Rape of Belgium

Rape of Belgium

The Rape of Belgium (4 August through September 1914 [cite book | last = Zuckerman | first = Larry | authorlink = Larry Zuckerman | coauthors = | title = The Rape of Belgium: The Untold Story of World War I | publisher = New York University Press | date = 2004 | location = New York | pages = | url = http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=271021113600404 | doi = | id = | isbn = 978-0-8147-9704-4 ] ) was a series of German war crimes in the opening months of World War I. The neutrality of Belgium had been guaranteed by Prussia in 1839. Germany accepted Prussia's diplomatic obligations and offered additional guarantees in 1871 and at the Hague Conference in 1907. However the German war plan, known as the Schlieffen Plan, called for Germany to violate this neutrality in order to outflank the French Army, concentrated in eastern France. The German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg dismissed the Treaty of London, 1839 as a mere "scrap of paper".

German troops, fearful of Belgian guerrilla fighters, or "francs-tireurs", burned homes and executed innocent civilians throughout eastern and central Belgium, including Aarschot (156 dead), Andenne (211 dead), Tamines (383 dead) and Dinant (665 dead). The victims included women and children. On August 25, 1914 the Germans ravaged the city of Leuven, burning the University's library of 230,000 books, killing 248 residents, and forcing the entire population, 42,000, to evacuate. These actions brought worldwide condemnation. [ Commission d'Enquete, Rapports et Documents d'Enquete, vol. 1, book 1. pp679-704, vol. 1, book 2. 1922. pp605-615. ]

The invasion of Belgium was cited by the United Kingdom as a reason for entering the war on France's side. The war crimes galvanized support for the government's decision. They also sparked much wartime propaganda -- in sensationalist war posters in Britain, the Germans were drawn as Huns or gorillas, completely dehumanized and immoral. In his book "Roosevelt & Hitler", author Robert E. Herzstein states, "The Germans could not seem to find a way to counteract powerful British propaganda about the 'Rape of Belgium' and other alleged atrocities." (p.8). Reports paved the way for other propaganda of the war such as The Crucified Soldier, The Angels of Mons, and the German corpse factory, Kadaververwertungsanstalt.

In an attempt to substantiate the rumors, official commissions were established in Belgium and Britain. Thousands of witnesses were interviewed. While the conclusions of the British government in The Bryce Report were correct, the Appendix included some dubious testimony, particularly from Belgian soldiers. Testimony in the reports of the Belgian commission, particularly in the two volumes on war crimes issued after the war, is more accurate.

In-depth historical studies on this subject include "German Atrocities 1914: A History of Denial" by John Horne and Alan Kramer, "The Rape of Belgium: The Untold Story of World War 1" by Larry Zuckerman, and "Rehearsals: The German Army in Belgium, August 1914" by Jeff Lipkes.

While some civilians may have fired on German troops in the opening days of the war, the German White Book ("Die völkererechtswidrige Führung des belgischen Volkskriegs") identified only two by name, both incorrectly. There were no legitimate trials or courts martial. None of the thousands of Belgian civilians deported to Germany was ever charged with any crime. There is good evidence that the German Army sought to terrorize civilians in order to assure a speedy passage through Belgium and to deter sabotage against supply lines. In some places, particularly Liege, Andenne, and Leuven, there is evidence that the violence against civilians was premeditated. [ J. Lipkes, Rehearsals: The German Army in Belgium, August 1914. 2007. pp543-574. ]

Even today, the war crimes of August 1914 are often dismissed as British propaganda. Scholars in the U.S. and U.K. began taking them seriously in the mid-1990s. The debate is now between those who believe the Germans acted primarily out of paranoia (Horne and Kramer) and those who emphasize additional causes (Lipkes). Zuckerman documents the continuing oppression of Belgians under German occupation, arguing that this is the real "rape of Belgium."


External links

* [http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=48071096633975 H-Net] Review of Horne & Kramer, "The German Atrocities of 1914 : A History of Denial".
* [http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=271021113600404 H-Net] Review of L. Zuckerman, "The Rape of Belgium: The Untold Story of World War I".
* [http://www.historyofwar.org/bookpage/lipkes_rehearsals.html HistoryOfWar.org] Review of J. Lipkes, "Rehearsals: The German Army in Belgium, August 1914".
* [http://www.h-net.msu.edu/reviews/showrev.php?id=14776 H-Net] Review of J. Lipkes "Rehearsals: The German Army in Belgium, August 1914" by Jeffrey Smith.
* [http://www.janpieterchielens.be/shotatdawn/page39.html Prof. John Horne, "German War Crimes".]

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