Jump to content
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Souveniers taken from the dead in time of war


Beau Geste
 Share

Recommended Posts

I quite agree with Bob that there remains a significant visceral simmering dislike of things Germanic among some Britons.

Personally, it makes me sick inside when I see it evidenced and tend to avoid threads on this Forum that might bring it out even in it's most mild form. I don't propose to apologise to our German friends because they are sophisticated enough to know that they are welcomed here by the vast majority of this Forum's members.

But our German friends should not feel singled out because our irrational dislikes also extend to the Japanese, certainly the French and a host of other folk. However, a very large number of people are trying to dispell this - certainly in the way that they bring up their children.

Hoping we can calmly discuss possibly controversial but often interesting issues with mutual respect and tolerance.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Nice one, Bob - one paragraph grudgingly admitting some atrocities in Belgium (maybe), but no real detail. Then five paragraphs of excuses to deflect attention away from the nub of the matter.

If nothing else, Bob, your consistency in espousing your "faith in German kultur" deserves admiration (albeit grudgingly and incredulously, and with more than a little humour).

Cheers - salesie.

Let me give you some detail, referring to the publications that you favor for determining what actually happened in Belgium.

Along the roads of occupied France and Belgium, the Germans dug 100,000 pits, sort of like the famous Vietnamese "tiger cages". In each pit was a Belgian or French young girl or woman, chained down with her legs spread by chains. These were set up so that any German troops marching down the road, or any troops stationed in the area, if they were afflicted with a genital itch, could lower themselves into the pit and rape the child or woman.

Another shocking bit of evidence of the "Rape of Belgium" was the fact that the roads of Flanders and northern France swarmed with Belgian girls, all seemingly about 15. Each, of course, had been raped by the Hun, and then either their right or their left hand was cut off by the Hun. But never both hands. They never were cut off at the wrist, not at the elbow, but always mid-way between wrist and elbow. All of these girls were scantily clad, even though it was winter. They wandered the roads endlessly, no one or the authorities did not take them in, or gave them a proper coat, and there were so many that they were a serious traffic hazard.

As I am writing about the actions of III. Reservekorps in the August-November 1914 period, I checked out a Belgian official or semi-official history, published about 1921, titled, in translation, The German Invasion (in translation), if memory serves, and the large book is full of these stories. There was not one word on military operations. One thing that stuck in my mind was what was supposed to be a letter from a German officer to his brother, saying, among other things: "It is hard work here, crucifying people, and bayonetting babies, but we carry on happily." (From memory, but close.) Of course no names, or units, no date or places, no original German, certainly no facsimile of the letter, nor any clue to how the Belgians got this letter the war. The book was about 60% this stuff, and 40% glorification of the Belgian royal family and high-ranking officials. Reading the book, with the exception of one name, one would not imagine that there was a single Flemish person in Belgium, everyone was a Walloon.

Trying to arrive at some measure of historical truth by reading this stuff is simply absurd, a Fool's Errand. (I did note from your web-site that your primary avocation is writing fantasy.)

Harry;

I was quite surprised at your post, where you seemed to be annoyed that I mentioned that I bought an actual autograph diary written, day by day, during the invasion, written by a rather articulate NCO from my grand-father's army corps, and had started to translate it. That is the sort of effort that would be necessary to edge closer to what actually happened there. As I said, the first two pages that I translated already seem very interesting, and shed light. But one has to work with materials from all sides, and many different narratives, to begin to edge toward the truth. One also has to get to the Flemish experience. (The diary mentions how, as they marched in and turned north, they were warmly greeted by what he called "the Dutch population", clearly the Flemish.) At that time the Flemish were a despised and discriminated-against minority, it seems. (Also recall Captain Dunn, in his excellent The War that the Infantry Knew, repeatedly reporting how the French were shooting Flemish in Flanders for plowing with a white horse or hanging their laundry to dry, in 1918.) Getting a better handle on the Walloon/Flemish question during the war (and now) would also shed light on things.

But I have no illusion that lots of posters really care what actually happened in Belgium.

Bob Lembke

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I understood that large numbers of Belgians were shot in reprisal for civilian snipers . But , one factor that hasn't been mentioned , is that Belgium had been condemned for brutalities in the Belgian Congo . In the years leading up to WW1 Roger Casement had recorded and published reports of Belgian atrocities and there was universal condemnation . Have a look at Wikepedia on the Belgian Congo or read Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghosts .

A recent WW1 series that I watched did mention this attitude to Belgium as a factor in the behaviour of the German army .

I thought that the shootings were documented and memorialised in the Belgian towns where they happened ?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Bob, sometimes it's best to walk away from internet disputes with guys who relish having a fight.

Pete Eisen

Pete;

Thanks for your wise words. I want to either go off thread completely, or be much more constructive and try to make constructive observations.

I am quite autobiographical; I hope that it is interesting and/or entertaining to many Pals. I have not shared part of my make-up. When I started public school, in New York City just after WW II, my teacher used to announce an exercise in patriotism, and pull me in front of the class and beat the c**p out of me, as a "German". I was five years old. We had been in the US for 20 years, and my father had spent much of WW II working for the US Army and then the US Navy, the latter in a combat zone, building anti-submarine bases. I am a bit twisted in the head, now at 68, in fashions that I think are related to this. After two years my parents took me out of public school and put me in a private school for my protection. There I associated with both a "better class" of both fellow students and better teachers, and probably in the long run I benefited a lot from this.

I was a PC cringing self-abasing German-American until I was about 55, but recently I have become a bit more edgy.

I want to state something related to some of my statements. I was born in the US, and I feel that I am patriotic, in a healthy way. I have the full training of a US infantry officer, with high ratings as a cadet, and was seriously considering a career as a US officer, but declined, in an honorable fashion, when I discovered that my imperfect eyes barred me from obtaining a commission in a combat branch in the Army. Cousin Ben was recently blown up in Iraq, hunting IEDs for the Marines; he survived, and now seems OK; his concussion was so bad that he was flown to a hospital in the US. A friend has had two tours in Iraq as a brigade commander. (He may be following this thread, I do not know.) But I am sickened by the mess in Iraq, in which we, IMHO, have violated international law. (I was delighted to read recently that Rumsfeld recently cancelled two trips to Europe for fear of being arrested for violations of international law.) I have also followed, with interest, the matter of the British high command demanding proof from Blair that they would not be violating international law by invading Iraq, and their fury at realizing that the legal opinion from Lord Goldsmith (a personal friend of Blair, and his appointee) assuring them that the invasion was legal was actually cooked up; as far as I know the Brit government still is refusing to release this legal opinion to Commons. My wife and I are so over the top by this issue that we have discussed moving to Slovenija or Iceland, although I doubt we will. A friend was a torturer for NSA, and worked with the Israelis, but he and his fellow NSA types were horrified by what the Israelis did to Palestinians, turning a human into an irreversable human turnup in three days. Now we are in that business.

Bob Lembke

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I understood that large numbers of Belgians were shot in reprisal for civilian snipers . But , one factor that hasn't been mentioned , is that Belgium had been condemned for brutalities in the Belgian Congo . In the years leading up to WW1 Roger Casement had recorded and published reports of Belgian atrocities and there was universal condemnation . Have a look at Wikepedia on the Belgian Congo or read Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghosts.

Linden;

King Leopold of Belgium soft-soaped the rulers and opinion-makers of Europe that he was enlightened and an anti-slavery activist, and he took over the enormous Belgian Congo, not as a colony of Belgium, but as a personal estate. In five years it is estimated that he murdered 10,000,000 of the 20,000,000 Congolese to squeeze every last penny out of his "estate". (Source: the Hochshild book you mentioned.) By a coincidence that works out to an average of 6000 a day for five years, roughly the same number as the number of Belgians that the Germans are accused of murdering in 4 1/3 years of occupation. Foolishly, the Belgians kept records, or more accurately, human ears. The Belgian askari army in the Congo was a slave army, with each menber of an infantry squad wearing an iron collar, and a heavy chain running from neck to neck of the entire squad. This was not militarily efficient, in particular when a squad crossed a stream or small river on a tree-log bridge, one soldier-slave might slip, and the entire squad would drowned. The army had an interesting rule; to prevent the slave soldiers from augmenting their meager rations with "bush meat", there was careful ammunition control, and for every round fired the soldier-slave had to turn in a human ear (I'm sure only right, or left, the usual system in such accounting systems). However, I am sure that these slave-soldiers occasionally missed a human, or did shoot bush meat, and in those cases we can be certain that they killed another villager, perhaps cutting their throat, and then cut off their ear to avoid being whipped or worse. We can be sure that many thousands of innocents were killed in this fashion due to the attempt to control the costs of ammunition. In one year, at one trading post, in one sub-section of a trading area, 4500 ears were turned in, according to Belgian records.

An employee of this delightful example of European civilization figured out what happened, and "wrote the book", and it was a sensation in Europe, and Leopold was forced to make some reforms. Then the collective memory faded, and I believe that nothing else was written for about 115 years, until Mr. Hochschild wrote his book. Two books written in 115 years about the murder of 10,000,000 totally innocent people, just to bankroll Leopold's dinner parties or the gilding for his carriage! I did a study on the numbers of books written about the "Rape of Belgium", and hundreds were written and published from 1915 to 1917. Once America was fully in the war, the publication of these books largely ceased.

A recent WW1 series that I watched did mention this attitude to Belgium as a factor in the behaviour of the German army .

I had not heard of that. Now that you mention it, I have seen evidence that "the Rape of the Congo" was well-known to the German officer corps. Do you guys know of the German satirical magazine Simplicissimus? It was published before WW I, and only died out in my memory, say about 1970. It was large-format, satirical, with biting Berlin humor, and with large cartoons. Pre-war WW I the army command hated it, but I understand that many in the officer corps loved it, if not openly. I have seen a reproduction of a very funny pre-war cartoon, with three panels, about the characteristics of three African colonial masters. One panel showed the French, with French colonial troops caressing bare-breasted young African women. Another showed the Germans; the panel depicted a German sergeant, attempting to drill a rank of about 8-9 giraffes to goose-step. The third was the Belgians; there was a naked Congolese black tied down to a good-old-fashioned rack, the midieval (sp?) torture device; the victim was being pulled apart, and gold coins were dribbling out of the African's rectum, and being eagerly gathers by the Belgians operating the rack. This really indicates that the German officer corps was still familiar with the atrocities in the Belgian Congo, before the war.

I thought that the shootings were documented and memorialised in the Belgian towns where they happened ?

There does not seem to be much controversy about how many Belgian civilians died. As far as I know, most people seem to agree on about 6000. Some people (me) care about what was going on, some don't care; that is where the controversy seems to be. It is clear to me, from reading many primary sources, that hundreds of Germans were killed by civilian snipers, especially officers (remember my grand-father having to dive under his staff-car), and including at least one general. My grand-father mentioned the Belgians raiding a first-aid post in the next village and killing 43 wounded German soldiers. So the ratio of German soldiers killed by Belgian civilians, or soldiers in civilian clothes, to Belgians (soldiers in civvies or actual civilians) killed was perhaps 10 or maybe 20 to one. I will happily concede that probably most of the civilians killed were either innocent, or did not receive a proper trial. Zipping forward in time, to Iraq, it seems that Coalition Forces are killing about 1000 civilians for every Coalition soldier killed. For example, we still, five years after occupying Baghdad, frequently bomb Baghdad neighborhoods with 500 and 2000 lb bombs. This strategy is forced on our troops since we only have a fraction of the troops in place to pursue the war in a humane fashion, the blame being on, IMHO, a criminal civilian leadership.

Bob Lembke

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I understood that large numbers of Belgians were shot in reprisal for civilian snipers . But , one factor that hasn't been mentioned , is that Belgium had been condemned for brutalities in the Belgian Congo . In the years leading up to WW1 Roger Casement had recorded and published reports of Belgian atrocities and there was universal condemnation . Have a look at Wikepedia on the Belgian Congo or read Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghosts .

A recent WW1 series that I watched did mention this attitude to Belgium as a factor in the behaviour of the German army .

I thought that the shootings were documented and memorialised in the Belgian towns where they happened ?

Well if we are being Pedantic here then and Discussing a Countries Conduct BEFORE the War,lets not forget German Genocide Policy in Namibia before the Great War.As this Thread now seems to be descending into a Mire of Accusation,Denial and Nit Picking,i feel that i have no option but to Unsubcribe from this Thread,as Boredom is now setting in and i have now neither the Time or Inclination to sit down and read, over long,over blown Postings whose content could have been encapsulated in far fewer words....... :P.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So it was ok for the German army to execute Belgium civilians in the Great War because of Leopold's colonial rule in the Congo, I guess that's a new one.

I'm not sure that's what Bob's saying. Belgian behaviour in the Congo was appalling (Conrad's Heart of Darkness makes that perfectly clear), and that behaviour may well have influenced the view Germans had of the Belgians. The near-genocide in the Congo today is a pretty good example of how the mess Imperialism left behind still affects us: brutalisation of the population is a difficult sore to heal.

Maybe the German soldiers who invaded Belgium didn't view it as 'illegal' (when is it 'legal' to invade a country, any way?) and were surprised to be fired-on by civilians.

I think Bob is actually being quite straightforward: he's denying nothing, but trying to put it into a context and get some realistic history. As several posts have pointed out, this thread is trying to establish 'the truth' (whatever that might be), and Bob is merely trying to use his knowledge to tease that truth out.

I also wonder how many of the civilian dead commemorated on war Memorials were not deliberate victims (i.e., shot out of hand), but were what is now referred-to as 'collateral damage'? I don't suppose many victims had post mortems or inquests, so dying in a bombardment aimed at random is much the same as being shot by the Hun.

This thread does seem to have generated more heat than light, so this will be my only post in it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On the contrary, Steven, this latest round of posts have generated plenty of light for me. For example, until very recently I believed Bob Lembke had a hidden agenda of his own, and, dare I say it, I believed that agenda was Neo-Nazi in form and substance. However, I'm now of the opinion that this is far from the truth.

I now believe that he is embittered and resentful of most things in this world because of the way life has treated him; by his own admission, he has suffered prejudice and resentment for being of German stock. And it would still seem, despite his strenuous efforts to defend his Pop's and Grandpa's roles in the German army of WW1, that he is still not taken seriously by many. I'm convinced now that he's not a Neo-Nazi, just an ordinary joe bravely swimming against an unturnable tide of prejudice and propaganda and should be viewed with sadness for his forlorn efforts and not as figure of contempt (even when we believe he's talking nonsense).

Cheers - salesie.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

After careful consideration, I have decided to close down this thread. I do this reluctantly but the heat that is being generated at the present time isn't really conducive to the sort of relationships that should, and in most cases do , exist on The Forum.

Before I "press the plunger" though I would like to say that I really do believe that the questions raised in the latter part of the thread are both valid and important and deserved to be discussed. I also believe that the antagonism that developed between a few pals was perhaps inevitable given the conflicting perceptions and attitudes of those, myself included, who were involved.

No one is to blame except myself. I have tried hard to control things but, like a few others, I too became frustrated and once that happened, control was lost.

I would like to thank everyone who made a contribution and apologise to those who feel, for whatever reason, that they have been hard done by.

Kindest regards,

Harry

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest
This topic is now closed to further replies.
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...