Current History, Vol. VIII, No. 3, June 1918 online

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moved them to reject the German ultimatum of Aug. 2, 1914, is as strong
as ever. * * *

Only one thing is worrying and humiliating in a quite special degree all
Belgians in occupied territory. It is the fear lest abroad it may be
imagined that there really is an "activist" movement in Belgium. All the
reports we have received on this point amount to this: "No one in
Belgium talks of this alleged movement, for it is nonexistent. There are
a few miserable individuals in German pay - always the same - who intrigue
and plot. All they have achieved is to arouse against them such feelings
of repulsion and hate that they have been thrust forever forth from the
nation, and nothing can cleanse them of their crime. For mercy's sake,
beg people not to insult us by treating the agitation of these
individuals seriously, and to stop seeing any agitation where there is
nothing but the work of a few paid traitors.

It is in this sense that our compatriots write to us from behind the
German barrier. There, as elsewhere, the most ardent advocates of
Flemish claims reject foreign interference in internal policy, and they
treat as traitors to the cause all those who accept bribes from the
torturers of their country.

Stripping Belgian Industries

Germany's Use of the "Rathenau Plan" for the Exploitation of Belgium and
Northern France

The German Government from the beginning of the war has systematically
stripped the factories of Belgium and other conquered territory with the
purpose, it is charged, of crippling industries in those countries, not
only as a war measure, but as an economic means of preventing future
competition. This phase of German war policy is treated in a brochure
edited by Professors Dana C. Munro of Princeton, George C. Sellery of
the University of Wisconsin, and August C. Krey of the University of
Minnesota. It is issued by the United States Committee on Public
Information under the title, "German Treatment of Conquered Territory."
The editors find their text in this statement by Deputy Beumer, made
before the Prussian Diet in February, 1917:

_Anybody who knows the present state of things in Belgian industry
will agree with me that it will take at least some years - assuming
that Belgium is independent at all - before Belgium can even think of
competing with us in the world market. And anybody who has traveled,
as I have done, through the occupied districts of France, will agree
with me that so much damage has been done to industrial property
that no one need be a prophet in order to say that it will take more
than ten years before we need think of France as a competitor or of
the re-establishment of French industry._

This exploitation for the benefit of German industry is an outgrowth
of the plan suggested early in August, 1914, by Dr. Walter
Rathenau, President of the General Electric Company of Germany, to
establish a Bureau of Raw Materials for the War. The bureau
(Kriegsrohstoffabtheilung) was made a part of the Ministry of War. Its
operation in the occupied territories was explained in a lecture by Dr.
Rathenau in April, 1916, as follows:

It was necessary to be sure of an increase in the reserve of raw
materials both by purchase in neutral countries and by monopolizing
all stocks found in the occupied territory of the enemy. * * * The
occupation of Belgium, of the most valuable industrial parts of
France, as well as of parts of Russia, made a new task for the
organization. It was necessary to make use of the stocks of raw
material of these three territories for the domestic economy of the
war, to use, especially, the stores of wool found at the centres of
the Continental wool market. Valuable stocks of rubber and of
saltpeter were to be used for the profit of the manufacturer at
home. The difficulties that are met with in keeping to the rules of
war while making these requisitions have been overcome. A system of
collecting stations, of depots and of organizations for distribution
was arranged which solved the difficulties of transportation,
infused new blood into industry at home, and gave it a firmer and
more secure basis.


This plan, which has given German industry "a firmer and more secure
basis," was used not merely to "make war support war" by contributions
wrung from the conquered peoples, but also to destroy future
competition - in violation of The Hague Convention, (Articles 46, 52,
53,) which Germany had signed. In the first months of the war a pretense
was still made of acting under military necessity, but this was soon
abandoned. On March 4, 1915, Brand Whitlock, American Minister to
Belgium, reported to the State Department:

The Federation of Belgian Steel and Iron Manufacturers forwarded a
protest to the German Governor General in Belgium, on Jan. 22, 1915,
complaining that the German authorities have invaded the Belgian
plants and seized the machinery and tools, which have been taken to
pieces and sent to Germany in great number; in many cases no receipt
was left in the hands of the legitimate owner to prove the nature,
number, and value of the seized tools. Machinery to the value of
16,000,000 francs ($3,000,000) had been taken away up to Jan. 22.

Furthermore, the Feldzeugmeisterei in Berlin has entered into a
contract with the firm Sonnenthal Junior of Cologne, which firm is
to collect, transport, and deliver to German manufactories of war
supplies all engines and tools seized in Belgium and France, and to
bring them back after the war is over.

This contract provides, also, that the Sonnenthal Company has the
right and even is compelled, in co-operation with the gun foundry at
Liége, to pick out in factories of the occupied territory those
machines which seem most useful for the manufacture of German war
supplies and to propose the seizure of the machinery.

The Royal Belgian Government protests, with indignation, against
these measures, which constitute a clear violation of Article 53 of
the regulations of the Fourth Hague Convention. The items enumerated
in Article 53 are limited and neither the seizure nor the transport
to another country of machinery and tools used in industry are
permitted; these implements must always be respected when they are
private property, (Article 46.)

By the removal of these tools, the efforts made by the manufacturers
in order to maintain a certain activity in the plants are nullified,
numerous workmen are obliged to remain idle and are facing
starvation. These measures will also retard the restoration of
industry after the war is over.

Furthermore, the German authorities disregard in a systematic way
the prescriptions of Article 52 of the above-mentioned regulations
of the Fourth Hague Convention, which stipulate that requisitions in
nature from towns and their inhabitants in the occupied territory
can only be permitted when they are directly destined for the army
of occupation.


A dispatch from Minister Whitlock dated at Brussels, Aug. 2, 1915, gives
a fuller memorandum on the subject, as follows:

Upon the arrival of German troops at Brussels, the city and communes
of the agglomeration were required to pay as a war contribution the
sum of 50,000,000 francs in gold, silver, or banknotes, the Province
of Brabant having to pay, in addition, the sum of 450,000,000
francs, to be delivered not later than Sept. 1, 1914.

The sum of 50,000,000 francs imposed on the City of Brussels was
reduced to 45,000,000 francs, but the city was later subjected to a
penalty of 5,000,000 francs on the ground that two members of the
German Secret Service had been attacked by the crowd without
assistance having been rendered by the Brussels police. On this
point it may be noted that when Mr. Max, the Burgomaster, at the
beginning of the occupation, asked the German authorities to inform
him of the names of the German secret police agents whom they
intended to employ, he was told that there were no German secret
police in Brussels.

In December, 1914, a contribution of 480,000,000 francs, payable at
the rate of 40,000,000 a month, was imposed on the provinces.

At the beginning of April, 1915, a fine of 500,000 marks was imposed
on the City of Brussels, which refused to repair the road between
Brussels and Antwerp - a State road the repair of which devolved upon
the State. But the German authorities had taken over the State
moneys, and should, therefore, have assumed the expense of the work.
Furthermore, this road is entirely outside of the territory of the
City of Brussels, and, finally, the city had not the administration
for the maintenance or construction of roads, and had neither
material nor personnel to carry on such work.

On Jan. 16, 1915, on Belgians who had voluntarily left the country
and had not returned by March 1, 1915, tenfold advance of personal
tax was made; and many taxes were imposed on communes as indemnity
for damages claimed by German citizens to have been suffered through
acts of the inhabitants at the time war was declared.

When the German Army arrived in Brussels, it requisitioned for the
daily support of the troops 18,000 kilos of wheat, 10,000 kilos of
fresh meat, 6,000 kilos of rice, 10,000 kilos of sugar, and 72,000
kilos of oats. Similar requisitions were made, in all cities in
which the German troops camped. The requisitions, however, exceeded
the needs of the troops in passing or in occupation, and a large
part of the requisitioned supplies was sent to Germany.

At Louvain the German authorities requisitioned 250,000 francs'
worth of canned vegetables and at Malines about 4,000,000 francs'

In Flanders and in part of Hainault the farmers were despoiled of
almost all their horses and cattle and the little wheat and grain
remaining. The little village of Middleburg, for instance, which
numbers 850 inhabitants, after having given up 50 cows, 35 hogs, and
1,600 kilos of oats, was forced to furnish in January and February,
1915, 100 hogs, 100,000 kilos of grain, 50,000 kilos of beans or
peas, 50,000 kilos of oats, and 150,000 kilos of straw.

At Ghent and Antwerp the German authorities found about 40,000 tons
of oil-cake, necessary for the feeding of cattle in Winter, and
seized it.

They also carried off several hundred thousand tons of phosphates
from Belgium for use in Germany.

Walnut trees on private properties, as well as on State lands, were
cut down and requisitioned.

Besides, draught horses - the result of a rational selection carried
on through more than a century and probably the most perfect Belgian
agricultural product - were carried off throughout all Belgium. Not
only did the German Army requisition horses necessary for its
wagons, mounts for its troops or artillery service, but it carried
away from the Belgian stock horses absolutely unfit for military
service, which were sent to Germany. The same is true as regards the

All crude materials indispensable for Belgian industries were
requisitioned and sent to Germany - leather, hides, copper, wool,
flax, &c. Furthermore, if not the entire stock, at least the
greatest number possible of machinery parts, were shipped to Germany
to be used, according to German statements, in making munitions
which the Belgian factories had refused to produce.

At Antwerp, requisitions of all kinds of materials and products were
considerable, notably:

Cereals 18,000,000
Oilcake, about 5,000,000
Nitrate, over 4,000,000
Oils - animal and vegetable - over 2,000,000
Oils - petrol and mineral - about 3,000,000
Wools 6,000,000
Rubber 10,000,000
Foreign leathers, to Dec. 1, about 20,000,000
Hair 1,500,000
Ivory, about 800,000
Wood 500,000
Cacao 2,000,000
Coffee 275,000
Wines 1,100,000

Cottons in large quantities - one house having been requisitioned to
the amount of 1,300,000 francs. Other enormous requisitions were
made on shop depots, &c., and are impossible of computation just


The requisitions from Antwerp, which Mr. Whitlock enumerates, were the
subject of a protest by the Acting President of the Antwerp Chamber of
Commerce on March 18, 1915. He valued these goods at more than
83,000,000 francs ($16,600,000) and stated that only 20,000,000 francs
($4,000,000) had been paid by the German authorities. The reply of
Governor General von Bissing on Sept. 24 shows that up to that time
payment had not been made. The reason is indicated in the following
statement of German policy, published in the Frankfurter Zeitung Dec.
21, 1914:

The raw materials which the Imperial Government has bought in
Antwerp, Ghent, and other places will be paid for as soon as
possible. The payment will be made only after the goods have been
transported into Germany and after the valuation has been made, and
_the payment shall be made in such manner that no money shall be
sent from Germany to Belgium during the period of the war_.

Professor Munro and his fellow-editors have drawn freely upon the
official texts printed in the work entitled "German Legislation for the
Occupied Territories of Belgium," edited, in ten volumes, by Huberich
and Nicol-Speyer, (The Hague, 1915-17.) These volumes cover the period
from Sept. 5, 1914, to March 29, 1917, and contain a reprint of "The
Official Bulletin of Laws and Ordinances" in German, French, and
Flemish. The documents show that the first step under the Rathenau plan
was to ascertain what raw materials and other supplies were accessible.
Consequently, there were many ordinances commanding the declaration of
certain wares. The following is an example:

Brussels, Dec. 11, 1914.

All stocks of benzine, benzol, petroleum, spirits of alcohol,
glycerine, oils and fats of any kind, toluol, carbide, raw rubber
and rubber waste, as well as all automobile tires, shall immediately
be reported in writing to the respective chiefs of districts or
commanders, with a statement of quantity and the place of storage.
* * *

If a report is not made the wares shall be confiscated for the State
and the guilty individual shall be punished by the military
authorities. (_From "German Legislation," &c., Vol. I., p. 95._)

Such a declaration made it easy for the military authorities later to
acquire the wares either by direct requisition or by forced sales. The
following are examples:

Brussels, Aug. 13, 1915.

Article 1. The stocks of chicory roots existing within the
jurisdiction of the General Government in Belgium are hereby
commandeered. (_From "German Legislation," &c., Vol. IV., p. 148._)

Brussels, Jan. 8, 1916.

Article 1. All wools (raw wool, washed wool, tops and noils, woolen
waste, woolen yarns, artificial wools, as well as mixtures of these
articles with others) and also all mattresses filled with the wools
above specified and now an object of trade or introduced into
trade, found within the jurisdiction of the General Government, are
hereby commandeered.

Wool freshly shorn or in any other way separated from the skin shall
also be subject to seizure immediately upon its separation. (_From
"German Legislation," &c., Vol. VI., p. 57._)

Between October, 1914, and March, 1917, there were ninety-two separate
ordinances of the General Government commanding the declaration, forced
sale, or confiscation of various materials. Of these, forty-five were
issued in 1915 and thirty-five in 1916. How these decrees passed by
rapid evolution from mere declaration to complete confiscation is
instanced in these typical examples:

1. A decree issued at Brussels July 19, 1916, lists several pages of
textile materials which are to be declared.

2. A decree of Aug. 22, 1916, enlarges the preceding list.

3. A decree drawn up July 19, 1916, but not published till Sept. 12,
1916, declares 75 per cent. of this material subject to seizure by the
Militärisches Textil-Beschaffungsamt.

4. Later decrees of seizure cover materials overlooked in these.


Every scrap of metal in the conquered countries that could possibly be
seized has been confiscated. The ordinance below is given as an example
of the thoroughness of the system of requisitions. The prices to be paid
were entirely too low, and the sixth section shows that the owners were
not expected to part with their property willingly. The ordinance was
issued at Brussels Dec. 13, 1916:

SECTION I. The following designated objects are hereby seized and
must be delivered.

SECTION II. Movable and fixed household articles made of copper,
tin, nickel, brass, bronze or tombac, whatever their state:

1. Kitchen utensils, metal ware, and household utensils, except

2. Wash basins, bathtubs, warm-water heaters and reservoirs.

3. Individual or firm name plates in and on the houses, doorknobs,
knockers, and metal decorations on doors and carriages not necessary
for locking.

4. Curtain rods and holders and stair carpet fixtures.

5. Scales.

6. All other household articles or adornments made of tin.

The articles included under the numerals 1-6 are subject to seizure
and delivery even when not contained in households in the narrow
sense, but in other inhabited or uninhabited buildings and rooms,
(_e. g._, offices of authorities, office rooms in factories and

SECTION III. Exempt from seizure and delivery:

1. Articles on and in churches and other buildings and rooms
dedicated to religious services.

2. Articles in hospitals and clinics, as well as in the private
offices of physicians, apothecaries, and healers, so far as these
articles are essential to the care of the sick or the practice of
medicine and cannot be replaced.

3. Articles in public buildings.

4. Articles which are part of commercial or industrial stores either
designated for sale or useful in the business. For these articles a
special decree is enacted.[3]

[Footnote 3: Such articles in trade and industry were declared seized
Dec. 30, 1916. The form of that edict is practically the same as this,
penalties being somewhat higher. The listing of these articles had
occurred in July, 1916. Other items were added later and all were now
declared seized.]

SECTION IV. Procedure of seizure is as follows:

All alteration of the articles subject to seizure is forbidden. All
judicial disposition or change of ownership is interdicted, except
in so far as the following paragraphs permit.

SECTION V. _Obligation to Deliver._ The delivery of the seized
articles must be made at the time and places designated by the
Division of Trade and Industry; it can also be made before the
requisition at the Zentral-Einkaufsgesellschaft for Belgium. Upon
delivery the ownership of the articles is vested in the German
Military Administration.

Articles of artistic or historic value, if so recognized by the
Bureau of Delivery, need not be delivered.

The Bureau of Delivery may, for unusual cause, grant exemptions from

SECTION VI. _Indemnity._ The following prices will be paid for the
delivered articles:

Copper, per kilo 4
Tin 7.50
Nickel 13
Brass 3
Bronze 3
Tombac 3

In arranging the weight, seizures of nondesignated materials will
not be included.

The payment will take place on the basis of the estimate made by the
Bureau of Delivery. Payment will be made to the deliverer without
question of his ownership.

If the deliverer refuses to accept the payment he will be given a
receipt, and the determination of the indemnity in this case will
follow through the Reichsentschädigungskommission according to the
rules in force.

SECTION VII. _Persons and Corporations Affected by This Decree:_

1. House owners, inhabitants and heads of establishments.

2. Persons, associations, and corporations of a private or public
nature whose buildings or rooms contain articles enumerated in
Section 2.

To this group, furthermore, belong also State, Church, and community
business and industrial establishments, including business,
industrial, and office buildings in the ownership, possession, or
guardianship of military and civil authorities. For buildings
abandoned or not occupied by their owners or inhabitants, the
communal authorities are responsible for the execution of this
decree. The district commanders are authorized to furnish further
instructions to the communities in this case. If dwelling houses are
occupied as quarters by German military or civil authorities the
execution of this order rests upon the military authorities

SECTION VIII. _Confiscation._ [Failure to comply with the provisions
of the decree entails confiscation.]

SECTION IX. _Co-operation of Communities._ [Local authorities
ordered to co-operate in execution of this order.]

SECTION X. _Certificates of Exemption._ [Verwaltungschef empowered
to issue certificates of exemption.]

SECTION XI. _Punishment for Violations._ Any one who intentionally
or through gross negligence violates the present decree or
supplementary regulations will be punished with imprisonment not to
exceed two years or a fine not to exceed 20,000 marks, or both. Any
one who urges or incites others to violate the present decree or its
supplementary regulations will be punished in like manner, unless he
has incurred graver punishment under the general law. The attempt is
punishable. Military courts and military authorities are empowered
to try cases. (_From "German Legislation," &c., Vol. IX., pp.

Some industries which were not directly useful to the Germans were at
first allowed to resume work in whole or in part, for the Government
did not wish to cut off all sources of the enormous indemnities which it
was levying upon towns and individuals. But the rival manufacturers in
Germany objected angrily against this policy. Thus Dr. Goetze, head of
the German Glassmakers' Union, wrote in the Wirtschaftzeitung der
Zentralmächte, Nov. 10, 1916:

It has become vital to the German manufacturers of glass wares that
the Belgian manufacturers should be stopped from going to neutral
markets, and it must be admitted that the German Civil
Administration has fully recognized the necessity of arranging this
matter according to the demands of the German industry, and that it
has taken suitable action. [In spite of this some Belgian shops were
able to do some exporting and had affected the market price.]
Measures must be taken to stop this. For this reason the factories
of Central and Eastern Germany, which are most directly concerned,
have secured the promulgation of an order stopping importation,
transit, and exportation. * * * We must demand that the German Civil
Administration of Belgium should first of all look out for the
protection of the interests of the German industry.

In addition to securing the aid of the German Government in ruining
Belgian industries which competed with them, German manufacturers have
also been aided by the German Government in obtaining Belgian trade
secrets. For example, Dr. Bronnert secured a permit from the War
Ministry to visit the factory at Obourg for making artificial silk. He

Online LibraryVariousCurrent History, Vol. VIII, No. 3, June 1918 → online text (page 24 of 30)