They live who, when this far-flung agony of war is ended, when the last hero has fallen and lies in his grave, when the final cannon has sounded its knell, must be called upon to make the great peace. They live who will weave a shroud of death for the exhausted world, or plant the tree of life upon her bosom; and since we, inspired by the splendor of our cause, are assured that the day-spring will be ours, we already feel and know that we shall see that tree of life planted. But do we also feel and know that we must help to plant it, that the labor and toil of each of us is vital, that none is so weak but that there is a part of that planting for which he was born, a part consecrated to his individual effort, a part that will go undone if he does not do it?
Look to yourself, man, woman, child, that with heart and soul and strength you perform your part in the great world work lying ahead; remember that not princes and rulers, not regiments of your kinsmen, not the armed might of nations can do your appointed task for you. Fail of it, and by so much will the life tree lack in her planting; succeed, and by so much will she be the more splendid and secure. Her name is Freedom and her fruits are for the weak and humble as well as the strong and great, for the foolish as well as the wise, for all subjects as well as for all States. Put out your power, then, for that most sacred tree; deny yourself no pang that she may flourish; labor according to your strength that her blossom shall win the worship of humanity and her fruit be worthy of the blood of heroes that has poured for her planting.
Much we hear of the Will to Power, and because that great impulse has lifted our enemies on the full flood tide of their might and manhood in one overwhelming torrent, Germany has been condemned. But not for her united effort and whole-hearted sacrifice should we condemn her—not for her patriotism and response to the call. Her reply is wholly magnificent, and it only stands condemned for the evil ends and ignoble ambitions toward which it is directed. The spectacle of a great nation at one, inspired by a single ideal and pouring its life, its wealth, its energy, with a single impulse in the name of the Fatherland can only be called sublime. The tragedy lies in the fact that this stupendous effort is not worthy of the cause; that for false hopes, false ambitions and mistaken sense of right and justice Germany has wasted her life and given her soul.
Who blames the Will to Power? Power is the mightiest weapon fate can forge for a nation—a treasure beyond the strength of commerce, or armies, or navies, or intellect of man to produce. But it is necessary that we define power in terms of spiritual value; and then, surely, it appears that Power and Force can never be the same. A Frederick I., or a Napoleon, may pretend to confound power with force, and believe that their might must be right. They possessed a giant's strength and used it like giants. But true Power is ever the attribute of Right and they who strive for it must cleanse their souls, see that their ambition is worthy of such a possession, and, before all else, strive to realize the awful responsibility that goes with Power.
Never was a moment more golden than the present for this nation to Will to Power. For once our hearts are single, our resolutions pure, our patriotism, as well as the objects that we seek to attain, sure set upon the line of human progress. In the sane and sacred name of Freedom, therefore, and at her ancient inspiration it becomes us now to strive by all that is highest and best in us to fulfill our noblest possibilities and give soul and strength that the united Will to Power of our nation may surmount that of her enemies, even as our goal and purpose surmount theirs.
It is for the victory that must crown this victory we should labor, and cease not while hand can toil, mind achieve, and heart sacrifice to make the vital issue assured.
Alleged German Atrocities
Report of the Committee Appointed by the British Government
and Presided Over by
The Right Hon. Viscount Bryce
Formerly British Ambassador at Washington
Proofs of alleged atrocities committed by the German armies in Belgium—proofs collected by men trained in the law and presented with unemotional directness after a careful inquiry—are presented in the report of the "Committee on Alleged German Atrocities" headed by Viscount Bryce, the English historian and formerly British Ambassador at Washington. The document was made public simultaneously in London and the United States on May 12, 1915, four days after the sinking of the Lusitania. It was pointed out at the time that this was a coincidence, as the report had been prepared several weeks before and forwarded by mail from England for publication on May 12.
WARRANT OF APPOINTMENT.
I hereby appoint—
The Right Hon. Viscount Bryce, O.M.;
The Right Hon. Sir Frederick Pollock, Bt., K.C.;
The Right Hon. Sir Edward Clarke, K.C.;
Sir Alfred Hopkinson, K.C.;
Mr. H.A.L. Fisher, Vice Chancellor of the University of Sheffield; and
Mr. Harold Cox;
to be a committee to consider and advise on the evidence collected on behalf of his Majesty's Government as to outrages alleged to have been committed by German troops during the present war, cases of alleged maltreatment of civilians in the invaded territories, and breaches of the laws and established usages of war; and to prepare a report for his Majesty's Government showing the conclusion at which they arrive on the evidence now available.
And I appoint Viscount Bryce to be Chairman, and Mr. E. Grimwood Mears and Mr. W.J.H. Brodrick, barristers at law, to be Joint Secretaries to the committee.
(Signed) H.H. ASQUITH. 15th December, 1914.
Sir Kenelm E. Digby, K.C., G.C.B., was appointed an additional member of the committee on 22d January, 1915.
To the Right Hon. H.H. Asquith, &c., &c., First Lord of H.M. Treasury.
The committee have the honor to present and transmit to you a report upon the evidence which has been submitted to them regarding outrages alleged to have been committed by the German troops in the present war.
By the terms of their appointment the committee were directed
"to consider and advise on the evidence collected on behalf of his Majesty's Government as to outrages alleged to have been committed by German troops during the present war, cases of alleged maltreatment of civilians in the invaded territories, and breaches of the laws and established usages of war; and to prepare a report for his Majesty's Government showing the conclusion at which they arrive on the evidence now available."
It may be convenient that before proceeding to state how we have dealt with the materials, and what are the conclusions we have reached, we should set out the manner in which the evidence came into being, and its nature.
In the month of September, 1914, a minute was, at the instance of the Prime Minister, drawn up and signed by the Home Secretary and the Attorney General. It stated the need that had arisen for investigating the accusations of inhumanity and outrage that had been brought against the German soldiers, and indicated the precautions to be taken in collecting evidence that would be needed to insure its accuracy. Pursuant to this minute steps were taken under the direction of the Home Office to collect evidence, and a great many persons who could give it were seen and examined.
For some three or four months before the appointment of the committee, the Home Office had been collecting a large body of evidence.[A] More than 1,200 depositions made by these witnesses have been submitted to and considered by the committee. Nearly all of these were obtained under the supervision of Sir Charles Mathews, the Director of Public Prosecutions, and of Mr. E. Grimwood Mears, barrister of the Inner Temple, while in addition Professor J.H. Morgan has collected a number of statements mainly from British soldiers, which have also been submitted to the committee.
[Footnote A: Taken from Belgian witnesses, some soldiers, but most of them civilians from those towns and villages through which the German Army passed, and from British officers and soldiers.]
The labor involved in securing, in a comparatively short time, so large a number of statements from witnesses scattered all over the United Kingdom, made it necessary to employ a good many examiners. The depositions were in all cases taken down in this country by gentlemen of legal knowledge and experience, though, of course, they had no authority to administer an oath. They were instructed not to "lead" the witnesses or make any suggestions to them, and also to impress upon them the necessity for care and precision in giving their evidence.
They were also directed to treat the evidence critically, and as far as possible satisfy themselves, by putting questions which arose out of the evidence, that the witnesses were speaking the truth. They were, in fact, to cross-examine them, so far as the testimony given provided materials for cross-examination.
We have seen and conversed with many of these gentlemen, and have been greatly impressed by their ability and by what we have gathered as to the fairness of spirit which they brought to their task. We feel certain that the instructions given have been scrupulously observed.
In many cases those who took the evidence have added their comments upon the intelligence and demeanor of the witnesses stating the impression which each witness made, and indicating any cases in which the story told appeared to them open to doubt or suspicion. In coming to a conclusion upon the evidence the committee have been greatly assisted by these expressions of opinion, and have uniformly rejected every deposition on which an opinion adverse to the witness has been recorded.
This seems to be a fitting place at which to put on record the invaluable help which we have received from our secretaries, Mr. E. Grimwood Mears and Mr. W.J.H. Brodrick, whose careful diligence and minute knowledge of the evidence have been of the utmost service. Without their skill, judgment, and untiring industry the labor of examining and appraising each part of so large a mass of testimony would have occupied us for six months instead of three.
The marginal references in this report indicate the particular deposition or depositions on which the statements made in the text are based.[A]
[Footnote A: Marginal references are omitted in this reproduction.—EDITOR.]
The depositions printed in the appendix themselves show that the stories were tested in detail, and in none of these have we been able to detect the trace of any desire to "make a case" against the German Army. Care was taken to impress upon the witness that the giving of evidence was a grave and serious matter, and every deposition submitted to us was signed by the witness in the presence of the examiner.
A noteworthy feature of many of the depositions is that, though taken at different places and on different dates, and by different lawyers from different witnesses, they often corroborate each other in a striking manner.
The evidence is all couched in the very words which the witnesses used, and where they spoke, as the Belgian witnesses did, in Flemish or French, pains were taken to have competent translators, and to make certain that the translation was exact.
Seldom did these Belgian witnesses show a desire to describe what they had seen or suffered. The lawyers who took the depositions were surprised to find how little vindictiveness, or indeed passion they showed, and how generally free from emotional excitement their narratives were. Many hesitated to speak lest what they said, if it should ever be published, might involve their friends or relatives at home in danger, and it was found necessary to give an absolute promise that names should not be disclosed.
For this reason names have been omitted.
A large number of depositions, and extracts from depositions, will be found in Appendix A, and to these your attention is directed.
In all cases these are given as nearly as possible (for abbreviation was sometimes inevitable) in the exact words of the witness, and wherever a statement has been made by a witness tending to exculpate the German troops, it has been given in full. Excisions have been made only where it has been felt necessary to conceal the identity of the deponent or to omit what are merely hearsay statements, or are palpably irrelevant. In every case the name and description of the witnesses are given in the original depositions and in copies which have been furnished to us by H.M. Government. The originals remain in the custody of the Home Department, where they will be available, in case of need, for reference after the conclusion of the war.
The committee have also had before them a number of diaries taken from the German dead.
It appears to be the custom in the German Army for soldiers to be encouraged to keep diaries and to record in them the chief events of each day. A good many of these diaries were collected on the field when British troops were advancing over ground which had been held by the enemy, were sent to headquarters in France, and dispatched thence to the War Office in England. They passed into the possession of the Prisoners of War Information Bureau, and were handed by it to our secretaries. They have been translated with great care. We have inspected them and are absolutely satisfied of their authenticity. They have thrown important light upon the methods followed in the conduct of the war. In one respect, indeed, they are the most weighty part of the evidence, because they proceed from a hostile source and are not open to any such criticism on the ground of bias as might be applied to Belgian testimony. From time to time references to these diaries will be found in the text of the report. In Appendix B they are set out at greater length both in the German original and in an English translation, together with a few photographs of the more important entries.
In Appendix C are set out a number of German proclamations. Most of these are included in the Belgian Report No. VI., which has been furnished to us. Actual specimens of original proclamations issued by or at the bidding of the German military authorities, and posted in the Belgian and French towns mentioned, have been produced to us, and copies thereof are to be found in this appendix.
Appendix D contains the rules of The Hague Convention dealing with the conduct of war on land as adopted in 1907, Germany being one of the signatory powers.
In Appendix E will be found a selection of statements collected in France by Professor Morgan.
These five appendices are contained in a separate volume.
In dealing with the evidence we have recognized the importance of testing it severely, and so far as the conditions permit we have followed the principles which are recognized in the courts of England, the British overseas dominions, and the United States. We have also (as already noted) set aside the testimony of any witnesses who did not favorably impress the lawyers who took their depositions, and have rejected hearsay evidence except in cases where hearsay furnished an undersigned confirmation of facts with regard to which we already possessed direct testimony from some other source, or explained in a natural way facts imperfectly narrated or otherwise perplexing.[A]
[Footnote A: For instance, the dead body of a man is found lying on the doorstep, or a woman is seen who has the appearance of having been outraged. So far the facts are proved by the direct evidence of the person by whom they have been seen. Information is sought for by him as to the circumstances under which the death or outrages took place. The bystanders who saw the circumstances but who are not now accessible, relate what they saw, and this is reported by the witness to the examiner and is placed on record in the depositions. We have had no hesitation in taking such evidence into consideration.]
It is natural to ask whether much of the evidence given, especially by the Belgian witnesses, may not be due to excitement and overstrained emotions, and whether, apart from deliberate falsehood, persons who mean to speak the truth may not in a more or less hysterical condition have been imagining themselves to have seen the things which they say that they saw. Both the lawyers who took the depositions, and we when we came to examine them, fully recognized this possibility. The lawyers, as already observed, took pains to test each witness and either rejected, or appended a note of distrust to, the testimony of those who failed to impress them favorably. We have carried the sifting still further by also omitting from the depositions those in which we found something that seemed too exceptional to be accepted on the faith of one witness only, or too little supported by other evidence pointing to like facts. Many depositions have thus been omitted on which, though they are probably true, we think it safer not to place reliance.
Notwithstanding these precautions, we began the inquiry with doubts whether a positive result would be attained. But the further we went and the more evidence we examined so much the more was our skepticism reduced. There might be some exaggeration in one witness, possible delusion in another, inaccuracies in a third. When, however, we found that things which had at first seemed improbable were testified to by many witnesses coming from different places, having had no communication with one another, and knowing nothing of one another's statements, the points in which they all agreed became more and more evidently true. And when this concurrence of testimony, this convergence upon what were substantially the same broad facts, showed itself in hundreds of depositions, the truth of those broad facts stood out beyond question. The force of the evidence is cumulative. Its worth can be estimated only by perusing the testimony as a whole. If any further confirmation had been needed, we found it in the diaries in which German officers and private soldiers have recorded incidents just such as those to which the Belgian witnesses depose.
The experienced lawyers who took the depositions tell us that they passed from the same stage of doubt into the same stage of conviction. They also began their work in a skeptical spirit, expecting to find much of the evidence colored by passion, or prompted by an excited fancy. But they were impressed by the general moderation and matter-of-fact level-headedness of the witnesses. We have interrogated them, particularly regarding some of the most startling and shocking incidents which appear in the evidence laid before us, and where they expressed a doubt we have excluded the evidence, admitting it as regards the cases in which they stated that the witnesses seemed to them to be speaking the truth, and that they themselves believed the incidents referred to have happened. It is for this reason that we have inserted among the depositions printed in the appendix several cases which we might otherwise have deemed scarcely credible.
The committee has conducted its investigations and come to its conclusions independently of the reports issued by the French and Belgian commissions, but it has no reason to doubt that those conclusions are in substantial accord with the conclusions that have been reached by these two commissions.
ARRANGEMENT OF THE REPORT.
As respects the framework and arrangement of the report, it has been deemed desirable to present first of all what may be called a general historical account of the events which happened, and the conditions which prevailed in the parts of Belgium which lay along the line of the German march, and thereafter to set forth the evidence which bears upon particular classes of offenses against the usages of civilized warfare, evidence which shows to what extent the provisions of The Hague Convention have been disregarded.
This method, no doubt, involves a certain amount of overlapping, for some of the offenses belonging to the latter part of the report will have been already referred to in the earlier part which deals with the invasion of Belgium. But the importance of presenting a connected narrative of events seems to outweigh the disadvantage of occasional repetition. The report will therefore be found to consist of two parts, viz.:
(1) An analysis and summary of the evidence regarding the conduct of the German troops in Belgium toward the civilian population of that country during the first few weeks of the invasion.
(2) An examination of the evidence relating to breaches of the rules and usages of war and acts of inhumanity, committed by German soldiers or groups of soldiers, during the first four months of the war, whether in Belgium or in France.
This second part has again been subdivided into two sections:
a. Offenses committed against noncombatant civilians during the conduct of the war generally.
b. Offenses committed against combatants, whether in Belgium or in France.
THE CONDUCT OF THE GERMAN TROOPS IN BELGIUM.
Although the neutrality of Belgium had been guaranteed by a treaty signed in 1839 to which France, Prussia, and Great Britain were parties, and although, apart altogether from any duties imposed by treaty, no belligerent nation has any right to claim a passage for its army across the territory of a neutral State, the position which Belgium held between the German Empire and France had obliged her to consider the possibility that in the event of a war between these two powers her neutrality might not be respected. In 1911 the Belgian Minister at Berlin had requested an assurance from Germany that she would observe the Treaty of 1839; and the Chancellor of the empire had declared that Germany had no intention of violating Belgian neutrality. Again in 1913 the German Secretary of State at a meeting of a Budget Committee of the Reichstag had declared that "Belgian neutrality is provided for by international conventions and Germany is determined to respect those conventions." Finally, on July 31, 1914, when the danger of war between Germany and France seemed imminent, Herr von Below, the German Minister in Brussels, being interrogated by the Belgian Foreign Department, replied that he knew of the assurances given by the German Chancellor in 1911, and that he "was certain that the sentiments expressed at that time had not changed." Nevertheless on Aug. 2 the same Minister presented a note to the Belgian Government demanding a passage through Belgium for the German Army on pain of an instant declaration of war. Startled as they were by the suddenness with which this terrific war cloud had risen on the eastern horizon, the leaders of the nation rallied around the King in his resolution to refuse the demand and to prepare for resistance. They were aware of the danger which would confront the civilian population of the country if it were tempted to take part in the work of national defense. Orders were accordingly issued by the Civil Governors of provinces, and by the Burgomasters of towns, that the civilian inhabitants were to take no part in hostilities and to offer no provocation to the invaders. That no excuse might be furnished for severities, the populations of many important towns were instructed to surrender all firearms into the hands of the local officials.
[Footnote 1: Copies of typical proclamations have been printed in L'Allemagne et la Belgique, Documents Annexes, xxxvi.]
This happened on Aug. 2. On the evening of Aug. 3 the German troops crossed the frontier. The storm burst so suddenly that neither party had time to adjust its mind to the situation. The Germans seem to have expected an easy passage. The Belgian population, never dreaming of an attack, were startled and stupefied.
LIEGE AND DISTRICT.
On Aug. 4 the roads converging upon Liege from northeast, east, and south were covered with German Death's Head Hussars and Uhlans pressing forward to seize the passage over the Meuse. From the very beginning of the operations the civilian population of the villages lying upon the line of the German advance were made to experience the extreme horrors of war. "On the 4th of August," says one witness, "at Herve," (a village not far from the frontier,) "I saw at about 2 o'clock in the afternoon, near the station, five Uhlans; these were the first German troops I had seen. They were followed by a German officer and some soldiers in a motor car. The men in the car called out to a couple of young fellows who were standing about thirty yards away. The young men, being afraid, ran off and then the Germans fired and killed one of them named D." The murder of this innocent fugitive civilian was a prelude to the burning and pillage of Herve and of other villages in the neighborhood, to the indiscriminate shooting of civilians of both sexes, and to the organized military execution of batches of selected males. Thus at Herve some fifty men escaping from the burning houses were seized, taken outside the town and shot. At Melen, a hamlet west of Herve, forty men were shot. In one household alone the father and mother (names given) were shot, the daughter died after being repeatedly outraged, and the son was wounded. Nor were children exempt. "About Aug. 4," says one witness, "near Vottem, we were pursuing some Uhlans. I saw a man, woman, and a girl about nine, who had been killed. They were on the threshold of a house, one on the top of the other, as if they had been shot down, one after the other, as they tried to escape."
The burning of the villages in this neighborhood and the wholesale slaughter of civilians, such as occurred at Herve, Micheroux, and Soumagne, appear to be connected with the exasperation caused by the resistance of Fort Fleron, whose guns barred the main road from Aix la Chapelle to Liege. Enraged by the losses which they had sustained, suspicious of the temper of the civilian population, and probably thinking that by exceptional severities at the outset they could cow the spirit of the Belgian Nation, the German officers and men speedily accustomed themselves to the slaughter of civilians. How rapidly the process was effected is illustrated by an entry in the diary of Kurt Hoffman, a one-year's man in the First Jaegers, who on Aug. 5 was in front of Fort Fleron. He illustrates his story by a sketch map. "The position," he says, "was dangerous. As suspicious civilians were hanging about—houses 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, were cleared, the owners arrested, (and shot the following day.) Suddenly village A was fired at. Out of it bursts our baggage train, and the Fourth Company of the Twenty-seventh Regiment who had lost their way and been shelled by our own artillery. From the point D.P., (shown in diary,) I shoot a civilian with rifle at 400 meters slap through the head, as we afterward ascertained." Within a few hours, Hoffman, while in house 3, was himself under fire from his own comrades and narrowly escaped being killed. A German, ignorant that house 8 had been occupied, reported, as was the fact, that he had been fired upon from that house. He had been challenged by the field patrol, and failed to give the countersign. Hoffman continues:
"Ten minutes later, people approach who are talking excitedly—apparently Germans. I call out 'Halt, who's there?' Suddenly rapid fire is opened upon us, which I can only escape by quickly jumping on one side—with bullets and fragments of wall and pieces of glass flying around me. I call out 'Halt, here Field Patrol.' Then it stops, and there appears Lieutenant Roemer with three platoons. A man has reported that he had been shot at out of our house; no wonder, if he does not give the countersign."
The entry, though dated Aug. 5, was evidently written on the 6th or later, because the writer refers to the suspicious civilians as having been shot on that day. Hoffman does not indicate of what offense these civilians were guilty, and there is no positive evidence to connect their slaughter with the report made by the German who had been fired on by his comrades. They were "suspicious" and that was enough.
The systematic execution of civilians, which in some cases, as the diary just cited shows, was founded on a genuine mistake, was given a wide extension through the Province of Liege. In Soumagne and Micheroux very many civilians were summarily shot. In a field belonging to a man named E. fifty-six or fifty-seven were put to death. A German officer said: "You have shot at us." One of the villagers asked to be allowed to speak, and said: "If you think these people fired kill me, but let them go." The answer was three volleys. The survivors were bayoneted. Their corpses were seen in the field that night by another witness. One at least had been mutilated. These were not the only victims in Soumagne. The eyewitness of the massacre saw, on his way home, twenty bodies, one that of a young girl of thirteen. Another witness saw nineteen corpses in a meadow.
At Blegny Trembleur, on the 6th, some civilians were captured by German soldiers, who took steps to put them to death forthwith, but were restrained by the arrival of an officer. The prisoners subsequently were taken off to Battice and five were shot in a field. No reason was assigned for their murder.
In the meantime house burners were at work. On the 6th, Battice was destroyed in part. From the 8th to the 10th over 300 houses were burned at Herve, while mounted men shot into doors and windows to prevent the escape of the inhabitants.
At Heure le Romain on or about the 15th of August all the male inhabitants, including some bedridden old men, were imprisoned in the church. The Burgomaster's brother and the priest were bayoneted.
On or about the 14th and 15th the village of Vise was completely destroyed. Officers directed the incendiaries, who worked methodically with benzine. Antiques and china were removed from the houses, before their destruction, by officers who guarded the plunder, revolver in hand. The house of a witness, which contained valuables of this kind, was protected for a time by a notice posted on the door by officers. This notice has been produced to the committee. After the removal of the valuables this house also was burned.
German soldiers had arrived on the 15th at Blegny Trembleur and seized a quantity of wine. On the 16th prisoners were taken; four, including the priest and the Burgomaster, were shot. On the same day 200 (so-called) hostages were seized at Flemalle and marched off. There they were told that unless Fort Flemalle surrendered by noon they would be shot. It did surrender and they were released.
Entries in a German diary show that on the 19th the German soldiers gave themselves up to debauchery in the streets of Liege, and on the night of the 20th (Thursday) a massacre took place in the streets, beginning near the Cafe Carpentier, at which there is said to have been a dinner attended by Russian and other students. A proclamation issued by General Kolewe on the following day gave the German version of the affair, which was that his troops had been fired on by Russian students. The diary states that in the night the inhabitants of Liege became mutinous and that fifty persons were shot. The Belgian witnesses vehemently deny that there had been any provocation given, some stating that many German soldiers were drunk, others giving evidence which indicates that the affair was planned beforehand. It is stated that at 5 o'clock in the evening, long before the shooting, a citizen was warned by a friendly German soldier not to go out that night.
Though the cause of the massacre is in dispute, the results are known with certainty. The Rue des Pitteurs and houses in the Place de l'Universite and the Quai des Pecheurs were systematically fired with benzine, and many inhabitants were burned alive in their houses, their efforts to escape being prevented by rifle fire. Twenty people were shot, while trying to escape, before the eyes of one of the witnesses. The Liege Fire Brigade turned out but was not allowed to extinguish the fire. Its carts, however, were usefully employed in removing heaps of civilian corpses to the Town Hall. The fire burned on through the night and the murders continued on the following day, the 21st. Thirty-two civilians were killed on that day in the Place de l'Universite alone, and a witness states that this was followed by the rape in open day of fifteen or twenty women on tables in the square itself.
No depositions are before us which deal with events in the City of Liege after this date. Outrages, however, continued in various places in the province.
For example, on or about the 21st of August, at Pepinster two witnesses were seized as hostages and were threatened, together with five others, that, unless they could discover a civilian who was alleged to have shot a soldier in the leg, they would be shot themselves. They escaped their fate because one of the hostages convinced the officer that the alleged shooting, if it took place at all, took place in the Commune of Cornesse and not that of Pepinster, whereupon the Burgomaster of Cornesse, who was old and very deaf, was shot forthwith.
The outrages on the civilian population were not confined to the villages mentioned above, but appear to have been general throughout this district from the very outbreak of the war.
An entry in one of the diaries says:
"We crossed the Belgian frontier on 15th August, 1914, at 11:50 in the forenoon, and then we went steadily along the main road till we got into Belgium. Hardly were we there when we had a horrible sight. Houses were burned down, the inhabitants chased away and some of them shot. Not one of the hundreds of houses were spared. Everything was plundered and burned. Hardly had we passed through this large village before the next village was burned, and so it went on continuously. On the 16th August, 1914, the large village of Barchon was burned down. On the same day we crossed the bridge over the Meuse at 11:50 in the morning. We then arrived at the town of Wandre. Here the houses were spared, but everything was examined. At last we were out of the town and everything went in ruins. In one house a whole collection of weapons was found. The inhabitants without exception were shot. This shooting was heart-breaking, as they all knelt down and prayed, but that was no ground for mercy. A few shots rang out and they fell back into the green grass and slept for ever." ["Die Einwohner wurden samt und sonders herausgeholt und erschossen: aber dieses Erschiessen war direkt herzzerreisend wie sie alle knieben und beteten, aber dies half kein Erbarmen. Ein paar Schuesse krackten und die fielen ruecklings in das gruene Gras und erschliefen fuer immer."]
VALLEYS OF MEUSE AND SAMBRE.
While the First Army, under the command of General Alexander von Kluck, was mastering the passages of the Meuse between Vise and Namur, and carrying out the scheme of devastation which has already been described, detachments of the Second German Army, under General von Buelow, were proceeding up the Meuse valley toward Namur. On Wednesday, Aug. 12, the town of Huy, which stands half way between Namur and Liege, was seized. On Aug. 20 German guns opened fire on Namur itself. Three days later the city was evacuated by its defenders, and the Germans proceeded along the valley of the Sambre through Tamines and Charleroi to Mons. Meanwhile a force under General von Hausen had advanced upon Dinant, by Laroche, Marche, and Achene, and on Aug. 15 made an unsuccessful assault upon that town. A few days later the attack was renewed and with success, and, Dinant captured, von Hausen's army streamed into France by Bouvines and Rethel, firing and looting the villages and shooting the inhabitants as they passed through.
The evidence with regard to the Province of Namur is less voluminous than that relating to the north of Belgium. This is largely due to the fact that the testimony of soldiers is seldom available, as the towns and villages once occupied by the Germans were seldom reoccupied by the opposing troops, and the number of refugees who have reached England from the Namur district is comparatively small.
Andenne is a small town on the Meuse between Liege and Namur, lying opposite the village of Seilles, (with which it is connected by a bridge over the river,) and was one of the earlier places reached on the German advance up the Meuse. In order to understand the story of the massacre which occurred there on Thursday Aug. 20, the following facts should be borne in mind: The German advance was hotly contested by Belgian and French troops. From daybreak onward on the 19th of August the Eighth Belgian Regiment of the Line were fighting with the German troops on the left bank of the Meuse on the heights of Seilles. At 8 A.M. on the 19th the Belgians found further resistance impossible in the district, and retired under shelter of the forts of Namur. As they retired they blew up Andenne Bridge. The first Germans arrived at Andenne at about 10 A.M., when ten or twelve Uhlans rode into the town. They went to the bridge and found it was destroyed. They then retired, but returned about half an hour afterward. Soon after that several thousand Germans entered the town and made arrangements to spend the night there. Thus, on the evening of the 19th of August, a large body of German troops were in possession of the town, which they had entered without any resistance on the part of the allied armies or of the civilian population.
About 4:30 on the next afternoon shots were fired from the left bank of the Meuse and replied to by the Germans in Andenne. The village of Andenne had been isolated from the district on the left bank of the Meuse by the destruction of the bridge, and there is nothing to suggest that the firing on the left came from the inhabitants of Andenne. Almost immediately, however, the slaughter of these inhabitants began, and continued for over two hours and intermittently during the night. Machine guns were brought into play. The German troops were said to be for the most part drunk, and they certainly murdered and ravaged unchecked. A reference to the German diaries in the appendix will give some idea of the extent to which the army gave itself up to drink through the month of August.
When the fire slackened about 7 o'clock, many of the townspeople fled in the direction of the quarries; others remained in their houses. At this moment the whole of the district around the station was on fire and houses were flaming over a distance of two kilometers in the direction of the hamlet of Tramaka. The little farms which rise one above the other on the high ground of the right bank were also burning.
At 6 o'clock on the following morning, the 21st, the Germans began to drag the inhabitants from their houses. Men, women, and children were driven into the square, where the sexes were separated. Three men were then shot, and a fourth was bayoneted. A German Colonel was present whose intention in the first place appeared to be to shoot all the men. A young German girl who had been staying in the neighborhood interceded with him, and after some parleying, some of the prisoners were picked out, taken to the banks of the Meuse and there shot. The Colonel accused the population of firing on the soldiers, but there is no reason to think that any of them had done so, and no inquiry appears to have been made.
About 400 people lost their lives in this massacre, some on the banks of the Meuse, where they were shot according to orders given, and some in the cellars of the houses where they had taken refuge. Eight men belonging to one family were murdered. Another man was placed close to a machine gun which was fired through him. His wife brought his body home on a wheelbarrow. The Germans broke into her house and ransacked it, and piled up all the eatables in a heap on the floor and relieved themselves upon it.
A hairdresser was murdered in his kitchen where he was sitting with a child on each knee. A paralytic was murdered in his garden. After this came the general sack of the town. Many of the inhabitants who escaped the massacre were kept as prisoners and compelled to clear the houses of corpses and bury them in trenches. These prisoners were subsequently used as a shelter and protection for a pontoon bridge which the Germans had built across the river, and were so used to prevent the Belgian forts from firing upon it.
A few days later the Germans celebrated a Fete Nocturne in the square. Hot wine, looted in the town, was drunk, and the women were compelled to give three cheers for the Kaiser and to sing "Deutschland ueber Alles."
The fight around Namur was accompanied by sporadic outrages. Near Marchovelette wounded men were murdered in a farm by German soldiers. The farm was set on fire. A German cavalryman rode away holding in front of him one of the farmer's daughters crying and disheveled.
At Temploux, on the 23d of August, a professor of modern languages at the College of Namur was shot at his front door by a German officer. Before he died he asked the officer the reason for this brutality, and the officer replied that he had lost his temper because some civilians had fired upon the Germans as they entered the village. This allegation was not proved. The Belgian Army was still operating in the district, and it may well be that it was from them that the shots in question proceeded. After the murder the house was burned.
On the 24th and 25th of August massacres were carried out at Surice, in which many persons belonging to the professional classes, as well as others, were killed.
Namur was entered on the 24th of August. The troops signalized their entry by firing on a crowd of 150 unarmed unresisting civilians, ten alone of whom escaped.
A witness of good standing who was in Namur describes how the town was set on fire systematically in six different places. As the inhabitants fled from the burning houses they were shot by the German troops. Not less than 140 houses were burned.
On the 25th the hospital at Namur was set on fire with inflammable pastilles, the pretext being that soldiers in the hospital had fired upon the Germans.
At Denee, on the 28th of August, a Belgian soldier who had been taken prisoner saw three civilian fellow-prisoners shot. One was a cripple and another an old man of eighty who was paralyzed. It was alleged by two German soldiers that these men had shot at them with rifles. Neither of them had a rifle, nor had they anything in their pockets. The witness actually saw the Germans search them and nothing was found.
In Tamines, a large village on the Meuse between Namur and Charleroi, the advance guard of the German Army appeared in the first fortnight in August, and in this as well as in other villages in the district, it is proved that a large number of civilians, among them aged people, women, and children, were deliberately killed by the soldiers. One witness describes how she saw a Belgian boy of fifteen shot on the village green at Tamines, and a day or two later on the same green a little girl and her two brothers, (name given,) who were looking at the German soldiers, were killed before her eyes for no apparent reason.
The principal massacre at Tamines took place about Aug. 28. A witness describes how he saw the public square littered with corpses, and after a search found those of his wife and child, a little girl of seven.
Another witness, who lived near Tamines, went there on Aug. 27, and says: "It is absolutely destroyed and a mass of ruins."
At Morlanwelz, about this time, the British Army, together with some French cavalry, were compelled to retire before the German troops. The latter took the Burgomaster and his man servant prisoner and shot them both in front of the Hotel de Ville at Peronne, (Belgium,) where the bodies were left in the street for forty-eight hours. They burned the Hotel de Ville and sixty-two houses. The usual accusation of firing by civilians was made. It is strenuously denied by the witness, who declares that three or four days before the arrival of the Germans, circulars had been distributed to every house and placards had been posted in the town ordering the deposit of all firearms at the Hotel de Ville and that this order had been complied with.
At Monceau-sur-Sambre, on the 21st of August, a young man of eighteen was shot in his garden. His father and brother were seized in their house and shot in the courtyard of a neighboring country house. The son was shot first. The father was compelled to stand close to the feet of his son's corpse and to fix his eyes upon him while he himself was shot. The corpse of the young man shot in the garden was carried into the house and put on a bed. The next morning the Germans asked where the corpse was. When they found it was in the house, they fetched straw, packed it around the bed on which the corpse was lying, and set fire to it and burned the house down. A great many houses were burned in Monceau.
A vivid picture of the events at Montigny-sur-Sambre has been given by a witness of high standing who had exceptional opportunities of observation. In the early morning of Saturday, Aug. 22, Uhlans reached Montigny. The French Army was about four kilometers away, but on a hill near the village were a detachment of French, about 150 to 200 strong, lying in ambush. At about 1:30 o'clock the main body of the German Army began to arrive. Marching with them were two groups of so-called hostages, about 400 in all. Of these, 300 were surrounded with a rope held by the front, rear, and outside men. The French troops in ambush opened fire, and immediately the Germans commenced to destroy the town. Incendiaries with a distinctive badge on their arm went down the main street throwing handfuls of inflammatory and explosive pastilles into the houses. These pastilles were carried by them in bags, and in this way about 130 houses were destroyed in the main street. By 10:30 P.M. some 200 more hostages had been collected. These were drawn from Montigny itself, and on that night about fifty men, women, and children were placed on the bridge over the Sambre and kept there all night. The bridge was similarly guarded for a day or two, apparently either from a fear that it was mined or in the belief that these men, women, and children would afford some protection to the Germans in the event of the French attempting to storm the bridge. At one period of the German occupation of Montigny, eight nuns of the Order of Ste. Marie were captives on the bridge. House burning was accompanied by murder, and on the Monday morning twenty-seven civilians from one parish alone were seen lying dead in the hospital.
Other outrages committed at Jumet, Bouffioulx, Charleroi, Marchiennes-au-Pont, Couillet, and Maubeuge are described in the depositions given in the appendix.
A clear statement of the outrages at Dinant, which many travelers will recall as a singularly picturesque town on the Meuse, is given by one witness, who says that the Germans began burning houses in the Rue St. Jacques on the 21st of August, and that every house in the street was burned. On the following day an engagement took place between the French and the Germans, and the witness spent the whole day in the cellar of a bank with his wife and children. On the morning of the 23d, about 5 o'clock, firing ceased, and almost immediately afterward a party of Germans came to the house. They rang the bell and began to batter at the door and windows. The witness's wife went to the door and two or three Germans came in. The family were ordered out into the street. There they found another family, and the two families were driven with their hands above their heads along the Rue Grande. All the houses in the street were burning. The party was eventually put into a forge where there were a number of other prisoners, about a hundred in all, and were kept there from 11 A.M. till 2 P.M. They were then taken to the prison. There they were assembled in a courtyard and searched. No arms were found. They were then passed through into the prison itself and put into cells. The witness and his wife were separated from each other. During the next hour the witness heard rifle shots continually, and noticed in the corner of a courtyard leading off the row of cells the body of a young man with a mantle thrown over it. He recognized the mantle as having belonged to his wife. The witness's daughter was allowed to go out to see what had happened to her mother, and the witness himself was allowed to go across the courtyard half an hour afterward for the same purpose. He found his wife lying on the floor in a room. She had bullet wounds in four places, but was alive and told her husband to return to the children, and he did so. About 5 o'clock in the evening he saw the Germans bringing out all the young and middle-aged men from the cells, and ranging their prisoners, to the number of forty, in three rows in the middle of the courtyard. About twenty Germans were drawn up opposite, but before any thing was done there was a tremendous fusillade from some point near the prison and the civilians were hurried back to their cells. Half an hour later the same forty men were brought back into the courtyard. Almost immediately there was a second fusillade like the first and and they were driven back to the cells again. About 7 o'clock the witness and other prisoners were brought out of their cells and marched out of the prison. They went between two lines of troops to Roche Bayard, about a kilometer away. An hour later the women and children were separated and the prisoners were brought back to Dinant, passing the prison on their way. Just outside the prison the witness saw three lines of bodies which he recognized as being those of neighbors. They were nearly all dead, but he noticed movement in some of them. There were about 120 bodies. The prisoners were then taken up to the top of the hill outside Dinant and compelled to stay there till 8 o'clock in the morning. On the following day they were put into cattle trucks and taken thence to Coblenz. For three months they remained prisoners in Germany.
Unarmed civilians were killed in masses at other places near the prison. About ninety bodies were seen lying on the top of one another in a grass square opposite the convent. They included many relatives of a witness whose deposition will be found in the appendix. This witness asked a German officer why her husband had been shot, and he told her that it was because two of her sons had been in the civil guard and had shot at the Germans. As a matter of fact one of her sons was at that time in Liege and the other in Brussels. It is stated that, besides the ninety corpses referred to above, sixty corpses of civilians were recovered from a hole in the brewery yard and that forty-eight bodies of women and children were found in a garden. The town was systematically set on fire by hand grenades.
Another witness saw a little girl of seven, one of whose legs was broken and the other injured by a bayonet.
We have no reason to believe that the civilian population of Dinant gave any provocation, or that any other defense can be put forward to justify the treatment inflicted upon its citizens.
As regards this town and the advance of the German Army from Dinant to Rethel on the Aisne, a graphic account is given in the diary of a Saxon officer. This diary confirms what is clear from the evidence as a whole, both as regards these and other districts, that civilians were constantly taken as prisoners, often dragged from their homes, and shot under the direction of the authorities without any charge being made against them. An event of the kind is thus referred to in a diary entry:
"Apparently 200 men were shot. There must have been some innocent men among them. In future we shall have to hold an inquiry as to their guilt instead of shooting them."
[Footnote 1: A copy of this diary was given by the French military authorities to the British Headquarters Staff in France, and the latter have communicated it to the committee. It will be found in Appendix B after the German diaries shown to us by the British War Office.]
The shooting of inhabitants, women and children as well as men, went on after the Germans had passed Dinant on their way into France. The houses and villages were pillaged and property wantonly destroyed.
AERSCHOT, MALINES, VILVORDE, AND LOUVAIN QUADRANGLE.
About Aug. 9 a powerful screen of cavalry masking the general advance of the First and Second German Armies was thrown forward into the provinces of Brabant and Limburg. The progress of the invaders was contested at several points, probably near Tirlemont on the Louvain road, and at Diest, Haelen, and Schaffen, on the Aerschot road, by detachments of the main Belgian Army, which was drawn up upon the line of the Dyle. In their preliminary skirmishes the Belgians more than once gained advantages, but after the fall on Aug. 15 of the last of the Liege forts the great line of railway which runs through Liege toward Brussels and Antwerp in one direction and toward Namur and the French frontier in another fell into the hands of the Germans. From this moment the advance of the main army was swift and irresistible. On Aug. 19 Louvain and Aerschot were occupied by the Germans, the former without resistance, the latter after a struggle which resulted early in the day in the retirement of the Belgian Army upon Antwerp. On Aug. 20 the invaders made their entry into Brussels.
The quadrangle of territory bounded by the towns of Aerschot, Malines, Vilvorde, and Louvain is a rich agricultural tract, studded with small villages and comprising two considerable cities, Louvain and Malines. This district on Aug. 19 passed into the hands of the Germans, and owing perhaps to its proximity to Antwerp, then the seat of the Belgian Government and headquarters of the Belgian Army, it became from that date a scene of chronic outrage, with respect to which the committee has received a great mass of evidence.
The witnesses to these occurrences are for the most part imperfectly educated persons who cannot give accurate dates, so it is impossible in some cases to fix the dates of particular crimes; and the total number of outrages is so great that we cannot refer to all of them in the body of the report or give all the depositions relating to them in the appendix. The main events, however, are abundantly clear, and group themselves naturally around three dates—Aug. 19, Aug. 25, and Sept. 11.
The arrival of the Germans in the district on Aug. 19 was marked by systematic massacres and other outrages at Aerschot itself, Gelrode, and some other villages.
On Aug. 25 the Belgians, sallying out of the defenses of Antwerp, attacked the German positions at Malines, drove the enemy from the town, and reoccupied many of the villages, such as Sempst, Hofstade, and Eppeghem, in the neighborhood. And, just as numerous outrages against the civilian population had been the immediate consequence of the temporary repulse of the German vanguard from Fort Fleron, so a large body of depositions testify to the fact that a sudden outburst of cruelty was the response of the German Army to the Belgian victory at Malines. The advance of the German Army to the Dyle had been accompanied by reprehensible, and, indeed, (in certain cases,) terrible outrages, but these had been, it would appear, isolated acts, some of which are attributed by witnesses to indignation at the check at Haelen, while others may have been the consequence of drunkenness. But the battle of Malines had results of a different order. In the first place, it was the occasion of numerous murders committed by the German Army in retreating through the villages of Sempst, Hofstade, Eppeghem, Elewyt, and elsewhere. In the second place, it led, as it will be shown later, to the massacres, plunderings, and burnings at Louvain, the signal for which was provided by shots exchanged between the German Army retreating after its repulse at Malines and some members of the German garrison of Louvain who mistook their fellow-countrymen for Belgians. Lastly, the encounter at Malines seems to have stung the Germans into establishing a reign of terror in so much of the district comprised in the quadrangle as remained in their power. Many houses were destroyed and their contents stolen. Hundreds of prisoners were locked up in various churches and were in some instances marched about from one village to another. Some of these were finally conducted to Louvain and linked up with the bands of prisoners taken in Louvain itself, and sent to Germany and elsewhere.
On Sept. 11, when the Germans were driven out of Aerschot across the River Demer by a successful sortie from Antwerp, murders of civilians were taking place in the villages which the Belgian Army then recaptured from the Germans. These crimes bear a strong resemblance to those committed in Hofstade and other villages after the battle of Malines.
AERSCHOT AND DISTRICT.
Period I., (Aug. 19 and following days.)
The German Army entered Aerschot quite early in the morning. Workmen going to their work were seized and taken as hostages.
The Germans, apparently already irritated, proceeded to make a search for the priests and threatened to burn the convent if the priests should happen to be found there. One priest was accused of inciting the inhabitants to fire on the troops, and when he denied it the Burgomaster was blamed by the officer. The priest then showed the officer the notices on the walls, signed by the Burgomaster, warning the inhabitants not to intervene in hostilities.
It appears that they accused the priest of having fired at the Germans from the tower of the church. This is important because it is one of the not infrequent cases in which the Germans ascribed firing from a church to priests, whereas in fact this firing came from Belgian soldiers, and also because it seems to show that the Germans from the moment of their arrival in Aerschot were seeking to pick a quarrel with the inhabitants, and this goes far to explain their subsequent conduct. Hostages were collected until 200 men, some of whom were invalids, were gathered together.
M. Tielmans, the Burgomaster, was then ordered by some German officers to address the crowd and to tell them to hand in any weapons which they might have in their possession at the Town Hall, and to warn them that any one who was found with weapons would be killed. As a matter of fact, the arms in the possession of civilians had already been collected at the beginning of the war. The Burgomaster's speech resulted in the delivery of one gun, which had been used for pigeon shooting. The hostages were then released. Throughout the day the town was looted by the soldiers. Many shop windows were broken, and the contents of the shop fronts ransacked.
A shot was fired about 7 o'clock in the evening, by which time many of the soldiers were drunk. The Germans were not of one mind as to the direction from which the shot proceeded. Some said it came from a jeweler's shop, and some said it came from other houses. No one was hit by this shot, but thereafter German soldiers began to fire in various directions at people in the streets.
It is said that a German General or Colonel was killed at the Burgomaster's house. As far as the committee have been able to ascertain, the identity of the officer has never been revealed. The German version of the story is that he was killed by the 15-year-old son of the Burgomaster. The committee, however, is satisfied by the evidence of several independent witnesses that some German officers were standing at the window of the Burgomaster's house, that a large body of German troops was in the square, that some of these soldiers were drunk and let off their rifles, that in the volley one of the officers standing at the window of the Burgomaster's house fell, that at the time of the accident the wife and son of the Burgomaster had gone to take refuge in the cellar, and that neither the Burgomaster nor his son were in the least degree responsible for the occurrence which served as the pretext for their subsequent execution, and for the firing and sack of the town.[A]
[Footnote A: This account agrees substantially with that given in a letter written by Mme. Tielmans, the Burgomaster's wife, which is printed in the fifth report of the Belgian Commission. The letter is as follows:
This is how it happened. About 4 in the afternoon my husband was giving cigars to the sentinels stationed at the door. I saw that the General and his aides de camp were looking at us from the balcony and told him to come indoors. Just then I looked toward the Grand Place, where more than 2,000 Germans were encamped, and distinctly saw two columns of smoke followed by a fusillade. The Germans were firing on the houses and forcing their way into them. My husband, children, servant, and myself had just time to dash into the staircase leading to the cellar. The Germans were even firing into the passages of the houses. After a few minutes of indescribable horror, one of the General's aides de camp came down and said: "The General is dead. Where is the Burgomaster?" My husband said to me, "This will be serious for me." As he went forward I said to the aide de camp: "You can see for yourself, Sir, that my husband did not fire." "That makes no difference," he said. "He is responsible." My husband was taken off. My son, who was at my side, took us into another cellar. The same aide de camp came and dragged him out and made him walk in front of him, kicking him as he went. The poor boy could hardly walk. That morning when they came to the town the Germans had fired through the windows of the houses, and a bullet had come into the room where my son was, and he had been wounded in the calf by the ricochet. After my husband and son had gone I was dragged all through the house by Germans, with their revolvers leveled at my head. I was compelled to see their dead General. Then my daughter and I were thrown into the street without cloaks or anything. We were massed in the Grand Place, surrounded by a cordon of soldiers, and compelled to witness the destruction of our beloved town. And then, by the hideous light of the fire, I saw them for the last time, about 1 in the morning, my husband and my boy tied together. My brother-in-law was behind them. They were being led out to execution.]
The houses were set on fire with special apparatus, while people were dragged from their houses, already burning, and some were shot in the streets.
Many civilians were marched to a field on the road to Louvain and kept there all night. Meanwhile many of the inhabitants were collected in the square. By this time very many of the troops were drunk.
On the following day a number of the civilians were shot under the orders of an officer, together with the Burgomaster, his brother, and his son. Of this incident, which is spoken to by many witnesses, a clear account is given:
"German soldiers came and took hold of me and every other man they could see, and eventually there were about sixty of us, including some of 80, (i.e., years of age,) and they made us accompany them ... all the prisoners had to walk with their hands above their heads. We were then stopped and made to stand in a line, and an officer, a big fat man who had a bluish uniform ... came along the line and picked out the Burgomaster, his brother, and his son, and some men who had been employed under the Red Cross. In all, ten men were picked out ... the remainder were made to turn their backs upon the ten. I then heard some shots fired, and I and the other men turned around and we saw all the ten men, including the Burgomaster, were lying on the ground."
This incident is spoken to by other witnesses also. Some of their depositions appear in the appendix.
On the same day at Gelrode, a small village close to Aerschot, twenty-five civilians were imprisoned in the church. Seven were taken out by fifteen German soldiers in charge of an officer just outside. One of the seven tried to run away, whereupon all the six who remained behind alive were shot. This was on the night of Aug. 19. No provocation whatever had been given. The men in question had been searched, and no arms had been found upon them. Here, as at Aerschot, precautions had been taken previously to secure the delivery up of all arms in the hands of civilians.
Some of the survivors were compelled to dig graves for the seven. At a later date the corpses were disinterred and reburied in consecrated ground. The marks of the bullets in the brick wall against which the six were shot were then still plainly visible. On the same day a woman was shot by some German soldiers as she was walking home. This was done at a distance of 100 yards and for no apparent reason.
An account of a murder by an officer at Campenhout is given in a later part of this report, and depositions relating to Rotselaer, Tremeloo, and Wespelaer will be found in the appendix.
The committee is specially impressed by the character of the outrages committed in the smaller villages. Many of these are exceptionally shocking and cannot be regarded as contemplated or prescribed by the responsible commanders of the troops by whom they were committed. The inference, however, which we draw from these occurrences is that when once troops have been encouraged in a career of terrorism the more savage and brutal natures, of whom there are some in every large army, are liable to run to wild excess, more particularly in those regions where they are least subject to observation and control.
AERSCHOT AND DISTRICT.
Period II., (Aug. 25.)
Immediately after the battle of Malines, which resulted in the evacuation by the Germans of the district of Malines, Sempst, Hofstade, and Eppeghem, a long series of murders were committed either just before or during the retreat of the army. Many of the inhabitants who were unarmed, including women and young children, were killed—some of them under revolting circumstances.
Evidence given goes to show that the death of these villagers was due not to accident, but to deliberate purpose. The wounds were generally stabs or cuts, and for the most part appear to have been inflicted with the bayonet.
In Malines itself many bodies were seen. One witness saw a German soldier cut a woman's breasts after he had murdered her, and saw many other dead bodies of women in the streets.
In Hofstade a number of houses had been set on fire and many corpses were seen, some in houses, some in back yards, and some in the streets.
Several examples are given below.
Two witnesses speak to having seen the body of a young man pierced by bayonet thrusts with the wrists cut also.
On a side road the corpse of a civilian was seen on his doorstep with a bayonet wound in his stomach, and by his side the dead body of a boy of 5 or 6 with his hands nearly severed.
The corpses of a woman and boy were seen at the blacksmith's. They had been killed with the bayonet.
In a cafe a young man, also killed with the bayonet, was holding his hands together as if in the attitude of supplication.
Two young women were lying in the back yard of the house. One had her breasts cut off, the other had been stabbed.
A young man had been hacked with the bayonet until his entrails protruded. He also had his hands joined in the attitude of prayer.
In the garden of a house in the main street bodies of two women were observed, and in another house the body of a boy of 16 with two bayonet wounds in the chest.
In Sempst a similar condition of affairs existed. Houses were burning and in some of them were the charred remains of civilians.
In a bicycle shop a witness saw the burned corpse of a man. Other witnesses speak to this incident.
Another civilian, unarmed, was shot as he was running away. As will be remembered, all the arms had been given up some time before by order of the Burgomaster.
The corpse of a man with his legs cut off, who was partly bound, was seen by another witness, who also saw a girl of 17 dressed only in a chemise, and in great distress. She alleged that she herself and other girls had been dragged into a field, stripped naked, and violated, and that some of them had been killed with the bayonet.
WEERDE.—At Weerde four corpses of civilians were lying in the road. It was said that these men had fired upon the German soldiers; but this is denied. The arms had been given up long before.
Two children were killed in a village, apparently Weerde, quite wantonly as they were standing in the road with their mother. They were 3 or 4 years old and were killed with the bayonet.
A small farm burning close by formed a convenient means of getting rid of the bodies. They were thrown into the flames from the bayonets. It is right to add that no commissioned officer was present at the time.
EPPEGHEM.—At Eppeghem on Aug. 25 a pregnant woman who had been wounded with a bayonet was discovered in the convent. She was dying. On the road six dead bodies of laborers were seen.
ELEWYT.—At Elewyt a man's naked body was tied up to a ring in the wall in the back yard of a house. He was dead, and his corpse was mutilated in a manner too horrible to record. A woman's naked body was also found in a stable abutting on the same back yard.
VILVORDE.—At Vilvorde corpses of civilians were also found. These villages are all on the line from Malines to Brussels.
BOORT MEERBEEK.—At Boort Meerbeek a German soldier was seen to fire three times at a little girl 5 years old. Having failed to hit her, he subsequently bayoneted her. He was killed with the butt end of a rifle by a Belgian soldier who had seen him commit this murder from a distance.
HERENT.—At Herent the charred body of a civilian was found in a butcher's shop, and in a handcart twenty yards away was the dead body of a laborer.
Two eyewitnesses relate that a German soldier shot a civilian and stabbed him with a bayonet as he lay. He then made one of these witnesses, a civilian prisoner, smell the blood on the bayonet.
HAECHT.—At Haecht the bodies of ten civilians were seen lying in a row by a brewery wall.
In a laborer's house, which had been broken up, the mutilated corpse of a woman of 30 to 35 was discovered.
A child of 3 with its stomach cut open by a bayonet was lying near a house.
WERCHTER.—At Werchter the corpses of a man and woman and four younger persons were found in one house. It is stated that they had been murdered because one of the latter, a girl, would not allow the Germans to outrage her.
This catalogue of crimes does not by any means represent the sum total of the depositions relating to this district laid before the committee. The above are given merely as examples of acts which the evidence shows to have taken place in numbers that might have seemed scarcely credible.
In the rest of the district, that is to say, Aerschot and the other villages from which the Germans had not been driven, the effect of the battle was to cause a recrudescence of murder, arson, pillage, and cruelty, which had to some extent died down after Aug. 20 or 21.
In Aerschot itself fresh prisoners seem to have been taken and added to those who were already in the church, since it would appear that prisoners were kept to some extent in the church during the whole of the German occupation of Aerschot. The second occasion on which large numbers of prisoners were put there was shortly after the battle of Malines, and it was then that the priest of Gelrode was brought to Aerschot Church, treated abominably, and finally murdered.
One witness describes the scene graphically:
"The whole of the prisoners—men, women and children—were placed in the church. Nobody was allowed to go outside the church to obey the calls of nature; the church had to be used for that purpose. We were afterward allowed to go outside the church for this purpose, and then I saw the clergyman of Gelrode standing by the wall of the church with his hands above his head, being guarded by soldiers."
The actual details of the murder of the priest are as follows: The priest was struck several times by the soldiers on the head. He was pushed up against the wall of the church. He asked in Flemish to be allowed to stand with his face to the wall, and tried to turn around. The Germans stopped him and then turned him with his face to the wall, with his hands above his head. An hour later the same witness saw the priest still standing there. He was then led away by the Germans a distance of about fifty yards. There, with his face against the wall of a house, he was shot by five soldiers.
Other murders of which we have evidence appear in the appendix.
Some of the prisoners in the church at Aerschot were actually kept there until the arrival of the Belgian Army on Sept. 11, when they were released. Others were marched to Louvain and eventually merged with other prisoners, both from Louvain itself and the surrounding districts, and taken to Germany and elsewhere.
It is said by one witness that about 1,500 were marched to Louvain and that the journey took six hours.
The journey to Louvain is thus described by a witness: We were all marched off to Louvain, walking. There were some very old people, among others a man 90 years of age. The very old people were drawn in carts and barrows by the younger men. There was an officer with a bicycle, who shouted, as people fell out by the side of the road, "Shoot them!"
AERSCHOT AND DISTRICT.
Period III., (September.)
It is unnecessary to describe with much particularity the events of the period beginning about Sept. 10. The Belgian soldiers, who had recaptured the place, found corpses of civilians who must have been murdered in Aerschot itself just as they found them in Sempst and the other villages on Aug. 25. Some of these bodies were found in wells and some had been burned alive in their houses.
The prisoners released by the Belgian Army from the church were almost starved.
HAECHT.—At Haecht several children had been murdered, one of 2 or 3 years of age was found nailed to the door of a farmhouse by its hands and feet—a crime which seems almost incredible, but the evidence for which we feel bound to accept. In the garden of this house was the body of a girl who had been shot in the forehead.
CAPELLE-AU-BOIS.—At Capelle-au-Bois two children were murdered in a cart and their corpses were seen by many witnesses at different stages of the cart's journey.
EPPEGHEM.—At Eppeghem the dead body of a child of 2 was seen pinned to the ground with a German lance. Same witness saw a mutilated woman alive near Weerde on the same day.
TREMELOO.—Belgian soldiers on patrol duty found a young girl naked on the ground, covered with scratches. She complained of having been violated. On the same day an old woman was seen kneeling by the body of her husband, and she told them that the Germans had shot him as he was trying to escape from the house.
LOUVAIN AND DISTRICT.
The events spoken to as having occurred in and around Louvain between the 19th and the 25th of August deserve close attention.
For six days the Germans were in peaceful occupation of the city. No houses were set on fire—no citizens killed. There was a certain amount of looting of empty houses, but otherwise discipline was effectively maintained. The condition of Louvain during these days was one of relative peace and quietude, presenting a striking contrast to the previous and contemporaneous conduct of the German Army elsewhere.
On the evening of Aug. 25 a sudden change takes place. The Germans, on that day repulsed by the Belgians, had retreated to and reoccupied Louvain. Immediately the devastation of that city and the holocaust of its population commences. The inference is irresistible that the army as a whole wreaked its vengeance on the civil population and the buildings of the city in revenge for the setback which the Belgian arms had inflicted on them. A subsidiary cause alleged was the assertion, often made before that civilians had fired upon the German Army.
The depositions which relate to Louvain are numerous, and are believed by the committee to present a true and fairly complete picture of the events of the 25th and 26th of August and subsequent days. We find no grounds for thinking that the inhabitants fired upon the German Army on the evening of the 25th of August. Eyewitnesses worthy of credence detail exactly when, where, and how the firing commenced. Such firing was by Germans on Germans. No impartial tribunal could, in our opinion, come to any other conclusion.
On the evening of the 25th firing could be heard in the direction of Herent, some three kilometers from Louvain. An alarm was sounded in the city. There was disorder and confusion, and at 8 o'clock horses attached to baggage wagons stampeded in the street and rifle fire commenced. This was in the Rue de la Station and came from the German police guard, (21 in number,) who, seeing the troops arrive in disorder, thought it was the enemy. Then the corps of incendiaries got to work. They had broad belts with the words "Gott mit uns," and their equipment consisted of a hatchet, a syringe, a small shovel, and a revolver. Fires blazed up in the direction of the Law Courts, St. Martin's Barracks, and later in the Place de la Station. Meanwhile an incessant fusillade was kept up on the windows of the houses. In their efforts to escape the flames the inhabitants climbed the walls.
"My mother and servants," says a witness, "had to do the same and took refuge at Monsieur A.'s, whose cellars are vaulted and afforded a better protection than mine. A little later we withdrew to Monsieur A.'s stables, where about thirty people who had got there by climbing the walls were to be found. Some of these poor wretches had to climb twenty walls. A ring came at the bell. We opened the door. Several civilians flung themselves under the porch. The Germans were firing upon them from the street. Every moment new fires were lighting up, accompanied by explosions. In the middle of the night I heard a knock at the outer door of the stable which led into a little street, and heard a woman's voice crying for help. I opened the door, and just as I was going to let her in a rifle shot fired from the street by a German soldier rang out and the woman fell dead at my feet. About 9 in the morning things got quieter, and we took the opportunity of venturing into the street. A German who was carrying a silver pyx and a number of boxes of cigars told us we were to go to the station, where trains would be waiting for us. When we got to the Place de la Station we saw in the square seven or eight dead bodies of murdered civilians. Not a single house in the place was standing. A whole row of houses behind the station at Blauwput was burned. After being driven hither and thither interminably by officers, who treated us roughly and insulted us throughout, we were divided."
The prisoners were then distributed between different bodies of troops and marched in the direction of Herent. Seventy-seven inhabitants of Louvain, including a number of people of good position, (the names of several are given,) were thus taken to Herent.
"We found the village of Herent in flames, so much so that we had to quicken up to prevent ourselves from being suffocated and burned up by the flames in the middle of the road. Half-burned corpses of civilians were lying in front of the houses. During a halt soldiers stole cattle and slaughtered them where they stood. Firing started on our left. We were told it was the civilians firing, and that we were going to be shot. The truth is that it was the Germans themselves who were firing to frighten us. There was not a single civilian in the neighborhood. Shortly afterward we proceeded on our march to Malines. We were insulted and threatened.... The officers were worse than the men. We got to Campenhout about 7 P.M., and were locked into the church with all the male population of the village. Some priests had joined our numbers. We had had nothing to eat or drink since the evening of the day before. A few compassionate soldiers gave us water to drink, but no official took the trouble to see that we were fed."
Next day, Thursday, the 27th, a safe conduct to return to Louvain was given, but the prisoners had hardly started, when they were stopped and taken before a Brigade General and handed to another escort. Some were grossly ill-treated. They were accused of being soldiers out of uniform, and were told they could not go to Louvain, "as the town was going to be razed to the ground." Other prisoners were added, even women and children, until there were more than 200. They were then taken toward Malines, released, and told to go to that town together, and that those who separated would be fired on. Other witnesses corroborate the events described by the witness.
A woman employed by an old gentleman living in the Rue de la Station tells the story of her master's death:
"We had supper as usual about 8, but two German officers, (who were staying in the house,) did not come in to supper that evening. My master went to bed at 8:15, and so did his son. The servants went to bed at 9:30. Soon after I got to my bedroom I saw out of my room flames from some burning house near by. I roused my master and his son. As they came down the stairs they were seized by German soldiers and both were tied up and led out, my master being tied with a rope and his son with a chain. They were dragged outside. I did not actually see what happened outside, but heard subsequently that my master was bayoneted and shot, and that his son was shot. I heard shots from the kitchen, where I was, and was present at the burial of my master and his son thirteen days later. German soldiers came back into the house and poured some inflammable liquid over the floors and set fire to it. I escaped by another staircase to that which my master and his son had descended."
On the 26th, (Wednesday,) in the City of Louvain, massacre, fire, and destruction went on. The university, with its library, the Church of St. Peter, and many houses were set on fire and burned to the ground. Citizens were shot and others taken prisoners and compelled to go with the troops. Soldiers went through the streets saying "Man hat geschossen."[A] One soldier was seen going along shooting in the air.
[Footnote A: "They have been shooting."]
Many of the people hid in cellars, but the soldiers shot down through the gratings. Some citizens were shot on opening the doors, others in endeavoring to escape. Among other persons whose houses were burned was an old man of 90 lying dangerously ill, who was taken out on his mattress and left lying in his garden all night. He died shortly after in the hospital to which a friend took him the following morning.
On Thursday, the 27th, orders were given that every one should leave the city, which was to be razed to the ground. Some citizens, including a canon of the cathedral, with his aged mother, were ordered to go to the station and afterward to take the road to Tirlemont. Among the number were about twenty priests from Louvain. They were insulted and threatened, but ultimately allowed to go free and make their way as best they could, women and sick persons among them, to Tirlemont. Other groups of prisoners from Louvain were on the same day taken by other routes, some early in the morning, through various villages in the direction of Malines, with hands tightly bound by a long cord. More prisoners were afterward added, and all made to stay the night in the church at Campenhout. Next day, the 28th, this group, then consisting of about 1,000 men, women and children, was taken back to Louvain. The houses along the road were burning and many dead bodies of civilians, men and women, were seen on the way. Some of the principal streets in Louvain had by that time been burned out. The prisoners were placed in a large building on the cavalry exercise ground—"One woman went mad, some children died, others were born." On the 29th the prisoners were marched along the Malines road, and at Herent the women and children and men over 40 were allowed to go; the others were taken to Boort Meerbeek, 15 kilometers from Malines, and told to march straight to Malines or be shot. At 11 P.M. they reached the fort of Waelhem and were at first fired on by the sentries, but on calling out they were Belgians were allowed to pass. These prisoners were practically without food from early morning on the 26th until midnight on the 29th. Of the corpses seen on the road, some had their hands tied behind their backs, others were burned, some had been killed by blows, and some corpses were those of children who had been shot.
Another witness, a man of independent means, was arrested at noon by the soldiers of the One Hundred and Sixty-fifth Regiment and taken to the Place de la Station. He was grossly ill-treated on the way and robbed by an officer of his purse and keys. His hands were tied behind his back. His wife was kept a prisoner at the other side of the station. He was then made to march with about 500 other prisoners until midnight, slept in the rain that night, and next day, having had no food since leaving Louvain, was taken to the church in Rotselaer, where there were then about 1,500 prisoners confined, including some infants. No food was given, only some water. Next day they were taken through Wespelaer and back to Louvain. On the way from Rotselaer to Wespelaer fifty bodies were seen, some naked and carbonized and unrecognizable. When they arrived at Louvain the Fish Market, the Place Marguerite, the cathedral, and many other buildings were on fire. In the evening about 100 men, women, and children were put in horse trucks from which the dung had not been removed, and at 6 the next morning left for Cologne.
The wife of this witness was also taken prisoner with her husband and her maid, but was separated from him, and she saw other ladies made to walk before the soldiers with their hands above their heads. One, an old lady of 85, (name given,) was dragged from her cellar and taken with them to the station. They were kept there all night, but set free in the morning, Thursday, but shortly afterward sent to Tirlemont on foot. A number of corpses were seen on the way. The prisoners, of whom there are said to have been thousands, were not allowed even to have water to drink, although there were streams on the way from which the soldiers drank. Witness was given some milk at a farm, but as she raised it to her lips it was taken away from her.
A priest was taken on Friday morning Aug. 28, and placed at the head of a number of refugees from Wygmael. He was led through Louvain, abused and ill-treated, and placed with some thousands of other people in the riding school in the Rue du Manege. The glass roof broke in the night from the heat of burning buildings around. Next day the prisoners were marched through the country with an armed guard. Burned farms and burned corpses were seen on the way. The prisoners were finally separated into three groups, and the younger men marched through Herent and Bueken to Campenhout, and ultimately reached the Belgian lines about midnight on Saturday, Aug. 29. All the houses in Herent, a village of about 5,000 inhabitants, had been burned.
The massacre of civilians at Louvain was not confined to its citizens. Large crowds of people were brought into Louvain from the surrounding districts, not only from Aerschot and Gelrode as above mentioned, but also from other places. For example, a witness describes how many women and children were taken in carts to Louvain, and there placed in a stable. Of the hundreds of people thus taken from the various villages and brought to Louvain as prisoners, some were massacred there, others were forced to march along with citizens of Louvain through various places, some being ultimately sent on the 29th to the Belgian lines at Malines, others were taken in trucks to Cologne as described below, others were released. An account of the massacre of some of these unfortunate civilian prisoners given by two witnesses may be quoted:
"We were all placed in Station Street, Louvain, and the German soldiers fired upon us. I saw the corpses of some women in the street. I fell down, and a woman who had been shot fell on top of me. I did not dare to look at the dead bodies in the street, there were so many of them. All of them had been shot by the German soldiers. One woman whom I saw lying dead in the street was a Miss J., about 35. I also saw the body of A.M., (a woman.) She had been shot. I saw an officer pull her corpse underneath a wagon."
Another witness, who was taken from Aerschot, also describes the occurrence:
"I was afterward taken with a large number of other civilians and placed in the church at Louvain. Then we were taken to Station Street, Louvain. There were about 1,500 civilians of both sexes, and we had been marched from Aerschot to Louvain. When we were in Station Street I felt that something was about to happen, and I tried to shelter in a doorway. The German soldiers then fired a mitrailleuse and their rifles upon the people, and the people fell on all sides. Two men next to me were killed. I afterward saw some one give a signal, and the firing ceased. I then ran away with a married woman named B., (whose maiden name was A.M.,) aged 29, who belonged to Aerschot, but we were again captured. She was shot by the side of me, and I saw her fall. Several other people were shot at the same time. I again ran away, and in my flight saw children falling out of their mothers' arms. I cannot say whether they were shot, or whether they fell from their mothers' arms in the great panic which ensued. I, however, saw children bleeding."
JOURNEY TO COLOGNE.
The greatest number of prisoners from Louvain, however, were assembled at the station and taken by trains to Cologne. Several witnesses describe their sufferings and the ill-treatment they received on the journey. One of the first trains started in the afternoon. It consisted of cattle trucks, about 100 being in each truck. It took three days to get to Cologne. The prisoners had nothing to eat but a few biscuits each, and they were not allowed to get out for water and none was given. On a wagon the words "Civilians who shot at the soldiers at Louvain" were written. Some were marched through Cologne afterward for the people to see. Ropes were put about the necks of some and they were told they would be hanged. An order then came that they were to be shot instead of hanged. A firing squad was prepared and five or six prisoners were put up, but were not shot. After being kept a week at Cologne some of these prisoners were taken back—this time only thirty or forty in a truck—and allowed to go free on arriving at Limburg. Several witnesses who were taken in other trains to Cologne describe their experiences in detail. Some of the trucks were abominably filthy. Prisoners were not allowed to leave to obey the calls of nature; one man who quitted the truck for the purpose was killed by a bayonet. Describing what happened to another body of prisoners, a witness says that they were made to cross Station Street, where the houses were burning, and taken to the station, placed in horse trucks, crowded together, men, women, and children, in each wagon. They were kept at the station during the night, and the following day left for Cologne. For two days and a half they were without food, and then they received a loaf of bread among ten persons, and some water. The prisoners were afterward taken back to Belgium. They were, in all, eight days in the train, crowded and almost without food. Two of the men went mad. The women and children were separated from the men at Brussels. The men were taken to a suburb and then to the villages of Herent, Vilvorde, and Sempst, and afterward set at liberty.
This taking of the inhabitants, including some of the influential citizens, in groups and marching them to various places, and in particular the sending of them to Malines and the dispatch of great numbers to Cologne, must evidently have been done under the direction of the higher military authorities. The ill-treatment of the prisoners was under the eyes and often by the direction or with the sanction of officers, and officers themselves took part in it.
The object of taking many hundreds of prisoners to Cologne and back into Belgium is at first sight difficult to understand. Possibly it is to be regarded as part of the policy of punishment for Belgian resistance and general terrorization of the inhabitants—possibly as a desire to show these people to the population of a German city and thus to confirm the belief that the Belgians had shot at their troops.
Whatever may have been the case when the burning began on the evening of the 25th, it appears clear that the subsequent destruction and outrages were done with a set purpose. It was not until the 26th that the library, and other university buildings, the Church of St. Peter and many houses were set on fire. It is to be noticed that cases occur in the depositions in which humane acts by individual officers and soldiers are mentioned, or in which officers are said to have expressed regret at being obliged to carry out orders for cruel action against the civilians. Similarly, we find entries in diaries which reveal a genuine pity for the population and disgust at the conduct of the army. It appears that a German non-commissioned officer stated definitely that he "was acting under orders and executing them with great unwillingness." A commissioned officer on being asked at Louvain by a witness—a highly educated man—about the horrible acts committed by the soldiers, said he "was merely executing orders," and that he himself would be shot if he did not execute them. Others gave less credible excuses, one stating that the inhabitants of Louvain had burned the city themselves because they did not wish to supply food and quarters for the German Army. It was to the discipline rather than the want of discipline in the army that these outrages, which we are obliged to describe as systematic, were due, and the special official notices posted on certain houses that they were not to be destroyed show the fate which had been decreed for the others which were not so marked.
We are driven to the conclusion that the harrying of the villages in the district, the burning of a large part of Louvain, the massacres there, the marching out of the prisoners, and the transport to Cologne, (all done without inquiry as to whether the particular persons seized or killed had committed any wrongful act,) were due to a calculated policy carried out scientifically and deliberately, not merely with the sanction but under the direction of higher military authorities, and were not due to any provocation or resistance by the civilian population.
To understand the depositions describing what happened at Termonde it is necessary to remember that the German Army occupied the town on two occasions, the first, from Friday, Sept. 4, to Sunday, Sept. 6, and again later in the month, about the 16th. The civilians had delivered up their arms a fortnight before the arrival of the Germans.