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

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took full notes of all that he could learn when he visited it, on Dec.
9, 1916, and carried away designs and parts of the machinery. Dr.
Bronnert is a director of a German factory for making artificial silk
which competes with the Belgian factory. (_From the "Informations
Belges," No. 307._)


When Belgium attempted to protest against the illegal requisitions,
citing The Hague regulations, they received answers such as the
following, which was read to the Municipal Council and notables of the
town of Halluin, June 30, 1915:

Gentlemen: What is happening is known to all these gentlemen. It is
the conception and interpretation of Article 52 of The Hague
Convention which has created difficulties between you and the
German military authority. On which side is the right? It is not for
us to discuss that, for we are not competent, and we shall never
arrive at an understanding on this point. It will be the business of
the diplomatists and the representatives of the various States after
the war.

Today it is exclusively the interpretation of German military
authority which is valid, and for that reason we intend that all
that we shall need for the maintenance of our troops shall be made
by the workers of the territory occupied. I can assure you that the
German authority will not under any circumstances desist from
demanding its rights, even if a town of 15,000 inhabitants should
have to perish. The measures introduced up to the present are only a
beginning, and every day severe measures will be taken until our
object is obtained.

This is the last word, and it is good advice I give you tonight.
Return to reason and arrange for the workers to resume work without
delay; otherwise you will expose your town, your families, and your
persons to the greatest misfortunes.

Today, and perhaps for a long time yet, there is for Halluin neither
a prefecture nor a French Government. There is only one will, and
that is the will of German authority.

_The Commandant of the Town_,

(_From Massart's "Belgians Under the German Eagle," New York, 1916,
pp. 192-3._)


The German profits from the Rathenau plan were summarized thus frankly
by Herr Ganghofer in an article published in the Münchener Neueste
Nachrichten Feb. 26, 1915:

For three months about four-fifths of the army's needs were supplied
by the conquered country. Even now, although the exhausted sources
in the land occupied by us are beginning to yield less abundantly,
the conquered territory is still supplying two-thirds of the needs
of the German Army in the west. Because of this, for the last four
months the German Empire has saved an average of 3,500,000 to
4,000,000 marks a day. This profit which the Germans have secured by
their victory is very greatly increased by another means. That is
the economic war which, in accordance with the rules of
international law, is being carried on against the conquered land by
the exhaustion of the goods which belong to the State, which are
being carried to Germany from Belgium and Northern France. These are
in enormous quantities and consist of war booty, fortress supplies,
grain, wool, metal, expensive hardwood, and other things, not
including all private property which cannot be requisitioned. In
case of necessity this private property will, of course, be secured
to increase the German supply, but it will also be paid for at its
full value. What Germany saves and gains by this economic war,
carried on in a businesslike way, can be reckoned at a further
6,000,000 to 7,000,000 marks a day. Thus the entire profit which the
German Empire has made behind its western front since the beginning
of the war can be estimated at about 2,000,000,000 marks. For
Germany this is a tremendous victory through the sparing and
increase in her economic power; for the enemy it is a crushing
defeat through the exhaustion of all of the auxiliary financial
sources in those portions of his territory which have been lost to

Of the branches and management of this economic war I shall have
more to say. Then people will learn to banish to the lumber room of
the past the catch phrase about "the unpractical German." A German
officer of high rank at St. Quentin characterized this happy change
which has taken place in our favor in these half-serious,
half-humorous words: "It is extraordinary how much a man learns!
Although in reality I am an officer of the Potsdam Guard, now I am
in the wool and lumber business. And successful, too!"

Governor General von Bissing's testimony on this subject, as recorded in
his "Testament," will be found in full in CURRENT HISTORY MAGAZINE for
February, 1918, pp. 330-38. Among the passages from it quoted in the
pamphlet here under review is this:

The advantages which we have been able during the present war to
obtain from Belgian industry, by the removal of machinery and so on,
are as important as the disadvantages which our enemies have
suffered through the lack of their fighting strength.


That the systematic exploitation and destruction in Flanders and
Northern France were still going on in the Fall of 1917 is shown by the
following dispatch from the American Chargé d'Affaires in Holland:

The Hague, Sept. 29, 1917.

SECRETARY OF STATE, WASHINGTON: A person who has recently arrived
here from Ghent gives the following information as to conditions in
East and West Flanders and Northern France:

The looms and machinery are being taken away from the textile mills
in Roubaix and Tourcoing and sent to Germany. Such machines as
cannot be removed and transported have in some instances been
dynamited, and in others are being destroyed with hammers. In the
neighborhood of Courtrai in Flanders all the mills have been ordered
to furnish a list of their machinery. The measures which have been
applied to the north of France will be carried out in Flanders. All
textile fabrics have been requisitioned by the military authorities,
even in small retail stores, and woolen blankets have been taken
from private houses. There is also extensive requisitioning of wine.
In the larger cities in the course of the past few weeks large
numbers of children of from 10 to 15 years have been brought in for
office work. There is a rapid increase in the number of women
brought in for this purpose. A marked animation was observed in the
Etappen inspection at Ghent last week. It is believed that at the
meeting of the inspection something unusual was being discussed.

LANGHORNE, _Charge d' Affaires._


That the Rathenau plan is still wringing the remnants of industrial
supplies from Belgium in 1918 is shown by documents still later than
those printed in the brochure just reviewed. In January linen and
mattresses were being taken from hotels, boarding houses, and convents
all over Belgium. The inhabitants were forbidden by law to have any wool
in their possession, but were offered a substitute made of seaweed. The
large electrical plant at Antwerp known as l'Escaut was stripped of its
machinery, which was transferred to a German plant. Belgian kitchens did
not escape. The huge copper pans and kettles, the glory of Belgian
housewives, had to go to Germany with the bright jars and jugs of the
milkmaids. Nearly every conceivable brass, copper, and bronze object had
been requisitioned by that time.

The Belgian Government sent out a statement on Feb. 17, 1918, containing
these passages:

The German authorities then aggravated the evils of industrial
stoppage by forbidding public works and commandeering the factories
and metals and leather for military purposes. After this they
instituted the barbarous system of deporting workmen to perform
forced labor in Germany, a system which they had to interrupt
officially, after some months, because it proved revolting to the
conscience of mankind, but only to substitute for it immediately the
forced labor of the civilian population, in work of military value,
by the order of the military authorities. This system is still being
cruelly maintained in the zones lying back of the fighting line in
the provinces of East and West Flanders, Hainault, Namur, and

Meanwhile, the commandeering has become general, and affects both
natural and manufactured products and also tools, motors, and means
of transportation, whether mechanical or animal. Finally, fiscal and
administrative measures have been taken to close the last remaining
outlets for Belgian products into neutral countries.

These facts are incontestable. They are proved by many rules and
regulations officially published by the German authorities.

At present the raid upon the last economic resources of occupied
Belgium has been carried on to such an extent that they are
methodically taking away all the machinery from the factories, which
they themselves have made idle, in some cases to set it up again in
Germany, in other cases, to break it up and use it for grapeshot.

The purpose of this entire system of destruction is double: First,
to supply deficiencies in German industry; secondly, to put an end
to Belgian competition and later to subject Belgian industry to that
of Germany when the time comes for refitting the factories with
machinery after the war.

The proofs collected by the Belgian Government in support of this
statement are conclusive. It is significant that in general the task
of systematically stripping Belgian factories was intrusted to
German manufacturers who were the direct competitors of the Belgian
owners. Some of them have taken advantage of their official
positions to steal secrets of manufacturing processes, for example,
at the artificial silk shops of Obourg, and personal methods of
production and sale.

And as to the fact that Germany is destroying the factories for a
military reason without any regard for the economic needs of Belgium
or for the rights of nations, it is sufficient to cite the following
passages from a semi-official note that appeared in the Norddeutsche
Allgemeine Zeitung, No. 392, of Dec. 18, 1917, in which Germany
distinctly pleads guilty:

"All measures taken in Belgium are inspired by military necessity.

"The exploitation, under military control, of Belgian factories in
order to repair locomotives and automobiles, and also to obtain
material of war for the front, is carried out for the purpose of
relieving the strain on German industry and economizing
transportation. It has become necessary to strip the Belgian
factories of their machinery and other fittings, because all German
industry is busy filling orders for material of war. * * * By
relieving the home market from the necessity of enlarging our own
factories we are accelerating the production of munitions and other
products. * * * In consequence of the intense activity of all German
industry our machinery and other equipment is tremendously
overworked, and must from time to time be partly replaced by new
machines, while, furthermore, we must be able to furnish spare parts
rapidly unless we wish to see our output of munitions diminish. The
machinery and equipment required for these purposes are evidently
brought from Belgian factories. The destruction of whole factories
for the production of grapeshot is effected in order to maintain at
its present level the supply of iron and steel in Germany, or, if
possible, to raise it. * * * It is not only possible, but even
evident, that, in view of all the steps taken by the military
authorities, the question of keeping up work in some of the
factories of the occupied country must be subordinated to
considerations tending to spare the lives of German soldiers and
thus protect our national power."

[Illustration: Trafalgar Square, London, as it appears after three and a
half years of war

(© Western Newspaper Union)]

[Illustration: A typical scene in Flanders today, with all signs of
civilization completely obliterated

(_International Film Service_)]

This record of the deliberate crippling of Belgian industries was
brought up to March 6, 1918, by an official dispatch to the United
States Government, quoting the statement of Belgian refugees to the
effect that dynamite was being used to destroy machines and equipment in
factories in the Mons district. Rails of tramways were being taken up,
and in some cities they were entirely destroyed. Meanwhile, deportation
of men, and even of children 13 years old, was proceeding, several
hundred boys between the ages of 13 and 15 being taken from Mons alone.

Spoliation of Belgian Churches

Cardinal Mercier's Protest

Cardinal Mercier, Archbishop of Malines, issued the following letter to
the clergy and people of his diocese on March 2, 1918:

_My Very Dear Brethren:_

The painful tidings, announced semi-officially on Feb. 8, by the
occupying power, have been confirmed. The bulletin of laws and
edicts, dated Feb. 21, requires an inventory of the bells and organs
of our churches. Informed by experience, we need not delude
ourselves; the inventory of today is the signal for the requisition
of tomorrow.

The repeated protests of the Sovereign Pontiff, our appeal to the
Chancellor of the Empire, appear thus to have been in vain.

Your Christian hearts will bleed. At a time when we are in such need
of comfort, a veil of mourning will descend upon our land, covering
like a shroud our every day. It is to be for Catholic Belgium an
interminable Way of the Cross.

It is true, is it not, dear brethren, that we should have borne this
sorrow, added to so many others, if it had concerned ourselves
alone, but this time the rights of God, of our Saviour, Jesus, the
freedom of the Church and of her heritage are to be sacrificed to
what is called necessity, that is, to the military need of our

"This term, liberty of the Church, rings harshly on the ears of
politicians," writes the great Dom Gueranger. They immediately
discern therein the signs of a conspiracy. Now there is no thought
in our minds either of conspiracy or of revolt, but of the
indefeasible affirmation of the rights granted to His Immaculate
Spouse by our Saviour, Jesus.

The freedom of the Church lies in her complete independence with
regard to all secular powers, not alone in her teachings of the
Word, in the administering of the sacraments, in the untrammeled
relations between all ranks of her Divine hierarchy, but also in the
publishing and applying of her disciplinary decrees - in the
conservation and administration of her temporal heritage.

"Nothing in the world is dearer to God than this liberty of His
Church," says St. Anselm.

The Apostolic See, through the medium of Pope Pius VIII., wrote on
June 30, 1830, to the Bishops of the Rhine Province: "It is in
virtue of a Divine order that the Church, spotless spouse of the
Immaculate Lamb, Jesus Christ, is free and subject to no earthly

"This freedom of the Church," continues Dom Gueranger, "is the
bulwark of the very sanctuary, hence, the shepherd, sentinel of
Israel, should not wait until the enemy has entered into the fold
to sound the cry of alarm. The duty of protecting his flock begins
for him at the moment of the enemy's siege of his outposts, upon
whose safety depends the police of the entire city."

In the execution of this duty of our pastoral office we protest,
dear brethren, against the injury which the forcible seizure of
church property will cause to the liberty of our mother, the Holy

We add that the removal of the bells without the consent of the
religious authorities and despite their protests will be a

The bell is, in fact, a sacred object its function is sacred. It is
a consecrated object; that is to say, it is devoted irrevocably to
Divine service. It has been not only blessed but anointed by the
Bishop with the holy oil and the holy chrism, just as you were
anointed and consecrated at holy baptism; just as anointed and
consecrated as the priest's hands which are to touch the consecrated

The function of the bell is holy. The bell is sanctified by the Holy
Ghost, says the liturgy, sanctificetur a Spiritu Sancto, to the end
that, in its voice, the faithful shall recognize the voice of the
Church calling her children to hasten to her breast.

It announced your initiation into Christian life, your confirmation,
your first communion. It announced, dear parents, your Christian
marriage; it weeps for the dead; thrice daily it marks the mystery
of the Incarnation; it recalls the immolation of the Lamb of God on
the altar of sacrifice; it sings the joys of Sabbath rest, the cheer
of our festivals of Christmas, of Easter, of Pentecost. Her prayers
are associated with all the events and all the great memories, happy
or unhappy, of the fatherland.

Yes, the seizure of our bells will be a profanation; whosoever
assists in it will lend the hand to a sacrilege.

The Catholic Bishops of Germany and Austria will not deny these
principles. If their patriotism has wrung from them concessions
which must have cost their religious spirit dear, patriotism with us
confirms on the contrary the law of resistance. We would be
betraying the Church and the fatherland were we so cowardly as to
permit without a public act of reprobation the taking away of metal
to be converted by the enemy into engines of destruction, destined
to carry death into the ranks of the heroes who are sacrificing
themselves for us.

The authorities, strangers to our beliefs, will not be greatly
moved, I fear, by the protest, however worthy of respect, of our
religious consciences, but at least they should remember their given
word and not tear up a juridical code which their believers have
elaborated with us and promulgated. Morality has force of law for
Governments as for individuals.

On Oct. 18, 1907, the representatives of forty-four Governments
gathered together at The Hague, drew up a convention concerning laws
and customs of war on land.

They were assembled, they proclaimed unanimously, for a double
purpose - in the first place to safeguard peace and prevent armed
conflicts between nations; and, in the second place, in the extreme
hypothesis of an appeal to arms, to serve, nevertheless, the
interests of humanity and the progressive demands of civilization by
restraining, as much as possible, the rigors of war.

To this convention there was annexed a set of regulations which, the
general tenor of its clauses having been examined a first and a
second time, respectively, during the peace conferences held in 1874
at Brussels and in 1899 at The Hague, was submitted a third time, in
1907, to careful study at the second conference at The Hague and
signed by the plenipotentiaries of all the great powers.

The first signer of this code of international law in wartime was
Baron Marschall von Bieberstein, delegated by his Majesty, the
German Emperor, King of Prussia.

Articles 52 and 46 of the regulations annexed to the convention are
formulated as follows:

"Article 52. Neither requisitions in kind nor service can be
demanded from communes or inhabitants, except for the necessities of
the army of occupation."

"Article 46. Family honor and rights, individual life and private
property, as well as religious convictions and worship, must be

Evidently bells and organs are not necessary to supply the needs of
the army of occupation, they lie in the domain of private property,
are destined for the exercise of Catholic worship.

The transformation of these articles of the Church into war
munitions will be, therefore, a flagrant violation of international
law, an act of force perpetrated on the weaker by the stronger
because he is the stronger.

We Belgians, who have never wished nor acted other than well toward
Germany, we are the weak ones. I call you all to witness, brethren,
is it not true that prior to 1914 a current of sympathy, of esteem,
of generous hospitality was turning our trusting hearts toward those
who are today so harshly oppressing us? You will remember that on
the very day of the invasion the first lines that flowed from my pen
spoke to you of those "whom we have the sorrow to call our enemies."
For four years Germany has been rewarding us. Nevertheless, we will
not rebel. You will not seek in desperate recourse to material
force the sudden triumph of our rights.

Courage does not reside in passionate impulse but in self-mastery.
We will offer to God in reparation for the sacrilege which is about
to be committed against Him, and for the final success of our cause,
our supreme sacrifice.

Let us pray, one for the other, that the arm of the All-Powerful may
lend us support; "Lord," says the Holy Spirit, in the Book of
Esther, "Lord, Sovereign Master, all is subject to Thy authority.
Nothing, nobody, is capable of resisting Thee if Thou shalt decide
to save Israel. * * * Grant our prayer, Lord! Transform our grief
into joy, so that, living, we may glorify Thy name. * * * Thou art
just, Lord. Now they are no longer satisfied to weigh us down under
the most grievous servitude, they intend to silence the voices that
praise Thee and to tarnish the glory of the temple. Remember us, O
Lord. Reveal Thyself to us in this hour of our tribulation. * * * O
God, Thou art exalted above all, hearken to the voice of those who
place their hopes in Thee. Deliver us from the blows of injustice
and grant that our courage may control our fears."

In the name of the freedom of the Church, in the name of the
sanctity of the Catholic religion, in the name of international law,
we condemn and reprove the seizure of the bells and organs of our
churches; we forbid the clergy and faithful of our diocese to
co-operate toward their removal; we refuse to accept the price of
the sacred objects taken from us by violence.

Strong in invincible hope, we await the hour of our God.

D. J. CARDINAL MERCIER, Archbishop of Malines.

Belgium's Appeal to the Bolsheviki

_The Belgian Government, shortly after the Bolshevist Government of
Russia deserted the Allies and disbanded its armies, sent this eloquent
appeal to Petrograd:_

By the treaty of April 19, 1839, Russia placed her guarantee upon the
independence and neutrality of Belgium. On Aug. 4, 1914, when Germany
had violated this neutrality - which the German Government also had
guaranteed - Belgium appealed to Russia for aid. To this appeal Russia
replied on Aug. 5 by promising the assistance of her arms. Thus Belgium
entered into the struggle for independence and neutrality, trusting in
the unswerving loyalty of the Russian people.

On Feb. 14, 1916, Russia undertook to renew by a solemn act the pledges
she had made regarding Belgium, "heroically faithful to her
international obligations." Russia declared before a listening world
that she would not cease hostilities until Belgium should be
re-established in her independence and liberally indemnified for the
losses she had endured. Furthermore, Russia promised her aid in assuring
the commercial and financial rehabilitation of Belgium.

The authorities placed in power by the Russian revolution have just
signed - on Feb. 9 and March 3, 1918 - treaties under which they lay down
their arms before the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires.

Yet Belgium is still the prey of the imperial armies, which oppress her,

Online LibraryVariousCurrent History, Vol. VIII, No. 3, June 1918 → online text (page 25 of 30)