Rehearsals: The German Army in Belgium, August 1914

Jeff Lipkes
Series: History
Volume: 12
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Leuven University Press
Pages: 816
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Rehearsals is the first book to provide a detailed narrative history of the German invasion of Belgium in August 1914 as it affected civilians. Based on extensive eyewitness testimony, the book chronicles events in and around the towns of Liège, Aarschot, Andenne, Tamines, Dinant, and Leuven, where the worst of the German depredations occurred. Without any legitimate pretext, German soldiers killed nearly 6,000 non-combatants, including women and children, and burned some 25,000 homes and other buildings. For more the seventy-five years, however, charges against the German Army about the killing, raping, looting, and arson have been dismissed in Germany, the U.K., and U.S. as mere atrocity propaganda. Recently, the case has been made that the violence, which cresendoed between august 19th and 26th , was the result of an spontaneous outbreak of German paranoia about francs-tireurs (civilian sharpshooters). Rehearsals provides much evidence that the executions were in fact part of a deliberate campaign of terrorism ordered by military authorisaties.

    eISBN: 978-94-6166-039-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 7-10)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. 11-11)
  5. Map
    (pp. 12-12)
  6. Prologue
    (pp. 13-20)

    This book describes what happened when three German armies invaded Belgium in August 1914. In district after district, troops looted and burned homes and murdered the inhabitants. By the end of the month, nearly 6,000 Belgian civilians were dead, the equivalent of about 230,000 Americans today. The worst of the carnage took place during an eight-day period between August 19thand 26th

    To anyone familiar with activities in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe, there will be a striking sense of déjà-vu. In a series of organized manhunts, people were chased out of their homes, herded at gunpoint to isolated fields or, more...

  7. CHAPTER 1 An ultimatum
    (pp. 21-38)

    Sunday, August 2, 1914, was not an auspicious day in the career of Karl-Konrad von Below-Saleske, German Minister to Belgium.¹ Suave and polished, recruited from the ranks of the aristocracy, like nearly all prewar diplomats, the forty-eight-year-old envoy had served the German Empire in Turkey and China before assuming his position in Brussels in October, 1913. After the war broke out, Brand Whitlock, Below’s American counterpart, recalled an encounter with the German diplomat earlier that summer. It had been at the end of a formal reception at the German Legation, the last of the season.

    “Well, thank God it’s over,”...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Liège
    (pp. 39-124)

    The first Belgians to encounter the invaders were two border guards at Gemmenich, on the route to Visé, officers Thill and Conard. They were approached by about twenty-five uhlans at 8:05 on the morning of August 4th. The gendarmes stood their ground and ordered the patrol to halt. “Belgian frontier!” they announced. ¹

    “I’m perfectly aware of that,” said the officer commanding the squadron, “but the French have crossed the border and we’re going to continue on our way.” The lieutenant had with him a proclamation that officers had been instructed to read in the villages along the frontier. “To...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Aarschot
    (pp. 125-170)

    The Germans approached Aarschot very early on the morning of August 19. At 5:30 a.m., their artillery began bombarding Belgian positions east of the town. The 9thRegiment of the 3rdDivision was not attempting to hold Aarschot, but was covering the Army’s retreat to the Antwerp forts. The regiment was outnumbered by about five to one. Before the final assault that carried them into the town, the Germans, according to Captain Georges Gilson, commanding the 4thCompany of the regiment’s 1stBattalion, drove before them four young women, each holding in her arms a child, along with two little...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Andenne
    (pp. 171-206)

    Andenne, with a little over 7,900 inhabitants in 1914, sits on the right bank of the Meuse, about one-third of the way from Namur to Liège. It lay in the path of the 28thRegiment of Pioneers and the 81st, 83rd, and 87thInfantry Regiments of the southernmost corps of von Bülow’s Second Army, the Reserve Prussian Guard, which was advancing toward Namur from Liège and across the upper Ardennes.

    The massacre that took place in Andenne on August 21stwas the most savage to date. Andenne also had the distinction of being the first mass execution to be publicized...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Tamines
    (pp. 207-256)

    “I have said that the worst of all was Tamines,” wrote the American minister to Belgium, Brand Whitlock, of the massacres of civilians during August.

    But perhaps it only seems the worst because it made such an impression on the minds of the young men of the C.R.B. [the Commission for Relief in Belgium]. They were always talking of it.

    “Yes, but have you seen Tamines?” they would say whenever the conversation, with a kind of fatal and persistent irrelevancy, turned on the atrocities. They knew Tamines only as they passed through it on their way to and from the...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Dinant: Introduction, Leffe
    (pp. 257-294)

    Although it goes unmentioned in German records and memoirs (there is a passing reference in the German White Book)¹, a decisive French victory on August 15 may have provoked the destruction of Dinant and the massacre of its inhabitants on the 23rd. The French repelled a premature attempt on the part of the Third Army to force a passage of the Meuse. (The larger significance of von Hausen’s failure is open to debate, but at least one German commentator felt it was a critical factor in the German check at the Marne two weeks later.)² Seven days after the German...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Dinant: St. Jacques, St. Nicolas
    (pp. 295-342)

    The authors of the crimes in thequartierSt. Jacques were soldiers of the 46thBrigade of the 23rdDivision, in particular the 182ndand 108thInfantry Regiments.

    The officers and soldiers who executed civilians in Leffe and in the districts south of St. Jacques attempted to explain and justify their actions in the German White Book. But the principal massacre in thequartierSt. Jacques, the shooting of thirty men against a wall in the rue des Tanneries, goes unmentioned by its perpetrators in that bulky volume. The identity of the killers would therefore have been difficult to determine...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Dinant: Les Rivages, Neffe
    (pp. 343-378)

    Les Rivages in 1914 consisted of two streets running parallel to the river. Homes faced the water across quai de la Meuse and lined both sides of rue des Rivages a block east. Because of its exposed position, the Germans didn’t reach the Meuse at Les Rivages until mid-afternoon on Sunday, the 23rd. The first man to arrive that day was an engineer, Karl Ermisch, the captain of a company of the 12thPioneer Battalion, who came by himself to locate the most advantageous site for a pontoon bridge. Only after he had been reconnoitering the area for an hour...

  15. CHAPTER 9 Leuven: Preliminaries
    (pp. 379-400)

    Hervé de Gruben, a student at the Higher Institute of Philosophy (Institute St. Thomas), left Leuven on July 22nd, just before the three-week examination period ended. He was looking forward to a restful vacation in the country.

    Scarcely had I settled there when, in the newspapers of the 25th, I read Austria’s ultimatum to Serbia. Then one grave item of news succeeded another, causing general anxiety.

    Some private business brought me back to Leuven on the 30th. I was eager to know what the masters I had left there thought of the situation and what was their forecast of the...

  16. CHAPTER 10 Leuven: Fire and Sword
    (pp. 401-470)

    Until the night of the 25th, one of the most distressing things about the German occupation was the dearth of news. Leuven residents had no idea that the “First Sortie” had commenced the afternoon of the 24thuntil they heard guns booming in the distance the following morning. The Battle of the Frontiers had been raging for over forty-eight hours and the Belgian Army, which only learned of it the morning of the 24th, hoped to contribute to this first great contest between the invaders and the Allies by crashing into the German rear, lightly defended by twoLandwehrcorps,...

  17. CHAPTER 11 Leuven: Exodus
    (pp. 471-522)

    For most of Leuven’s residents, the suffering inflicted on them after they were expelled from the city exceeded what they had endured during the first forty-eight hours of the sack. Much depended on where one went. Most families were directed to the station, where hundreds of individuals had been taken by force before the 27th. But others received no instructions except to leave town at once. The great majority of those who did proceed to the station were quickly made the captives of German forces and were treated with appalling savagery. At various times they were joined by large bodies...

  18. CHAPTER 12 Leuven: Aftermath
    (pp. 523-542)

    Armed with bleaching powder and carbolic acid, and wearing a surgeon’s apron and rubber gloves, Frans Claes (Father Valerius), Professor of Social and Political Science, began the daunting task of locating and transporting to the cemetery the bodies of those massacred on the 25thand 26th. He and his assistants began with corpses still lying in the streets and in homes, and then moved on to disinter and identify the remains of those who had been buried in shallow graves, or tossed into fields or basements. In one case sixteen bodies had been thrown beneath a building under construction¹. Claes,...

  19. CHAPTER 13 Explanations
    (pp. 543-574)

    Were German soldiers responding, albeit harshly, to attacks by Belgian civilians? The question as to whether or not there were any franc-tireurs had been discussed in the chapter on Liège. To recapitulate briefly, any determination has to rest ultimately on the plausibility of Belgian accounts, as opposed to the claims of the depositions in the German White Book, and readers have already had ample opportunity to compare the two sets of testimony. There is, however, abundant and persuasive circumstantial evidence to support the conclusion that there were no organized franc-tireurs attacks, as the German government claimed. To summarize some of...

  20. CHAPTER 14 Denials: Germany
    (pp. 575-602)

    The following two chapters describe attempts in Germany, Great Britain, and the U.S. to deny that the German Army massacred innocent civilians during the 1914 invasion of Belgium. The motives of those in Germany who wished to discredit the evidence of war crimes were straightforward. Germany was at war with the Allies, and even those few writers who suspected that the Army had responded harshly to guerilla attacks, as they knew that the Kaiserreich had not been “set upon” by the predatory Entente partners that “encircled” it, wished to persuade neutrals of Germany’s innocence. For most propagandists, however, it was...

  21. CHAPTER 15 Denials: Britain and America
    (pp. 603-668)

    The section that follows describes how German war crimes in Belgium came to be regarded in the Englishspeaking world as the invention of British propagandists. From unpromising beginnings – the quixotic wartime pronouncements of Bertrand Russell and G. B. Shaw – the notion that massacres of innocent civilians had not taken place became the prevailing orthodoxy by the 1930s. Two books were largely responsible for this development, along with the revival in 1925 of a controversy over allegations about German corpse conversion factories that had been resolved eight years earlier. These were Arthur Ponsonby’sFalsehood in Wartime(1928) and Harold...

  22. Epilogue
    (pp. 669-688)

    At 3 a.m. on May 17, 1940, a monk in the Benedictine abbey of Keizersberg high above Leuven was startled to observe flames flickering from the roof of the University Library, rebuilt in the late 1920s. An hour later, a Minorite friar in town stepped outside and saw small pieces of burned paper flying up in the air. Like Emile Schmit, Lodewijk Grondijs, and hundreds of others in Leuven on August 26, 1914, he immediately suspected what was happening. Not long afterward a woman rushed up to the Minorite cloister to confirm that, indeed, the library was once again on...

  23. APPENDIX: The Report of the British Committee on Alleged German Outrages (RBC)
    (pp. 689-704)
  24. Endnotes
    (pp. 705-788)
  25. Bibliography
    (pp. 789-802)
  26. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 803-804)
  27. Index
    (pp. 805-816)