The Lion of Flanders

The True History of the Slave Raids in Belgium.

March 1 1917

The Lion of Flanders

The True History of the Slave Raids in Belgium.

March 1 1917

The Lion of Flanders


The True History of the Slave Raids in Belgium.

THE worst outrage that can be wreaked upon mankind has at last been wreaked upon the wounded body of a country whose only crime was its scrupulous adherence both to the letter and the spirit of international law, writes Alfred Noyes, describing the slave raids in Belgium. The article which appeared in The Outlook, is directed especially to America, “the big brother” to whom Belgium had looked with confidence. Of Britain’s responsibility the writer says: —

It took England a long time to prepare; but she is doing her utntat now. I have seen the roads of France poun^g the whole might of the British Empire towards Belgium; and I have heard the continuous sound of the gu$s, like the sound of the Atlantic in storm against the coast of Maine, unbroken for a single moment, pounding their difficult way onward, foot by foot. I have seen our wounded coming back from the trenches, and smelled the chloroform in a score of villages. I have seen the little wooden crosses in our graveyards—not scores or hundreds, but thousands of them -close up to the trenches; and the men digging new graves by the hundred in readiness, while the shells whined above them to provide new tenants for the clay And I think I have heard, occasionally, the big brother saying in his sleep that all the nations —including his little brother -have “sinned equally,” and that we are “all war-mad.”

And now comes the final outrage. Americans knew something of the meaning of slavery. Have they forgotten?

But they have never known a slavery like this, where innocent men are suddenly torn away from their families, in the heart of a highly civilized community, and set to work against the lives of their own people. It is the crowning infamy of Germany, the most damning indictment of her civilization, that she should have perpetrated this appalling horror.

But the world has supped so full on horrors that it seems ’impossible to convey all that this new crime means. Does the big brother realize that women and children, at this hour, throw themselves in agony before the trains that are carrying their husbands and fathers away into this new slavery; that even the destinations of the slaves are unknown; and that thousands are simply lost, probably forever, to those whom they love, for it becomes more and more difficult to trace them in their enforced wanderings?

I have had exceptional opportunities for obtaining the full history of this latest German outrage from the lips of some of the most responsible Belgian citizens, including one of the most distinguished members of the University of Louvain. The evidence proves conclusively that the crime had been long premeditated. and that it is part of the general scheme of German domination. I feel that it is something like a duty to present this evidence to American readers.

Let me. first of all. destroy at once any illusion that this slave system has been forced upon the Germans. They declare that they have adopted it for humanitarian reasons in order to help the unemployed. This is perhaps the most hypocritical lie in history; and it is the only defence offered by the Germans. It is well. then, that the reader should have the complete answer before him at once, and that he should read what follows in the light of that answer. The Germans have taken a very large proportion of students, teachers, and business men who were not only engaged in comparatively well paid work, but also had money of their own. They were expressly invited by the Germans themselves to bring this money with them in the preliminary notice announcing that they were to be called up. Moreover, the Germans deliberately shut down, in many cases, the perfectly innocent business upon which these men were engaged, in order to create for Germany the excuse she needed.

The history of the whole affair can be stated briefly.

In a placard issued on the 2nd of September. 1914. Baron von der Goltz, the Acting Governor-General of Belgium, relieved the fears of the Belgians by saying: “I ask no

one to renounce his patriotic sentiments; but I expect from you all a reasonable submission and an absolute obedience to the orders of the Governor-General.” This placard was posted in Brussels.

In November, 1914, the Belgian refugees in Holland were actually invited to return to Belgium. The Germans pledged themselves to restore “normal conditions.” An official declaration was made by Baron von Huehne, military trovernor of Antwerp, and read in all the parish churches of the city'. “Young men,” it declared, “need have no fear of being deported to Germany, either to be enrolled in the army or to be subjected to forced labor."

Baron von der Goltz announced that this ¡ declaration applied to the whole country, and he made hia solemn promise to Cardinal Mercier, in the presence of two German staff officers and the private secretary of the Cardinal.

These promises were not kept; for they were German promises. They were followed in quick succission by the forced striking of the Belgian flag, the suppression of the Belgian colors in Brussels and in the provinces, the forbidding of the 7V Deum on the name day of the King, of the sale of portraits of the royal family, and of the playing or singing of the national anthem. Then came the obligation to use the German language, toj gether with the German school inspection. All this was cone, of course, to destroy as far ! as possible not only the patriotism hut the nationality, the soul, of Belgium. Large num; bers.tried to escape over the Dutch border.

. But electric wires (death-dealing to any who tried to cross them) were posted all along the frontier, and the population was entrapped completely. It became more and more difficult to obtain news of what was happening behind the death barrier.

At the end of April. 1915. facts of the utmost gravity were brought to the knowledge j of the Belgian Government. Workmen had i been persecuted, and even tortured, for refusj ing to do work of a military character for the | Germans. The demand that they should have j to do this, of course, was in direct defiance of international law.

The railways, which were now the most ! important part of the German military maj chine, were run by German workmen till ! April, 1915, when the resources of German man power were running low and the men were recalled to their military depots. Belj gian workmen were called upon to take their ! places; but they refused to assist the enemy ’

Starvation and imprisonment failed to force j them into submission as completely as the for! mer offers of payment; and one hundred and ninety workmen were then deported to Germany, where they were treated like convicts and cruelly tortured. The nineteenth report of the Belgian Commission of Inquiry gave \ the story of their martyrdom in full. A month later the sume methods of “frightfulness" j were employed at Malines. The men of the ! “arsenal” were taken from their houses and | brought to the workshops under military esi cort. Still they refused to obey, and the Gerj man method of terrorization was once more ! applied; for not only these workmen but the ! whole town was sentenced to punishment. A j poster signed “von Bissing,” and dated May j 30. 1915, stated that “the town of Malines ; must be pumshed as long as the required number of workmen have not resumed work.” Let ' American citizen in their great free Republic consider for a moment this amazing iniquity,, crowr ing even the other iniquity. The same methods were adopted at the same time with the workmen of factories at Ghentbrugge. Jupdle, Courtrai, Roulers, and many other places.

The innoc?nt civilian population of Belgium, however, obeying every other demand of their uninvited visitors, justly and honorably refused to work for the German military machine , against the lives of their own sons and husbands in thie trenches. The demand was un! speakably is famous—the sort of demand that j might have been made by a devil suffering ; from softening of the brain. But the threats with which jt was accompanied were meant in j grim, earnest, and one by one they were carried out till the crucifixion of Belgium was : completed. ;

Up to this time there had been no special German decree on the forced enlistment of Belgian workmen. As late as the 25th of July, 1915. Governor von Bissing issued a placard telling the people that “they should never be compelled to do anything against • the interests of their country.”

But this was as hypocritical as the earlier enticements of the German authorities; for they had already prepared the ground for i the wholesale deportations which are nowbeing carried out.

Von Bissing announced on August 10, 1915, that anyone dependent on public charity who refused to undertake work “without sufficient reason” should be given from fourteen days’ to six months’ imprisonment. “Any one encouraging such refusal to work by granting relief would be liable to a fine of five AMXdred pounds or a year’s imprisonment.”

I do not know what the American Relief Organization thinks of this remarkable decree; but it certainly gives the lie to the humanitarian professions of the German authorities. and makes their sordid purpose quite unmistakable.

This decree, however, left it to the Belgian tribunals to decide what reasons were sufficient, tin May 2. 1916, the decision was taken out of thfeir hands and placed In those of the German military authorities. This meant, of course, that all Belgian labor was now entirely at the disposal of the German army. Step by step the process had been completed. The machinery of the slave system was ready and waiting for the touch on the lever.

On May 13, another decree was issued. whereby “the governors, military commanders, and chiefs of districts are allowed to order the unemployed to be taken by force to the spots where they have to work." Hither. to there had been no forced labor outside Belgium. But now, not only were the Belgians to submit to Germany's enforced visit, with its accompaniment of fire and massacre and midnight murder, but they themselves were to be taken out of their own country by force to work as slaves for the invader, in an alien land.

About the middle of last October the German Minister Helfferich announced in the Reichstag that forced labor would now be imposed on the population of the occupied territory; and the General Headquarters of the German army issued a notice to all the com-, munes of Flanders. This notice warned all those “who are fit to work that they may be forced to do so, eren outside their place of residence, if they are obliged to have recourse to public charity either for themselves or for those dependent on them.”

Refusal to work in these,circumstances is punished with three months' imprisonment or a fine of ten thousand marks. The slave rpids had already begun at Bruges, and they were extended after October 12 to Alost, Termonde, Ghent. Courtrai, Mons, Nivelles, Florennos, Antwerp, and finally Brussels, where the first deportation was announced for November 18.

Let those who bow down and worship before the idol ,of efficiency take note that the method of this deviltry Was for temporal purposes -quite efficient. The Germans had tried for some time to obtain information about the unemployed. The National Relief Committee and the municipalities who kept the lists refused to hand them over, despite threat and—frequently -the use of force. They were then subjected to blackmail. So anxious were the Germans to relieve the distress of the “unemployed” that they fined the city of Bruges 200.000 marks outright, with 20,000 marks for every day’s delay in producing the lists. The members of the municipality were arrested and imprisoned. Still failing to obtain the lists, however, the Germans used the electoral lists and their oven lists gf men of military age, or rounded up the able-bodied men in the streets. The philosophy of this method, perhaps, was that, if they deported all those whom they could find, there might be more work for the unemployed whom they could not find. It would not be too curious a piece of reasoning for the logic of Prussia or the humanitarianism of the German army.

The men were usually called together at some mustering place, where they were examined as to their fitness for certain kinds of work, lack of emnloyment not being a factor one way or the other. In many cases, indeed, the unemployed were sent back to their homes. Rich and poor alike were deported, and skilled artisans—who never lacked employment were usually preferred. In some places every able-bodied man was taken.

Only twenty-four hours were allowed between the calling up and the deportation, and this time had to be spent in nreparing a special outfit, particulars of which were given, together with the announcement which I mentioned above, that “money could be taken Surely a generous, a. dangerously generous, excess of the spirit of liberty!

The new slaves were then torn away from their families, herded into cattle trucks, and sent off to unknown destinations. It is known, however, that large numbers are conveyed to some places behind the German lines in France, and that they are digging trenches both in France and in Belgium, helping to construct aerodromes, and doing other kinds of military work. Others were deported to ! Germany, as is attested by the numerous trains passing through Herbestal. Rut the destination of the great majority of individuals is unknown, and they are completely lost to their families, who, in turn, may be forced from! their present place of residence l long before they meet again. It seems doubtful whether many of these broken families will ever be reunited. But the Kaiser’s “bleeding heart” will, no doubt, subdue their homelier griefs into a becoming silence. So august are fhe sorrows of Emperors!

At Ghent and Antwerp the men were taken to concentration camps and invited to sign agreements to work in Germany at the munificent rate of threepence a day, part of which iras to be deducted for their food. The agree! ment was described as “voluntary." Then, in j the decree published at Antwerp on November | 2, follows the sublimely naive declaration that j “those refuting to sign the voluntary agreej ment will be immediately deported to Geri many. The point of destination will be some place in Germany. The workmen will be distributed among the German factories, where they will have to work.”

Undoubtedly the German devil is suffering from a progressive softening of the brain; for his stupidity is as appalling ás his brutality. The throbbings of the heavy brain can be foltowed by a child. There is obvious j method in his deeds, however, though his j thoughts contradict one another. “Every deported workman." said the Belgian bishops, “is another soldier for the German army,” for the Belgians so deported release other for the front.

The Belgians refused, almost without exception. to sign “the voluntary agreement.” Some of thçm were promptly deported. Others were starved into “voluntary” submission after they had been deprived of food for two o£ three days.

But thosf who were deported, unexhausted by starvation, showed all the sublime courage of thear nation, a little nation which ha* leaned to the first rank among all the nations of history 'during these tragic years of war. For Belgiujm. at least, is immortal now with Greece and Rome, a beacon Jight of civilization. Andins her sons were carried away into their temporal captivity all along the railway lines therp fluttered “scraps of paper” of another sort, which had been thrown out by the déportées. They bore the legend. H'y zul\ len nooit %-rrken voor den Duitech, noch onj irn naam jp papier zitten. I^ang leve König I Albert!” i(We will never work for the Ger¡ mans and; never sign an agreement. Long live King ¿Albert! )

Within i week more than fifteen thousand of these nten were taken from Flanders. In the Mons district twenty-five per cent, of the male population has been-carried away. And thit wh olma le deportation continuée. Five train-loads cross the frontier daily. The Germans say they need three hundred and fifty thousand men.

In the slave trains they are treated worse than cattle. Sixty men are crammed into a wagon for forty. The wagons are open to wind and rain, and no food, or very little, is provided. Yet as these trains of slaves fwho can never be slaves while life remains to them) roll into the stranger's land the silent crowds who watch them hear the thunder of their national songs; hear a nobler music than all the art of Germany could ever produce; hear these prisoners that are king«, chanting the “Brabançonne," and “The Lion of Flanders.”

“We ua?d to think that music crude.” said a Belgian to me recently, “but we cannot hear it now without tçars.”

And what a symphony is there, transcending anything that the imagination of Beethoven conceived! There, over the sobs and cries of |the women and children, with the mutter 0'; the redeeming guns already upon the horizon, rises that mighty chorus, as the trains move out with their triumphing loads of white slaves.