I was conducted to a combination home and chemist's shop, the upper part of which had been wrecked by a shell. The Russians had looted the place of chemicals and had searched through all the letters in the owner's desk. These they had thrown upon the floor instead of putting them back neatly in the drawers.
My guides laid great stress on such crimes, but I took mental note of certain other things which were not pointed out to me. The beastsas they always called themhad been quartered here for three weeks, but not a mirror had been cracked, not a scratch marred the highly polished black piano, and the well-stocked, exquisitely carved bookcase was precisely as it had been before the first Cossack patrol entered the city.
The owner viewed his loss philosophically. "When we have placed a war indemnity upon Russia I shall be paid in full," he declared in a voice of supreme confidence.
My guides never gave me an opportunity to talk alone with the few civilians in the place, and at the sausage and beer lunch the conversation was based on the "wanton destruction by the beasts of an innocent town."
After they had drunk so much beer that they both fell asleep I slipped quietly away and went about amid the ruins. I came upon human bodies burned to a crisp. Heaps of empty cartridge shells littered the ground, which I examined with astonishment for they were Russian, not German, shells, and must have been used by men defending the town.
I met a pretty girl of seventeen drawing water at a well, who had remained during the three weeks that the Russians were there to care for her invalid father, and had not suffered the slightest insult. Yet all my informants had told me that the Russians had spared none of the weaker sex who had remained in their path.
Further investigations had revealed that the Russians had not fired a shot upon the town, but that the Germans had destroyed it driving them out.
I entered a little Roman Catholic church in the undamaged section of the town and noted with interest that nothing had apparently been disturbedthis the more significant since the Russians hold a different faith.
I walked back towards the river and strolled through the neat, well-shaded churchyard to the ruins of the large church, the dominating feature of the town. It was clear from what was left that the lines of the body and the spire had been of rare beauty for such an insignificant place as Allenburg.
"Too bad!" I remarked to a white-haired old man who was sitting on a bench mournfully contemplating the ruins.
"Sad, so sad!" he said in a voice full of grief. "And it seems sadder that it had to be done by our own people," he added.
"Were you here during the fighting?" I asked.
"I was," he answered. "I would rather die than leave this place, where I was born and where I have always lived."
I returned to the anxious guides and told them that I had visited the ruins of the church.
"A destruction which could serve no military purpose," declared the man in brown. "You see the methods of the people Germany is fighting."
I expressed a desire to seek only one more thing, the church on the road to Friedland which had been destroyed by the Russians after the sixty maidens had been driven into it. We went to it, but, alas! it had not been disturbed in the least. I somehow felt that my guides saw the lack of destruction with genuine regret. The big man with the black beard was at a loss to reconcile the story he told me at Königsberg with the actual facts found on the spot.
"Somebody must have made a mistake," was all he said.
My last view of Allenburg was from across the river with the long rays of the setting sun burnishing the ruins of the once beautiful church, the church I saw months later on the screen in the London display room, the church that has been shown all over the world as evidence of Russian methods in war.
I went all through East Prussia studying first hand the effects of the great campaign. My luck increased from day to day. I secured a military pass to visit all hospitals in the XXth Army Corps, which aided my investigations not a little. The prejudice which I had against the Russians died in East Prussia. It was buried forever the following winter when I was with the Russian Army in the memorable retreat through the Bukowina In East Prussia I was in an entirely different position from a man investigating conditions in Belgium, for I was in the German's own country after he had driven out the invader. I tried to see some youth whose hand had been cut off, but could not find a single case, although everybody had heard of such mutilations. The fact that no doctor whom I questioned knew of any case was sufficient refutation, since a person whose hand had been cut off would need something more than a bandage tied on at home.
When the Russians entered the province they struck yellow and black posters everywhere announcing that it was annexed to Russia. In view of this the Russian officers were instructed to restrain their men and to treat the natives well. Isolated cases of violence, for the most part murder and robbery of the victim, had occurred where men had broken away from restraint, but they were surprisingly few.
After I returned to Berlin I met an American correspondent who was in East Prussia when I was. His sympathies were pro-German, but he was an open and fair-minded man, who, like me, had left Berlin with a deep feeling against the Russians, thanks to the excellent German propaganda. "I went especially to get some good stories of Russian atrocities," he said. "I thought that every mile would be blood-marked with evidence, but I came back defeated. Some petty larceny and robbery, a Red Cross flag torn to shreds by a Russian shell, two old men murdered and robbed by Cossacks, and a woman in the hospital at Soldau, who had been outraged by five Cossacks, was all that I could find, even though I was aided by the German Government."
My own first-hand investigations convinced me that it would be difficult for any army in the world to conduct a cleaner campaign than Russia conducted in her first invasion of East Prussia. I remind the reader that I am speaking of the first invasion, for I have no personal knowledge of the second. Subsequently in Germany when I spoke of the matter I was always told that it was the second invasion which was so bad. Perhaps! But I had been fooled when Berlin cried wolf the first time.
By a stroke of fortune while in East Prussia I became "assistant" for two days to a Government moving picture photographer who had a pass for himself and assistant in those happy days of inexactitude. We formed the kind of close comradeship which men form who are suffocated but unhurt by a shell which kills and maims others all about them. That had been our experience. He had, moreover, been over much of the ground covered by me behind the front.
"l am instructed to get four kinds of pictures," he explained. "(1) Pictures which show German patriotism and unity. (2) Pictures which show German organisation and efficiency. (3) Pictures which show evidence of humanity in the German Army. (4) Pictures which show destruction by the enemy. Some of my pictures are kept by the Kriegsministerium for purposes of studying the war. The greater part, however, are used for propaganda both at home and abroad. Furthermore, I must be careful to keep an accurate record of what each picture is. The pictures are then arranged and given suitable titles in Berlin."
I thought of all this in the London display-room when the familiar picture of the ruined church flashed before my eyes with the title Beautiful Church at Allenburg Destroyed by the Russiansa deliberate lie on the film.
I have nothing to say against the Germans for knocking their own town to pieces or against the British and French for knocking French towns to pieces. That is one of the misfortunes of war.
The point is, that the propaganda department of the Wilhelmstrasse fully understands that people who do not see the war, especially neutrals, are shocked at the destruction of churches. The Germans have been taught an unpleasant lesson in this in the case of Rheims. Therefore they answer by falsifying a film when it suits their purpose with just as little compunction as they repudiate promises.
"A little thing!" you might say.
That adds to its importance, for it is attention to detail which characterises modern Germany. It is the subtle things which are difficult to detect. The Government neglects nothing which will aid in the ownership of public opinion at home and the influencing of neutrals throughout the world.
German refugees in a makeshift dwelling in East Prussia
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