The German Terror in Belgium (Barnes & Noble Digital Library): An Historical Record



THE subject of this book is the treatment of the civil population in the countries overrun by the German Armies during the first three months of the European War. The form of it is a connected narrative, based on the published and reproducing them by direct quotation or (for the sake of brevity) by reference.

   With the documents now published on both sides it is at last possible to present a clear narrative of what actually happened. The co-ordination of this mass of evidence, which has gradually accumulated since the first days of invasion, is the principal purpose for which the book has been written. The evidence consists of first-hand statements—some delivered on oath before a court, others taken down from the witnesses without oath by competent legal examiners, others written and published on the witnesses' own initiative as books or pamphlets. Most of them originally appeared in print in a controversial setting, as proofs or disproofs of disputed fact, or as justifications or condemnations of fact that was admitted. In the present work, however, this argumentative aspect of them has been avoided as far as possible. For it has either been treated exhaustively in official publications—the case of Louvain, for instance, in the German White Book and the Belgian Reply to it—or will not be capable of such treatment till after the conclusion of the War. The ultimate inquiry and verdict, if it is to have finality, must proceed either from a mixed commission of representatives of all the States concerned, or from a neutral commission like that appointed by the Carnegie Foundation to inquire into the atrocities committed during the Balkan War. But the German Government has repeatedly refused proposals, made both unofficially and officially, that it should allow such an investigation to be conducted in the territory at present under German military and the final critical assessment will therefore necessarily be postponed till the German Armies have retired again within their own frontiers.

   Meanwhile, an ordered and documented narrative of the attested facts seems the best preparation for that judicial appraisement for which the time is not yet ripe. The facts have been drawn from statements made by witnesses on opposite sides with different intentions and beliefs, but as far as possible they have been disengaged from this subjective setting and have been set out, without comment, to speak for themselves. It has been impossible, however, to confine the exposition to pure narration at every point, for in the original evidence the facts observed and the inferred explanation of them are seldom distinguished, and when the same observed fact is made a ground for diametrically opposite inferences by different witnesses, the difficulty becomes acute. A German soldier, say, in Louvain on the night of August 25th, 1914, hears the sound of machine-gun firing apparently coming from a certain spot in the town, and infers that at this spot Belgian civilians are using a machine gun against German troops; a Belgian inhabitant hears the same sound, and infers that German troops are firing on civilians. In such cases the narrative must be interpreted by a judgment as to which of the inferences is the truth, and this judgment involves discussion. What is remarkable, however, is the rarity of these contradictions. Usually the different testimonies fit together into a presentation of fact which is not open to argument.

   The narrative has been arranged so as to follow separately the tracks of the different German Armies or groups of Armies which traversed different sectors of French and Belgian territory. Within each sector the chronological order has been followed, which is generally identical with the geographical order in which the places affected lie along the route of march. The present volume describes the invasion of Belgium up to the sack of Louvain.


   March 1917.