In doing so, they not only broke international law by violating Belgian neutrality, 28 but also by conducting a war against Belgian civilians, they paved the way for German war crimes. To the great surprise of the German military commanders, the Belgian people did not accept the violation of their neutrality.
From the outset rumours spread among German soldiers that Belgian civilians carried out cunning ambush attacks. Some German intellectuals tried at the time to legitimize this obsession with academic arguments. In addition to the legend of the Franc-tireurs , rumours of Belgian mutilating the wounded and desecrating fallen soldiers spread both among German soldiers and the general public in Germany.
As early as the Belgian sociologist Fernand van Langenhove published a study, based on German sources, testimonial evidence of soldiers, newspaper coverage, and official documents, of the origin, logic, and dynamics of these rumours. He showed how they had arisen from military letters sent by ordinary German soldiers and from accounts given by wounded soldiers. Taken up by the newspapers and revised in their accounts, the rumours contributed widely to the shaping of German public opinion.
Soldiers, in this situation, had repeated as truth the stories they had heard. And these rumours, Marc Bloch explained, in turn prompted German soldiers to exercise extreme violence and brutality against Belgian civilians. In the meantime, the northern line of the German army invaded the town of Leuven killing two hundred citizens and destroying a large part of the historical city centre.
During this attack the library of Leuven was burned down. Within a period of only a few weeks German soldiers killed more than six thousand Belgian civilians. It was two German-Jewish officials who accused Bloch of insults, and he was imprisoned in May The later global historian and British citizen Arnold J. Some of these photographs are presented above. Because Toynbee was once a famous personality with international reputation a brief excursus should be inserted here. The British historian Arnold J. Toynbee, who would become renowned as a world historian owing to his twelve volume A Study of History , published from to , 51 an indisputable precursor of global history, 52 was in spring employed as a tutor in Oxford following his university education in Oxford and Athens in ancient history.
At this momentous time, he found himself compelled to engage in current problems and global politics. Among his publications were comprehensive documentations of the Armenian genocide and of German warfare in Poland. In light of the German atrocities in Belgium in summer and autumn , the question remains: what was the perception of German Jews in Belgium, some of whom served as soldiers in the German army, others as rabbis for those same soldiers stationed there?
How, that is, did German Jews perceive this violence against Belgian civilians and this new quality of war, which was now directed against the civilian population? And how did the German-Jewish public sphere, as well as Jewish intellectuals in Germany, become aware of the violation of Belgian neutrality and German atrocities there? Among the German-Jewish contemporary witnesses who served as soldiers in the occupation of Belgium were the young Werner H.
The war letters of German and Austrian Jews collected and published in by the journalist Eugen Tannenbaum include one from Werner H. Werner H. Levy kept a diary of his wartime deployment. On the next day he left his town by railroad, crossed the Rhine on August 4 th , and by midday he entered Belgium together with his company. Already on this very first day in Belgium he made note of an attack by Franc-tireurs , which left five soldiers dead and fifteen wounded. On August 7 th , his troop moved to Liege, where he examined the coffins at the cemetery for hidden weapons.
Soberly, Levy wrote of burning houses, fleeing citizens, and many dead Belgians. On August 25 th , he marched into France. After Werner H. Theilhaber, a Zionist physician and author of several social-science studies on Judaism. The Belgian people were quite haughty, he wrote, adding reproachfully that - in their own minds - they were envisioning the Belgian army returning to their own capital.
Hate and emotion had suppressed every conversation. Germany will destroy us. And all for what? Entering the destroyed city of Leuven some days later, Theilhaber noted simply that the spooky collapsing ruins had made little impression on him. Arriving at the station of Liege he noticed German soldiers with machine-guns, but he remarked that the town is by and large quiet. In his report he then wrote about how he attended, together with several German-Jewish soldiers, the service in the Brussels main synagogue during a religious holiday.
With approval he noted that the Jewish community of Brussels had offered seats in the front rows to the German Jews. The most heart-rending moment, Italiener wrote, came immediately after the prayer for the Belgian king, when the organ softly played the Belgian national anthem. There is no House of God in Belgium where sorrow for the poor country is felt more deeply. In conclusion, he maintained rather that Belgium had many reasons to criticize itself.
To conclude, one can observe from these accounts that the German Jews serving in Belgium had no notion of the atrocities of German warfare in Belgium; indeed, many other documents provide accounts that substantiate this view. The German Jew Alice Fabian, for example, working for the German central purchasing company in Brussels, wrote soberly in a letter from November 6 th , , that the Belgians are extremely anti-German, so that one should be wary of them. He described his march through Belgium as a summer trip, during which he experienced a grand display of pyrotechnics, and before entering Liege he told of different kinds of amusements, for instance, with firecrackers.
At the beginning of August , declaring that Germany is at war and still warning that Europe is on the eve of terrible and momentous events - on the eve of a global conflagration - the Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums still pointed to Belgian neutrality. The paper noted as well that Belgian prisoners of war, captured near Liege, were on their way to Germany.
In the very next issue, the Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums assured its readers that its suspicions about the great suffering of German Jews fleeing Belgium were confirmed. The Germania , too, had picked up the rumours about the behaviour of Belgian Franc-tireurs , reporting that they had committed unspeakable cruelties against infants and old people alike. In the same issue, the Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums informed its readers that German soldiers had entered Brussels.
The soldiers, Geiger emphasized, were not to blame but rather the citizens who had fired with nefarious blindness at the German soldiers. The weekly war report of this issue made overt use of the term Franctireur , again accusing Belgian civilians of having taken part in the fighting, and the report in Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums additionally declared that the advance into Belgium is one of those enormous and admirable acts that are very rare in world history. The reflections of the Orthodox newspaper Jeschurun were different. In October , the rabbi and journal editor Joseph Wohlgemuth wrote in a lead article that at a historical moment in which the vital interests of its people are in danger every nation will violate international law.
Another German Jewish journal, the Israelitische Familienblatt from Hamburg even used biblical arguments to try and legitimize the violation of the Belgian neutrality, citing an episode from the Book of Moses. Therefore, the Israelitische Familienblatt wrote, Germany has the right to make its way through Belgium according to the spirit of the Bible. Even the journal Ost und West in the summer of added its voice to the chorus of enthusiasm for the war. Most surprising for its authors was the hatred toward Germany in the neutral countries and those countries that were like Germany.
Here, the article proclaimed, the hatred appears masked but is nonetheless present, and hence the German-Jewish journalists decidedly condemned the Franc-tireurs. Furthermore this article from the journal Ost und West drew an analogy between the hatred directed toward Germany and hatred directed toward the Jews. Philippson was very familiar with public opinion in Belgium, thanks to his own longstanding activities at the University of Brussels.
In , however, he returned to Germany for reasons that remain unclear, but the move was conceivably motivated by anti-German attitudes among Belgian students. Other voices speak of a democratic opposition on the part of students against authoritarian attitudes among the professoriate.
Whatever his reasons, Martin Philippson must have been very aware of Belgian attitudes and that the violation of Belgian neutrality by German troops would trigger broad resistance within Belgian society. In his article, however, Philippson complained about the deep mendacity and immoral insidiousness with which the enemies of Germany had over the years prepared for this war. He also attacked the dreadful atrocities and murderous deeds that the Belgians now ostensibly carried out.
Responding to the rumours about the Franc-tireurs , Philippson in a bizarre twist condemned the malicious attacks by civilians. The rumours of the Franctireur atrocities had exerted so great an influence on the German public sphere that even an author like Arnold Zweig, later known as a convinced pacifist, was unable at this historical moment to evade their mass psychological impact.
In The Beast Zweig tells the story of the brutal and sadistic murder of three innocent German soldiers committed by a Belgian peasant.
Shortly thereafter, the three German soldiers arrived, asking for quartering. The peasant offered them accommodation and gave them alcohol to drink. After having gotten them drunk he murdered them in bestial fashion. In the summer of the vast majority of German Jews believed these rumours, and Arnold Zweig was by no means the only one to harbour this kind of a belligerent attitude. Even Martin Buber succumbed to German war mania and internalized the rumours. Martin Buber shared his belief in these rumours with such a sensitive philosopher and sociologist as the baptized Georg Simmel.
Even if Stefan Zweig was an Austrian and not a German Jewish writer, it might be helpful to reflect on his experiences here, too, first because of his former friendship with Belgian authors, second because his biography illustrates sharply the emotional confusion and personal discord caused by the German occupation of Belgium, and third because he contributed definitively to the German public sphere and to the German Jewish audience. Finally, he impressively described in retrospect the fundamental break brought about by the First World War, for both general European history and European Jewish history.
Verhaeren was an intimate friend, whose poems Zweig had translated into German and whom he had portrayed sensitively in the German journal Das literarische Echo in Some days later Zweig must have read in Austrian newspapers about the legends of the Franc-tireurs , and he confessed in his diary to be shocked by the news from Belgium. On September 19 th , Zweig published an open letter in the German newspaper Berliner Tageblatt to his friend abroad. There he publicly broke with his Belgian friends. Verhaeren has published a poem that is nearly the most stupid and infamous thing that can be thought.
A kind of intellectual confusion had overcome the German Jewish writer and journalist Heinrich Eduard Jacob. In September he travelled as war correspondent through Belgium and the following year published his diary "Travel through the Belgian war. Among the few German Jewish intellectuals who resisted the mass psychological suggestion of war fever in summer was the utopian messianic writer and political philosopher Ernst Bloch.
Bloch went into exile in Switzerland during the conflict, publishing from there sharp critiques in the Bern newspaper Freie Zeitung. Victor Klemperer, by contrast, believed at the very outset of the war that Germany might be innocent, as he noted on August 5 th in his diary. And would one not, he continued, declare those actions as natural and brave that in the case of Belgium are seen as a symptom of lust for murder?
In the entry of the same day Klemperer denounced the bombardment of the town of Antwerp by German Zeppelins. For this kind of cruelty there is still no paragraph in international law, he noted with resignation, but the international law in this case would in any event have been eluded. He also condemned the military forces for their cruel handling of Belgian civilians. Like Eisner, Eduard Bernstein also sharply criticized German belligerence.
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In Bernstein published the book The Mission of the Jews in the World War , in which he called attention to the contradictory arguments in the pro-German attitudes of Russian Jewish delegates at a recent conference of socialists from neutral countries. In conclusion, it is worth noting that none of the evidence suggests that the German atrocities in Belgium were directed in any way against Jews or that the occupation policy had a specific anti-Semitic character.
On the contrary, there is a document telling of a German soldier who saved a Belgian citizen because the person was Jewish. In August , the majority of German Jews shared the attitudes and opinions of the vast majority of other Germans. They did not criticize the German occupation of Belgium or the violation of the neutrality of this small country.
They did not discern the new quality of warfare as a war against the civilian population, which it became during the German fighting in Belgium. The war, in this way, had rather created in its very first moment a complicated or peculiar kind of Christian-Jewish cohabitation in Germany. Even if this social coexistence ultimately broke down over the course of the war, it was so strong at the beginning that German patriotism even superseded the well-known intra-Jewish conflicts between liberal, orthodox, and Zionist Jews in Germany.
They all shared, at the moment of the declaration of war, the same German patriotic attitude and the same belligerent dispositions. There were some German Jews who did not succumb to the militaristic view and did not support the German invasion of Belgium, but they were more the exception than the rule, and their attitude occasionally led to the end of old friendships like that between Ernst Bloch und Georg Simmel. Even friends like Albert Ballin and Theodor Wolff disagreed with respect to German policy towards Belgium as Wolff noted in his diaries.
In contrast, Wolff, as editor of the most important liberal newspaper in Germany at the time, the Berliner Tageblatt , expressed serious reservations about this policy. Despite these exceptions and these individual atonements, the Great War in one sense unified German Jewry in the way it evoked an ambivalent unity of the previously contested German Jewish public sphere.
On the other hand, the war seemed to have destroyed the former transnational bond that linked European Jewry and the intellectual exchange of Jews in Europe. Whereas Martin chose to support Germany after his stay in Belgium, taking part in German patriotism and promoting the militaristic line, his brother Franz, who had moved to Belgium just before Martin, remained strongly integrated into Belgian society as well as the Belgian Jewish establishment before He was a member of the Consistoire Israelite de Belgique and temporarily president of the Jewish community.
He then lost his youngest son in the war, who died as a Belgian soldier in The situation was most problematic for those German Jews who had lived in Belgium and were expelled from the country in August , as happened to a young Jew named Wagner from Siegburg. His situation was exacerbated by the fact that he was conscripted to serve as a foot soldier near the Belgian border.
As the German military rabbi serving in Rethel wrote to the association of German Jews, Wagner chose to defect when the opportunity arose. He came across a video of me playing his piece "Waves Dance" and he decided to write a new piece dedicated to me. When it was published he sent it to me and wrote me a handwritten letter, explaining how at 80 years old he did not own or care much for computers, but a friend of his showed him my recording and he decided to dedicate a new piece to me.
I was very moved and happy when I received his kind letter! I always hated having to tune every 2 minutes af My first outdoors video is coming out next weekend! Something very cool is coming up! We recorded a video! We recorded this last weekend before a concert in Baden-Baden. To fully experience the 3D sound, watch the Changing strings is a serious business!
New videos of the Weimar Guitar Quartet coming up soon! New video coming up soon! Late night practice of Divagazioni, a charming piece written for me by the Italian composer Claudio Decoti! Thanks again to everyone who supported us in this project. For all our preorders, we hope you have enjoyed listening to the CD! Here is a photo from our recent visit to Weimar to celebrate along with our sound engineer Leopold Stoffels! We also discussed all of our upcoming plans, concerts, and recordings for Will be a fun year!
Visit us at weimarguitarquartet. Lots of times my mind wanders and it is all too easy to ignore the sound of the metronome. What helped me immensely with this is the Soundbrenner Pulse! I would love to hear from you guys.