My Four Years in Germany
James W. Gerard
Part 2 out of 6
It was perhaps the final factor which decided the advocates of
the old military system of Germany in favour of a European war.
Usually in past years when the Reichstag in adjournments had risen
and cheered the name of the Emperor, the Social Democrats absented
themselves from the Chamber, but when the Reichstag adjourned on
May twentieth, 1914, these members remained in the Chamber and
refused either to rise or to cheer the Emperor. The President
of the Reichstag immediately called attention to this breach
of respect to the Emperor, upon which the Socialists shouted,
"That is our affair," and tried to drown the cheers with hoots
and hisses at which the other parties applauded tumultuously
This occurrence I know greatly incensed the Emperor and did much,
I believe, to win his consent to the war.
PSYCHOLOGY AND CAUSES WHICH PREPARED THE NATION FOR WAR
To the outsider, the Germans seem a fierce and martial nation.
But, in reality, the mass of the Germans, in consenting to the
great sacrifice entailed by their enormous preparations for war,
have been actuated by fear.
This fear dates from the Thirty Years' War, the war which commenced
in 1618 and was terminated in 1648. In 1648, when the Treaty
of Westphalia was concluded, Germany was almost a desert. Its
population had fallen from twenty millions to four millions.
The few remaining people were so starved that cannibalism was
openly practised. In the German States polygamy was legalised,
and was a recognised institution for many years thereafter.
Of thirty-five thousand Bohemian villages, only six thousand
were left standing. In the lower Palatinate only one-tenth of the
population survived; in Wurttemberg, only one-sixth. Hundreds of
square miles of once fertile country were overgrown with forests
inhabited only by wolves.
A picture of this horrible period is found in the curious novel,
"The Adventurous Simplicissimus," written by Grimmelshausen, and
published in 1669, which describes the adventures of a wise peasant
who finally leaves his native Germany and betakes himself to a desert
island which he refuses to leave when offered an opportunity to
go back to the Fatherland. He answers those who wish to persuade
him to go back with words which seem quite appropriate to-day:
"My God, where do you want to carry me? Here is peace. There is
war. Here I know nothing of the arts of the court, ambitions,
anger, envy, deceit, nor have I cares concerning my clothing and
nourishment.... While I still lived in Europe everything was
(O, woe that I must appear witness to such acts of Christians!)
filled with war, burning, murder, robbery, plundering and the
shame of women and virgins." The Munich weekly, "Simplicissimus,"
whose powerful political cartoons have often startled Europe,
takes its name from this character.
After the conclusion of the Thirty Years' War, Germany was again
and again ravaged by smaller wars, culminating in the Seven Years'
War of Frederick the Great and the humbling of Germany under
the heel of Napoleon. In the wars Of Frederick the Great, one
tenth of the population was killed. Even the great Battle of
the Nations at Leipsic in 1813 did not free Germany from wars,
and in 1866 Prussia and the smaller North German States, with
Italy, defeated Austria, assisted by Bavaria, Hesse-Cassel,
Hesse-Darmstadt, Nassau, Saxony, Baden, Wurttemberg and Hanover.
I am convinced that the fear of war induced by a hereditary instinct,
caused the mass of the Germans to become the tools and dupes of
those who played upon this very fear in order to create a military
autocracy. On the other hand, and, especially, in the noble class,
we have in Germany a great number of people who believe in war for
its own sake. In part, these nobles are the descendants of the
Teutonic Knights who conquered the Slav population of Prussia,
and have ever since bound that population to their will.
The Prussian army was created by the father of Frederick the
Great, who went to the most ridiculous extremes in obtaining tall
men at all costs for his force.
The father of Frederick the Great gave the following written
instructions to the two tutors of his son. "Above all let both
tutors exert themselves to the utmost to inspire him with a love
of soldiery and carefully impress upon his mind that, as nothing
can confer honour and fame upon a prince except the sword, the
monarch who seeks not his sole satisfaction in it must ever appear
a contemptible character in the eyes of the world."
Frederick the Great left, by the death of that father who had
once threatened to execute him, at the head of a marvellous army
with a full treasury, finally decided upon war, as he admits in
his own letters, "in order to be talked about," and his desire
to be talked about led to the Seven Years' War.
The short war against Denmark in 1864, against Austria, Bavaria,
etc., in 1866 and against France in 1870, enormously increased
both the pride and prestige of the Prussian army. It must not
be forgotten that at all periods of history it seems as if some
blind instinct had driven the inhabitants of the inhospitable
plains of North Germany to war and to conquest. The Cimbri and
Teutones--the tribes defeated by Marius; Ariovistus, who was
defeated by Julius Caesar; the Goths and the Visi-Goths; the
Franks and the Saxons; all have poured forth from this infertile
country, for the conquest of other lands. The Germans of to-day
express this longing of the North Germans for pleasanter climes
in the phrase in which they demand "a place in the sun."
The nobles of Prussia are always for war. The business men and
manufacturers and shipowners desire an increasing field for their
activities. The German colonies were uninhabitable by Europeans.
All his life the glittering Emperor and his generals had planned
and thought of war; and the Crown Prince, surrounded by his
remarkable collection of relics and reminders of Napoleon, dreamed
only of taking the lead in a successful war of conquest. Early in
the winter of 1913-14, the Crown Prince showed his collection of
Napoleana to a beautiful American woman of my acquaintance, and
said that he hoped war would occur while his father was alive,
but, if not, he would start a war the moment he came to the throne.
Since writing the above, the American woman who had this conversation
with the Crown Prince wrote out for me the exact conversation
in her own words, as follows: "I had given him Norman Angell's
book, 'The Great Illusion,' which seeks to prove that war is
unprofitable. He (the Crown Prince) said that whether war was
profitable or not, when he came to the throne there would be war,
if not before, just for the fun of it. On a previous occasion
he had said that the plan was to attack and conquer France, then
England, and after that my country (the United States of America);
Russia was also to be conquered, and Germany would be master of
The extraordinary collection of relics, statues, busts, souvenirs,
etc., of the first Napoleon, collected by the Crown Prince, which
he was showing at the time of the first of these conversations
to this American lady, shows the trend of his mind and that all
his admiration is centred upon Napoleon, the man who sought the
mastery of the world, and who is thought by admirers like the
Crown Prince to have failed only because of slight mistakes which
they feel, in his place, they would not have made.
If the Germans' long preparations for war were to bear any fruit,
countless facts pointed to the summer of 1914 as the time when the
army should strike that great and sudden blow at the liberties
of the world.
It was in June, 1914, that the improved Kiel Canal was reopened,
enabling the greatest warships to pass from the Baltic to the
In the Zeppelins the Germans had arms not possessed by any other
country and with which they undoubtedly believed that they could
do much more damage to England than was the case after the actual
outbreak of hostilities. They had paid great attention to the
development of the submarine. Their aeroplanes were superior to
those of other nations. They believed that in the use of poison
gas, which was prepared before the outbreak of the war, they had
a prize that would absolutely demoralise their enemy. They had
their flame throwers and the heavy artillery and howitzers which
reduced the redoubtable forts of Liege and Namur to fragments
within a few hours, and which made the holding of any fortresses
On their side, by the imposition of a heavy tax called the
_Wehrbeitrag_ or supplementary defence tax, they had, in
1913, increased their army by a number of army corps. On the
other hand, the law for three years' military service voted in
France had not yet gone into effect, nor had the law for universal
military service voted by the Belgian Chambers. Undoubtedly the
Germans based great hopes upon the Bagdad railway which was to
carry their influence to the East, and even threatened the rule
of England in Egypt and India. Undoubtedly there was talk, too,
of a Slav railroad to run from the Danube to the Adriatic which
would cut off Germany from access to the Southern Sea. Francis
Deloisi, the Frenchman, in his book published before the great
war, called "De la Guerre des Balkans a la Guerre Europeenne,"
says, "In a word, the present war (Balkan) is the work of Russia,
and the Danube Asiatic railway is a Russian project. If it succeeds,
a continuous barrier of Slav peoples will bar the way to the
Mediterranean of the path of Austro-German expansion from the
Black Sea to the Adriatic. But here again the Romanoffs confront
the Hapsburgs, the Austro-Serb conflict becomes the Austro-Russian
conflict, two great groups are formed, and the Balkan conflict
becomes the European conflict."
Another reason for an immediate war was the loan by France to
Russia made on condition that additional strategic railways were
to be constructed by the Russians in Poland. Although this money
had been received, the railways had not been constructed at the
time of the opening of the Great War. Speaking of this situation,
the Russian General Kuropatkin, in his report for the year 1900,
said, "We must cherish no illusions as to the possibility of an
easy victory over the Austrian army," and he then went on to say,
"Austria had eight railways to transport troops to the Russian
frontier while Russia had only four; and, while Germany had seventeen
such railways running to the German-Russian frontier, the Russians
had only five." Kuropatkin further said, "The differences are too
enormous and leave our neighbours a superiority which cannot be
overcome by the numbers of our troops, or their courage."
Comparing the two armies, he said, "The invasion of Russia by
German troops is more probable than the invasion of Germany by
Russian troops"; and, "Our Western frontier, in the event of
a European war, would be in such danger as it never has known
in all the history of Russia."
Agitation by workmen in Russia was believed in Germany to be
the beginning of a revolution. Illuminating figures may be seen
in the gold purchase of the German Imperial Bank: in 1911,
174,000,000 marks; in 1912, 173,000,000 marks; but in 1913,
There was a belief in Germany that the French nation was degenerate
and corrupt and unprepared for war. This belief became conviction
when, in the debates of the French Senate, Senator Humbert, early
in 1914, publicly exposed what he claimed to be the weakness
and unpreparedness of France.
Prince Lichnowsky, the German Ambassador in London, certainly
reported to his government that England did not wish to enter
the war. He claims now that he did not mean that England would
not fight at all events, but undoubtedly the German Foreign Office
believed that England would remain out of the war. The raising of
the Ulster army by Sir Edward Carson, one of the most gigantic
political bluffs in all history, which had no more revolutionary
or military significance than a torchlight parade during one of
our presidential campaigns, was reported by the German spies
as a real and serious revolutionary movement; and, of course, it
was believed by the Germans that Ireland would rise in general
rebellion the moment that war was declared. In the summer of
1914 Russia was believed to be on the edge of revolution.
As I have said in a previous chapter, the movement against
militarism, culminating in the extraordinary vote in the Reichstag
against the government at the time of the Zabern Affair, warned
the government and military people that the mass of Germans were
coming to their senses and were preparing to shake off the bogy of
militarism and fear, which had roosted so long on their shoulders
like a Prussian old-man-of-the-sea. The Pan-Germans and the
Annexationists were hot for war. The people alive could recall
only three wars, the war against Denmark in 1864, which was settled
in a few days and added the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein to
the Prussian crown, and the war of 1866 in which Bavaria, Baden,
Wurttemberg, Hesse-Darmstadt, and Saxony were defeated, when the
Austrian kingdom of Hanover disappeared and the territories of
Hesse-Cassel and Nassau, and the free city of Frankfort were
added to Prussia. This war, from its declaration to the battle
of Koniggratz in which the Austrians were completely defeated,
lasted only two weeks. In 1870 France was defeated within a month
and a half after the opening of hostilities; so that the Kaiser
was implicitly believed when, on the first day of the war, he
appeared on the balcony of the palace and told the crowds who
were keen for war, that "before the leaves have fallen from the
trees you will be back in your homes." The army and all Germany
believed him and believed, too, that a few short weeks would
see the destruction of France and the consequent seizure of her
rich colonies; that Russia could then be struck a good quick
blow before she could concentrate her army and resources; that
England would remain neutral; and that Germany would consequently
become, if not the actual owner, at least the dictator of the
world. Some one has since said that the Emperor must have meant
Working ever in the dark, either owning or influencing newspapers,
the great munition and arms factory of the Krupp's insidiously
poisoned the minds of the people with the microbe of war.
Prince Lichnowsky, the German Ambassador to London, called upon
me often after the outbreak of the war, and insisted that he
had correctly reported the sentiments of England in saying that
England did not want war. After his return to Germany the Germans
quite unfairly treated him as a man who had failed and seemed
to blame him because England had taken the only possible course
open to her and ranged herself on the side of France and Russia.
The dedication at Leipzig, in the year 1913, of the great monument
to celebrate what is called the "War of Liberation," and the
victory of Leipzig in the War of the Nations, 1813, had undoubtedly
kindled a martial spirit in Germany. To my mind, the course which
really determined the Emperor and the ruling class for war was
the attitude of the whole people in the Zabern Affair and their
evident and growing dislike of militarism. The fact that the
Socialists, at the close of the session of the Reichstag, boldly
remained in the Chamber and refused to rise or to cheer the name
of the Emperor indicated a new spirit of resistance to autocracy;
and autocracy saw that if it was to keep its hold upon Germany
it must lead the nation into a short and successful war.
This is no new trick of a ruling and aristocratic class. From
the days when the patricians of Rome forced the people into war
whenever the people showed a disposition to demand their rights,
autocracies have always turned to war as the best antidote against
the spirit of democracy.
AT KIEL JUST BEFORE THE WAR
Kiel, situated on the Baltic, on the eastern side of the peninsula
of Jutland near the Baltic entrance of the Kiel Canal, is the
principal naval centre of Germany.
When the Germans decided to build up a great fleet the Emperor
used every means to encourage a love of yachting and of the sea,
and endeavoured to make the Kiel Week a rival of the week at
Cowes, the English yachting centre.
With this end in view, the rich Germans were encouraged and almost
commanded to build and race yachts; and Americans and others who
visited Kiel in their yachts were entertained by the Emperor
in an intimacy impossible if they had come to Berlin merely as
tourists, residing in a hotel.
In June, 1914, we went to Kiel as guests of Allison Armour of
Chicago, on his yacht, the _Utowana_. I was detained by
business in Berlin and Mrs. Gerard preceded me to Kiel. I arrived
there on Saturday, the twenty-seventh of June, and that night
went with Armour to dine with the Emperor on board the Emperor's
In the harbour were a fair number of German yachts, mostly sailing
yachts, taking part in the races; the fine old yacht of Lord
Brassey, _The_Sunbeam_, and the yacht of the Prince of Monaco,
in which he conducts his scientific voyages. A great English
fleet, comprising some of the most powerful dreadnoughts, had
also arrived, sent as an earnest of the good will and kindly
feeling then supposed to exist between Great Britain and Germany.
The redoubtable von Tirpitz was present on a German battleship,
and the Hamburg American Line had an old transatlantic steamer,
the _Deutschland_, rechristened the _Victoria_Luise_,
filled with guests, most of whom were invited on a hint from
At dinner on the _Hohenzollern_ a number of English people
were present. The Kaiser had on one side of him the wife of the
British Admiral, Lady Maud Warrender, and on the other side, the
Countess of March, whose husband is heir to the Duke of Richmond.
I sat between Princess Munster and the Countess of March, and
after dinner the Emperor drew me over to the rail of the ship,
and talked to me for some time. I wish that diplomatic etiquette
would permit me to reveal what he said, but even in war time I
do not think I ought to violate the confidence that hospitality
seals. However important and interesting, especially to the tame
Socialists of Germany, I do not give this conversation with the
Emperor, nor the conversation with him and Colonel House at the
_Schrippenfest_, because I was his guest. Conversations
with the Emperor which I had on later occasions were at official
audiences and to these the same rule does not apply. He also
invited me to sail with him in his yacht, the _Meteor_, in
the races from Kiel to Eckernfjord on the coming Tuesday.
[Illustration: THE EMPEROR'S RACING YACHT, AND OTHERS, AT KIEL.]
[Illustration: THE "HOHENZOLLERN".]
Sunday afternoon Prince Henry and his wife, who reside in the
castle at Kiel, were to give an afternoon reception and garden
party; but on arriving at the gates we were told that the party
would not take place. After going on board the _Utowana_,
Frederick W. Wile, the celebrated correspondent of the
_London_Daily_Mail_, ranged up alongside in a small launch and
informed us that the Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the
Austrian throne, and his wife had been assassinated at Sarajevo.
There was much rushing to and fro in fast launches, the Emperor
himself being summoned from the race which was in progress. That
night we dined on board the yacht of the Prince of Monaco. All the
diplomats and notables whom I met during the afternoon and evening
seemed to think that there was no chance that the tragedy at
Sarajevo would lead to war. The next morning the Emperor left
early for Berlin, but expressly directed that the festivities
and races at Kiel should be carried out as arranged.
Monday afternoon there was a _Bierabend_ in the large hall
of the yacht club at Kiel. The Emperor was to have presided at
this dinner, but his place was taken by his brother, Prince Henry.
Sir Edward Goschen, the British Ambassador, who was living on one
of the British battleships, sat on his right and I sat on his
left. During the evening a curious incident happened. The Prince
and I were talking of the dangers of after-dinner speaking and what
a dangerous sport it was. In the midst of our conversation some
one whispered to the Prince and he rose to his feet, proposed the
health of the visiting British Admiral and fleet, and made a little
speech. As he concluded, he said, addressing the officers of the
British fleet: "We are sorry you are going and we are sorry you
came." It is remarkable as showing the discipline of the German
nation and their respect for authority that thereafter no German
ever referred to this curious slip of the tongue. The night was
rather mild and after dinner we walked about the gardens of the
yacht club. I had a long and interesting conversation with the
Prince of Monaco. That Prince, who receives such a large income
from the company which carries on the gambling rooms at Monte
Carlo, is a man of the world intensely interested in scientific
research: there is practically no corner of the seven seas into
which his yacht has not poked her nose in the search for material
for the Sea Museum which he has established at Monaco.
On Tuesday Armour and I boarded the Emperor's sailing yacht,
the new _Meteor_. The race was a beautiful run from Kiel
to Eckernfjord and was won by the _Meteor_. As the Emperor
was not on board, I did not get one of the souvenir scarf-pins
always given to guests who sail with him on a winning race. Among
our crew was Grand Admiral von Koster, subsequently an advocate
of the ruthless submarine war.
Eckernfjord is a little fishing and bathing town. Near by is
the country residence of Prince Henry, a rather modest house,
built in brick in English Elizabethan style. The wife of Prince
Henry was a Princess of Hesse-Darmstadt and is the sister of the
Czarina of Russia. We had tea with Prince and Princess Henry,
their family, the Duke of Sonderburg-Glucksburg and several others
of his family. The billiard room of the house is decorated with
the large original caricatures made by McCutcheon of the Prince's
stay in America. Prince and Princess Henry came out to dine on
the _Utowana_, and Armour and the Prince went ashore to
attend another _Bierabend_, but I dodged the smoke and beer
and remained on board. Before he left the yacht, I had a talk
with Prince Henry. He seemed most exercised over the dislike of
the Germans by all other peoples and asked me why I thought it
existed. I politely told him that I thought it existed because of
the success which the Germans had had in all fields of endeavour,
particularly in manufacturing and commerce. He said, with great
truth, that he believed a great deal of it came from the bad
manners of the travelling Germans. Prince Henry is an able and
reasonable man with a most delightful manner. He speaks English
with a perfect English accent, and I think would be far happier
as an English country gentleman than as the Grand Admiral of the
German Baltic Fleet. He has been devoted to automobiling and
has greatly encouraged that industry in Germany. The Automobile
Club of Berlin is his particular pet.
On returning to Kiel next day we spent several days longer there.
I lunched on board his battleship with Grand Admiral von Tirpitz,
sitting next to him at the table. He struck me then as an amiable
sea dog, combining much political and worldly wisdom with his
knowledge of the sea. From Kiel we motored one night to dine
with a Count and Countess in their country house. This house
had been built perhaps two hundred years, and was on one side of
a square, the other three sides being formed by the great stone
barns in which the produce of the estate was stored. Although
the first floor of the house was elevated about eight feet above
the ground, the family, on account of the dampness of that part
of the world, lived in the second story, and the dining room
was on this story. An ancestor of the Count had, at a time when
this part of the country was part of Denmark and about the year
1700, lent all his available money to the King of Denmark. A
crude painting in the hall showed him sitting in the hall of
this particular house, smoking a long pipe and surrounded by
three or four sisters who were all spinning. Our hostess told us
that this picture represented the lending ancestor being supported
by his sisters while waiting the return of the loan which he
had made to the Danish king, an early example of the situation
disclosed by the popular song which runs: "Everybody works but
father." Of course, no one ever expected a Prussian nobleman to
do any work except in the line of war or in governing the inferior
classes of the country.
People of other countries have been wondering why it is that
the German government is able so easily to impose its will upon
the German people. I have set out in another chapter, in detail,
the political system from which you have seen that the Reichstag
is nothing but a debating society; that the Prussians do not
really have universal suffrage but, by reason of the vicious
circle system of voting, the elective franchise remains in the
hands of the few; and that the government of the country through the
_Landrate_, _Regierungsprasidenten_ and _Oberprasidenten_
is a central system from above downwards and not the election
of the rulers by the people; and, in the chapter on militarism
and Zabern, I have told by what means the control of the army
is kept in the hands of the class of nobles.
These are not the only means by which the system controls the
country. These alone would not suffice. From the time when he
is four years old, the German is disciplined and taught that
his government is the only good and effective form. The teachers
in the schools are all government paid and teach the children
only the principles desired by the rulers of the German people.
There are no Saturday holidays in the German schools and their
summer holidays are for only three to five weeks. You never see
gangs of small boys in Germany. Their games and their walks are
superintended by their teachers who are always inculcating in
them reverence and awe for the military heroes of the past and
present. On Saturday night the German boy is turned over by the
State paid school teacher to the State paid pastor who adds divine
authority to the principles of reverence for the German system.
There is a real system of caste in Germany. For instance, I was
playing tennis one day with a man and, while dressing afterwards,
I asked him what he was. He answered that he was a _Kaufmann_,
or merchant. For the German this answer was enough. It placed him
in the merchant class. I asked him what sort of a _Kaufmann_
he was. He then told me he was president of a large electrical
company. Of course, with us he would have answered first that
he was president of the electrical company, but being a German
he simply disclosed his caste without going into details. It is
a curious thing on the registers of guests in a German summer
resort to see Mrs. Manufactory-Proprietor Schultze registered
with Mrs. Landrat Schwartz and Mrs. Second Lieutenant von Bing.
Of course, there is no doubt as to the relative social positions
of Mrs. Manufactory-Proprietor Schultze and Mrs. Second Lieutenant
von Bing. Mrs. Manufactory-Proprietor Schultze may have a steam
yacht and a tiara, an opera box and ten million marks. She may
be an old lady noted for her works of charity. Her husband may
have made discoveries of enormous value to the human race, but
she will always be compelled to take her place behind Mrs. Second
Lieutenant von Bing, even if the latter is only seventeen years
Of course, occasionally, officers of the army and navy condescend
to marry into the merchant caste, and if a girl has a choice
of three equally attractive young men, one a doctor, earning
ten thousand dollars a year; one a manufacturer, earning the
same amount; and one an army officer with a "von" before his
name and three thousand dollars a year, there is no hesitation
on her part: she takes the noble and the army officer.
For years all the highest official positions of the government
have been held by members of the Prussian noble class, and when
Zimmermann, of a substantial family in East Prussia, but not of
noble birth, was made Foreign Minister, the most intense surprise
was exhibited all over Germany at this innovation.
One of the most successful ways of disciplining the people is
by the _Rat_ system. _Rat_ means councillor, and is
a title of honour given to any one who has attained a certain
measure of success or standing in his chosen business or profession.
For instance, a business man is made a commerce _Rat_; a
lawyer, a justice _Rat_; a doctor, a sanitary _Rat_;
an architect or builder, a building _Rat_; a keeper of the
archives, an archive _Rat_; and so on. They are created in
this way: first, a man becomes a plain _Rat_, then, later on,
he becomes a secret _Rat_ or privy councillor; still later,
a court secret _Rat_ and, later still, a _wirklicher_,
or really and truly secret court _Rat_ to which may be added
the title of Excellency, which puts the man who has attained
this absolutely at the head of the _Rat_ ladder.
But see the insidious working of the system. By German custom
the woman always carries the husband's title. The wife of a
successful builder is known as Mrs. Really Truly Secret Court
Building _Rat_ and her social precedence over the other women
depends entirely upon her husband's position in the _Rat_
class. Titles of nobility alone do not count when they come in
contact with a high government position. Now if a lawyer gets to
be about forty years old and is not some sort of a _Rat_,
his wife begins to nag him and his friends and relations look at
him with suspicion. There must be something in his life which
prevents his obtaining the coveted distinction and if there is
anything in a man's past, if he has shown at any time any spirit of
opposition to the government, as disclosed by the police registers,
which are kept written up to date about every German citizen,
then he has no chance of obtaining any of these distinctions
which make up so much of the social life of Germany. It is a
means by which the government keeps a far tighter hold on the
intellectual part of its population than if they were threatened
with torture and the stake. The Social Democrats, who, of course,
have declared themselves against the existing system of government
and in favour of a republic, can receive no distinctions from
the government because they dared to lift their voices and their
pens in criticism of the existing order. For them there is the
fear of the law. Convictions for the crime of _Lese-Majeste_
are of almost daily occurrence and, at the opening of the war, an
amnesty was granted in many of these cases, the ministry of war
withdrawing many prosecutions against poor devils waiting their
trial in jail because they had dared to speak disrespectfully of
the army. The following quotation from a German book, written
since the war, shows very clearly that this state of affairs
existed: "In the beneficent atmosphere of general amnesty came the
news that the Minister of War had withdrawn pending prosecutions
against newspapers on account of their insults to the army or
its members." (Dr. J. Jastrow, "Im Kriegszustand.")
Besides the _Rat_ system and the military system, there
exists the enormous mass of Prussian officials. In a country
where so many things are under government control these officials
are almost immeasurably more numerous than in other countries.
In Prussia, for example, all the railways are government-owned,
with the exception of one road about sixty miles long and a few
small branch roads. This army of officials are retainers of the
government, and not only, of course, themselves refrain from
criticising the system, but also use their influence upon the
members of their own family and all with whom they come in contact.
They are subject to trial in special secret courts and one of
them who dared in any way to criticise the existing system would
not for long remain a member of it. Of course, the members of the
Reichstag have the privilege of free speech without responsibility,
and there are occasional Socialists, who know that they have
nothing to expect from the government, who dare to speak in
All the newspapers are subject to control as in no other country.
In the first place their proprietors are subject to the influence
of the _Rat_ system as is every other German, and the newspaper
proprietor, whose sons perhaps enter the army, whose daughters
may be married to naval officers or officials, and who seeks
for his sons promotion as judge, state's attorney, etc., has
to be very careful that the utterances of his newspaper do not
prevent his promotion in the social scale or interfere with the
career of his family and relations.
Since the war while a preventive censure does not exist in Germany
nevertheless a newspaper may be suppressed at will; a fearful
punishment for a newspaper, which, by being suppressed for, say,
five days or a week, has its business affairs thrown into the utmost
confusion and suffers an enormous direct loss.
Many of the larger newspapers are either owned or influenced by
concerns like the Krupps'. For instance, during this war, all
news coming from Germany to other countries has been furnished
by either the Over-Seas Or Trans-Ocean service, both news agencies
in which the Krupps are large stockholders. The smaller newspapers
are influenced directly by the government.
In the Middle Ages there was often declared a sort of truce to
prevent fighting in a city, which was called the _Burgfrieden_
or "peace of the city," and, at the beginning of this war, all
political parties were supposed to declare a sort of
_Burgfrieden_ and not try to obtain any political advantage.
There was, therefore, intense indignation among the Social Democrats
of Germany when it was discovered, in the spring of 1916, that
the Minister of the Interior was making arrangements to send out
news service to be furnished free to the smaller newspapers, and
that he was engaged in instructing the various _Landrate_
and other officials of the Interior Department how effectively to
use this machinery in order to gull the people to the advantage
of the government, and to keep them in ignorance of anything
which might tend to turn them against the system.
Besides the _Rat_ system there is, of course, the system
of decorations. Countless orders and decorations are given in
Germany. At the head is the Order of the Black Eagle; there are
the Order of the Red Eagle, the Prussian Order of the Crown,
the orders, "_Pour_le_Merite_," the Order of the House of
Hohenzollern, and many others, and in each of the twenty-five
States there are also orders, distinctions and decorations. These
orders in turn are divided into numerous classes. For instance, a
man can have the Red Eagle order of the first, second, third or
fourth class, and these may be complicated with a laurel crown,
with an oak crown, with swords and with stars, etc. Even domestic
servants, who have served a long time in one family, receive
orders; and faithful postmen and other officials who have never
appeared on the police books for having made statements against
the government or the army are sure of receiving some sort of
Once a year in Berlin a great festival is held called the
_Ordensfest_, when all who hold orders or decorations of any
kind are invited to a great banquet. The butler, who has served
for twenty-five years, there rubs shoulders with the diplomat who
has received a Black Eagle for adding a colony to the German
Empire, and the faithful cook may be seated near an officer who
has obtained "_Pour_le_Merite_" for sinking an enemy warship.
All this in one sense is democratic, but in its effect it tends
to induce the plain people to be satisfied with a piece of ribbon
instead of the right to vote, and to make them upholders of a
system by which they are deprived of any opportunity to make
a real advance in life.
This system is the most complete that has ever existed in any
country, because it has drawn so many of the inhabitants of the
country into its meshes. Practically, the industrial workers
of the great towns and the stupid peasants in the country are
the only people in Germany left out of its net.
I had a shooting place very near Berlin, in fact I could reach
it in three quarters of an hour by motor from the Embassy door,
and there I had an opportunity of studying the conditions of
life of the peasant class.
Germany is still a country of great proprietors. Lands may be held
there by a tenure which was abolished in Great Britain hundreds of
years ago. In Great Britain, property may only be tied up under
fixed conditions during the lives of certain chosen people, in
being at the death of the testator. In the State of New York,
property may only be tied up during the lives of two persons,
in being at the death of the person making the will, and for
twenty-one years (the minority of an infant) thereafter. But
in the Central Empires, property still may be tied up for an
indefinite period under the feudal system, so that great estates,
no matter how extravagant the life tenant may be, are not sold
and do not come into the market for division among the people.
[Illustration: AMBASSADOR GERARD ON THE WAY TO HIS SHOOTING
[Illustration: A KEEPER AND BEATERS ON THE SHOOTING PRESERVE.
IT SHOWS THE EARLY INNOCULATION OF DISCIPLINE INTO THE GERMAN
For instance, to-day there exist estates in the Central Empires
which must pass from oldest son to oldest son indefinitely and,
failing that, to the next in line, and so on; and conditions
have even been annexed by which children cannot inherit if their
father has married a woman not of a stated number of quarterings
of nobility. There is a Prince holding great estates in Hungary.
He is a bachelor and if he desires his children to inherit these
estates there are only thirteen girls in the world whom he can
marry, according to the terms of the instrument by which some
distant ancestor founded this inheritance.
This vicious system has prevented extensive peasant proprietorship.
The government, however, to a certain extent, has encouraged peasant
proprietorship, but only with very small parcels of land; and it
would be an unusual thing in Germany, especially in Prussia,
to find a peasant owning more than twenty or thirty acres of
land, most of the land being held by the peasants in such small
quantities that after working their own lands they have time
left to work the lands of the adjoining landed proprietor at a
very small wage.
All the titles, of the nobility are not confined to the oldest
son. The "Pocketbook of Counts," published by the same firm which
publishes the "Almanac de Gotha," contains the counts of Austria,
Germany and Hungary together, showing in this way the intimate
personal relation between the noble families of these three
countries. All the sons of a count are counts, and so on, ad
infinitum. Thus in Hungary there are probably seventy Counts
Szecheny and about the same number of Zichy, etc. Some of the
German noble families are not far behind. In fact it may be said
that almost any person, in what is known as "society" in the
Central Empires, has a title of some sort. The prefix "von" shows
that the person is a noble and is often coupled with names of
people who have no title. By custom in Germany, a "von" when
he goes abroad is allowed to call himself Baron. But in Germany
he could not do so. These noble families in the Central Empires,
by the system of _Majorat_ which I have described, hold
large landed estates, and naturally exert a great influence upon
their labourers. As a rule the system of tenant farming does not
exist; that is, estates are not leased to small farmers as was
the custom in Ireland and is still in Great Britain, but estates
are worked as great agricultural enterprises under superintendents
appointed by the proprietor. This system, impossible in America or
even in Great Britain, is possible in the Central Empires where
the villages are full of peasants who, not so many generations
ago, were serfs attached to the land and who lived in wholesome
fear of the landed proprietors.
This is the first method by which influence is exercised on the
population. There is also the restricted franchise or "circle
voting" which gives the control of the franchise to a few rich
As a rule, the oldest son enters the army as an officer and may
continue, but if he has not displayed any special aptitude for
the military profession he retires and manages his estate. These
estates are calculated by their proprietors to give at least four
per cent interest income on the value of the land. Many younger
sons after a short term of service in the army, usually as officers
and not as _Einjahriger_ leave the army and enter diplomacy
or some other branch of the government service. The offices of
judge, district attorney, etc., not being elective, this career
as well as that leading to the position of _Landrat_ and
over-president of a province is open to those who, because they
belong to old Prussian landed families, find favour in the eyes
of the government. Much is heard in Germany and out of Germany
of the Prussian Squire or Junker.
There is no leisure class among the, Junkers. They are all workers,
patriotic, honest and devoted to the Emperor and the Fatherland.
If it is possible that government by one class is to be suffered,
then the Prussian Junkers have proved themselves more fit for rule
than any class in all history. Their virtues are Spartan, their
minds narrow but incorruptible, and their bravery and patriotism
undoubted. One can but admire them and their stern virtues. This
class, largely because of its poverty and its constant occupation,
does not travel; nor does the casual tourist or health seeker in
Germany come in contact with these men. The Junkers will fight
hard to keep their privileges, and the throne will fight hard
for the Junkers because they are the greatest supporters of the
The workingmen in the cities are hard workers and probably work
longer and get less out of life than any workingmen in the world.
The laws so much admired and made ostensibly for their protection,
such as insurance against unemployment, sickness, injury, old
age, etc., are in reality skilful measures which bind them to
the soil as effectively as the serfs of the Middle Ages were
bound to their masters' estates.
I have had letters from workingmen who have worked in America
begging me for a steerage fare to America, saying that their
insurance payments were so large that they could not save money
out of their wages. Of course, after having made these payments
for some years, the workingman naturally hesitates to emigrate
and so lose all the premiums he has paid to the State. In peace
times a skilled mechanic in Germany received less than two dollars
a day, for which he was compelled to work at least ten hours.
Agricultural labourers in the Central Empires are poorly paid.
The women do much of the work done here by men. For instance,
once when staying at a nobleman's estate in Hungary, I noticed
that the gardeners were all women, and, on inquiring how much they
received, I was told they were paid about twenty cents a day. The
women in the farming districts of Germany are worked harder than
the cattle. In summer time they are out in the fields at five or
six in the morning and do not return until eight or later at night.
For this work they are sometimes paid as high as forty-eight
cents a day in harvest time. Nevertheless, these small wages
tempt many Russians to Germany during the harvest season. At the
outbreak of the war there were perhaps fifty thousand Russians
employed in Germany; men, women and girls. These the Germans
retained in a sort of slavery to work the fields. I spoke to
one Polish girl who was working on an estate over which I had
shooting rights, near Berlin. She told me that at the commencement
of the war she and her family were working in Germany and that
since the war they all desired to return to Poland but that the
Germans would not permit it.
This hard working of women in agricultural pursuits tends to
stupefy and brutalise the rural population and keeps them in a
condition of subjection to the Prussian Church and the Prussian
system, and in readiness for war. Both Prussian Junkers and the
German manufacturers look with favour upon the employment of
so many women in farm work because the greater the number of
the labourers, the smaller their wages throughout the country.
When I first came to Germany I, of course, was filled with the
ideas that prevailed in America that the German workingman had
an easy time. My mind was filled with pictures of the German
workingmen sitting with their families at tables, drinking beer
and listening to classical music. After I had spent some time in
Germany, I found that the reason that the German workingmen sat
about the tables was because they were too tired to do anything
I sincerely hope that after the war the workingmen of this country
will induce delegates of their German brothers to make a tour
of America. For when the German workingmen see how much better
off the Americans are, they will return to Germany and demand
shorter hours and higher wages; and the American will not be
brought into competition with labour slaves such as the German
workingmen of the period before the war.
As one goes through the streets of Berlin there are no evidences
of poverty to be seen; but over fifty-five per cent of the families
in Berlin are families living in one room.
The Germans are taken care of and educated very much in the same
way that the authorities here look after the inmates of a poor-house
or penitentiary. Such a thing as a German railway conductor rising
to be president of the road is an impossibility in Germany; and
the list of self-made men is small indeed,--by that I mean men
who have risen from the ranks of the working-men.
The Socialists, representing the element opposed to the
Conservatives, elect a few members to the Prussian Lower House
and about one-third of the members to the Reichstag, but otherwise
have no part whatever in the government. No Socialist would have
any chance whatever if he set out to enter the government service
with the ambition of becoming a district attorney or judge. Jews
have not much chance in the government service. A few exceptions
have been made. At one time Dernburg, who carried on the propaganda
in America during the first year of the war, and who is a Jew, was
appointed Colonial Minister of the Empire.
In my opinion, the liberalisation of Prussia has been halted
by the fact that there has been no party of protest except that
of the Socialists, and the Socialists, because they have, in
effect, demanded abolition of the monarchy and the establishment
of a republic as part of their programme, have been unable to
do anything in the obtaining of the reforms.
Up to the beginning of the war there was great dissatisfaction.
The people were irritated by certain direct taxes such as the
tax upon matches, and because every Protestant in Prussia was
compelled to pay a tax for the support of the church, unless
he made a declaration that he was an atheist.
The only class in Germany which knows something of the outside
world is the _Kaufmann_ class. Prussian nobles of the ruling
class are not travellers. They are always busy with the army and
navy, government employments or their estates; and, as a rule,
too poor to travel. The poor, of course, do not travel, and the
_Kaufmann_, although he learns much in his travels in other
countries to make him dissatisfied with the small opportunity
which he has in a political way in Germany, is satisfied to let
things stand because of the enormous profits which he makes
through the low wages and long hours of the German workingman.
Lawyers and judges amount to little in Germany and we do not
find there a class of political lawyers who, in republics, always
seem to get the management of affairs in their own hands.
THE DAYS BEFORE THE WAR
After my return from Kiel to Berlin a period of calm ensued.
No one seemed to think that the murders at Sarajevo would have
any effect upon the world.
The Emperor had gone North on his yacht, but, as I believe, not
until a certain line of action had been agreed upon.
Most of the diplomats started on their vacations. Sir Edward
Goschen, British Ambassador, as well as the Russian Ambassador,
left Berlin. This shows, of course, how little war was expected
in diplomatic circles.
I went on two visits to German country-houses in Silesia, where
the richest estates are situated. One of these visits was to the
country-house of a Count, one of the wealthiest men in Germany,
possessed of a fortune of about twenty to thirty million dollars.
He has a great estate in Silesia, farmed, as I explained, not by
tenant farmers, but by his own superintendents. In the centre is
a beautiful country house or castle. We were thirty-two guests in
the house-party. This Count and his charming wife had travelled
much and evidently desired to model their country life on that
of England. Our amusements were tennis, swimming and clay-pigeon
shooting, with dancing and music at night. Life such as this,
and especially, the lavish entertainment of so many guests, is
something very exceptional in Prussian country life and quite
a seven months' wonder for the country side.
Some days after my return to Berlin the ultimatum of Austria
was sent to Serbia. Even then there was very little excitement,
and, when the Serbian answer was published, it was believed that
this would end the incident, and that matters would be adjusted
by dilatory diplomats in the usual way.
On the twenty-sixth of July, matters began to boil. The Emperor
returned on this day and, from the morning of the twenty-seventh,
took charge. On the twenty-seventh, also, Sir Edward Goschen
returned to Berlin. I kept in touch, so far as possible, with
the other diplomats, as the German officials were exceedingly
uncommunicative, although I called on von Jagow every day and tried
to get something out of him. On the night of the twenty-ninth,
the Chancellor and Sir Edward had their memorable conversation in
which the Chancellor, while making no promises about the French
colonies, agreed, if Great Britain remained neutral, to make
"no territorial aggressions at the expense of France."
The Chancellor further stated to Sir Edward, that ever since he
had been Chancellor the object of his policy had been to bring
about an understanding with England and that he had in mind a
general neutrality agreement between Germany and England.
On the thirtieth, Sir Edward Grey refused the bargain proposed,
namely that Great Britain should engage to stand by while the
French colonies were taken and France beaten, so long as French
territory was not taken. Sir Edward Grey said that the so-called
bargain at the expense of France would constitute a disgrace
from which the good name of Great Britain would never recover.
He also refused to bargain with reference to the neutrality of
Peace talk continued, however, on both the thirtieth and
thirty-first, and many diplomats were still optimistic. On the
thirty-first I was lunching at the Hotel Bristol with Mrs. Gerard
and Thomas H. Birch, our minister to Portugal, and his wife.
I left the table and went over and talked to Mouktar Pascha,
the Turkish Ambassador, who assured me that there was no danger
whatever of war. But in spite of his assurances and judging by
the situation and what I learned from other diplomats, I had
cabled to the State Department on the morning of that day saying
that a general European war was inevitable. On the thirty-first,
_Kriegsgefahrzustand_ or "condition of danger of war" was
proclaimed at seven P. M., and at seven P. M. the demand was made
by Germany that Russia should demobilise within twelve hours. On
the thirtieth, I had a talk with Baron Beyens, the Minister of
Belgium, and Jules Cambon, the French Ambassador, in the garden
of the French Embassy in the afternoon. They both agreed that
nothing could prevent war except the intervention of America.
Both Ambassador Cambon and Minister Beyens were very sad and
depressed. After leaving them I met Sir Edward Grey upon the
street and had a short conversation with him. He also was very
Acting on my own responsibility, I sent the following letter to
Is there nothing that my country can do? Nothing that I can
do towards stopping this dreadful war?
I am sure that the President would approve any act of mine
looking towards peace.
(Signed) JAMES W. GERARD."
To this letter I never had any reply.
On the first of August at five P. M. the order for mobilisation
was given, and at seven-ten P. M. war was declared by Germany on
Russia, the Kaiser proclaiming from the balcony of the palace
that "he knew no parties more."
Of course, during these days the population of Berlin was greatly
excited. Every night great crowds of people paraded the streets
singing "Deutschland Ueber Alles" and demanding war. Extras,
distributed free, were issued at frequent intervals by the
newspapers, and there was a general feeling among the Germans
that their years of preparation would now bear fruit, that Germany
would conquer the world and impose its _Kultur_ upon all nations.
On the second of August, I called in the morning to say good-bye
to the Russian Ambassador. His Embassy was filled with unfortunate
Russians who had gone there to seek protection and help. Right
and left, men and women were weeping and the whole atmosphere
seemed that of despair.
On the day the Russian Ambassador left, I sent him my automobile
to take him to the station. The chauffeur and footman reported to
me that the police protection was inadequate, that the automobile
was nearly overturned by the crowd, and that men jumped on the
running board and struck the Ambassador and the ladies with him
in the face with sticks. His train was due to leave at one-fifteen
P. M. At about ten minutes of one, while I was standing in my
room in the Embassy surrounded by a crowd of Americans, Mrs.
James, wife of the Senator from Kentucky and Mrs. Post Wheeler,
wife of our Secretary to the Embassy in Japan, came to me and
said that they were anxious to get through to Japan via Siberia
and did not know what to do. I immediately scribbled a note to
the Russian Ambassador asking him to take them on the train with
him. This, and the ladies, I confided to the care of a red-headed
page boy of the Embassy who spoke German. By some miracle he
managed to get them to the railroad station before the Ambassador's
train left, the Ambassador kindly agreeing to take them with
him. His train, however, instead of going to Russia, was headed
for Denmark; and from there the two ladies crossed to Sweden,
thence to England, and so home, it being perhaps as well for them
that they did not have an opportunity to attempt the Siberian
journey during this period of mobilisation.
The Russian Ambassador reciprocated by confiding to me a Russian
Princess who had intended to go out with him but who, intimidated,
perhaps, by the scenes on the way to the station, had lost her
nerve at the railway station and refused to depart with the
Ambassador. She remained for a while in Berlin, and after some
weeks recovered sufficient courage to make the trip to Denmark.
On the morning of August fourth, having received an invitation
the day before, I "attended" at the Palace in Berlin. In the room
where the court balls had been held in peace times, a certain
number of the members of the Reichstag were assembled. The diplomats
were in a gallery on the west side of the room. Soon the Emperor,
dressed in field grey uniform and attended by several members of
his staff and a number of ladies, entered the room. He walked
with a martial stride and glanced toward the gallery where the
diplomats were assembled, as if to see how many were there. Taking
his place upon the throne and standing, he read an address to
the members of the Reichstag. The members cheered him and then
adjourned to the Reichstag where the Chancellor addressed them,
making his famous declaration about Belgium, stating that "necessity
knew no law," and that the German troops were perhaps at that
moment crossing the Belgian frontier. Certain laws which had
been prepared with reference to the government of the country,
and which I will give in more detail in another place, as well as
the war credit, were voted upon by the Reichstag. The Socialists
had not been present in the Palace, but joined now in voting the
On the afternoon of August fourth, I went to see von Jagow to
try and pick up any news. The British Ambassador sat in the
waiting-room of the Foreign Office. Sir Edward told me that he
was there for the purpose of asking for his passports. He spoke
in English, of course, and I am sure that he was overheard by a
man sitting in the room who looked to me like a German newspaper
man, so that I was not surprised when, late in the afternoon,
extra sheets appeared upon the street announcing that the British
Ambassador had asked for his passports and that Great Britain
had declared war.
At this news the rage of the population of Berlin was indescribable.
The Foreign Office had believed, and this belief had percolated
through all classes in the capital, that the English were so
occupied with the Ulster rebellion and unrest in Ireland that
they would not declare war.
[Illustration: CROWDS IN FRONT OF THE EMBASSY AWAITING BULLETINS,
[Illustration: THE AMERICAN EMBASSY WAS THE CENTRE OF INTEREST
TO MANY IN THOSE EARLY DAYS OF THE WAR.]
After dinner I went to the station to say good bye to the French
Ambassador, Jules Cambon. The route from the French Embassy by
the Branderburg Thor to the Lehrter railway station was lined
with troops and police, so that no accident whatever occurred.
There was no one at the station except a very inferior official
from the German Foreign Office. Cambon was in excellent spirits
and kept his nerve and composure admirably. His family, luckily,
were not in Berlin at the time of the outbreak of the war. Cambon
instead of being sent out by way of Switzerland, whence of course
the road to France was easy, was sent North to Denmark. He was
very badly treated on the train, and payment for the special
train, in gold, was exacted from him by the German government.
Then I went for a walk about Berlin, soon becoming involved in
the great crowd in front of the British Embassy on the Wilhelm
Strasse. The crowd threw stones, etc., and managed to break all
the windows of the Embassy. The Germans charged afterwards that
people in the Embassy had infuriated the crowd by throwing pennies
to them. I did not see any occurrences of this kind. As the Unter
den Linden and the Wilhelm Platz are paved with asphalt the crowd
must have brought with them the missiles which they used, with
the premeditated design of smashing the Embassy windows. A few
mounted police made their appearance but were at no time in
sufficient numbers to hold the crowd in check.
Afterwards I went around to the Unter den Linden where there was
a great crowd in front of the Hotel Adlon. A man standing on the
outskirts of the crowd begged me not to go into the hotel, as he
said the people were looking for English newspaper correspondents.
So threatening was the crowd towards the English correspondents
that Wile rang up the porter of the Embassy after we had gone
to bed and, not wishing to disturb us, he occupied the lounge in
the porter's rooms.
Believing that possibly the British Embassy might be in such
a condition that Sir Edward Goschen, the British Ambassador,
might not care to spend the night there, I ordered an automobile
and went up through the crowd which still choked the Wilhelm
Strasse, with Holand Harvey, the Second Secretary to the British
Embassy. Sir Edward and his secretaries were perfectly calm and
politely declined the refuge which I offered them in our Embassy.
I chatted with them for a while, and, as I was starting to leave, a
servant told me that the crowds in the street had greatly increased
and were watching my automobile. I sent out word by the servant
to open the automobile, as it was a landau, and to tell the
chauffeur, when I got in, to drive very slowly.
I drove slowly through the crowd, assailed only by the peculiar
hissing word that the Germans use when they are especially angry
and which is supposed to convey the utmost contempt. This word
is "_Pfui_" and has a peculiar effect when hissed out from
thousands of Teutonic throats.
As we left the outskirts of the crowd, a man of respectable
appearance jumped on the running board of the automobile, spit
at me, saying "_Pfui_," and struck Harvey in the face with
his hat. I stopped the automobile, jumped out and chased this man
down the street and caught him. My German footman came running
up and explained that I was the American Ambassador and not an
Englishman. The man who struck Harvey thereupon apologised and
gave his card. He was a Berlin lawyer who came to the Embassy
next morning and apologised again for his "mistake."
The following day, August fifth, I spent part of the time taking
over from Sir Edward the British interests. Joseph C. Grew, our
First Secretary, and I went to the British Embassy; seals were
placed upon the archives, and we received such instructions and
information as could be given us, with reference to the British
subjects in Germany and their interests. The British correspondents
were collected in the Embassy and permission was obtained for
them to leave on the Embassy train.
During the day British subjects, without distinction as to age
or sex, were seized, wherever found, and sent to the fortress
of Spandau. I remonstrated with von Jagow and told him that that
was a measure taken only in the Middle Ages, and I believe that
he remonstrated with the authorities and arranged for a cessation
of the arbitrary arrests of women.
Frederick W. Wile, the well-known American correspondent of the
_London_Daily_Mail_, was to go out also with the British
party, on the ground that he had been a correspondent of a British
newspaper. In the evening I went to the Foreign Office to get his
passport, and, while one of the department chiefs was signing
the passport, he stopped in the middle of his signature, threw
down the pen on the table, and said he absolutely refused to
sign a passport for Wile because he hated him so and because
he believed he had been largely instrumental in the bringing
about of the war. Of course this latter statement was quite
ridiculous, but it took me some time before I could persuade
this German official to calm his hate and complete his signature.
I have heard a few people say that Wile was unduly fearful of
what the Germans might do to him, but the foregoing incident
shows that his fears were well grounded, and knowing of this
incident, which I did not tell him, I was very glad to have him
accept the hospitality of the Embassy for the night preceding
his departure. He was perfectly cool, although naturally much
pleased when I informed him that his departure had been arranged.
Sir Edward and his staff and the British correspondents left next
morning early, about six A. M. No untoward incidents occurred
at the time of their departure which was, of course, unknown to
the populace of Berlin.
During these first days there was a great spy excitement in Germany.
People were seized by the crowds in the streets and, in some
instances, on the theory that they were French or Russian spies,
were shot. Foreigners were in a very dangerous situation throughout
Germany, and many Americans were subjected to arrest and indignities.
A curious rumour spread all over Germany to the effect that
automobiles loaded with French gold were being rushed across the
country to Russia. Peasants and gamekeepers and others turned
out on the roads with guns, and travelling by automobile became
exceedingly dangerous. A German Countess was shot, an officer
wounded and the Duchess of Ratibor was shot in the arm. It was
sometime before this excitement was allayed, and many notices
were published in the newspapers before this mania was driven
from the popular brain.
There were rumours also that Russians had poisoned the Muggelsee,
the lake from whence Berlin draws part of its water supply. There
were constant rumours of the arrest of Russian spies disguised as
women throughout Germany.
Many Americans were detained under a sort of arrest in their
hotels; among these were Archer Huntington and his wife; Charles
H. Sherrill, formerly our minister to the Argentine and many
THE AMERICANS AT THE OUTBREAK OF HOSTILITIES
Of course, as soon as there was a prospect of war, the Embassy
was overrun with Americans. Few Americans had taken the precaution
of travelling with passports, and passports had become a necessity.
All of the Embassy force and all the volunteers that I could
prevail upon to serve, even a child of eleven years old, who
was stopping in the house with us, were taking applications of
the Americans who literally in thousands crowded the Wilhelm
Platz in front of the Embassy.
The question of money became acute. Travellers who had letters
of credit and bank checks for large sums could not get a cent
of money in Germany. The American Express Company, I believe,
paid all holders of its checks. When, with Mr. Wolf, President
of the American Association of Commerce and Trade in Berlin, I
called upon the director of the Imperial Bank and begged him
to arrange something for the relief of American travellers in
Germany, he refused to do anything; and I then suggested to him
that he might give paper money, which they were then printing
in Germany, to the Americans for good American credits such as
letters of credit and bank checks, and that they would then have a
credit in America which might become very valuable in the future.
He, however, refused to see this. Director Herbert Gutmann of
the Dresdener Bank was the far-seeing banker who relieved the
situation. Gutmann arranged with me that the Dresdener Bank,
the second largest bank in Germany, would cash the bank checks,
letters of credit and the American Express Company's drafts and
international business checks, etc., of Americans for reasonable
amounts, provided the Embassy seal was put on the letter of credit
or check to show that the holder was an American, and, outside
of Berlin, the seal of the American Consulate. This immediately
relieved the situation.
With the exception of Mr. Wolf who was, however, quite busy with
his own affairs, I had no American Committees such as were organised
in London and Paris to help me in Berlin. In Munich, however, the
Americans there organised themselves into an efficient committee.
Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Pulitzer were in Berlin and immediately went
to work in our Embassy. Mr. Pulitzer busied himself at giving
out passports and Mrs. Pulitzer proved herself a very efficient
worker. She and Mrs. Ruddock, wife of our Third Secretary, and
Mrs. Gherhardi, wife of the Naval Attache, with Mrs. Gerard formed
a sort of relief committee to look after the Americans who were
without help or resources.
I arranged, with the very efficient help of Lanier Winslow, for
special trains to carry the Americans in Germany to Holland.
Trains were run from Switzerland, Munich and Carlsbad across
Germany to Holland, and from Berlin were run a number of trains
The first room on entering the Embassy was the ticket-office,
and there, first Mr. Winslow, and afterwards Captain Fenton,
sold tickets, giving tickets free to those who were certified
to be without funds by the committee of Mrs. Pulitzer and Mrs.
Gerard. This committee worked on the second floor of the Embassy
in the ballroom, part of it being roped off to keep the crowds
back from the ladies.
Each week I bought a number of steerage passages from the Holland
American Line and the ladies resold them in the ballroom. We had
to do this because the Holland American Line had no licence to sell
steerage tickets in Germany; but by buying two or three hundred
at a time direct from the Company, I was enabled to peddle them
out in our ballroom to those Americans who, in their eagerness to
reach their own country, were willing to endure the discomforts
of travel in the steerage.
Winslow accompanied one special train to Holland, and I must
say that I sympathised with him when I learned of what he had
to do in the way of chasing lost hand-baggage and finding milk
for crying babies.
These special trains were started from the Charlottenburg station,
in a quiet part of Berlin so that no crowd was attracted by the
departure of the Americans. The Carlsbad train went through very
successfully, taking the Americans who had been shut up in Carlsbad
since the commencement of the war.
One of the curious developments of this time was a meeting of
sympathy for the Americans stranded in Germany, held in the town
hall of Berlin on the eleventh of August. This meeting was commenced
in one of the meeting rooms of the town hall, but so many people
attended that we were compelled to adjourn to the great hall.
There speeches were made by the over-Burgomaster, von Gwinner,
Professor von Harnack and me. Another professor, who spoke excellent
English, with an English accent, made a bitter attack upon Great
Britain. In the pamphlet in which the speeches of Harnack and
the over-Burgomaster were published this professor's speech was
left out. In his speech stating the object of the meeting, the
over-Burgomaster said: "Since we hear that a large number of
American citizens in the German Empire, and, especially, in Berlin,
find themselves in embarrassments due to the shutting off of
means of return to their own country, we here solemnly declare
it to be our duty to care for them as brethren to the limit of
our ability, and we appeal to all citizens of Berlin and the
whole of the German Empire to co-operate with us to this end."
Professor von Harnack, head of the Royal Library in Berlin, is
one of the ablest of the German professors. In his speech he gave
expression to the feeling that was prevalent in the first days
of the war that Germany was defending itself against a Russian
invasion which threatened to blot out the German _Kultur_. He
said, after referring to Western civilisation: "But in the face
of this civilisation, there arises now before my eyes another
civilisation, the civilisation of the tribe, with its patriarchal
organisation, the civilisation of the horde that is gathered and
kept together by despots,--the Mongolian Muscovite civilisation.
This civilisation could not endure the light of the eighteenth
century, still less the light of the nineteenth century, and
now in the twentieth century it breaks loose and threatens us.
This unorganised Asiatic mass, like the desert with its sands,
wants to gather up our fields of grain."
Nothing was done for the Americans stranded in Germany by the
Germans with the exception of the arrangements for the payment
of funds by the Dresdener Bank on the letters of credit and the
dispatching of special trains by the railroad department of the
German government. As a matter of fact, nothing more could have
been required of the Germans, as it was naturally the duty of
the American government to take care of its citizens stranded
Almost the instant that war was declared, I cabled to our government
suggesting that a ship should be sent over with gold because,
of course, with gold, no matter what the country, necessaries
can always be bought. Rumours of the dispatch of the Tennessee
and other ships from America, reached Berlin and a great number
of the more ignorant of the Americans got to believe that these
ships were being sent over to take Americans home.
[Illustration: WORKING IN THE EMBASSY BALLROOM AT THE OUTBREAK
OF HOSTILITIES, AUGUST, 1914.]
[Illustration: WAR DAYS IN BERLIN. AMBASSADOR GERARD AND HIS STAFF.]
One morning an American woman spoke to me and said she would
consent to go home on one of these ships provided she was given
a state-room with a bath and Walker-Gordon milk for her children,
while another woman of German extraction used to sit for hours
in a corner of the ballroom, occasionally exclaiming aloud with
much feeling, "O God, will them ships never come?"
In these first days of the war we also made a card index of all
the Americans in Berlin, and, so far as possible, in Germany;
in order to weed out those who had received the passports in
the first days when possibly some people not entitled to them
received them, and to find the deserving cases. All Americans
were required to present themselves at the Embassy and answer
a few questions, after which, if everything seemed all right,
their passports were marked "recommended for transportation to
I sent out circulars from time to time to the consuls throughout
Germany giving general instructions with regard to the treatment
of Americans. The following circular sent out on August twelfth
is a sample:
BERLIN, August 12, 1914.
"A communication will to-morrow be published in the _Berlin_
_Lokal_Anzeiger_ regarding the sending of a special train to
the Dutch frontier for the special conveyance of Americans.
Other trains will probably be arranged for from time to time.
No further news has been received regarding the sending of
transports from the United States, but applications for
repatriation are being considered by the Embassy and the
various consular offices throughout Germany according to the
Embassy's last circular and the announcements published in
"All Americans leaving Berlin must have their passports stamped
by the Foreign Office, for which purpose they should apply to
_Geheimer_Legationsrat_ Dr. Eckhardt at Wilhelmstrasse
76. Americans residing outside of Berlin should ascertain from
their respective consular representatives what steps they should
take in this regard.
"Letters for the United States may be sent to the Embassy and
will be forwarded at the first opportunity.
"German subjects who desire to communicate with friends in
Great Britain, Russia, France or Belgium, or who desire to
send money, should make their requests to the Imperial Foreign
Office. Americans are permitted to enter Italy. The steamers
of the Italian lines are running at present, but are full for
some time in advance. The Embassy is also informed that the
steamer from Vlissingen, Holland, runs daily at 11 A. M. The
Ambassador cannot, however, recommend Americans to try to
reach Holland by the ordinary schedule trains, as he has
received reports of delays _en_route_, owing to the fact
that all civil travellers are ejected from trains when troops
require accommodations. It is better to wait for special trains
arranged for by the Embassy.
"The Dresdener Bank and its branches throughout Germany will
cash _for_Americans_only_ letters of credit and checks
issued by good American banks in limited amounts. Included
in this category are the checks of the Bankers' Association,
Bankers' Trust Company, International Mercantile Marine Company,
and American Express Company. All checks and letters of credit
must, however, be stamped by American consuls, and consuls must
see that the consular stamp is affixed to those checks and
letters of credit only as are the bona fide property of American
citizens. The Commerz & Disconto Bank makes the same offer and
the Deutsche Bank will cash checks and letters of credit drawn
by its correspondents.
"American consular officers may also draw later on the Dresdener
Bank for their salaries and the official expenses of their
consulates. Before drawing such funds from the bank, however,
all consular officers should submit their expense accounts to me
for approval. These expense accounts should be transmitted to
the Embassy at the earliest opportunity.
It will be noticed from the above circular that all Americans
were required to have their passports stamped at the Foreign
Office. One American did not receive back his passport, although
he had left it at the Foreign Office. The Foreign Office claimed
that it had delivered the passport to some one from the Embassy,
but we were not very much surprised when this identical passport
turned up later in the possession of Lodi, the confessed German
spy, who was shot in the Tower of London.
After a time the American Government cabled me to advance money
to destitute Americans; and the ladies in the ballroom, with
their assistants, attended to this branch, advancing money where
needed or so much as a person needed to make up the balance of
passage on steerage tickets from Holland to the United States.
At the same time we gradually built up a banking system. Those
in the United States who had friends or relatives in Germany
sent them money by giving the money to our State Department,
and the State Department in turn cabled me to make a payment.
This payment was made by my drawing a draft for the amount stated
on the State Department, the recipient selling this draft at a
fixed rate to the Deutsche Bank in Berlin. This business assumed
great proportions, and after the Americans who were in a hurry to
go home had disappeared, the ones remaining were kept in funds
by their friends and relatives through this sort of bank under
On August twenty-third, Assistant Secretary of War Breckenridge,
who had come from America on the warship _Tennessee_, bringing
gold with him, and a certain number of army officers, arrived
in Berlin and took over our relief organisation in so far as it
applied to the repatriation of Americans, housing it in rooms
hired in a nearby hotel, the Kaiserhoff. This commission: was
composed of Majors J. A. Ryan, J. H. Ford and G. W. Martin and
Captains Miller and Fenton, but the relief committee and the
banking office were still continued in the Embassy ballroom.
A bulletin was published under the auspices of the American
Association of Commerce and Trade and the advice there given was
that all Americans having the means to leave should do so when
the opportunity for leaving by special trains was presented, and
proceed direct to London whence they could obtain transportation
to the United States. All Americans without means were directed
to apply to the relief commission which was authorized to pay
for the transportation and subsistence of stranded Americans
in order to enable them to return home.
The enormous quantity of baggage left behind by Americans in
Germany was a problem requiring solution.
In spite of repeated advice to leave, many Americans insisted
on remaining in Germany. Few of them were business people; there
were many song-birds, piano players, and students. We had much
trouble with these belated Americans. For example, one woman
and her daughter refused to leave when advised, but stayed on
and ran up bills for over ten thousand marks; and as arrest for
debt exists in Germany, they could not leave when they finally
decided to go. All of us in the Embassy had to subscribe the
money necessary to pay their most pressing debts and they finally
left the country, leaving an added prejudice against Americans.
PRISONERS OF WAR
During the period of the first months of the war, in addition
to other work, it became necessary to look after those subjects
of other nations who had been confided to my care.
At first the British were allowed considerable liberty, although
none were permitted to leave the country. They were required to
report to the police at stated times during the day and could
not remain out late at night.
The Japanese had received warning from their Embassy as to the
turn that events might take and, before sending its ultimatum,
the Japanese government had warned its citizens, so that a great
number of them had left Germany. After the declaration of war by
Japan, all the Japanese in Germany were immediately imprisoned.
This was stated to be in order to save them from the fury of
the population and certainly the people seemed to be greatly
incensed against the Japanese. When I finally obtained permission
for their release and departure from Germany I had to send some
one with the parties of Japanese to the Swiss frontier in order
to protect them from injury. They were permitted to leave only
through Switzerland and, therefore, had to change cars at Munich.
Before sending any of them to Munich I invariably telegraphed
our Consul there to notify the Munich police so that proper
protection could be provided at the railway station.
On one occasion a number of Japanese were waiting in the Embassy
in order to take the night train for Munich. I sent a servant
to take them out in order that they might get something to eat
in a restaurant, but as no restaurant in Berlin would sell them
food, arrangements were made to give them meals in the Embassy.
The members of the Siamese Legation, who in appearance greatly
resemble the Japanese, were often subjected to indignities, and
for a long time did not dare move about freely in Berlin, or
even leave their houses.
The Japanese were marvels of courtesy. After I visited some of
them at the civilian camp of Ruhleben, they wrote me a letter
thanking me for the visit. Nearly every Japanese leaving Germany
on his arrival in Switzerland wrote me a grateful letter.
When I finally left Germany, as I stepped from the special train
at Zurich, a Japanese woman, who had been imprisoned in Germany
and whose husband I had visited in a prison, came forward to thank
me. A Japanese man was waiting in the hotel office in Berne when
I arrived there, for a similar purpose, and the next morning
early the Japanese Minister called and left a beautiful clock for
Mrs. Gerard as an expression of his gratitude for the attention
shown to his countrymen. It was really a pleasure to be able to
do something for these polite and charming people.
On August twentieth I paid my first visit to a German prison
camp. This was to the camp at Doeberitz situated about eight
miles west of Berlin, a sort of military camp with permanent
barracks. Some of these barracks were used for the confinement
of such British civilians as the Germans had arrested in the
first days of the war. There were only a few British among the
prisoners, with a number of Russian and French. I was allowed
to converse freely with the prisoners and found that they had
no complaints. As the war went on, however, a number of British
prisoners of war were taken by the Germans during the course of
the great retreat of the British in Northern France. Then officers
and privates began to come into Germany and were distributed
in various camps. Finally, in the autumn of 1914, the British
Government decided on interning a great number of Germans in
Great Britain; and the German government immediately, and as
a reprisal, interned all the British civilian men who, up to
this time, had enjoyed comparative freedom in Berlin and other
cities of the Empire. The British civilians were shut up in a
race track about five miles from the centre of Berlin, called
Ruhleben. This race track in peace times was used for contests
of trotting horses and on it were the usual grandstands and brick
stable buildings containing box stalls with hay lofts above,
where the race horses were kept.
On August twentieth I paid my first visit to the police presidency
in Berlin where political prisoners, when arrested, were confined. A
small number of British prisoners subject to especial investigation
were there interned. This prison, which I often subsequently
visited, was clean and well kept, and I never had any particular
complaints from the prisoners confined there, except, of course,
as the war progressed, concerning the inadequacy of the food.
I had organised a special department immediately on the breaking
out of the war to care for the interests of the British. At first
Mr. Boylston Beal, a lawyer of Boston, assisted by Mr. Rivington
Pyne of New York, was at the head of this department, of which
later the Honourable John B. Jackson, formerly our Minister to
the Balkan States, Greece and Cuba, took charge. He volunteered
to give his assistance at the commencement of the war and I was
glad of his help, especially as he had been twelve years secretary
in the Berlin Embassy and, therefore, was well acquainted not
only with Germany but with German official life and customs. Mr.
Jackson was most ably assisted by Charles H. Russell, Jr., of
New York, and Lithgow Osborne. Of course, others in the Embassy
had much to do with this department.
The first privates, prisoners of war, came to the camp of Doeberitz
near Berlin. Early in the war Mr. Grew, our First Secretary, and
Consul General Lay visited the camp for officers at Torgau. The
question of the inspection of prisoners of the camps and the rights
of Ambassadors charged with the interests of hostile powers was
quite in the clouds. So many reports came to Germany about the
bad treatment in England of German prisoners of war that I finally
arranged to have Mr. Jackson visit them and report. This was arranged
by my colleague, our Ambassador to Great Britain, and in the first
winter Mr. Jackson made his trip there. His report of conditions
there did much to allay the German belief as to the ill-treatment
of their subjects who were prisoners in Great Britain and helped
me greatly in bringing about better conditions in Germany. After
vainly endeavouring to get the German government to agree to some
definite plan for the inspection of the prisoners, after my notes
to the Foreign Office had remained unanswered for a long period of
time, and after sending a personal letter to von Jagow calling his
attention to the fact that the delay was injuring German prisoners
in other countries, I finally called on von Bethmann-Hollweg
and told him that my notes concerning prisoners were sent by
the Foreign Office to the military authorities: that, while I
could talk with officials of the Foreign Office, I never came into
contact with the people who really passed upon the notes sent by
me, and who made the decisions as to the treatment of prisoners
of war and inspection of their camps; and I begged the Chancellor
to break down diplomatic precedent and allow me to speak with
the military authorities who decided these questions. I said,
"If I cannot get an answer to my proposition about prisoners, I
will take a chair and sit in front of your palace in the street
until I receive an answer."
The result was a meeting in my office.
I discussed the question involved with two representatives from
the Foreign Office, two from the General Staff, two from the War
Department and with Count Schwerin who commanded the civilian camp
at the Ruhleben race track. In twenty minutes we managed to reach
an agreement which I then and there drew up: the substance of
which, as between Great Britain and Germany, was that the American
Ambassador and his representatives in Germany and the American
Ambassador and his representatives in Great Britain should have
the right to visit the prison camps on giving reasonable notice,
which was to be twenty-four hours where possible, and should have
the right to converse with the prisoners, within sight but out
of hearing, of the camp officials; that an endeavour should be
made to adjust matters complained of with the camp authorities
before bringing them to the notice of higher authorities; that
ten representatives should be named by our Ambassador and that
these should receive passes enabling them to visit the camps
under the conditions above stated. This agreement was ratified
by the British and German Governments and thereafter for a long
time we worked under its provisions and in most questions dealt
direct with the War Department.
Of course, before this meeting I had managed to get permission
to visit the camps of Ruhleben and Doeberitz near Berlin; and
Mr. Michaelson, our consul at Cologne, and Mr. Jackson and others
at the Embassy had been permitted to visit certain camps. But
immediately preceding the meeting on the fourth of March and
while matters were still being discussed we were compelled to
a certain extent to suspend our visits.
In the first days of the war it was undoubtedly and unfortunately
true that prisoners of war taken by the Germans, both at the time
of their capture and in transit to the prison camps, were often
badly treated by the soldiers, guards or the civil population.
The instances were too numerous, the evidence too overwhelming,
to be denied. In the prison camps themselves, owing to the peculiar
system of military government in Germany, the treatment of the
prisoners varied greatly. As I have, I think, stated in another
place, Germany is divided into army corps districts. Over each
of these districts is, in time of war, a representative corps
commander who is clothed with absolute power in that district,
his orders superseding those of all civilian officials. These
corps commanders do not report to the war department but are
in a measure independent and very jealous of their rights. For
instance, to show the difficulty of dealing with these corps
commanders, after my arrangements concerning the inspection of
prisoners of war had been ratified by both the Imperial and British
governments, I went to Halle to inspect the place of detention
for officers there. Halle is some hours from Berlin and when
I had driven out to the camp, I was met by the commander who
told me that I might visit the camp but that I could not speak
to the prisoners out of hearing. I told him that our arrangement
was otherwise, but, as he remained firm I returned to Berlin.
I complained to the Foreign Office and was told there that the
matter would be arranged and so I again, some days later, returned
to Halle. My experience on the second trip was exactly the same
as the first. I spoke to von Jagow who explained the situation to
me, and advised me to visit first the corps commander at Magdeburg
and try and arrange the matter with him. I did so and was finally
permitted to visit this camp and to talk to the officers out of
This camp of Halle was continued during the war, although not at
all a fit place for the detention of officers, who were lodged in
the old factory buildings surrounded by a sort of courtyard covered
with cinders. This building was situated in the industrial part
of the town of Halle. There was no opportunity for recreation
or games, although several enterprising officers had tried to
arrange a place where they could knock, a tennis ball against
It was the policy of the Germans to put some prisoners of each
nation in each camp. This was probably so that no claim could
be made that the prisoners from one nation among the Allies were
treated better or worse than the prisoners from another nation.
In the beginning of the war the Germans were surprised by the great
number of prisoners taken and had made no adequate preparations
for their reception. Clothing and blankets were woefully wanting,
so I immediately bought what I could in the way of underclothes
and blankets at the large department stores of Berlin and the
wholesalers and sent these to the camps where the British prisoners
were confined. I also sent to the Doeberitz camp articles such
as sticks for wounded men who were recovering, and crutches,
and even eggs and other nourishing delicacies for the sick.
At first the prisoners were not compelled to work to any extent,
but at the time I left Germany the two million prisoners of war
were materially assisting the carrying on of the agriculture
and industries of the Empire.
The League of Mercy of New York having telegraphed me in 1914,
asking in what way funds could best be used in the war, I suggested
in answer that funds for the prisoners of war were urgently needed.
Many newspapers poked fun at me for this suggestion, and one bright
editor said that if the Germans did not treat their prisoners
properly they should be made to! Of course, unless this particular
editor had sailed up the Spree in a canoe and bombarded the royal
palace, I know of no other way of "making" the Germans do anything.
The idea, however, of doing some work for the prisoners of war was
taken up by the Young Men's Christian Association. Dr. John R.
Mott was at the head of this work and was most ably and devotedly
assisted by the Rev. Archibald C. Harte. I shall give an account
of their splendid work in a chapter devoted to the charitable
work of the war.
At only one town in Germany was any interest in the fate of the
prisoners of war evinced. This was, I am glad to say, in the
quaint university town of Gottingen. I visited this camp with
Mr. Harte, in April, 1915, to attend the opening of the first
Y. M. C. A. camp building in Germany. The camp was commanded by
Colonel Bogen, an officer strict in his discipline, but, as all
the prisoners admitted, just in his dealings with them. There
were, as I recall, about seven thousand prisoners in this camp,
Russian, French, Belgian and British. It is a pity that the methods
of Colonel Bogen and his arrangements for camp buildings, etc.,
were not copied in other camps in Germany. Here, as I have said,
the civil population took some interest in the fate of the
unfortunate prisoners within their gates, led in this by several
professors in the University. The most active of these professors
was Professor Stange who, working with a French lawyer who had been
captured near Arras while in the Red Cross, provided a library
for the prisoners and otherwise helped them. Of course, these
charitable acts of Professor Stange did not find favor with many
of his fellow townsmen of Gottingen, and he was not surprised
when he awoke one morning to find that during the night his house
had been painted red, white and blue, the colours of France,
England and America.
I heard of so many instances of the annoyance of prisoners by
the civil population that I was quite pleased one day to read
a paragraph in the official newspaper, the _North_German
_Gazette_, which ran somewhat as follows: "The following
inhabitants of (naming a small town near the borders of Denmark),
having been guilty of improper conduct towards prisoners of war,
have been sentenced to the following terms of imprisonment and
the following fines and their names are printed here in order
that they may be held up to the contempt of all future generations
of Germans." And then followed a list of names and terms of
imprisonment and fines. I thought that this was splendid, that
the German government had at last been aroused to the necessity
of protecting their prisoners of war from the annoyances of the
civil population, and I wrote to our consul in Kiel and asked him
to investigate the case. From him I learned that some unfortunate
prisoners passing through the town (in a part of Germany inhabited
by Scandinavians) had made signs that they were suffering from
hunger and thirst, that some of the kind-hearted people among
the Scandinavian population had given them something to eat and
drink and for this they were condemned to fines, to prison and
to have their names held up to the contempt of Germans for all
I do not know of anyone thing that can give a better idea of
the official hate for the nations with which Germany was at war
The day after visiting the camp at Gottingen, I visited the
officers' camp situated at the town of Hanover Munden. Here
about eight hundred officers, of whom only thirteen were British,
were confined in an old factory building situated on the bank of
the river below the town. The Russian officers handed me some
arrows tipped with nails which had been shot at them by the
kind-hearted little town boys, and the British pointed out to me
the filthy conditions of the camp. In this, as in unfortunately
many other officer camps, the inclination seemed to be to treat the
officers not as captured officers and gentlemen, but as convicts.
I had quite a sharp talk with the commander of this camp before
leaving and he afterwards took violent exception to the report
which I made upon his camp. However, I am pleased to say that
he reformed, as it were, and I was informed by my inspectors
that he had finally made his camp one of the best in Germany.
Much as I should have liked to, I could not spend much time myself
in visiting the prison camps; many duties and frequent crises kept
me in Berlin, but members of the Embassy were always travelling
in this work of camp inspection.
For some time my reports were published in parliamentary "White
Papers," but in the end our government found that the publication
of these reports irritated the Germans to such a degree that the
British Government was requested not to publish them any more.
Copies of the reports were always sent by me both to Washington
and to London, and handed to the Berlin Foreign Office.
[Illustration: A COVER OF THE MONTHLY ISSUED BY THE RUHLEBEN
While Winston Churchill was at the head of the British Admiralty,
it was stated that the German submarine prisoners would not be
treated as ordinary prisoners of war; but would be put in a place
by themselves on the ground that they were pirates and murderers,
and not entitled to the treatment accorded in general to prisoners
of war. Great indignation was excited by this in Germany; the
German government immediately seized thirty-seven officers, picking
those whom they supposed related to the most prominent families
in Great Britain, and placed them in solitary confinement. A
few were confined in this way in Cologne, but the majority were
put in the ordinary jails of Magdeburg and Burg.
As soon as I heard of this, accompanied by Mr. Charles H. Russell,
Jr., of my staff, I went to Magdeburg, using my ordinary pass
for the visiting of prisoners. The German authorities told me
afterwards that if they had known I was going to make this visit
they would not have permitted it, but on this occasion the corps
commander system worked for me. Accompanied by an adjutant, in
peace times a local lawyer from the corps commander's office in
Magdeburg, and other officers, I visited these British officers
in their cells in the common jail at Magdeburg. They were in
absolutely solitary confinement, each in a small cell about eleven
feet long and four feet wide. Some cells were a little larger,
and the prisoners were allowed only one hour's exercise a day in
the courtyard of the prison. The food given them was not bad, but
the close confinement was very trying, especially to Lieutenant
Goschen, son of the former Ambassador to Germany, who had been
wounded and in the hospital at Douai. Among them I found an old
acquaintance, Captain Robin Grey, who had been often in New York.
The German authorities agreed to correct several minor matters of
which the officers complained and then we went to the neighbouring
town of Burg, where other officers were confined in the same manner
and under similar conditions in the ordinary jail. After visiting
these prisoners and obtaining for them from the authorities some
modifications of the rules which had been established we visited
the regular officers' camp at Burg.
This was at that time what I should call a bad camp, crowded and
with no space for recreation. Later, conditions were improved
and more ground allowed to the prisoners for games, etc. At the
time of my first visit I found that the commander, a polite but
peppery officer, was in civil life a judge of the Supreme Court
at Leipzig, the highest court in the Empire. As I had been a
judge in the State of New York, we foregathered and adjourned
for lunch with his staff to the hotel in Burg.
After Churchill left the British Admiralty, his successor reversed
his ruling and the submarine prisoners were placed in the ordinary
confinement of prisoners of war. When the Germans were assured of
this, the thirty-seven officers who had been in reprisal placed
in solitary confinement were sent back to ordinary prison camps.
In fact in most cases I managed to get the Germans to send them
to what were called "good" camps.
Lieutenant Goschen, however, became quite in and was taken to the
hospital in Magdeburg. At the time of his capture, the Germans
had told me, in answer to my inquiries, that he was suffering
from a blow on the head with the butt end of a rifle, but an
X-ray examination at Magdeburg showed that fragments of a bullet
had penetrated his brain and that he was, therefore, hardly a
fit subject to be chosen as one of the reprisal prisoners. I
told von Jagow that I thought it in the first place a violation
of all diplomatic courtesy to pick out the son of the former
Ambassador to Germany as a subject for reprisals and secondly
that, in picking him, they had taken a wounded man; that the
fact that they did not know that he had fragments of a bullet in
his brain made the situation even worse because that ignorance
was the result of the want of a proper examination in the German
hospitals; and I insisted that, because of this manifestly unfair
treatment which had undoubtedly caused the very serious condition
of Lieutenant Goschen, he should be returned to England in the
exchange of those who were badly wounded. I am pleased to say
that von Jagow saw my point of view and finally secured permission
for Lieutenant Goschen to leave for England.
Dr. Ohnesorg, one of our assistant Naval Attaches, went with
him to England on account of the seriousness of his condition,
and I was very glad to hear from his father that he had arrived
safely in London.
Undoubtedly the worst camp which I visited in Germany was that
of Wittenberg. Wittenberg is the ancient town where Luther lived
and nailed his theses to the church door. The camp is situated
just outside the city in a very unattractive spot next to the
railway. An outbreak of typhus fever prevented us from visiting
the camp, although Mr. Jackson conversed with some of the prisoners
from outside the barrier of barbed wire. When the typhus was
finally driven out, Mr. Lithgow Osborne visited the camp and his
report of conditions there was such that I visited it myself,
in the meantime holding up his report until I had verified it.
With Mr. Charles H. Russell, Jr., I visited the camp. Typhus
fever seems to be continually present in Russia. It is carried by
the body louse and it is transmitted from one person to another.
Russian soldiers seem to carry this disease with them without
apparently suffering much from it themselves. The Russian soldiers
arriving at Wittenberg were not properly disinfected and, in
consequence, typhus fever broke out in camp. Several British
medical officers were there with their prisoners, because, by the
provisions of the Hague conventions, captured medical officers
may be kept with the troops of their nation, if prisoners have
need of their services. These medical officers protested with
the camp commander against the herding together of the French
and British prisoners with the Russians, who, as I have said,
were suffering from typhus fever. But the camp commander said,
"You will have to know your Allies;" and kept all of his prisoners
together, and thus as surely condemned to death a number of French
and British prisoners of war as though he had stood them against
the wall and ordered them shot by a firing squad. Conditions in
the camp during the period of this epidemic were frightful. The
camp was practically deserted by the Germans and I understand
that the German doctor did not make as many visits to the camp
as the situation required.
At the time I visited the camp the typhus epidemic, of course,
had been stamped out. The Germans employed a large number of
police dogs in this camp and these dogs not only were used in
watching the outside of the camp in order to prevent the escape
of prisoners but also were used within the camp. Many complaints
were made to me by prisoners concerning these dogs, stating that
men had been bitten by them. It seemed undoubtedly true that the
prisoners there had been knocked about and beaten in a terrible
manner by their guards, and one guard went so far as to strike one
of the British medical officers. There were about thirty-seven
civilian prisoners in the camp who had been there all through
the typhus epidemic. I secured the removal of these civilian
prisoners to the general civilian camp at Ruhleben, and the
conditions at Wittenberg may be judged by the fact that when
it was announced to these civilians that they were to be taken
from Wittenberg to another camp one of them was so excited by
the news of release that he fell dead upon the spot.
In talking over conditions at Wittenberg with von Jagow I said,
"Suppose I go back to Wittenberg and shoot some of these dogs,
what can you do to me?" Soon after the dogs disappeared from
The food in all these camps for civilians and for private soldiers
was about the same. It consisted of an allowance of bread of
the same weight as that given the civilian population. This was
given out in the morning with a cup of something called coffee,
but which in reality was an extract of acorns or something of the
kind without milk or sugar; in the middle of the day, a bowl of
thick soup in which the quantity of meat was gradually diminished
as war went on, as well as the amount of potatoes for which at
a later period turnips and carrots were, to a large extent,
substituted; and in the evening in good camps there was some sort
of thick soup given out or an apple, or an almost infinitesimal
piece of cheese or sausage.
In the war department at Berlin there was a Prisoners of War
Department in charge of Colonel, later General, Friedrich. This
department, however, did not seem to be in a position to issue
orders to the corps commanders commanding the army corps districts
of Germany, who had absolute control of the prison camps within
their districts. Colonel Friedrich, however, and his assistants
endeavoured to standardise the treatment of prisoners of war in
the different corps districts, and were able to exert a certain
amount of pressure on the corps commanders. They determined on
the general reprisals to be taken in connection with prisoners
of war. For instance, when some of the Germans, who had been
taken prisoners by the British and who were in England, were
sent to work in the harbour of Havre, the Germans retaliated
by sending about four times the number of British prisoners to
work at Libau in the part of Russia then occupied by the Germans.
Back to Full Books