The Capture of Charleville
BY VERNON KELLOGG
THE GERMANS seem to become worse as they go on. What they really do is to reveal themselves more. They were as bad before as they are now. Bombing hospitals is not much worse than the things done in Belgium in the first days of the war; but when it is our hospitals that are bombed, and our nurses and doctors and wounded men who are killed, we can all realize how bad it is. The Belgians have realized German possibilities from the beginning.
With time and stress the veneer wears thinner and cracks more widely. All of us have some bad in us, and some of us have much bad in us. But it takes time and special conditions to show just what our make-up is. Four years of war are very revealing. So that we of America know much more about German make-up now, than we did before. But, as I said, the Belgians got their understanding quickly; as also did the French. An incident will illustrate this. It will also show something of the method in the German madness.
This incident may be called the story of how Charleville was captured by one German soldier with a gun on his shoulder. That was the way Monsieur V—, who told it, always referred to it. He was the only witness of this interesting military operation. I had the story from him in the captured town itself, several months after the event. But it was all very clear in his mind, and it remains very clear in mine. To both of us the story has a significance which it may not have for you, but I think it will.
The town, Charleville, which was captured by the one German soldier with a gun on his shoulder, is in German-occupied France and on the Meuse, some distance up the river from Dinant. It was for a time the Great Headquarters, or seat of the General Staff, of the German armies. It was also the headquarters in occupied France of the American Relief Commission. As chief representative of the Commission, I had to live there for several months, in one of the Headquarters houses, in close companionship with my German escort officer and his staffofficer friends.
Monsieur X—was one of the members of the French Relief Committee for Charleville district. The French Committee took care of the details of the allotment and distribution of the food and clothing brought in by the American Commission. So that the American representative and the French Committee members had to be much together, although presumably always under the eyes and in the hearing of the American’s escort officer. As a matter of fact, because the German and Frenchman and American had to be together so much, they came to know each other very well; and as the Frenchman and American were men of honor, and the German officer soon learned this, he sometimes tolerated conversations between the Frenchman and American beyond his hearing. In none of these was the tacit understanding broken that no military information should pass from one to the other; but certain brief stories were told by the Frenchman which would have had little interest for the German officer, or let us say, would have had a different interest for him from that which they had for the American.
Rather than try to keep these stories unknown to my escort officer, I made up my mind to have one of them, at least, told him by the Frenchman himself. Only I wanted the telling to be under special circumstances, and to have a larger audience than just my officer, who was not specially susceptible to the finer points and less apparent implications of stories. His own tales left nothing to be explained. They never suggested things; they just simply and very plainly told them.
Monsieur X— was a very intelligent, quick-witted, and adaptable man. He had to be, to maintain successfully his delicate and important position as representative of the unfortunate imprisoned French at the local court of the conquerors, and to retain the confidence, and to such extent as was possible, the sympathy, of his German masters, and yet to surrender none of his position, either from his own point of view or that of his compatriots, as an enemy of Germany. When a visit of inspection was to be made to some local centre in the district, the American representative had to go with his escort officer in a German military motor. The Frenchman would go in his little pony-cart, the German authorities having allowed him to retain the animal for this necessary purpose. But that made difficulties, especially if the centre were far from Charleville. So we came finally to going all together in the officer’s car, the German, the Frenchman, and the neutral American. It was not too easy a situation, but as I said before, Monsieur X— is an adaptable man, and he was helping to keep his people alive. C’est la guerre! Also, each morning he had to come to our house to go over the figures of incoming food quantities and their distribution, and there he occasionally met other German officers of Headquarters, who had business with the escort officer. Altogether Monsieur X—
had arrived at a footing that made it not impossible for me to get him invited for dinner one night in our house, when a number of higher staff officers were to be present, including one who had great authority in all matters concerning the relations of the occupying army and the civil population, and who was of high intelligence and — more to the point, considering what I had especially in mind — more capable of looking at things from a point of view less rigidly all-German, than most of the other Headquarters men.
I not only got Monsieur X— invited, but got him to accept. I pointed out the advantage that might come from a better acquaintanceship between him and Major von Z—, the officer of larger understanding. Also I told Monsieur X— that, if things were propitious, I should ask him, at what seemed to me a suitable moment, to tell the story of the capture of Charleville by the single German soldier with a gun over his shoulder.
Now, I should say right here, that there may be no false hopes raised of an exciting or seizing tale, that it was really no story at all: just a bare statement of simple fact. But it had, as I have said, a burning significance to me, and I wanted to find out if it also had to any of the German officers, especially to Major von Z—. My intentions in the matter were not vicious, not even mischievous. They were indeed quite amiable. I thought it highly possible that some good, to both French and Germans, might come out of the evening — if things were propitious.
The dinner went off very well. Some of the officers stared a little as Monsieur X— was presented to them; but the cue was given by those two or three who had especially to do with the relations of the Headquarters Staff with the civilian population. These exhibited a complaisant politeness toward the Frenchman.
As for Monsieur X—, he was simply perfect. He was there as invited guest of the house; there could, therefore, be no question of his welcome. That, at least, was his attitude. He was quiet and dignified, but easy. He answered questions simply and directly, avoiding complaint, but not hesitating to make plain statements about the difficulties of the people, especially as to the ravitaillement, which was, as all knew, his special interest and business. I admired him immensely. Ah, how the French do sense things!
When the chance came, which was when the dinner had reached the exclusively smoking and drinking stage, I asked him to tell us something of his experiences at the time of the invasion of the country — that is, at the time when Charleville was occupied by the Germans. My officer had just finished saying something, in a large way, about the general friendly attitude of the Germans toward the helpless civilians, and how this attitude gave the lie to the world-talk of German barbarism.
He said that, if the people in the occupied regions could talk and be heard outside, they would be the first to refute the lying Paris and London governmental propaganda. It seemed a suitable moment for Monsieur X&emdah;’s little tale.
‘Alors, those were exciting days,’said Monsieur X—, with a little smile. ‘You gentlemen,’ — and he waved his hand toward Major von Z—, ‘were coming on pretty fast. Here in Charleville we had no real news, no reliable news. We had much news, of course, but it was, well, of all kinds. Finally we did begin to hear pretty definitely how things were going on the lower Meuse. We heard what seemed to be quite certain news of’— he hesitated ever so little— ‘Dinant.’
My officer moved uneasily, and, turning his face from the Frenchman, he fixed me with his monocled eye. But Monsieur X—went on smoothly.
‘Some of our people got restless; a few went away. I urged them to stay. There were no French soldiers in our town; there would be no fighting here. Charleville could not be defended to any advantage, because it lay in a broad open space which could be easily dominated by guns from the wooded hills on the east which rose sharply from the river. The Germans, that is, you gentlemen, as you came on from the east would meet no resistance here, and hence’ — he hesitated again for a moment—‘everything would be all right. I mean, you know, if you got this far, you could simply take the town without need of any fighting or bombardment, or, well, any shooting at all. You would simply occupy Charleville, and things would go on about as before. All the men of military age were away in the French army. We were all non-combatants
‘ But one day we heard the big guns. It was probably when you were bombarding Les Ayvelles,’ — a small, oldfashioned fort lying between Sedan and Charleville, — ‘and on that same day some refugees from down the river, from Hastieres and Dinant’ — he did not hesitate at all this time, but spoke on rapidly and evenly, — ‘came into Charleville and told their stories. Well, everybody went away.’
Major von Z— broke in sharply. ‘What do you mean? You could n’t all go away. How about the children? And there are always some sick and the very old and infirm. And your animals: you could n’t let them starve. You could n’t all go. How absurd!’
‘Well, we did,’ responded Monsieur X— simply. ‘We all went away. You see, the stories of the people from Hastieres and Dinant, exaggerated, I suppose — ’
‘Of course,’ broke in my officer, loudly, and almost threateningly.
Major von Zwas leaning forward, staring at the Frenchman.
‘My God!’he muttered. And again, ‘My God!’
A young officer spoke up from the foot of the table. ‘Where did you go?’ he asked. ‘How did you go?’
‘We went to the west. Some of us got as far as various villages and towns west of here, and some just got back into the country. It was not easy to go. If we had horses and carts, we took them. Others had hand-carts and wheelbarrows. We put the sick and the babies and the very old into them. We took some bedding and food. Many of the people had to carry their things. We all started together but scattered as we went along. Some could go faster than others. Some had relatives or friends in various villages or farms. But we all went. Nobody was left in Charleville. ’
He stopped speaking, with his eyes fixed on something far away. The table was silent.
He began again. ' Some of us did not go very far. It seemed hard to give up everything — our homes, our little factories and shops; all that we owned. So some of us camped in the low hills to the west, only a few miles away, where we could see the town dimly here in the valley. And we waited there, and watched. Nothing happened. We heard no bombardment; we saw no conflagration. We were too far away to see if there were soldiers in the town, but there were no signs of anything happening. Finally, I could n’t stand it any longer, especially as there was much suffering among the people camping around me. It was cold, and we were getting hungry. So I came toward the town. I watched carefully. As I got nearer, I could see more distinctly. The town seemed absolutely empty. I came on, and finally entered the town. There was nobody there. Absolutely nobody. And then, as I was walking about, I saw coming along the road by the river a man. As he came closer I saw he was a German soldier. He had his gun over his shoulder. I waited and he came up to me. He could speak a little French.
“Where am I?" he asked. “I am lost. Are the French soldiers here? I will surrender to them.”
‘I told him there were no French soldiers in the town.
‘“Well, are there any Germans? ”
‘I said, “No, there are no German soldiers. There is nobody at all in Charleville — except you and I.”
‘ He stared at me curiously.
“Oh, this is Charleville, is it?” Then he smiled. “Well,” he said, “I call on Charleville to surrender. I will take the town. I suppose our army will be along pretty soon. I am hungry. Can I have something to eat?”
' We went together to my house and found some food and drink. I told him to sleep there that night. I tramped back to my family in camp. And the next day some of us came back. We could n’t stand it any longer out there. And a few days after, more came back. And then your soldiers came marching in by the river. And you have been in Charleville ever since. About half the people who went away came back gradually. But the other half are still away. I don’t know where they are.’
He stopped. An officer or two laughed shortly. My officer spoke up.
‘Well, you see, nothing happened to Charleville. There is n’t a pane of glass broken in the town.’
Major von Z—— looked hard at him. ‘No,’ he said slowly, ‘nothing happened to Charleville.’
If one thinks about the matter, it is not difficult to list a number of probable practical advantages of military frightfulness. Undoubtedly the Germans have thought about the matter and have seen these probable advantages of doing what they did at Vise, Louvain, and Dinant. It is great military economy to be able to have a town of twenty thousand inhabitants captured by a single soldier with a gun over his shoulder. What was done at Dinant, however uncomfortable it may have been for any German officers and soldiers with squeamish stomachs,— you remember the massacred six hundred, — made possible this impressive military economy in the capture of Charleville. Any military policy that leads all the people of one town to ‘go away’ simply as a result of hearing what has happened in another town, has its apparent immediate advantage. It is this, of course, that determines the method in the German madness.
The method is not limited to effecting an economy in captures: it extends to ease and economy in occupation. Even though half the population of Charleville finally returned to the town and now lives in it, how much of a German garrison do you think is required to hold such a towm in order? As my officer and I traveled in our gray military motor up and down and across and back over occupied France, it was very obvious to both of us how few soldiers were used to occupy all the territory back of the actual fighting zone. And these occupying soldiers were not real fightingmen; they wereelderly Landsturmers, long beyond frontline usefulness, although still able to wear uniforms and carry guns. Thus frightfulness had made for economy, not only in numbers, but in quality.
The example of Dinant was a rather early one, and it was an example of what would happen and did happen in case of alleged resistance to capture. But for the sake of economy in occupation, some examples of what would happen in cases of resistance to the occupation and control of the few elderly Landsturmers had to be arranged, and these had to come along at later times so as to keep things fresh in the minds of the conquered people. There was Orchies, for example, a town of 6000, perhaps, lying between Valenciennes and Lille. I say, ‘There was Orchies,’ advisedly. For after the Germans got through punishing that town for an alleged planned resistance to continued peaceful Landsturmer occupation, there was only a small fraction of it left; certainly more than three quarters of its buildings were burned dowm or blown up.
Just as Vise, the first impressive example in Belgium of the method in the German madness, was easily in sight of the much larger city, Liege, and the example Louvain was in sight of Brussels, so the example Orchies was where it could be easily appreciated by Valenciennes and Lille, as well as by a score of smaller towns in the northern part of occupied France.
Judiciously scattered about over the rest of the occupied territory were other cases like Orchies. I remember having one day passed though a small farming village very badly burned and shattered, not by shells, but by explosions from inside the houses. I was just about to ask my officer why this village had been so punished, when, as we came outside, my attention was attracted to a conspicuous little flattopped hill, with its level summit quite clear of the low woods that covered the hill’s sides. The top had been cleared and smoothed so that it could be planted in grain, and it stood out a vivid and beautiful green, in contrast with the dark tree-covered slopes. I spoke of the hill and its conspicuous top to my officer.
‘Yes,’ he replied angrily, ‘the last French spy to be landed from an airplane was put down right there on that flat top. We could not catch him. We think he hid in this village.’
My unuttered question about the village was already answered.
The punished farms, villages, and towns of Belgium and Northeast France make a long, long list. But of course the list of those that have not been punished is still longer, and all of them in this second lot were economically captured and are economically held. This is the justification, in the thoughtful and reasoning German mind, for the method in what has often been called the German madness. And if there are no disadvantages about this method which offset its apparent advantages, — looking at these advantages and disadvantages as strictly military ones, without allowing any consideration of the dictates of heart or soul or humanity to mix in, which is precisely the way the Germans do look at the matter, — then the German madness is not madness at all, but shrewd military method. Thus it is not simply that there is method in their madness, but that this madness is all method.
But, to my mind,—and two or three German officers at Headquarters and on Von Bissing’s Staff shared this feeling, — there are also serious disadvantages in this method.
In striving for economy in the use of soldiers, not only must the element of numbers be taken into account, but also the element of time of their need. The terrible treatment given the civilian population of Belgium and occupied France has undoubtedly had the effect of making possible a present economical military occupation of the country. But it has also had the effect of producing such a feeling among the people that the only way any Germans can ever remain there, for a long time to come, is by rigid military occupation.
Germany does not know whether she is going to continue to occupy Belgium or not. She, once, as a government, thought she was, and many Germans still think she is. Now, it was, and still is, part of the duty and plan of the quasi-civil German government of Belgium to manage things so that the Belgians, or as many of them as possible, should be won over to a rapprochement with their German masters, and be willing, of their own accord, to unite their political and commercial and social destiny with that of Germany. When Belgium is incorporated as a German province, it is not to be another thorny Alsace-Lorraine. All Von Bissing’s, and his successor Von Falkenhausen’s, coddling of the Flemings is part of this plan.
Well, the German method making for immediate military economy has forever settled that possibility, or illusion of possibility. So long as Germans are in Belgium, even if the war should come to an end with the Germans to remain in Belgium indefinitely, there will have to be German soldiers there; which is not good economy, for soldiers are never economical.
But the war is not going to end with the Germans indefinitely in Belgium. One of the most important reasons for this is the presence of America in the war, and one of the most important reasons why America is in the war is the existence of method in the German madness. It is not only that this method has achieved such horrible things in Belgium and France, but that it has revealed such a horrible state of mind and soul of the German nation, such a dangerous and world-threatening fundamental attitude and philosophy concerning international relations on the part of the whole German nation, the people as well as their rulers. For even if a distinction may sometimes be made between the ruler and the people in relation to this matter, just so long as the German people tolerate and support their rulers, the court and the military command, this distinction is of little validity and no practical importance.
My officer always carefully called my attention to the occasional old Landsturmer who might be seen walking along a village street in France, leading a little French child by the hand. My officer himself used to go to the front door of our house on the Place Conde in Charleville, with some bits of chocolate in his hand, and cluck to the urchins playing in the Place to come and cluster round his feet and scramble for the tidbits he tossed to them. But I knew too well the sentiments of my officer regarding the military advantage of another kind of treatment of children, to be much impressed by the chocolate performance; and I knew, and the world knows, that if that kindly elderly Landsturmer was told the next day to join his comrades in punishing the village he lived in, because some half-crazed woman or old man had thrown a pot of hot water on some other less kindly Landsturmer, he would join heartily in burning the house in which the child lived, and he might even outrage the child’s mother and spear the child itself on his bayonet, and toss it into the flames. For such is the power and the glory of the German military method.
These are difficult things for me to write, for I, like so many others, have seen and known the kindly Landsturmer at home in the Bier-Tunnel or VolksRestaurant of his town, enjoying with his family the simple but satisfactory pleasures of Wurst and Schwarzbrod with Miinchener or Pilsener, to the orchestral accompaniment of ‘Ein Fester Burg ist unser Gott.’ And I have known the Conservatory-Abend and passionate Schwarmerei of the music students, and the all-night Kommers of the university students devoted to science, song, art, and Weiss-bier. I have sat at the tables of professorial Abend-Essen, with their interminable discussion of the higher criticism and the Kantian and Hegelian philosophies, and their interminable succession of Mosel and Rhine wines. I have tramped in the Harz and Thiiringen hills, and spent nights in the simple little inns, with simple-minded hosts and families. It is amazing to see in these people the burning, torturing, and murdering animals of the invading hordes in Belgium and France. But they are the same students and professors and simple-minded Landsturmers.
The German is a double character: he is one thing as a part of German culture and home-life, another as part of German Kultur and military machine. It is this second thing which has meant martyrdom to the unfortunate people of Belgium and France, which is an ever-menacing danger to England and America, and which means everything to the whole world. As for the first thing, even predatory animals have a pleasant way with their mates and children, and indulge in play and social relations of sorts at home.
It is because of the reality of this extraordinary atavistic attitude of the German nation as regards national and international morals, most clearly revealed in the behavior of its armies and in its rules in occupied Belgium and France, that America is in the war. And it is not good military economy for Germany to have America in the war. It will cost her, many times over, more soldiers than she has saved by being able to capture Charleville by means of a single soldier with a gun on his shoulder. The German method does, after all, seem to be madness.
There are Germans who know this now. Even at the time when America broke diplomatic relations with Germany and was obviously on the sure way to war, some less all-Germanthinking Germans saw that this was not well. My officer talked about it with me in Brussels. His principal remark was just ‘Stupid, stupid.’ He would not say exactly who was stupid or what was stupid; but whenever the American-German situation was referred to, he would get red in the face, shoot the monocle out of his eye, and explode into ‘Stupid, stupid.’ And I knew very well from long experience with him, that he was not expressing his own feeling alone. He always got his attitude from certain higher staff officers. So that some of them must have had the same thought about America being at war with Germany.
But these men could find some relief for their vexation by imagining things. One type of these imaginings is illustrated by a remark made to me on the last afternoon I was in Brussels. It was in the course of a conversation on Relief Commission affairs with Governor General von Bissing’s principal political adviser, the titular head of one of the most important departments in the German government of Belgium.
‘What a great pity,’ he said, ‘that America and Germany are going to fight! For, of course, that is what it is coming to. It is a great mistake. We have been such good friends for so long a time. Somebody should have prevented this. But, anyway, I cannot believe that there will ever be — there really must not be — such feeling and such a warfare between America and Germany as between England and Germany. We may hope, may we not, for a more platonic war?’
With this official, who stands high in German diplomatic circles, the wish would be father to some endeavor and action. He saw that the German method of military economy was not proving as economical as could be wished.
As a matter of fact the ‘politeness’ of the young commander of one of the submarines that sank a dozen ships off our shores recently, may be a feeble attempt along the line of the pious wish. And it may be remembered that there was very little of the expected vigorous activity by the submarines against our passenger ships to Liverpool when there was still good opportunity for it.
However, even if some Germans are trying to make war between Germany and America of a ‘platonic’ character, there are others, too many others, who will do things in another way. Frightfulness as a German approved military method is too ingrained in the German military system. The recent threat to use reprisals against Americans in German hands if we do not send back the precious well-born scoundrel Von Rintelen is a perfect example of the old way. And there will be plenty of others as the war progresses.
There is a yellow streak in the German make-up that makes the argument of frightfulness, that is, of fear, the argument they best understand. And if it is good argument to them, it must be to all other peoples. That is the now all-too-familiar German psychology. There is only one kind of understandable human make-up — the one they understand by knowing themselves.
Lille has been a difficult city ever since the beginning of the war: difficult for the Germans, difficult for the American relief workers, difficult for the Lillois themselves. It is, for one thing, the largest city in occupied France: a city of factory-workers, situated in a region given over to industry, not agriculture, and hence with no surrounding foodproducing farms and gardens. It has had to live almost exclusively on the monotonous and meagre, and sometimes irregular, relief ration of concentrated dry foodstuffs, brought overseas to Rotterdam, and thence by canalboats through Holland and Belgium.
For another thing, it is very close to the battle-line. Its people have heard each day the English cannon and seen each day the English scouting fliers. They have felt always close to freedom. These two things, the difficulty about food and the feeling of the nearness of rescue, have kept them in a more restless and perhaps intractable state than the inhabitants of other parts of the occupied territory.
Finally, for a third thing, Lille has been occupied by a particularly large and particularly brutal army, the Bavarians under Prince Rupprecht. There has long been a popular belief that the Bavarians are gentler Germans. They do not like Prussians; hence they must be unlike them. Well, whether the royal Bavarian commander is a particularly brutal man, or has a particularly brutal staff, or Bavarians as soldiers are particularly brutal, — whichever is true and is the explanation of the fact, — it is notorious that the French in the Lille district, including Roubaix, Tourcoing, and some other lesser neighboring factory-towns, have suffered a constantly and mercilessly cruel treatment at the hands of their masters. Perhaps these masters have all along been a little afraid of their slaves. If so, that would account for their maltreatment. It was necessary to put the fear of Germany’s God into them.
The food situation was really very difficult. The American Relief Commission representative for Lille district was not permitted, by the army authorities, to live in Lille. He had to live fifty kilometres away, at Valenciennes, with his escort officer, and could visit his district with his officer but twice a week, sometimes but once. Yet his was the most populous and least well-supplied with local supplies of all the six French ravitaillement districts. Nor was the Commission’s chief representative for occupied France allowed to get often to Lille on his general inspecting trips. It was only after much insistence, innumerable postponements, and long delay, that he ever got there at all.
I remember one trip, with my officer, that I insisted on making after hearing most alarming reports of the bread situation. The people were said to be dying, not because we had not been able to get flour in (or wheat, which was milled there), but because of the quality of the flour, or rather, of the bread made from it.
When the count (my officer) and I came into the room of the head of the local French Relief Committee, we were assailed by a penetrating odor of something evidently ‘gone bad.’ I sniffed a little, and the count sniffed, not to say snorted, a great deal, and most vigorously and audibly. The sadfaced Frenchman looked hesitantly at us as we stood staring about the room for the source of the trouble, then moved slowly from his desk across the room, saying as he walked, ‘Perhaps if we put the bread outside, we can talk about it with less discomfort.’ And with his last word he lifted a window and placed on the ledge outside a flat black lump of something that had been on the broad inner sill. The trouble, I should hasten to say, was more with the bakers than with the flour. They had not yet learned how to make good bread out of the high-extraction gray flour with its included roughage, which, in order to ‘stretch’ the wheat, we had the mills turn out.
But at best the food situation was always more difficult in Lille than anywhere else in occupied France, and this finally led the Germans — at least they claimed this as the reason — to a bright thought, whose outcome was a further martyrdom of the people. I refer to the notorious ‘ Lille deportations.’
These should not be confused with the ‘Belgian deportations,’ or with the seizure and forcing to military labor of many French women and boys and old men — there are almost no French men of military age and fitness in all occupied France — at various times all along through the period of occupation. These ‘Lille deportations’ were a special atrocity meted out to the citizens of a restless and difficult city, for an alleged reason of paternal interest in the welfare of the people; just as the deportation of Belgian workmen into German war-factories — there to make the things which meant death to their brothers and sons on the West Front, and to release German workmen who could put on uniforms and go with these things to sow this death — was justified on the basis of a pious wish to prevent the moral degradation of idleness among these workmen, thrown out of work because their factories had been gutted of their raw materials and machines by the benevolent conquerors.
It was in Holy Week of 1916 that the Lille deportations were made: a peculiarly fitting time to impress a Catholic people with a sense of the intimate relation between the German All-Highest and his friendly God of Battle and Frightfulness.
There had been suggestive placards put up occasionally before this, announcing the need of additional labor in the regions of the occupied territory farther south, where the German army was trying to raise crops for its support, and offering inducements to volunteers. But no Lillois were inclined to accept these invitations. They were not getting enough food; why should they help the German soldiers to get enough?
So the placards were suddenly changed. New ones went up, which curtly announced that the people of Lille were to hold themselves in readiness to leave their homes on one and a half hours’ notice. They were all to be in their houses between the hours of 9 P.M. and 8 A.M. The doors of the houses must be left open. When the officer who is to make the selections — that is, seizures — calls, all in the house must assemble in front of the house, or, in case of bad weather, in its front passage. The only persons who will not be subject to selection for deportation are children under fourteen and their mothers. No protest will be listened to. Each person must provide himself or herself with eating and drinking utensils and a blanket. Any person endeavoring to avoid transportation will be punished without mercy. These are quotations from the placard.
The seizures were made during the successive days and nights of Holy Week by officers accompanied by squads of soldiers. Mostly they came to the houses at night, especially in the last hours before dawn. They did not take whole families. They did worse. They tore away the father alone, or the older sons and daughters, mothers, children of fifteen and up, girls as well as boys: one from this family, two from that, three from another, and so on. They tore families apart, they wrecked families. And with one and a half hours’ notice, they carried off their selected slaves.
Twenty thousand were taken from families of all grades, piled into cattletrains, and transported from their homes to flimsy barracks hastily flung up in the concentration camps and fields of the southern districts. There they were put at work, strong and frail, workingman and office-clerk, sturdy woman and frail girl, adolescent youth and child of fifteen, from dawn till dark, with spade and hoe and cart, in the fields of France — to make German crops; housed together at night promiscuously, like cattle, in long sheds; worked by day in groups under overseers, not with whips, but with loaded guns with fixed bayonets.
I saw many of these deportees from Lille in the fields about Charleville, and along the Meuse and its tributaries; beautiful fields of the Ardennes made ugly by German ‘efficiency.’ Bending women and girls in groups of twenty, each pathetic group with its armed slave-driver in the field-gray uniform that is to bring Kultur to all the world!
There were other groups, without slave-drivers, in the Ardennes fields. These were the native women and old men and children of the region, working in the little potato-plots assigned to them out of their own fields. These little patches they were allowed to work on shares, half of the crop to help keep them from starvation, half to help keep alive and strong the field-gray apostles of civilization who were killing their absent husbands and elder sons in the trench-lines a score or two of miles farther west and south.
This human slavery is — or was— believed by the Germans to make for military economy; I doubt if they are so convinced in their belief now. For it is because of this, also, that America is sending its hundreds of thousands of men in khaki to France to-day.
I have heard Ambassador Gerard criticized for speaking so ‘viciously’ of the Germans. Ambassador Gerard happened, by the necessities of his duty, to be at the Great Headquarters in Charleville in Holy Week of 1916, the week of the Lille deportations. Perhaps his ‘viciousness’ finds some explanation in the coincidence of his personal visit to the Kaiser at the time and on the spot where the Kaiser’s missionaries were saving the Lillois from the dangers of too close crowding in their home city, and teaching them the simple joys of work on the land. Perhaps it was this method of military economy that has led him to help so vigorously in proving the madness of it. For Mr. Gerard’s crusade has helped in sending those hundreds of thousands of khakiclad Americans to France.
The capture of Charleville by the single German soldier with a gun over his shoulder was a triumph of military economy — for the moment. But, as with laughing, he triumphs best who triumphs last — and whose triumph lasts. Charleville will be returned to its citizens, its citizens of France. And although no German soldiers were lost in taking it, many will be lost in giving it up. Frightfulness and beastliness do not make for military economy: in that method lies madness. And so, what is called German madness is rightly so called. Some of Germany sees this already; more of Germany is learning it; and before the end comes, all of Germany will know it.