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Through the Iron Bars by Emile Cammaerts

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Two years of German occupation in Belgium






I. The Prison Gates

II. The Lowered Flag

III. The Poisoned Wells

IV. The Sacking of Belgium

V. The Modern Slave
1. The Creeping Tide
2. "By the Waters of Babylon"

VI. The Olive Branch

Through the Iron Bars



The English-speaking public is generally well informed concerning the
part played in the war by the Belgian troops. The resistance of our
small field army at Liege, before Antwerp, and on the Yser has been
praised and is still being praised wherever the tale runs. This is easy
enough to understand. The fact that those 100,000 men should have been
able to hold so long in check the forces of the first military Empire in
Europe, and that a great number of them, helped by new contingents of
recruits and led by their young King, should still be fighting on their
native soil, must appeal strongly to the imagination.

If it be told how the new Belgian army, reorganised and re-equipped
after the terrible ordeal on the Yser, is at the present moment much
stronger than at the beginning of the war, how it has been able lately
to extend its front in Flanders, and how some of its units have rendered
valuable help to the cause of the Allies in East Africa and even in
Galicia, the story sounds like a fairy tale. There is, in the history of
this unequal struggle, the true ring of legendary heroism; it seems an
echo of the tale of David and Goliath, or of Jack the Giant Killer; it
is full of the triumph of the spirit over the flesh, of independence and
free will over fatalism and brute force, of Right over Might.

I feel confident that some day a poet will be able to sing this great
epic in verses which shall answer to the swinging rhythm of battle and
roll with the booming of a thousand guns. But, in the meantime, I should
like to say a few words about a much humbler, a much simpler, a much
more familiar subject. It awakes no classical remembrances of Leonidas
or Marathon. My heroes risk their lives, but they are not soldiers,
merely prosaic "bourgeois" and workmen. They have no weapon, they cannot
fight. They have only to remain cheery in adversity and patient in the
face of taunts. They cannot render blow for blow, they have no sword to
flourish against an insolent conqueror. They can only oppose a stout
heart, a loyal spirit, and an ironic smile to the persecutions to which
they are subjected. They can do nothing--they must do nothing--only hope
and wait. But there are as much heroism and beauty in their black
frock-coats and their soiled workmen's smocks as in the gayest and most
glittering uniforms.

It is the plain matter-of-fact story of Belgian life under German rule.
Many more people will be tempted to praise the glory of our soldiers.
But, if the incidents of conquered Belgium's life are not recorded in
good time, they might escape notice. People might forget that, besides
the 150,000 to 200,000 heroes who are now waging war for Belgium on the
Western front, there are 7,500,000 heroes who are suffering for Belgium
behind the German lines, in the close prison of guarded frontiers, cut
off from the whole world, separated alike from those who are fighting
for their deliverance and from those who have sought refuge abroad.

These are the people whom America, England, Spain, and many generous
people in other allied and neutral countries have tried to save from
material starvation. If I could only show to my readers how they are
saving themselves from despair, from spiritual starvation, I should be
well repaid for my trouble, for, among all the wonders of this war,
which has displayed mankind as at once so much worse and so much better
than we thought, there is perhaps nothing more surprising than the way
in which the Belgian people have kept their spirits up.

One can, to a certain extent, understand the bright courage and the grim
humour of the fighting soldier; he has the excitement of battle to
sustain him through danger and suffering. But that an unarmed
population, which, having witnessed the martyrdom of many peaceful
towns, is threatened with utter destruction, which, ruined by war
contributions and requisitions, is on the brink of starvation, which,
persecuted by spies and subjected constantly to the most severe
individual and collective punishments on the slightest pretext, is
obliged to refrain from any manifestation of patriotic sentiments--that
such a population, completely cut off from its Government and from most
of its political leaders, and, moreover, poisoned every day by news
concocted by the enemy, should remain unshakable in its courage and
loyalty and should still be able to laugh at the efforts made by its
masters to bring it into submission, is truly one of the most amazing
spectacles which we have witnessed since the war broke out. General von
Bissing has declared that the Belgians are an enigma to him. No wonder.
They are an enigma to themselves. I am not going to explain the miracle.
I will only attempt to show how inexplicable, how miraculous, it is.

* * * * *

The German occupation of Belgium may be roughly divided into two
periods: Before the fall of Antwerp, when the hope of prompt deliverance
was still vivid in every heart, and when the German policy, in spite of
its frightfulness, had not yet assumed its most ruthless and systematic
character; and, after the fall of the great fortress, when the yoke of
the conqueror weighed more heavily on the vanquished shoulders, and when
the Belgian population, grim and resolute, began to struggle to preserve
its honour and loyalty and to resist the ever increasing pressure of the
enemy to bring it into complete submission and to use it as a tool
against its own army and its own King.

I am only concerned here with the second period. The story of the German
atrocities committed in some parts of the country at the beginning of
the occupation is too well known to require any further comment. Every
honest man, in Allied and neutral countries, has made up his mind on the
subject. No unprejudiced person can hesitate between the evidence
brought forward by the Belgian Commission of Enquiry and the vague
denials, paltry excuses and insolent calumnies opposed to it by the
German Government and the Pro-German Press. Besides, in a way, the
atrocities committed during the last days of August, 1914, ought not to
be considered as the culminating point of Belgium's martyrdom. They
have, of course, appealed to the imagination of the masses, they have
filled the world with horror and indignation, but they did not extend
all over the country, as the present oppression does; they only affected
a few thousand men and women, instead of involving hundreds of
thousands. They were clean wounds wrought by iron and fire, sudden,
brutal blows struck at the heart of the country, wounds and blows from
which it is possible to recover quickly, from which reaction is
possible, which do not affect the soul and honour of a people. The
military executioners of 1914 were compassionate when compared to the
civilian administrators who succeeded them. The pen may be more cruel
than the sword. Considered in the light of the recent deportations, the
first days of frightfulness seem almost merciful.

Observers have found no words strong enough to praise the attitude of
the Belgian people when victory seemed close at hand, when news was
still allowed to reach them. What should be said now after the
twenty-seven months for which they have been completely isolated from
the rest of the world? The ruthless methods of the German army of
invasion which deliberately massacred 5,000 unarmed civilians and sacked
six or seven towns and many more villages has been vehemently condemned.
What is to be the verdict now that they have succeeded, after two years
of efforts, in sacking the whole country, ruining her industry and
commerce, throwing out of employment her best workmen and leading into
slavery tens of thousands of her staunchest patriots? The horrors of
Louvain and Dinant were compared, with some reason, to the excesses of
the Thirty Years War, but modern history offers no other instance of
forced labour and wholesale deportations. If, fifty years ago, the
conscience of the world revolted against black slavery, what should its
feelings be today when it is confronted with this new and most appalling
form of white slavery? We should in vain ransack the chronicles of
history to find, even in ancient times, crimes similar to this one. For
the Jews were at war with Babylon, the Gauls were at war with Rome.
Belgium did not wage war against Germany. She merely refused to betray
her honour.

* * * * *

Let us watch, then, the closing of the prison gates. Up to the beginning
of October, the Belgians, and specially the people of Brussels, had been
kept in a state of suspense by the three sorties of the Belgian army,
which left the shelter of the Antwerp forts to advance towards Vilvorde
and Louvain, a few miles from the capital. At the beginning of
September, the sound of guns came so close that the people rejoiced
openly, thinking that deliverance was at their gates. To sober their
spirit--or to exasperate their patience?--the Governor General ordered
that a few Belgian prisoners, some of them wounded, with their
quickfiring gun drawn by a dog, should be marched through the crowded
streets. The men were covered with dust, their heads wrapped in
blood-stained bandages, and they kept their eyes on the ground as if
ashamed. Some women sobbed on seeing them, others cursed their guards,
others plundered a flower shop and showered flowers upon them. At last
two stalwart workmen shouldered away the escort, and, helped by the
crowd, which paralysed the movements of the Germans, succeeded in
kidnapping the prisoners, and getting them away to the neighbouring
streets. They could never be discovered, and it was the last display of
the kind which the Governor gave to Brussels.

During the siege, people had learnt to recognize the voice of every fort
of Antwerp. They said to each other: "That is Lizele, Wavre Ste.
Catherine, Waelhem." One after the other the Belgian guns were silenced,
first Wavre, then Waelhem ... and the vibrating boom of the German
heavies was heard louder than ever. The listening Bruxellois grew paler,
straining every nerve to catch the voice of Antwerp. It was as if their
own life as a nation was slowly dying away, as if they were mourning
their own agony. But still the valiant spirit of the first days
prevailed. "They will be beaten for all that. What was Antwerp compared
with the Marne? All forts must fall under 'their' artillery. After all,
the nest is empty; the King and the army are safe."

Since those days a kind of reckless indifference has seized the
Belgians. If we must lose everything to gain everything, let us lose
it. The sooner the better. It is the spirit of a poor man burning his
furniture in order to shelter his children from cold, or of a Saint
suffering every physical privation in order to gain the Kingdom of
Heaven. It is an uncanny spirit composed of wild energy and bitter-sweet
irony. "First Liege, then Brussels, then Namur, now Antwerp. The King
has gone, the Government has gone. If all Belgium has to go, let it go.
It is the price we have to pay. The victory of our soul shall be all the
greater if our body is shattered and tortured."

Henceforth, the voice of Belgium reaches us only from time to time. Its
sound is muffled by the enemy's strangle-hold, which grows tighter and
tighter. Before the fall of Antwerp, the German administration of
General von der Goltz had merely a temporary character. We knew that
most of the high officials were stopping in Brussels on their way to
Paris. On the other hand, any skilful move of the Allies, any successful
sortie from Antwerp, might have jeopardized all the conqueror's plans
and necessitated an immediate retreat. The Yser-Ypres struggle barred
the way to Brussels as well as to Calais. The Germans knew now that they
were safe, at least for a good many months, and began systematically to
"organize the country." All communications with the uninterrupted part
of Belgium were interrupted. It became more and more difficult and
dangerous to cross the Dutch frontier without a special permit. The
economic and moral pressure increased steadily, and the conflict between
conquerors and patriots began, a conflict unrelieved by dramatic
interest or excitement from outside, which carried the country back to
the worst days of Austrian and Spanish domination.



The contrast which I have endeavoured to indicate, in the first chapter,
between the attitude of the German administration before the fall of
Antwerp and its behaviour afterwards is nowhere so well marked as in the
measures taken for the purpose of repressing all Belgian manifestations
of patriotism.

During the two first months of occupation, the Germans made at least a
show of respecting the loyal feelings of the population. In his first
proclamation, dated September 2nd, in which he announced his appointment
as General Governor of Belgium, Baron von der Goltz declared that "he
asked no one to renounce his patriotic feelings." And when, a few days
later, the Governor of Brussels, Baron von Luttwitz, issued a poster
"advising" the citizens to take their flags from their windows, he did
this in conciliatory words, giving the pretext that these manifestations
might provoke reprisals from the German troops passing through the town:
"The Military Governor does not intend in the least to hurt, by such a
measure, the feelings and self-respect of the inhabitants. His only aim
is to protect them against all harm." (September 16th.) Every Belgian
was still wearing the national colours, pictures of the King and Queen
were sold in the streets, and the Brabanconne was hummed, whistled, and
sung all over the country. The people had lost every right but one: they
could still show the enemy, in spite of the declarations of the German
Press, that they were not yet ready to accept his rule.

This apparent tolerance is easy to explain. After the massacres of
August, the German authorities were anxious not to exasperate public
opinion, and not to spoil by uselessly vexatious measures the effect
which had been produced. During the Marne and the three sorties of the
Belgian army, they had only a very small number of men at their disposal
to garrison the largest towns. The slightest progress of the Belgian
army might have endangered their line of communications. We know now
that the withdrawal of the seat of the government from Brussels to Liege
was at one moment seriously contemplated, and that the same troops were
made to pass again and again through the streets of the capital in order
to give the illusion that the garrison was stronger than it really was
(_Frankfurter Zeitung_, August 22nd, 1916). Besides, Germany had not yet
given up all hopes of coming to terms with King Albert, since a third
attempt was to be made at Antwerp to separate the Belgian Government
from the Allies. In these circumstances it seemed wiser to let the
Belgian folk indulge in their harmless manifestations of loyalty, so
long as they did not cause any disturbance and did not complicate the
task of the military.

Let us look now at the next phase. As soon as the Belgian army has
achieved its junction with the Allies on the Yser and all communications
are cut between the Government and the people, the Germans cease to
consider Belgium as an occupied territory, and seize upon every pretext
to treat her as a conquered country, which will, sooner or later, become
part of the Empire. They no longer take the trouble to explain or
justify their oppressive measures, or to reconcile them with their
former promises. They simply ignore them. First in Namur (November the
15th, 1914), then in Brussels (June the 30th, 1915), it becomes a crime
to wear the tricolour cockade. The Te Deum, which is celebrated every
year, on November 15th, in honour of King Albert's Saint's day, is
forbidden. From the month of March, 1915, it is practically a forbidden
thing to sing the Brabanconne, even in the schools. All patriotic
manifestations, on the occasion of the King's Birthday (April 8th) and
of the anniversary of Belgian Independence day (July 21st) are severely

In some of the orders issued there is still a weak attempt at
"respecting," in a German way, "the people's patriotic feelings." The
Governor of Namur, for instance, discriminates with the acutest subtlety
between wearing the national colours in private and in public, and the
Brabanconne can for a time be sung, so long as it is not rendered "in a
provoking manner." In fact, the Belgians are free to manifest their
patriotism so long as they are neither seen nor heard. They are
generously allowed to line their cupboards with tricolour paper and to
hum their national tunes in the depth of their cellars. But, in most of
the orders made under Governor von Bissing's rule (his reign began on
December 3rd, 1914), this last pretence of consideration and respect
disappears entirely. "I warn the public," declares the Governor of
Brussels on July the 18th, 1914, "that any demonstration whatsoever is
forbidden on July 21st next."

More than that, the German Administration frequently goes out of its way
to hurt the people's feelings. The fact of helping a patriot to join the
Army is not merely punished as a crime against the Germans, it is
delicately called "a crime of treason," and when people are condemned
because they are suspected of belonging to the Belgian intelligence
service, the public posters announcing their condemnation speak of them
as supplying information "to the enemy."

The sham tolerance of the first days has given way to a restless
repression, and even, during the last year, to deliberate persecution.
Schools may be inspected at any time by the authorities and every
"anti-German manifestation" (that is to say, any pro-Belgian teaching)
is severely punished. Shops are raided so that every patriotic picture
post-card (especially the portraits of the Royal Family) may be seized,
and even the intimacy of the private home is not respected. To begin
with, the Belgians have been allowed to show their loyalty--with
discretion; next, every patriotic manifestation is excluded from public
life; and last, the Germans, through their spies, penetrate the homes of
every citizen, and endeavour to extirpate by a reign of terror these
same feelings which they so emphatically promised to respect.

* * * * *

People who are leading a quiet life and who enjoy the blessings of an
autonomous Government will perhaps not appreciate the importance which
the Belgians attach, at the present moment, to these patriotic
manifestations. They may imagine that, so long as national life is
assured and citizens are otherwise left alone by their conquerors,
public affirmation of loyalty to King and country is of secondary

God knows that the economic situation of occupied Belgium is bad enough,
and the endless and tragic lists of condemnations and deportations are
there to prove that her people are living under the most barbarous
regime of modern times. But, even if this was not the case, anybody with
the slightest knowledge of their national character would understand the
extraordinary value which the Belgians attached to their last privilege
and the deep indignation roused by this German betrayal.

Von Bissing shrugs his shoulders and calls them "big children." So they
are. And his son, with a scornful smile, declares in the _Suddeutsche
Monatschrift_ (April 15th, 1915) that it is in "the people's blood to
demonstrate and to wear cockades." So it is. The love of processions and
public pageants of all kinds is deeply rooted in Belgian traditions.
But what does it prove? Simply that the people have preserved enough
freshness and joy of life to care for these things, enough courage and
independence to feel most need of them when they are most afflicted.
This is how they think of it: "Our bands used to pass through the
streets, shaking our window-panes with the crashing of their trombones,
our flags used to wave in the breeze--in the happy days of peace. Should
we now remain, silent and withdrawn, in the selfish privacy of our
houses, now that the country needs us most, now that we want, more than
ever, to feel that we are one people and that we will remain independent
and united whatever happens in the future?" Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von
Bissing sneers at the Belgians because on any and every pretext they
display the American colours. If they do, it is because they are not
allowed to display their own, and because they feel somehow that the
best way to show that they have still a flag is to adopt the colours of
the great country which has so generously come to their help. It may
well be, as the Baron informs us, that most of the "small and big
children" who wear the Stars and Stripes do not know a word of English.
What does it mean again? Simply that heart may call to heart and that it
is not necessary to talk in his own language to understand a brother's
mind. It is true that only children--children small and big--know how to
do it.

If the Germans had had the least touch of generous feeling for the
unfortunate country upon which they thrust war in spite of the most
solemn treaties, they would not have obliged the Belgian citizens to
lower the flags which they had put up during the defence of Liege, they
would not have torn their tricolour cockades from their buttonholes,
they would not have silenced their national songs, they would not have
added these deep humiliations to the bitter cup of defeat. One wonders
even why they did it if it was not for the mere pleasure which the bully
is supposed to feel when he makes his strength felt by his victim. They
might have gone on gaily plundering the country, shooting patriots,
deporting young men, doing whatever seemed useful in their eyes. But the
petty tyranny of these measures passes understanding. Governor von
Bissing is certainly too clever to believe that the satisfaction of
making a few cowards uneasy by such regulations can at all outweigh the
danger inherent in the resentment and the deep hatred which the bullying
has aroused against Germany. You may take the children's bread, you may
take their freedom, but you might at least leave them a few toys to play
with, and you would be wise to do so.

* * * * *

Such narrow-minded tyranny always defeats its own objects. Burgomaster
Max's proud answer to General von Luttwitz's "advice" to remove the
flags became the password of the patriots. Every Bruxellois henceforth
"waited for the hour of reparation." A great number of women went to
prison rather than remove the emblems of Belgium which they wore.
Stories passed from lip to lip. Their accuracy I would not guarantee,
but they belong to the epic of the war and are true to the spirit of the
people. A young lady, who was jeered at by a German officer because she
was wearing King Albert's portrait, is said to have answered his
"Lackland" with, "I would rather have a King who has lost his country
than an Emperor who has lost his honour." Another lady, sitting in a
tram-car opposite a German officer, was ordered by him to remove her
tricolour rosette. She refused to do so, and, as he threatened her,
defied him to do it himself. The Boche seized the rosette and pulled ..
and pulled .. and pulled. The lady had concealed twenty yards of ribbon
in her corsage.

When the tricolour was forbidden altogether, it was replaced by the
ivyleaf, ivy being the emblem of faithfulness; later, the ivyleaf was
followed by a green ribbon, green being the colour of hope. The
Brabanconne being excluded from the street and from the school took
refuge in the Churches, where it is played and often sung by the
congregation at the end of the service. There are many ways of getting
round the law. The Belgians were forbidden to celebrate in any ordinary
way the anniversary of their independence. Thanks to a sort of tacit
arrangement they succeeded in marking the occasion in spite of all
regulations. On July 21st, 1915, the Bruxellois kept the shutters of
their houses and shops closed and went out in the streets dressed in
their best clothes, most of them in mourning. The next year, as the
closing of shops was this time foreseen by the administration, they
remained open. But a great number of tradespeople managed ingeniously to
display the national colours in their windows--by the juxtaposition, for
instance, of yellow lemons, red tomatoes and black grapes. Others
emptied their windows altogether.

These jokes may seem childish, at first sight, but when we think that
those who dared perform them paid for it with several months'
imprisonment or several thousand marks, and paid cheerily, we understand
that there is more in them than a schoolboy's pranks. It seems as if the
Belgian spirit would break if it ceased to be able to react. One of the
shop-managers who was most heavily fined on the occasion of our last
"Independence Day" declared that he had not lost his money: "It is
rather expensive, but it is worth it."

* * * * *

If patriotism has become a religion in Belgium, this religion has found
a priest whose authority is recognised by the last unbeliever. If every
church has become the "_Temple de la Patrie_," if the Brabanconne
resounds under the Gothic arches of every nave, Cardinal Mercier has
become the good shepherd who has taken charge of the flock during the
King's absence. The great Brotherhood, for which so many Christian souls
are yearning, in which there are no more classes, parties, and sects,
seems well nigh achieved beyond the electrified barbed wire of the
Belgian frontier. Are not all Belgians threatened with the same danger,
are they not close-knit by the same hope, the same love, the same

When the bells rang from the towers of Brussels Cathedral on July 21st
last, when, in his red robes, Cardinal Mercier blessed the people
assembled to celebrate the day of Belgium's Independence, it seemed that
the soul of the martyred nation hovered in the Church. After the
national anthem, people lifted their eyes towards the great crucifix in
the choir, and could no longer distinguish, through their tears, the
image of the Crucified from that of their bleeding country.



We must never forget, when we speak of the moral resistance of the
Belgian people, that they have been completely isolated from their
friends abroad for more than two years and that meanwhile they have been
exposed to all the systematic and skilful manoeuvres of German
propaganda. Not only are they without news from abroad, but all the news
they receive is calculated to spread discouragement and distrust.

How true lovers could resist a long separation and the most wicked
calumnies without losing faith in one another has been the theme of many
a story. From the story-writer's point of view, the true narrative of
the German occupation of Belgium is much more romantic than any romance,
much more wonderful than any poem. The mass is not supposed to show the
same constancy as the individual, and one does not expect from a whole
people the ideal loyalty of Desdemona and Imogen. Besides, we do not
want the reader to imagine that, before the war, the Belgians were
ideally in love with one another. Like the English, the Americans and
the French, we had our differences. It is one of the unavoidable
drawbacks of Democracy that politics should exaggerate the importance of
dissensions. Therefore it is all the more remarkable that the sudden
friendship which sprang up between classes, parties and races in
Belgium, on the eve of August 4th, should so long have defied the
untiring efforts of the enemy and should remain as unshakeable to-day as
it was at the beginning.

We do not wonder that the German intellectuals who have undertaken to
break down Belgian unity are at a loss to explain their failure.
Scientifically it defies every explanation. Here was a people
apparently deeply divided against itself, Socialists opposed Liberals,
Liberals opposed Catholics, Flemings opposed Walloons; theoretical
differences degenerated frequently into personal quarrels; political
antagonism was embittered by questions of religion and language. Surely
this was ideal ground in which to sow the seed of discord, when the
Government had been obliged to seek refuge in a foreign country and a
great number of prominent citizens had emigrated abroad. The German
propagandist, who had been able to work wonders in some neutral
countries, must have thought the task almost unworthy of his efforts.
Every one of his theoretical calculations was correct. He only forgot
one small detail which a closer study of history might have taught him.
He forgot that, in face of the common danger, all these differences
would lose their hold on the people's soul, that the former bitterness
of their quarrels was nothing compared with the sacred love of their
country which they shared.

* * * * *

The first action of the German administration after the triumphal entry
into Brussels was to try to isolate the occupied part of the country, in
order to monopolize the news. Rather than submit to a German censor, all
the Belgian papers--with the exception of two small provincial
journals--had ceased to appear. During a fortnight, Brussels remained
without authorized news. From that time, the authorities allowed the
sale of some German and Dutch dailies and of a few newspapers published
in Belgium under German control. The Government itself issued the
_Deutsche Soldatenpost_ and _Le Reveil_ (in French) and a great number
of posters, "_Communications officielles du Commandant de l'Armee
allemande_," which were supposed to contain the latest war-news.

To this imposing array, the patriots could only oppose a few pamphlets
issued by the editor Bryan Hill, soon prohibited, and copies of Belgian,
French and English papers, which were smuggled at great risk, and
consequently were very expensive. Still, before the fall of Antwerp, it
was practically impossible for the Germans to stop private letters and
newspapers passing from the unoccupied to the occupied part of the
country. Besides, they had more important business on hand. Here again,
it was only after the second month of occupation that the pressure
increased. During October and November, several people were condemned to
heavy fines and to periods of imprisonment for circulating written and
even verbal news. The Dutch frontier was closed, wherever no natural
obstacle intervened, by a continuous line of barbed wire and electrified
wire. Passports were only granted to the few people engaged in the work
of relief and to those who could prove that it was essential to the
interests of their business that they should leave the country for a
time. The postal service being reorganized under German control, any
other method of communication was severely prosecuted. At the end of
1914, several messengers lost their lives in attempting to cross the
Dutch frontier. Under such conditions it is easy to understand that, in
spite of the efforts made by the anonymous editors of two or three
prohibited papers, such as _La Libre Belgique_, the bulk of the
population was practically cut off from the rest of the world and was
compelled to read, if they read at all, the pro-German papers and the
German posters. The only wells left from which the people could drink
were poisoned.

* * * * *

The German Press Bureau in Brussels, openly recognised by the
administration and formerly the headquarters of Baron von Bissing's son,
set to work in three principal directions. It aimed at separating the
Belgians from the Allies, then at separating the people from King
Albert and his Government, and finally at reviving the old language
quarrel between Walloons and Flemings.

The campaign against the Allies, though still carried on whenever the
opportunity arises, was specially violent at the beginning, when the
Germans had not yet given up all hope of detaching King Albert from the
Alliance (August-September, 1914). It was perhaps the most dangerous
line of attack because it did not imply any breach of patriotism. On the
contrary it suggested that Belgium had been duped by the Allies, and
especially by England, who had never meant to come to her help and who
had used her as a catspaw, leaving her to bear all the brunt of the
German assault in an unequal and heroic struggle. It was accompanied by
a constant flow of war news exaggerating the German successes and
suggesting that, even if they ever had the intention of delivering
Belgium, the Allies would no longer be in a position to do so.

According to the first war-news poster issued in Brussels, a few days
after the enemy had entered the town, the French official papers had
declared that "The French armies, being thrown on the defensive, would
not be able to help Belgium in an offensive movement." I need not recall
how, his name having been used at Liege to bolster up this false report,
M. Max, the burgomaster of Brussels, found an opportunity of
contradicting it publicly and, at the same time, of discrediting all
censored news.

The effect was amazing. Henceforth the official posters were not only
regularly regarded as a tissue of lies, but definitely ridiculed. The
people either ignored them or paid them an exaggerated attention. In
some popular quarters, urchins climbed on ladders to read them aloud to
a jeering crowd. The influence of M. Max's attitude was such that,
eighteen months later, several people coming from the capital declared
that, as far as war news was concerned, Brussels was far more
optimistic than London or Paris, every check received by the Allied
armies being systematically ignored and every success exaggerated.

When one reads through the series of German "_Communications_" pasted on
the walls of the capital during the first year of the occupation, one
wonders how they did not succeed in discouraging the population. For, in
spite of some extraordinary blunders--such as the announcement that a
German squadron had captured fifteen English fishing boats (September
8th, 1914), that the Serbs had taken Semlin because they had nothing
more to eat in Serbia (September 13th, 1914), or that the British army
was so badly equipped that the soldiers lacked boot-laces and writing
paper (October 6th, 1914)--the author of these proclamations succeeded
so skilfully in mixing truth and untruth and in drawing the attention of
the public away from any reverse suffered by the Central Empires, that
the effect of the campaign might have been most demoralizing.

After this first reverse, the Germans only attacked the Allies in order
to throw on their shoulders the responsibility for the woes which they
themselves were inflicting on their victims. When some English
aeroplanes visited Brussels, on September 26th, 1915, a few people were
killed and many more wounded. The German press declared immediately that
this was due to the want of skill of the airmen, who dropped the bombs
indiscriminately over the town. We possess now material proof that the
people were killed, not by bombs dropped from the air, but by fragments
of shells fired from guns. This can only be explained in one way. The
German gunners must have timed their shells so that they should not
burst in the air, but only when falling on the ground. This method of
propaganda may cost a few lives, but it is certainly clever. It might
well be calculated to stir indignation in the hearts of the people
against the Allies and at the same time to serve as a warning to enemy
headquarters to the effect: "Whenever you send your aeroplanes over
Belgian towns, we are going to make the population pay for it."

The same kind of argument is used at the present moment with regard to
the wholesale deportations which are going on in Belgium. To justify his
slave-raids, Governor von Bissing denounces England's blockade. It is
the economic policy of England--not German requisitions--which has
ruined Belgium and caused unemployment: "If there are any objections to
be made about this state of affairs you must address them to England,
who, through her policy of isolation, has rendered the coercive measures
necessary." [1] But the argument is used more for the sake of discussion
than in the real hope of convincing the public. General von Bissing can
have very few illusions left as to the state of mind of the Belgian
population. He knows that every Belgian worker, would answer, with the
members of the Commission Syndicale: "All the Allies have agreed to let
some raw material necessary to our industry enter Belgium, under the
condition, naturally, that no requisitions should be made by the
occupying power, and that a neutral commission should control the
destination of the manufactured articles." [2] Or, more emphatically
still, with Cardinal Mercier: "England generously allows some foodstuffs
to enter Belgium under the control of neutral countries ... She would
certainly allow raw materials to enter the country under the same
control, if Germany would only pledge herself to leave them to us and
not to seize the manufactured products of our industry."

Such arguments are extraordinarily characteristic of the German mind, as
it has been developed by the war: "Let Belgium know that she is
suffering for England's sake. Let England know that, as long as she
enforces her blockade, her friends in Belgium will have to pay for it."
It is the same kind of double-edged declaration as that used on the
occasion of the Allied air-raid on Brussels. Literally speaking, it cuts
both ways. The excuse becomes a threat and the untruth savours of
blackmail. Healthy minds work by single or treble propositions. If we
did not remember that our aim is to analyse the beautiful and heroic
side of the occupation of Belgium, rather than to dwell on its most
sinister aspects, we should recognize, in this last manoeuvre, the
lowest example of human brutality and hypocrisy, the double mark of the
German hoof.

[Footnote 1: Answer of Governor von Bissing to Cardinal Mercier's
letter, Oct. 26th, 1916.]

[Footnote 2: Letter of the "_Commission Syndicale_" to Baron von
Bissing, Nov. 14th, 1916.]

* * * * *

In spite of the most authentic documents, of the most glaring material
proofs, it might be difficult to realise that the human spirit may fall
so low. It seems as if we were diminishing ourselves when we accuse our
enemies. We have lived so long in the faith that "such things are
impossible" that, now that they happen almost at our door, we should be
inclined to doubt our eyes rather than to doubt the innate goodness of
man. Never did I feel this more strongly than when I saw, for the first
time, a caricature of King Albert reproduced from a German newspaper.

Surely if one man, one leader, has come out of this severe trial
unstained, with his virtue untarnished, it is indeed Albert the First,
King of the Belgians. His simple and loyal attitude in face of the
German ultimatum, the indomitable courage which he showed during the
Belgian campaign, his dignity, his reserve, his almost exaggerated
modesty, ought to have won for him, besides the deep admiration of the
Allies and of the neutral world, the respect and esteem even of his
worst enemy. There is a man of few words and noble actions, fulfilling
his pledges to the last article, faithful to his word even in the
presence of death, a leader sharing the work of his soldiers, a King
living the life of a poor man. When in Paris, in London, triumphal
receptions were awaiting them, he and his noble and devoted Queen
remained at their post, on the last stretch of Belgian territory, in the
rough surroundings of army quarters.

The whole world has noted this. People who have no sympathy to spare for
the Allies' cause have been obliged to bow before this young hero, more
noble in his defeat than all the conquerors of Europe in their victory.
But the Germans have not felt it. Not only did they try to ridicule King
Albert in their comic papers. Even the son of Governor von Bissing did
not hesitate to fling in his face the generous epithet, "Lackland." [3]
As soon as the last attempt to conciliate the King had failed the German
press in Belgium began a most violent and abusive campaign against him.
The _Duesseldorfer General-Anzeiger_ published a venomous article, in
which he was represented as personally responsible for "the plot of the
Allies against Germany and for the crimes of the franc-tireurs." He was
stigmatised as "the slave of England," and it was asserted that "If he
did not grasp the hand stretched out to him by the Kaiser on August 2nd
and the 9th it is only because he did not dare to do so" (October 10th,
1914). He was said to have "betrayed his army at Antwerp. Had he not
sworn not to leave the town alive?" And _Le Reveil_, another paper
circulated in Belgium by German propagandists, announced solemnly that,
once on the Yser, the King wanted to sign a separate peace with Germany,
but England had forbidden him to do so. The _Hamburger Nachrichten_, the
_Vossische Zeitung_ and the _Frankfurter Zeitung_ repeated without
scruple this tissue of gross calumnies. The _Deutsche Soldatenpost_,
edited specially for the German soldiers in Belgium, went even a step
further and violently reproached the Queen of the Belgians for not
having protested against the cruelties inflicted on German civilians in
Brussels and Antwerp, at the outbreak of the hostilities!

[Footnote 3: _Suddeutsche Monatshefte_, April 1915.]

* * * * *

Not being able to stir the people against the Allies or against their
own Government, the German Press Bureau attempted to revive the language
quarrel and to provoke internal dissensions. It is interesting to notice
that the new campaign, whose crowning episode was the opening of the
German University at Ghent, in October last, began two months after the
surrender of Brussels and did not develop until the spring of 1915, when
an important minority of Germans began to realise that it would be
impossible to retain Belgium, and when a greater number still only hoped
to keep Antwerp and Flanders, thanks to the "social and linguistic
affinities of Flemings and Germans."

That is how Germany, who had never troubled much before about the
Flemish movement and Flemish literature, suddenly discovered a great
affection for her Flemish brothers who had so long been exposed to "the
insults of the Walloons"; how she suddenly espoused their grievances and
put into effect, in spite of their strong protests, some reforms
inscribed on the programme; how she tried by every means at her disposal
to conciliate Flemish sympathies and to stir up antagonism and
jealousies by treating Flemings and Walloons differently, whether
prisoners in Germany or in occupied Belgium.

The German train of thought is clear enough: "If we are unable to hold
Belgium, any pro-German demonstrations in the Northern provinces may
suggest the idea that it is the wish of the Flemings to be bound to the
Empire and give a pretext for the annexation of Antwerp and Flanders. If
even that is impossible and if we are obliged to give back his Kingdom
to King Albert, we shall have sown so many germs of discontent in the
country that it will be impossible for the Government to restore Belgium
in her full unity and power. She will never become against us the strong
bulwark of the Allies."

All this Walloon-Flemish agitation started by Germany belongs to a vast
plan of mismanagement. The day Germany knew that she would not be able
to keep her conquest she deliberately set herself to ruin Belgium
economically and morally. She succeeded economically, for nobody could
prevent her from requisitioning whatever she wanted. She failed morally
because the people understood her purpose and because the Flemish
leaders proudly refused the German gifts. The reform of Ghent University
was made in spite of them. It was made with the help of a few Germans,
German-Dutch and Belgians without any reputation or following. The
professors have been bought and the students (they only number eighty)
have been mostly recruited among the Flemish prisoners in Germany and
among a few young men threatened with deportation. They are obliged to
wear a special cap and are under the ban of the whole population. No
true "Gantois" passes them in the street without whispering, "_Vive
l'Armee_." This is the pitiful medley of cranks, traitors and unwilling
students which General von Bissing is pleased to call a "University."

In his inaugural speech, the Governor exclaimed, "The God of War, with
his drawn sword, has held the new institution at the font. May the God
of Peace be gracious to her for long years to come." The Germans' lack
of humour surpasses even their ruthlessness. With one hand General von
Bissing was baptizing the baby--rather a difficult operation--with the
other he brandished his fiery sword over the heads of all the true
Flemings who refused to adopt it. Many of them paid for this patriotic
attitude by losing their liberty. With one hand Germany inflicted this
unwelcome gift on the Flemings, with the other she banished M.M.
Pirenne, Fredericq and Verhaegen from the sacred precincts of Flemish

Most solemnly, on different occasions, all the prominent Flemish leaders
have protested against the German Administration's action. They have
declared that it was illegal and unjust. Governor von Bissing reminds
them that, according to De Raet's words, "Two heroic spirits dominate
the world: The Mind and the Sword." They may possess the first but he
holds the second.



There is one idea which dominates the Belgian tragedy: "The body may be
conquered, the soul remains free." These words were uttered for the
first time, I believe, by the Belgian Premier, Baron de Broqueville, in
the solemn sitting of the House, when the German violation of Belgian
neutrality was announced to the representatives of the people. The idea
is supposed to have been expressed by King Albert, in another form,
before the evacuation of Antwerp. It was used to great effect in one of
the most popular cartoons published by _Punch_, in which the Kaiser says
to the King, with a sneer, "You have lost everything," and the King
replies, "Not my soul." It is so intimately associated with the Belgian
cause that the image of the stricken country is scarcely ever evoked
without an allusion being made to it.

We have seen, in the course of the earlier chapters, how Belgium
succeeded in preserving her loyalty and patriotism in spite of the most
ruthless oppression and the most cunning calumnies. We must now look at
the darker side of the picture and see how she has not succeeded in
preserving either her prosperity, or even her supply of daily bread.

We shall soon be confronted with the most tragic aspect of her Calvary.
So long as her armies were fighting the invader, so long as her towns
and countryside were ruined by German frightfulness, so long as her
martyrs, men, women and children, were falling side by side in the
market-place before the firing party, so long as every symbol, every
word of patriotism was forbidden her, Belgium could remain vanquished
but unconquered, bleeding but unshakeable. She enjoyed, in the face of
her oppressors, all the privileges of the Christian martyrs of the
first centuries; she could smile on the rack, laugh under the whip and
sing in the flames. She remained free in her prison, free to respect
Justice, in the midst of injustice, to treasure Righteousness, in spite
of falsehood, to worship her Saints, in the face of calumny. She was
still able to resist, to oppose, every day and at every turn, her
patience to the enemy's threats and her cheerfulness to his ominous
scowl. She had a clear conscience and her hands were clean.

There is one thing that can be said for the Roman emperors, they seldom
starved their victims to death. Popular imagination revels in their
cruelty, and the _Golden Legend_ displays to us all the grim splendours
of a chamber of horrors. But the worst of all tortures--starvation--is
not often inflicted. The idea is, I suppose, that the conversion must be
sudden and striking. But Belgium's oppressors do not any longer want to
convert her. They have tried and they have failed. They merely want to
take all the food, all the raw materials, all the machines and--last but
not least--all the labour they can out of her. Their fight is not the
fight of one religion against another. It is the fight of material power
against any philosophy, any religion which stands between it and the
things which it covets. The Germans do not sacrifice Belgium to their
gods. Such an ideal course is far from their thoughts. They sacrifice
Belgium to Germany--that is, to themselves. It matters very little
whether a slave is able to speak or to think, as long as he is able to

Here again, in spite of the wholesale plundering of the first days of
occupation, and of the enormous fines imposed on towns and provinces, I
do not suppose that the German plan was deliberately to ruin the
country. It might even have been to develop its resources, as long as
there was some hope of annexing it, though this benevolent spirit had
scarcely any time to manifest itself. After the Marne and the Yser,
however, when it became evident that anyhow the whole of Belgium could
never be retained, and when the attitude of the people showed clearly
that they would always remain hostile to their new masters, the
systematic sacking of the country began without any thought for the

* * * * *

The best way of coming to some appreciation of the work accomplished
during these two years is to remember that, before the war, Belgium was
the richest country in Europe in proportion to her size. Relatively she
had the greatest commercial activity, the richest agricultural
production, and she was more thickly populated than any other State,
with the exception of Saxony. Nowhere were the imports and exports so
important, in proportion to the number of the population, nowhere did
the average square mile yield such rich crops, nowhere was the railway
system so developed. Pauperism was practically unknown, and, even in the
large towns, the number of people dependent on public charity was
comparatively very small. To this picture of unequalled prosperity
oppose the present situation: Part of the countryside left without
culture for want of manure and horses; scarcely any cattle left in the
fields; commerce paralysed by the stoppage of railway and other
communications; industry at a complete standstill, with 500,000 men
thrown out of work and nearly half of the population which remained in
Belgium (3,500,000) on the verge of starvation and entirely dependent
for their subsistance on the work of the Commission for Relief.

It is said that the tree must be judged by its fruit. Such then is the
fruit of the German administration of Belgium. When he arrived in
Brussels, Governor von Bissing declared that he had come to dress
Belgium's wounds. What would he have done if he had meant to aggravate

There is an insidious argument which must be met once and for ever. We
have seen how Germany is trying to throw the responsibility for the
misery prevailing in Belgium and for the present deportations on the
English blockade, which paralyses the industry and prevents the
introduction of raw materials. But, if this were the case, the situation
ought not to be worse in Belgium than in Germany. On the contrary,
thanks to the splendid work of the Commission for Relief, she ought to
be far better off. How is it then that--according to General von
Bissing's own declaration made to Mr. Julius Wertheimer, correspondent
of the _Vossische Zeitung_ (September the 1st, 1916)--how is it that
"the average cost of life is much higher in Belgium than in Germany,"
and that "a great number of inhabitants (tens of thousands of them) have
not eaten a piece of meat for many weeks?"

This inequality between the social conditions in Germany and in Belgium,
in spite of the advantages given to the latter by the introduction of
food through the blockade with England's consent, can easily be
explained: On the one hand, German industry has transformed itself, many
factories which could not continue their ordinary work owing to the
shortage of rawstuffs having been turned into war-factories in which
there is still a great demand for labour. On the other hand, Germany has
not been submitted to the same levies in money, and requisitions in
foodstuffs and material; Germany has not been deprived, from the
beginning, of all her reserve, she has not been depleted of all her

We shall have to deal, in the next chapter, with the first question. Let
us only consider the second here.

It is impossible to give more than a superficial glance at the matter.
The particulars at hand are not complete and a full list of German
exactions has not yet been drawn up. Let us, however, try to give an
idea of the disproportion existing between the country's resources and
the demands which were made on her.

On December 12th, 1914, a poster announced to the citizens of Brussels
that the nine Belgian provinces would be obliged to pay, every month
during the coming year, a sum of forty million francs, making a total of
about 480 millions (over 19 million pounds). In order to understand the
indignation caused by this announcement it is necessary to remember:

1st. That the Belgians were at the time already paying all the ordinary
taxes, to the commune, to the province and to the State, so that this
new contribution constituted a super-tax.

2nd. That all the direct taxes paid to the State, in ordinary times,
amount scarcely to 75 millions, that is to say, to a sixth of this

3rd. And that the new economic conditions imposed by the war had
considerably reduced the income of the most wealthy citizens.

As the Germans persist in invoking the text of the Hague Convention of
which they have again and again violated every clause, it may be useful
to point out that, according to the 49th article, the occupying power is
only allowed to raise war contributions "for the need of the army," that
is to say, in order to pay in money the requisitions which he is obliged
to make in order to supply the army of occupation with food, fodder, and
so on. As, most of the time, the Germans only pay for what they
requisition in "_bons de guerre_" payable after the war, and as, in spite
of their sound appetite, we can scarcely believe that the few thousand
"landsturmers" who are garrisoning Belgium are eating two million
pounds worth a month, the illegal character of the German measure seems
evident. Besides, if any doubt were still possible, we should find it
laid down in the 52nd article that any service required from the
occupying power must be "in proportion to the country's resources."

As the announcement had provoked strong protests, Governor von Bissing
announced a few days later that, if this contribution was paid, no
further extraordinary taxes would be required and the requisitions would
henceforth be paid for in money. Needless to say, none of these promises
have been fulfilled, and the contribution of 480 millions was renewed at
the beginning of 1915, and even increased to 600 millions lately, so
that, from that source only, the Germans have raised in Belgium, after
two years of occupation, a sum equal to one-fourth of the total State
debt of the country on the eve of the war.

This is only one example among many. The communes did not enjoy better
treatment. The reader will remember that during the period of invasion
the enemy exacted various war-taxes from every town he entered: 20
millions from Liege, 50 millions from Brussels, 32 millions from Namur,
40 millions from Antwerp, and so on. Since then, he has never lost an
opportunity of inflicting heavy fines even on the smallest villages. If
one inhabitant succeeds in joining the army, if an allied aeroplane
appears on the horizon, if, for some reason or other, the telegraph or
the telephone wires are out of order, a shower of fines falls on the
neighbouring towns and villages. In June last the total amount of these
exactions was estimated, for 1916, at ten millions (L400,000). If we add
to this the fines inflicted constantly, on the slightest pretext, on
private individuals, we shall certainly remain below the mark in stating
that Germany succeeds in getting out of Belgium over twenty million
pounds a year. Twenty million pounds, when the ordinary income of the
State amounts scarcely to seven millions! And I am not taking into
account the money seized in the banks and the recent enforced transfer
to Germany of the 600 millions (L24,000,000) of the National Bank.

If we remember that the total value of commercial transactions in
Belgium, before the war, did not exceed ten million francs (400,000
pounds) per year, we shall realise the absurdity of the German argument
which shifts on to the English blockade the responsibility for Belgium's
ruin. Even a complete stoppage of trade could not have done the country
as much harm as the German exactions in money only. But the conquerors
were not satisfied with fleecing the flock, they succeeded in robbing it
of its food, in taking away its very means of life.

* * * * *

Quite apart from any sentimental or moral reason, the last step was a
grave mistake, even from the German point of view. It would certainly
have paid the Germans better in the end if they had allowed the Allies
to send raw material to feed the Belgian factories, under the control of
neutral powers, and if they had not requisitioned the machines and
paralysed industry by the most absurd restrictions. It would have been a
most useful move from the point of view of propaganda, and, while posing
as Belgium's kind protectors, they might always have reaped the benefit
through fresh taxes and new contributions. If they have killed the goose
rather than gather its golden eggs it is because they could not afford
to wait. It was one of these desperate measures, like the violation of
Belgian neutrality, the ruthless use of Zeppelins and the sinking of the
Lusitania, which did them more harm than good. From the beginning
Germany has fought with a bad conscience, prompted in all her actions
more by the dread of being defeated than by the clear intention of
winning the game. The manifestation of such a spirit ought only to
encourage her enemies; they are the sure signs of a future breakdown. In
the meantime, they must cause infinite torture to the unfortunate
populations which are not yet delivered from her yoke.

During the first months of occupation the requisitions extended only to
foodstuffs, cattle, horses, fodder, in short, to objects which could be
used by the army. They were out of all proportion to the resources of
the country (Article 52 of the Hague Convention) and therefore
absolutely illegal, but they could still be considered as military
requisitions. In a most interesting article published in Smoller's
_Jahrbuch fuer Gesetzgebung Verwaltung und Volkswirtschaft_, Professor
Karl Ballod admits that the requisitions made in Belgium and Northern
France have more than compensated for the harm caused by the Russian
invasion of East Prussia. Not only the army of occupation, but all the
troops concentrated on the northern sectors of the Western front, "three
million men," have been fed by the conquered provinces. Besides this,
Germany took from Belgium, at the beginning of the war, "more than
400,000 tons of meal and at least one million tons of other foodstuffs."

With Governor von Bissing's arrival the requisitions extended to
whatever raw material was needed in the Fatherland, and all pretence of
respecting the Hague Convention (Article 49) ceased forthwith: One after
another the stocks of raw cotton, of wool, of nickel, of jute, of
copper, were seized and conveyed to Germany. The administration seized,
in the same way, all the machines which could be employed, beyond the
Rhine, for the manufacture of shells and munitions. I am afraid of
tiring the reader with the long enumeration of these arbitrary decrees,
but in order to give him an idea of what is still going on, at the
present moment, I have gathered here all the measures of the kind taken
by the paternal administration of Baron von Bissing which came to our
knowledge during one month only (October last). I have chosen the period
at random, and it must not be forgotten that, owing to the difficulties
of communication, these particulars are far from complete. They will,
however, give a fair idea of the economic situation of the country after
the second year of occupation:

October 5th: The requisitions in cattle have been so frequent in
Flanders _that many farmers have not a milch cow left_.

October 6th: Owing to the lack of motors, bicycles and horses, some
tradespeople in Brussels are using oxen to draw their carts.

October 10th: All the chestnut trees around Antwerp have been
requisitioned. Potatoes cannot be conveyed from one place to another
even in small quantities.

October 17th: According to a decree dated September 27th, any person
possessing more _than 50 kilos of straps or cables_ must report it under
a penalty of one year's imprisonment or a fine up to 20,000 marks.

October 19th: The scarcity of potatoes is increasing, in spite of a good
crop. The peasants were forbidden to pull out their plants before July
the 21st, _when the greater part of the crop was commandeered_.

October 22nd: The boot factories in Brussels are forbidden to work more
than 24 hours per week.

October 24th: A decree dated October the 7th adds borax to the list of
sulphurous products which must be declared according to the decree of
September 16th.

October 29th: The Germans continue to take away the rails of the light
railways ("vicinaux"). The line from St. Trond to Hanut has been
demolished. A great deal of rolling stock has been commandeered. Owing
to the shortage of lubricating oil _it is to be feared that this last
mode of conveyance left to the Belgians will have to be stopped

October 30th: A decree dated September 30th makes the measures for the
requisition of metals still more severe. All the steel material--_in
whatever shape it may be (including tools)_--must be declared to the
_Abteilung fuer Handel und Gewerbe_ in Brussels, under a penalty of five
years of imprisonment (25,000 marks).

October 31st: The commune of Anderlecht has voted a credit of 40,000
francs for the purchase of _wooden shoes as the shortage of leather
prevents most of the people from buying boots_.

November 1st: A decree dated October 14th prepares for the seizure of
all textile materials, ribbons, hosiery, etc. No more than one-tenth of
the stocks can be manufactured, under a penalty of 10,000 marks. A
decree dated October 17th makes the declaration of poplars all over
Belgium compulsory.

It was scarcely necessary to underline some passages of this report.
However bad may be the impression it causes, it would be twenty-six
times worse if we had the leisure to follow step by step the progress of
German economic policy in Belgium. It is evident that the German
administration, in spite of its former declarations, is resolved to ruin
Belgian industry and to throw out of work the greatest number of men
possible. All raw material must go to Germany in order to be worked
there. As it has become evident that the Belgian workers will not submit
to war work so long as they remain in their surroundings, they must be
torn away from their country and compelled to follow the materials and
machines over the frontier. Labour has become an inanimated object
necessary to the prosecution of the German war. It is as indispensable
to Germany as cotton, nickel and copper. It will be treated as such. If
the men resist, they will be crushed. If the soul of Belgium will not
yield to persuasion, it will be taken away from her, like her cattle,
her corn, her iron and her steel. And so Belgium will become a weapon in
Germany's hands, a weapon which will strike at Belgium. And the only
thought of the deported worker turning a shell in a German factory will
be, as is suggested by Louis Raemaekers' cartoon, "Perhaps this one will
kill my own son?"




We must now deal with the second factor which makes the conditions worse
in Belgium than in Germany. While German peace-factories, ruined by the
blockade, have been turned into war-factories, the majority of Belgian
industries have remained idle. In spite of the high wages offered by the
Germans--some skilled workmen were offered as much as L2 and L2 10s. per
day--the workers resisted the constant pressure exerted upon them and
preferred to live miserably on half-wages or with the help given them by
the "Comite National" rather than accept any work which might directly
or indirectly help the occupying power. If a few thousands, compelled by
hunger or unable to resist their conquerors' threats, passed the
frontier, all the rest of the working population kept up, under the most
depressing conditions, a great patriotic strike, the "strike of folded
arms." If they could not, as the 20,000 young heroes who crossed the
Dutch frontier, join the Belgian army on the Yser; they could at least
wage war at home and oppose to the enemy the impenetrable rampart of
their naked breasts. It should not be said, when King Albert should
return to Brussels at the head of his troops, that his subjects had not
shared the sufferings of his soldiers. They should also have their
wounds to show, they should also have their dead to honour.

* * * * *

When, at the beginning of November last, the protests of the Belgian
Government and the "Signal of Distress" of the Belgian bishops made
known the slave raids which had taken place, most of the outside world
was shocked and surprised. It had lived, for months, under the
impression that "things were not so bad" in the conquered provinces.
After the outcry caused by the atrocities of August, 1914, there came a
natural reaction, a sort of anti-climax. Fines, requisitions, petty
persecutions do not strike the imagination in the same way as the
burning of towns and the wholesale massacre of peaceful citizens. It had
become necessary to follow things closely in order to understand that,
instead of suffering less, the Belgian population was suffering more and
more every day. Besides, news was scarce and difficult to check. When
alarming reports came from the Dutch frontier, it was usual to think
that the newspaper correspondents spread them without much

But to those who were familiar with the policy pursued by the German
administration since the spring of 1915, the bad news which they
received lately only confirmed the fears which they had entertained for
a long time. As the war went on, it became more and more evident that
Germany, whose man-power was steadily decreasing, would no longer
tolerate the resistance of the Belgian workers, and would even attempt
to enrol in her army of labour all the able-bodied men of the conquered
provinces. The slave-raids coincide with the "levee en masse" in the
Empire and with the organisation of the new "Polish Army": "If every
German is made to fight or to work, ought not every Belgian, every Pole,
to be compelled to do the same? The fact that they should turn their
arms or their tools against their own country is not worthy of
consideration, as it is supposed already to enjoy the blessings of
German rule and has become an integral part of the Fatherland."

There is a great deal to be said for the slavery of ancient times. It
was at least free from cunning and hypocrisy. The conqueror ill-treated
the vanquished, but he spared him his calumnies. The only law was the
law of the stronger, but the stronger did not pretend to be also the
better. The tyrant was always right, of course, but he did not pretend
to show that the victim was always wrong.

Now the worst aspect of the German policy is that it associates the
subtlest dialectics with the most insane brutality. When the time comes,
they act with the blind fury of the bull, but they have already thought
it all over with the wisdom of the serpent. That is why the popular
appellation of "Huns" is so misleading. It suggests merely the brutality
of primitive men, which is not always so dangerous and so depraved as
the brutality of civilised men. Brutality does not exclude honesty and
pity. Attila listened to the prayers of the Pope and spared Rome. The
Kaiser's lieutenant does not listen to Cardinal Mercier's protests. The
Huns, as most strong men, made a point of keeping their word. The
Germans seem to make a point of breaking theirs. When I compared the
fight of Belgium and Germany to the unequal fight of Jack and the Giant,
of David and Goliath, I was forgetting that David and Jack were cleverer
than their antagonists. Folklore and fairy-tales always equalize the
chances by granting more wit to the small people than to the big ones.
It is a healthy inspiration. But we are confronted to-day with a new
monster, a wise giant, a cunning dragon, a subtle beast.

We must therefore not imagine that Governor von Bissing got up one fine
morning, called for pen and ink, like King Cole for his bowl, and wrote
a proclamation to the effect that all Belgians of military age would be
reduced to slavery and obliged, under the penalty of physical torture
and under the whip of German sentries, to dig trenches behind the
Western front or to turn shells in a German factory. Any fool--any
Goliath--might have done that.

Every German crime is preceded by a series of false promises and
followed by a series of calumnies. Between such a prelude and such a
finale, you may perform a symphony of frightfulness with Dr. Strauss'
orchestration--it will sound as innocent and artless as the three notes
of a shepherd's pipe. The violation of Belgian neutrality is bad enough,
but if you begin to lull Belgium to slumber by repeating, on every
occasion, that she has nothing to fear, and if you end by declaring to
the civilised world that Belgium was plotting with England and France a
traitorous attack against Germany, then it becomes quite plausible. To
massacre 6,000 civilians and burn 20,000 houses in cold blood looks
rather harsh, but if you begin by giving "a solemn guarantee to the
people that they will not have to suffer from the war" (General von
Emmich's first proclamation) and end by saying that women have emptied
buckets of boiling water on the heads of your soldiers and that children
have put out the eyes of your wounded, it becomes almost a kind
proceeding. In the same way, to seize and deport hundreds of thousands
of men and compel them to work in exile against their country seems the
act of Barbarians, but if you accumulate assurances that "normal
conditions will be maintained" and that nobody need fear deportation,
and if you end by declaring that the Belgian working classes are
exclusively composed of loafers and drunkards, it becomes a measure of
providence and wisdom for which your victims in particular, and the
whole civilised world in general, ought to be deeply grateful.

The promise testifies to your good intentions and the calumny explains
how you were regretfully obliged not to fulfill them. The promise keeps
your victims within reach, the calumnies shift to them the
responsibility for your crime. Who doubts that every town visited by a
Zeppelin is fortified, that every ship sunk by a U boat carries troops
or guns? The old Hun killed everything which stood in his way; the
modern Hun does the same and then declares that _he_ is the victim. The
old Hun left the dead bodies of his enemies to the crows; the modern Hun
throws mud at them. The old Hun tried to kill the body; the modern Hun
tries to ruin the soul.

* * * * *

For this last and most monstrous of all Germany's crimes we have to
register not one promise only, but a series of promises, an accumulation
of solemn pledges. It seemed worth while apparently to keep the Belgian
workmen at home. Let us record them here, in chronological order:

1st. September 2nd, 1914. Proclamation of Governor von der Goltz posted
in Brussels: _"I ask no one to renounce his patriotic sentiments..."_

2nd. October 18th, 1914. Letter of Baron von Huene, Military Governor of
Antwerp, to Cardinal Mercier, read in every church of the province in
order to reassure the people after the fall of Antwerp and to stop the
emigration: _"Young men need have no fear of being deported to Germany,
either to be enrolled in the army or to be subjected to forced labour."_

3rd. On the same day, a written declaration of the military authorities
of Antwerp to General von Terwisga, commanding the Dutch army in the
field, declaring without foundation "the rumour that the young men will
be sent to Germany."

4th. A few weeks later, this promise was confirmed verbally to Cardinal
Mercier _and extended to the other provinces_ under German rule by
Governor von der Goltz, two aide-de-camps and the Cardinal's private
secretary being present. (See letter from Cardinal Mercier to Baron von
Bissing, October 19th, 1916).

5th. November, 1914. Assurances given by the German authorities to the
Dutch Legation in Brussels in order to persuade the refugees to come
back: "_Normal conditions will be restored and the refugees will be
allowed to go back to Holland to look after their families_." (See also
the letter of the Dutch Consul in Antwerp urging the refugees to come
back to their homes.)

6th. July 25th, 1915. Placard of Governor von Bissing posted in
Brussels: "_The people shall never be compelled to do anything against
their country_."

7th. April, 1916: Assurances given to the neutral powers after the Lille
raids that _such deportations would not be renewed_.

* * * * *

Now, let us confront these texts, not even with the facts which come to
us from the most trustworthy sources, but with the German decrees and
proclamations preparing and ordering the recent deportations. We are not
opposing a Belgian testimony to a German one, neither are we, for the
present, propounding even our own interpretation of what occurred. We
will merely oppose a German document to another German document and let
them settle their differences as best they can.

The first trouble began in April and May, 1915, in Luttre, at the
Malines arsenal, and in several other Flemish towns, when the German
authorities exerted every possible pressure to compel the Belgian
workmen to resume work. They were brought, under military escort, to
their workshops, imprisoned, starved, and about two hundred of them were
deported to Germany, where they were submitted to the most cruel
tortures. (See the _Nineteenth Report of the Belgian Commission of
Enquiry_.) The threats and persecutions are sufficiently established by
three placards issued by the German authorities.

The first one, posted on the walls of Pont-a-Celles, near Luttre, says,
among other things: "If the workmen accept the above conditions (that is
to say, resume work with handsome wages) _the prisoners will be
released_...." The "prisoners" being several hundred workers who had
been imprisoned in their shops and deprived of food. (April, 1915.)

The second, _signed von Bissing_ (so that nobody could imagine that
these measures were taken by some too zealous subaltern) and posted in
Malines, on the 30th of May, tells us that "_the town of Malines must be
punished as long as the required number of workmen have not resumed
work_." These workmen were employed by the Belgian State--which owns the
country's railway--for the repair of the rolling stock. When they had
refused to resume work, at the beginning of the occupation, a few
hundred German workmen had filled their posts. These had been sent back
to their military depots. The patriotic duty of these Belgians was
evident enough: by resuming their work, they released German soldiers
for the front and increased the number of coaches and engines, of which
the enemy was in great need for the transport of troops. If you will
compare this poster with the one printed above and dated July 25th, you
will be confronted with one of the neatest examples of German duplicity.
Other people have broken their promises after making them. It was left
to Governor von Bissing to make them after breaking them.

The third document is still more conclusive. On June the 16th the
citizens of Ghent could read on their walls that: "The attitude of
certain factories which refuse _to work for the German Army_ under the
pretext of patriotism proves that a movement is afoot to create
difficulties for the _German Army_. If such an attitude is maintained I
will hold the communal authorities responsible and the population will
have only itself to blame if the great liberties granted to it until
now are suspended." This clumsy declaration is signed by
Lieutenant-General Graf von Westcarp. And to think that, even now,
Governor von Bissing perseveres in maintaining that no military work has
ever been asked or will ever be asked from the Belgian workers! As the
French proverb says: "On n'est jamais trahi que par les siens." [4]

But, like the man who marries his mistress after the birth of the first
child, the Governor General was thinking of "regularising the
situation." He knew that his attitude was illegal. He decided,
therefore, to concoct a few decrees in order to legalize it in the eyes
of the world. He had, you see, to save appearances. You cannot get on
with no law at all. It might shock neutrals. So, if you break all the
articles of the Hague Convention one by one, like so many sticks, the
only thing to do is to manufacture some fresh regulations to replace
them. And everything will again be for the best in the best of worlds.

That is where German subtlety comes in. You must not do things rashly,
at once. Like a skilful dramatist, you must prepare the public to take
in a situation. There is a true artistic touch in the way this General
of Cavalry succeeds in gradually legalizing illegality.

In a first decree, dated August 10th, 1915, a fortnight after his last
pledge, Governor von Bissing promises from fourteen days' to six months'
imprisonment to anyone dependent on public charity who refuses to
undertake work "without a sufficient reason" and a fine of L500 or a
year's imprisonment to anyone who encourages refusal to work by the
granting of relief. Notice that the accomplice is punished more heavily
than the principal culprit. The idea is clearly to deprive every striker
of the help of his commune and of the "Comite National." However, as it
is still left to Belgian tribunals to decide which reasons are
"sufficient" and which are not, this decree is not very harmful.

On May 2nd, 1916, the rising tide creeps nearer to us. The power of
deciding on the matter passes from the Belgian tribunals to the military
authority, and thereupon every striker becomes a culprit.

On May 13th, there is a new decree by which "the governors, military
commanders, and chiefs of districts are allowed to order the unemployed
_to be conducted by force_ to the spots where they have to work." This,
no doubt, in order to avoid the crowding of prisons, which would have
necessarily followed the last decree. It only remains to declare that
the workers can be deported to complete the process and to legalise

This step was taken on October 3rd last, when an order, signed by
Quartier-Meister Sauberzweig and issued by the General Headquarters of
the German Army, was posted in all the communes of Flanders. This order
warned all persons "_who are fit to work_ that they may be compelled to
do so _even outside their places of residence,_" when "they should be
compelled to have recourse to public help for their own subsistence or
for the subsistence of the persons dependent on them."

[Footnote 4: Another poster dated from Menin (August, 1915) reads as
follows: "From to-day the town is forbidden to give any support whatever
even to the families, wives, or children of workmen who are not employed
_regularly on military work_.."]

* * * * *

But there is more to come in the story. Three guarantees were left,
which have been quoted again and again by the German Press and by Baron
von Bissing in his various answers to Cardinal Mercier. It was first
stated that the men seized would not be sent to Germany, then that only
the unemployed were taken, and finally that these would not be used on
military work. These last guarantees have been repeatedly broken.
Again, I will leave the Germans to condemn themselves.

In his decree published at Antwerp, on November the 2nd, General von
Huene (the same man who had given Cardinal Mercier his formal written
promise that no deportations should take place) declares that the men
are to be concentrated at the Southern Station, "whence ... they will be
conveyed in groups to _workshops in Germany_."

In a letter sent by General Hurt, Military Governor of Brussels and of
the province of Brabant, to all burgomasters, it is said that "where the
Communes will not furnish the lists (of unemployed) the German
administration will itself designate the men to be deported to Germany.
If then ... errors are committed, the burgomasters will only have
themselves to blame, for _the German administration has no time and no
means for making an inquiry concerning the personal status of each

Finally, an extraordinary proclamation of the "Major-Commandant
d'Etapes" of Antoing, dated October 20th, announces that "_the
population will never be compelled to work under continuous fire,"_ this
population being composed, according to the same document, of _men and
women_ between 17 and 46 years of age. If they refuse "they will be
placed in a _battalion of civil workers, on reduced rations_." Here is
the address of one of these militarised civilians dropped from a train
leaving for the Western front and picked up by a friend: X., 3 Comp.
Ziv. Arb. Bat. 27.--Et. Indp.--Armee No.

This did not prevent Governor von Bissing from declaring, a week later
(letter to Cardinal Mercier, October 26th), that: "No workman can be
obliged to participate in work connected with the war (_entreprises de
guerre_)"! [5]

The last fatal step has been taken. From decree to decree, from
proclamation to proclamation, the last threads of the curtain of
legality which remained between the victim and the tyrant have been cut
one by one. Between the acts of the German administration in Belgium and
those of the African slave drivers, we are now unable to discover any
difference whatever. The old plague which had been the shame of Europe
for more than two centuries has risen again from its ashes. It appears
before us with all its hideous characteristics. People are torn from
their homes and sent away to foreign lands without any hope of
returning. Any protest is crushed by the application of torture in the
form of starvation, exposure, and their kindred ills ... There is,
however, one new point about the modern slave: his face is as white as
that of his master.

The nineteenth century stamped out black slavery. It was left to the
twentieth century to reinstate white slavery. It is the purest glory of
the English-speaking people to have succeeded in eradicating the old
evil. It will be the eternal shame of the German-speaking people to have
replaced it by something worse. Civilisation forbade any man, sixty
years ago, to force another man to work for him. Civilisation to-day
does not forbid a man--a conqueror--to force another man to work against
himself. The old slave only lost his liberty. The new slave must lose
his honour, his dignity, his self-respect. He has only one other
alternative: death. And this, not the glorious death of a martyr which
makes thousands of converts and shines all over the world, not the death
of Nurse Cavell, but the anonymous death of X.Y.Z., the death of
hundreds and hundreds of unknown heroes who will die under the whip or
in the darkness of their cells in the German prison camps.

I had almost forgotten a last distinction between the old and the new
forms of slavery: The average slave driver of past days was only a
trader who sold human beings instead of selling oxen or sheep. When his
trade was prohibited, he took heavy risks and ran great danger of losing
his fortune and his life. But the German rulers of Belgium, whether they
be in Brussels or in Berlin, whether we call them von Bissing or
Helfferich, live in the comfort of their homes, surrounded by their
families, and when assailed by protests, can still play hide and seek
around the broken pillars of the Temple of Peace and wave arrogantly,
like so many flags, the torn articles of international law: "I assert,"
said Dr. Helfferich in the Reichstag (December 2nd)--"I assert that
setting the Belgian unemployed to work is thoroughly consonant with
international law. We therefore _take our stand, formally and in
practice, on international law, making use of our undoubted rights_."

Let Dr. Helfferich beware. He is not the only judge on international
law. His stand may come crashing down.

[Footnote 5: I should ask the reader to confront this declaration with
the statement made by the Belgian workmen in their appeal to the working
classes of the world. "On the Western Front they force them, by the most
brutal means, _to dig trenches_, construct aviation grounds...."

In his letter sent to the Belgian Ministers to the Vatican and to Spain,
Baron Beyens, the Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs, says: "The men
are sent to occupied France _to construct sets of trenches and a
strategic railway, Lille-Aulnaye-Givet."_

Among many trustworthy reports, we hear that the 5th
Zivilisten-Bataillon, including some men of Ghent and Alost, has been
forced to work, under threat of death, on the construction of a
strategic railway between Laon and Soissons. Some of the men, exhausted
by the bad treatment inflicted upon them, have been sent back to Belgium
in a critical condition, and have written a full statement relating
their experiences, signed by twenty of them. On the other hand, the
Belgian General Headquarters report that Belgian civilians, obliged to
dig trenches and dug-outs near Becelaere (West Flanders), were exposed
to the fire of the English guns.]


"By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we
remembered Zion."

What prophetic spirit inspired Cardinal Mercier when he chose this psalm
for the text of his sermon, on the occasion of the second anniversary of
their Independence (July 21st, 1916), which the Belgians celebrated in
exile and captivity? It was in the great Gothic church, in Brussels,
under the arches of Ste. Gudule, at the close of a service for the
soldiers fallen during the war, the very last patriotic ceremony
tolerated by the Germans. Socialists, Liberals, Catholics crowded the
nave, forgetting their old quarrels, united in a common worship, the
worship of their threatened country, of their oppressed liberties.

"How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" His audience
imagined that the preacher alluded only to a spiritual captivity, that
he meant: "How shall we celebrate our freedom in this German prison?"
And they listened, like the first Christians in the catacombs, dreading
to hear the tramp of the soldiers before the door. The Cardinal pursued
his fearless address: "The psalm ends with curses and maledictions. We
will not utter them against our enemies. We are not of the Old but of
the New Testament. We do not follow the old law: an eye for an eye, a
tooth for a tooth, but the new law of Love and Christian brotherhood.
But we do not forget that even above Love stands Justice. If our brother
sins, how can we pretend to love him if we do not wish that his sins
should be punished...."

Such was the tenor of the Cardinal's address, the greatest Christian
address inspired by the war, uttered under the most tragic and moving
circumstances. For the people knew by then the danger of speaking out
their minds in conquered Belgium; they knew that some German spies were
in the church taking note of every word, of every gesture. Still, they
could not restrain their feelings, and, at the close of the sermon, when
the organ struck up the _Brabanconne_, they cheered and cheered again,
thankful to feel, for an instant, the dull weight of oppression lifted
from their shoulders by the indomitable spirit of their old leader.

What strikes us now, when recalling this memorable ceremony, is not so
much the address itself as the choice of its text: "For they that
carried us away captive required of us a song."

Many of those who listened to Cardinal Mercier on July 21st, 1916, have
no doubt been "carried away" by now, and they have sung. They have sung
the Brabanconne and the "Lion de Flandres" as a last defiance to their
oppressors whilst those long cattle trains, packed with human cattle,
rolled in wind and rain towards the German frontier. And the echo of
their song still haunts the sleep of every honest man.

* * * * *

For whatever Germany may do or say, the time is no longer when such
crimes can be left unpunished. Notwithstanding the war and the
triumphant power of the mailed fist, there still exists such a thing as
public conscience and public opinion. Nothing can happen, in any part of
the world, without awakening an echo in the hearts of men who apparently
are not at all concerned in the matter. The Germans are too clever not
to understand this, and the endless trouble which they take in order to
monopolise the news in neutral countries and to encounter every
accusation with some more or less insidious excuse is the best proof of
this. When one of them declared that Raemaekers' cartoons had done more
harm to Germany than an army corps, he knew perfectly well what he was
talking about. Only they rely so blindly on their own intellectual power
and they have such a poor opinion of the brains of other people that
they believe in first doing whatever suits their plans and then justify
their action afterwards. They divide the work between themselves: The
soldier acts, the lawyer and the professor undertakes to explain what he
has done. However black the first may become, there is plenty of
whitewash ready to restore his innocence.

If the unexpected resistance of Belgium has infuriated the Germans to
such an extent, it is not only because it wrecked their surprise attack
on France, it is also because, even after the retreat of the army, they
have been confronted by a series of men courageous enough and clever
enough to stand their ground and to come between them and the uneducated
mass of the population.

Since, for the sake of propaganda, they wanted to make a show of
respecting international law, they were taken at their word; so that
they were obliged either to give way or to put themselves openly in the
wrong. When they tried to break their promise to the municipality of
Brussels and to annihilate the liberties of the old Belgian communes,
Mr. Max stood in their way, calm and smiling, with no other weapon than
the law which they pretended to respect. Mr. Max was sent to a German
fortress, but Germany had torn up another scrap of paper--and the
civilised world knew it. When they wanted to establish extraordinary
tribunals for matters which belonged only to local tribunals, Mr.
Theodor and all the barristers of the country lodged protest after
protest and fought their case step by step. Mr. Theodor was deported,
but the German administration had blundered again--and the world knew
it. When Baron von Bissing tried to infringe the privileges of the
Church and to cow the Belgian priests into submission by forbidding them
to read to their flock the patriotic letter of Cardinal Mercier,
published on Christmas Day, 1914, he found himself opposed not only by a
far cleverer man than himself, but by all the spiritual influence of one
of the greatest priests in Europe. The letter was read, the Cardinal did
not leave for Germany but for Rome, whence he came back to Malines, and,
if anything, adopted a still firmer tone in his subsequent letters and
speeches. Von Bissing was beaten--and the world knew it.

These are only a few striking examples among many. Since August, 1914,
hundreds and hundreds of civilians have been imprisoned or deported;
workmen, because they refused to work for the enemy; lawyers, because
they refused to accept his law; bankers, because they would not let
their money cross the frontier; professors, because they did not consent
to propagate Kultur; journalists, because they objected to print Wolff's
news; tradespeople, because they put their patriotism above their
private interests; priests, because they did not worship the German god;
women, because they did not admire German officers; children, because
they did not play the German games. Meanwhile the firing parties did not
remain idle. The world has heard with horror of the death of Miss
Cavell; it has been shocked by the disproportion between her "crime" and
her punishment, and by the hypocrisy displayed by the German
administration during her trial. But, if England has lost one great
martyr, Belgium has lost hundreds, who perished in the same way,
sometimes for smaller offences, often for no offence at all. For the
German judges are in a hurry, and they have no time to enquire too
closely in such matters. The vengeance of a spy, the slightest suspicion
of a policeman, sometimes even an anonymous letter, are enough to
convince them of the guilt of the accused person. The healthy effect
produced on the population by Dinant and Louvain must not be allowed to
spend itself. Frightfulness must be kept up at any price. The reign of
terror is the condition of the German regime.

* * * * *

To-day, in this most tragic hour of Belgian history, when so many
leaders, so many patriots, have been imprisoned, deported or shot, after
twenty-nine months of constant threats and persecutions, we might ask
ourselves: Is Belgium at last cowed into submission?

Listen, then, to Belgium's voice, not to the voice of the refugees, not
even to the voice of the King and his Government, but to the voice of
these miserable "slaves" whom Germany is trying to starve into
submission. Letters have been dropped from these cattle trucks rolling
towards Germany or towards the French front. They all tell us of the
unshakeable resolution of the men never to sign an agreement to go to
Germany, and never to work for the enemy: "We will never work for the
Germans and never put our name on paper" (_onze naam on papier
zetten_)--"We will not work for them. Do the same when you are taken."
(_Faites de meme quand tu dois aller_.) Two young men imprisoned in
Ghent write to their father: "They will have to make us fast a long time
before we consent to work for the King of Prussia." Another man who was
stopped when attempting to escape writes: "They tell us here that the
Germans will make us work even if we do not sign an engagement. It would
be abominable. _Take heart, the hour of deliverance will strike one day,
after all_." Another workman sends the following message to his
employer: "We are here two thousand and three hundred men. They cannot
annihilate us. _It is not right that our fate should be better than that
of our brothers who suffer and fight at the front_. We cannot make a
step without being threatened by the gun or the bayonet of our jailors.
_I am hungry ... but I will not work for them_."

And as the slave raids reach one province after another from Flanders to
Antwerp, from Hainant to Brabant, as the fatal list of deportees
increases from 20,000 to 50,000, from 50,000 to 100,000, from 100,000 to
200,000, whilst the cries of women and children are heard in the
streets, whilst the modern slaves tramp along the roads carrying a light
bundle of clothes on their shoulders, from everywhere in Belgium the
strongest protests are sent to the Governor General, by the communes
which will not consent to give the names of the unemployed, by the
magistrates who will not see the last guarantees of individual right
trampled upon, by the Socialist syndicates which are defending the right
of the workmen not to work against their own country, by the chiefs of
industry who show clearly that the whole responsibility of the labour
crisis rests on Germany alone, by the bishops of the Church, who refuse
to admit that, after two thousand years of Christian teaching, a
so-called Christian nation should fall so low as to revive, for her own
benefit, the worst custom of Paganism.

The energy of these protests is wonderful if one considers the
conditions in which they have been made. The town councillors of Tournai
were asked to draw up a list of unemployed. They refused; as the Germans
insisted, they passed the following resolution: "The municipal council
decide to persevere in their negative attitude.... The city of Tournai
is prepared to submit without resistance to all the exigencies
authorized by the laws and customs of the war. Its sincerity cannot be
doubted, as it has shown perfect composure and has avoided any act of
hostility during a period of over two years ... But, at the same time,
the municipal council could not furnish weapons against their own
children, fully conscious that natural law and international law, which
is derived from it, forbids them to do so." (October 20th, 1916). We
possess also the German answer, signed by Major-General Hopfer. It is a
necessary supplement to von Bissing's unctuous literature. Major-General
Hopfer calls the resolution "an act of arrogance without precedent."
According to him, "the state of affairs, clearly and simply, is this:
the military authority commands, the municipality has to obey. If it
fails to do so it will have to support the heavy consequences." A fine
of 200,000 marks is exacted from the town for its refusal, besides
20,000 marks for every day of delay until the lists are completed.

The case of Tournai, like that of Antoing and a good many small towns,
is typical. The officers commanding in these districts either disregard
the "mot d'ordre" given in Brussels or do not think it worth their while
to keep up the sinister comedy played in the large towns. Here "Kultur"
throws off her mask and the brute appears. We know at least where we
stand. The conflict is cleared of all false pretence and paltry excuses.
The councillors of Tournai appeal to some law, divine or human, which
forbids a brother to betray his brother. It is not without relief that
we hear the genuine voice of Major Hopfer declaring that there is no
other law than his good pleasure. That settles everything and puts the
case of Belgium in a nut-shell. Men like him and the commander of the
Antoing district--another Major, by the way--are invaluable. But they
will never become Generals unless they mend their manners.

From the perusal of the Belgian protests and of all particulars
received, two things appear clearly: First, in spite of all the official
declarations, whether the raiders are able or not to get hold of the
lists, there is no real discrimination between employed or unemployed.
And, secondly, in many districts, unemployment has been deliberately
created by the authorities in order to justify the deportations.

We cannot discover any method in the raids. In some places, all the
able-bodied men from 17 to 50 are taken away; in others the priests, the
town-clerks, the members of the "Comite de Secours," and the teachers
are left at home; in others still a certain selection is made. _But
everywhere some men who were actually working at the time or even men
who had never been out of work since the beginning of the German
occupation have been obliged to go with the others_. The proportions
vary. In the small town of Gembloux, of a total of 750 inhabitants
deported, _there were only two unemployed_. At Kersbeek-Miscom out of 94
deportees only two had been thrown out of work. At Rillaer, the Germans
have taken 25 boys under 18 years of age.[6] In the district of Mons,
from the numbers taken down in fourteen communes, we gather that the
proportion of the unemployed varies between 10 and 15 per cent. of the
total number of deportees.[7] Among the 400 men taken from Arlon
(Luxembourg) were 43 members of the "Comite de Secours" who were working
in connection with the Commission for Relief, so that not only the
people supporting their families are being deported, but even those who
employed themselves in alleviating the sufferings of the whole
population. This practice has been repeated in several other towns, for
instance, in Gembloux and Libramont.

Whether the people are ordered to present themselves at the town-hall or
seized in their own homes, whether they are taken forthwith or allowed a
few hours to prepare themselves, whether they are forced to sign an
agreement or not, the same fact is evident: the criterion of employment
is never considered as a sufficient cause for exemption.

In certain districts where, in spite of the requisitions, no
unemployment existed, the authorities have manufactured it. Some of the
new coal mines of the Limbourg province have been closed on the eve of
the raids. The case of the Luxembourg province is still more typical.
"We have not to enquire here," declare the senators and deputies of this
province, "if unemployment has been caused in other regions by the
disorganisation of transports, the seizure of raw stuffs and machines,
the constant requisitions, and other measures which were bound to
penalize the national industry. One fact remains incontestable; it is
that, so far as the Luxembourg province is concerned, unemployment has
been non-existent. During the worst periods, we have only had a small
number of unemployed, and thanks to the initiative taken by the 'Comite
de Secours' all, without any exception, have been at work without
interruption." After enumerating a great number of works of public
utility which had been approved by the German authorities, construction
of light railways, drainage of extensive moors, creation of new
plantations, water supplies, etc., ... the report goes on: "And to-day
most of these works, which had been approved and subsidized by the
province and by the State, have been suddenly condemned and
interrupted.... _Such official obstacles to the legitimate and useful
activity of our workmen renders still more painful for them, if
possible, the measures taken against them by those who reproach them for
their idleness and who prosecute them to-day under the pretext of an
inaction which they have deliberately created_."

In the face of such testimony all the German argument crumbles to
pieces. As Monseigneur Mercier puts it decisively: "It is not true that
our workmen have caused any disturbance or even threatened anywhere to
do so. Five million Belgians, hundreds of Americans, never cease to
admire the perfect dignity and patience of our working classes. It is
not true that the workmen, deprived of their work, become a charge on
the occupying power or on public charity under its control. The 'Comite
National,' in whose activity the Germans take no part, is the only
organisation concerned in the matter." But even supposing, for the sake
of argument, that the 43rd article of the Hague Convention should
justify some form of coercion in the matter, the new measures should
only be applied to some works of _public utility in Belgium_. Far from
encouraging such works, the Germans have stopped them, seized _employed
and unemployed_, and sent them either to _Germany_ or to some _war-work_
on the Western front. To put it simply, they wish to avoid public
disturbance where there is no disturbance, to save money which is not
their money, to deport unemployed who are not unemployed, to oblige them
to work against their country instead of for their country, and in
Germany instead of in Belgium. They are doing everything but what they
want to do, they go anywhere but where they are going, and they say
anything but what they are thinking.

[Footnote 6: Letter of Cardinal Mercier to Governor von Bissing, Nov.
29th, 1916.]

[Footnote 7: Reply of the Deputies of Mons to Governor von Bissing, Nov.
27th, 1916.]

* * * * *

The other day I heard two people--two wizened city clerks--discussing
the war in the train. "When and how will the Germans be beaten?" asked
the first. The other shrugged his shoulders and declared solemnly,
while pulling at his pipe: "The Germans? They have been beaten a long
time ago! They were beaten when they set foot for the first time in

The remark is not new, and I daresay it was a reminiscence of some
sentence picked up in a newspaper or at a popular meeting. But whoever
uttered it for the first time was right. The case of Belgium has
uplifted the whole moral atmosphere of the struggle. Since the first
guns boomed around Liege and the first civilians were shot at Vise, a
war which might have been represented, to a certain extent, as a
conflict of interests, has become a conflict of principles. In a way,
the Germans were beaten because, from that moment, they had to struggle
against unseen and inflexible forces. Whatever you choose to call
them--democratic instinct, Christian aspiration, or the conscience of
the civilised world--they will do their work relentlessly, every day of
the year, every hour of the day. It is their doing that, in spite of the
immense financial influence and the most active propaganda, Germany has
become unpopular all over the world. Other facts, like the _Lusitania_,
the trial of Miss Cavell, the work accomplished by Zeppelins, have
contributed to provoke this feeling. But whether we consider the origin
or the last exploits of German policy, whether we think of two years ago
or of to-day, the image of Belgium, of her invasion, of her martyrdom,
of her oppression, of her deportations, dominates the spiritual aspect
of the whole war.

When they crossed the Belgian frontier, the Germans walked straight into
a bog, and since then they have been sucked deeper and deeper into the
mud of their own misdeeds and calumnies. They were ankle-deep at Liege,
waist-deep at Louvain, the bog rises even to their lips to-day. In the
desperate efforts which they make to free themselves they inflict fresh
and worse tortures on their victims. It is as if victory could only be
reached through the country's willing sacrifice. But every cry which the
Germans provoke in the Belgian prison is heard throughout the world,
every tear shed there fills their bitter cup, every drop of blood they
shed falls back on their own heads. The world looks on, and its burning
pity, its ardent sympathy, brings warmth and comfort to the Belgian
slave. There is still some light shining through the narrow window of
the cell. And there is not a man worthy of the name who does not feel
more resolute and more confident in final victory when he meets the
haggard look of the martyred country and watches her pale, patient, and
still smiling face pressed against the iron bars.



We may ask ourselves if it was by chance only or through some subtle
calculation that the first slave-raids in Belgium were timed to take
place on the eve of the Christmas season, when the angels proclaimed
"good-will towards men," and when the German diplomats offered us the
olive branch and the dove--peace at their own price. We may perhaps
admit, now that the crisis is over, that for us Belgians at least the
temptation was great, and if our repeated experience of the enemy had
not shown us that he is most dangerous when he dons the humanitarian
garb, we might have been duped by this remarkable piece of
stage-management. There is every reason to believe that the deportations
were part and parcel of the German peace manoeuvre. By increasing a
hundredfold the "horrors of war" Germany provided a powerful argument to
the pacifists all the world over: "Look at these miserable Belgians.
Have they not suffered enough? Is it not time that an end should be put
to their misery? Germany has declared that she is ready to evacuate the
country. She might even give an indemnity. What other satisfaction can
the Allies ask, considering the present situation on both the Eastern
and Western fronts? If England really went to war to deliver Belgium,
let her prove it now by stopping the struggle to spare her innocent
citizens. It is all very well for those who are living comfortably at
home to urge the continuance of the struggle. But can they take the
responsibility of speaking on behalf of the population which has to
submit to the enemy's rule and whose sufferings increase every day? ..."

We have all listened to that voice. The Belgians in exile more intensely
perhaps than the other Allies. Belgium had nothing whatever to do with
the origin of the quarrel. She had nothing to gain from its conclusion.
She had been drawn unwillingly into the conflict. She has taken arms
merely to defend her rights and territory. What should her answer be if
Germany offered to restore them?

* * * * *

At the beginning of August last, a certain number of Socialist leaders,
in occupied Belgium, succeeded in arranging a meeting, in spite of
German regulations, and passed the following resolution, which they sent
to the Minister Vandervelde, in London: "The Belgian working classes are
decided to endure all sufferings rather than to accept a German peace,
which could neither be lasting nor final. The Allies must not think that
they must hasten the conclusion of the struggle for us. We are not
asking for peace, and we take no responsibility for the Socialist
manifestations made in neutral countries on our behalf. _We ask those
who want to help us not to let the idea that we long for peace influence
their decisions_. We pass this resolution in order to prevent the
disastrous effect, which such an argument might produce."

The Belgium people has never departed from this attitude, and it is the
plain duty of all those who are defending them, to conform, in the
spirit and in the letter, to their heroic message. In the "Appeal" of
the Belgian workers to the civilised world, sent during the worst period
of the slave-raids, the idea of a truce is not even entertained. On the
contrary, the workers declare that, "whatever their tortures may be,
they will not have peace without the independence of their country and
the triumph of justice." An eye-witness of the raids was telling me, a
few days ago, that, on some occasions, the men in the slave trains are
able to communicate with the people outside: "They shout, of course,
'Long live Belgium' and 'Long live King Albert,' but the most frequent
cry, in which they seem to put their last ounce of strength, is: 'Do
not sign,' which means: 'Do not sign an engagement to work in Germany,
do not sign a compromise.'" And I have not the slightest doubt that, if
they had heard of the German peace offers, they would still shout, "Do
not sign, do not sign a German peace!"

We know what this attitude costs them. We know, from the report of those
few men who have been sent back to Belgium from the Western front and
from the German camps, the tortures to which the modern slaves are being
subjected. These men were so ill, so worn out, that their family
scarcely recognised them, and greeted them with tears, not with
laughter. It was like a procession of ghosts coming back from hell. At
Soltau, the prisoners are given only two pints of acorn soup and a
mouldy piece of bread, every day. They are so famished that they creep
at night to steal the potato parings which their German guards throw on
to--the rubbish heap. They divide them amongst themselves and eat them
raw to appease their hunger. After the first week of this regime,
several men went mad. Others were isolated for a few days and given
excellent food. "Will you sign now? If you do, you shall be kept on the
same diet; if not... you go back to camp?" The great majority refused
... and were sent back. This is not an isolated report. All the accounts
agree, even on the smallest details, and the deportees who have been
able to write to their families tell the same story as those who, being
henceforth useless, have been sent home to die.

* * * * *

It has always been the German policy to bully and to cajole almost at
the same time. But the image of Germania offering, with her sweetest
humanitarian smile, an olive-branch to the Allies whilst her
executioners are starving thousands of Belgian slaves and clubbing them
with their rifles, will stand in the memory of mankind as the climax of
combined brutality and hypocrisy.

Should we wonder if the present has been refused? There is only one
peace which matters, it is the peace of man with his own conscience, the
peace of the soul with its God. We have it already, and even the roar of
the German guns will not disturb it. It hovers over our trenches, over
the sea, even over these terrible German camps where the best blood of a
great people is being sucked by the vampires of War. And those who have
fallen stricken on the battlefields, those who have succumbed to the
slow tortures to which they were subjected, are resting now under its
great wings. Should we dare to disturb their sleep? Should we dare to
stain their glory?

It is not for Germany to offer peace. She has lost, it with her honour.
It lies in some pool, at the corner of a wood, where the hooligan waits
in ambush, or on the rubbish heap of the Soltau camp in which men--noble
men--are made to seek their food like pigs. Germany cannot offer what is
not hers to offer. The Allies cannot take what they have already. For
there is only one peace, "the peace that passeth all understanding."

As for the German olive branch, how could we accept it? It is no longer
green. There is a drop of blood on every leaf.

* * * * *

It is perfectly useless to try, as has been done in certain quarters, to
distinguish between Belgium's attitude in the conflict and that of the
Powers who are fighting for the restoration of her integrity. From the
day when England, France and Russia answered King Albert's appeal, the
unflinching policy of Belgium has been to act in perfect harmony with
the Allies. How could it be otherwise? Their cause is her cause. Their
victory will be her victory, and--if we should ever consider the
possibility of defeat--their defeat would be her defeat. The Belgians
who like myself, were in England during these fateful days of August,
1914, when the destiny of Europe hung in the balance, know perfectly
well the decisive influence which the invasion of Belgium had on English
public opinion at that time. Nothing can ever blur the clear outlines of
the events as they passed before us under the implacable rays of that
glorious summer sun.

The whole policy of Germany is determined by her first stroke in the
war. That stroke was delivered against a small nation. The whole policy
of England and of the Allies is determined by their first efforts in the
struggle, and these efforts were made to protect a small nation against
Germany's aggression. Never has the choice between right and wrong been
made plainer in the whole history of the world.

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