As has been noted in foregoing pages, the German occupation of Belgium and Northern France and the Allied blockade forced the industrial establishments of these regions to close and caused widespread unemployment. The slender resources of the unemployed were soon exhausted and they became wholly dependent on charitable aid for their support. Without that aid they faced the alternatives of starving or accepting employment offered by the Germans, and so aiding directly or indirectly the enemies of their nation. The Commission endeavored to keep the unemployed from being faced with this decision by increasing the funds available for benevolent distribution and, as has been described in the last chapter, by attempting to work out an arrangement with the belligerents which would permit the resumption of certain industrial activities. Further assistance was given to the workers by employment on public works undertaken by the Communes, and by small subsidies issued to former employees of state enterprises through the "Société Coopérative d'Advance et de Prêts, patronnée par le Comité, National de Secours et d'Alimentation." The German authorities were, of course, fully aware from the beginning of the advantage they would derive if Belgian workers could be seduced or forced to accept German employment, either camouflaged or open. They also recognized that the "secours" or benevolent aid furnished by the relief organizations sustained the workers in their patriotic determination not to work for the enemy. Recognition of this fact was the chief reason behind the German effort in 1915 to get control of relief distribution.(277) It also explains the Germans' lack of enthusiasm for the industrial revival project discussed in the preceding chapter.


1. Belgian Workers and German Employment. November 1914-March 1916

During the first months of the occupation, before the shortage of man power had begun to be felt in Germany,

the occupation authorities made no overt attempt to compel the Belgians to work for them.(278) They confined themselves to decreeing that no pressure should be used to restrain Belgians from accepting German employment, to offering high wages, and to efforts to manipulate relief in such a fashion that the resistance of the workers to German blandishments would be weakened.

Under pressure, the Germans abandoned the attempt to control relief, and in reply to a letter(279) drafted by Hoover, Villalobar, and Whitlock, they agreed not to use the relief organizations to compel Belgians to accept employment that would benefit the German Army. This, of course, did not settle the matter. The occupation authorities assumed that they alone were competent to decide whether a particular type of employment was for the benefit of the Imperial Army or "in the public interest," and they decreed that Belgians who refused employment described by the German authority as in the public interest should be imprisoned for not more than one year. The Belgians naturally could not accept in many cases the German interpretation of "the public interest," and, as in the Lessines case (Documents 410 and 411), they refused to work and went to prison.



German decree,
establishing that the Central Allies are not in a judicial sense foreign or enemy powers for the occupied territory of Belgium, and making interference with labor for the German authorities a punishable offense.(

BRUSSELS, 19 November 1914


The German Empire, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey are not to be considered, for the occupied territory of Belgium, as foreign powers or enemies in the sense defined in Articles 113 ff. of the Belgian Penal Code and by the statute of August 4, 1914 [Statute concerning crimes and offences against the External Security of the State].


Any one who undertakes, by force, threats, persuasion, or other means, to restrain those willing to work from labor for German authorities or for contractors executing contracts for German authorities, shall be punished by imprisonment.


The military authorities have the exclusive right of jurisdiction under this decree.


This decree takes effect immediately upon promulgation.

The Governor-General in Belgium

Field-Marshal General




CROSBY To HOOVER, On the progress of conferences in Brussels brought about through the German attempt to control the relief organization especially by regulating "secours" to the unemployed.

BRUSSELS, 8 July 1915

Herbert C. Hoover, London


The situation in regard to any new relations between the German authorities and the C.N. and C.R.B. has changed rather suddenly since last night. I sent you telegrams indicating that Francqui expected to make no accord whatever if any substantial changes were proposed by German authority, but to take this position---that it will be necessary to refer such changes to the governments concerned, and that to this effect he would ask permission to leave the country for a visit to England and perhaps Havre.

No conference between the German authorities and the ministers took place until yesterday. At that meeting a number of the points presented by General von Bissing's first note(281) were somewhat softened in their application. The capital matter of secours, and that as connected with possible requirements by the Germans, that Belgians should work for them, was agreed to be left as determined by the Hague Conference of 1907.

Mr. Francqui was present, and the Ministers, with Mr. Francqui consenting, seem to have accepted the proposition of the Germans to this effect. When I was told of this by Mr. Francqui last night, I naturally raised the point that no two persons of opposite interest had yet agreed upon the interpretation of any paragraph of the Hague conference, and that it seemed to me merely a delay of possible trouble, to leave the matter without asking the Germans for their interpretation of the principal paragraph in question, namely Paragraph 52, Section I, of the annex to the Convention. Mr. Francqui seemed, at last, to feel this was desirable; and I understand that today the presidents of the Provincial Committee have taken the same ground. I have just learned, however, (3:00 p.m. Thursday) from Mr. Whitlock, that he and Marquis de Villalobar had yesterday considered the matter as settled.

Your telegram indicating that you were sending the new British regulations on the subject was received yesterday morning and communicated to Mr. Francqui, but he did not get it early enough to submit it before the meeting. Mr. Whitlock was therefore much surprised when I went over the subject with him this afternoon. He seems to feel, however, that he can follow my suggestion of holding the matter open by asking for an interpretation of the paragraph in question. I had no information until last night after the meeting above mentioned, that Mr. Francqui had any other idea than that of asking for the permission to go out for discussion in England and Havre.

Upon receipt of the expected letter from you, giving terms(282) desired by the British government, it is probable the matter can then be definitely arranged.

I suppose if the British requirements are accepted by the German authorities, that Mr. Francqui's visit may then be unnecessary. It is not clear that the Ministers consider it important.

Sincerely and hastily yours

Brussels Office



Extract of letter,(283)
VILLALOBAR TO VON DER LANCKEN, stating the principle verbally agreed upon, that the German authorities would not employ the C.N. or the C.R.B. as a means to force Belgian workers into employment beneficial to the German Army.

BRUSSELS, 16 July 1915

To His Excellency Baron von der Lancken


The British Government has promised to allow and facilitate the import .... under the conditions, the principles of which we have already had the pleasure of agreeing upon with Your Excellency.

That the Belgian population alone will receive the advantage of the secours which the Comité National will distribute.

That the Comité National and the C.R.B. will continue to enjoy full liberty of action in accordance with their mission and their responsibilities in provisioning and giving assistance to the Belgian population who are in need.

That the German authorities will at no time employ the Comité National or the C.R.B. as a means to force the population of working people, against their will and against their conscience, to employment either directly or indirectly benefiting the German Imperial Army.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I have no doubt that Your Excellency will be good enough to signify your agreement with the above.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..

Minister of Spain in Belgium




Extract of letter,(284)
VON DER LANCKEN TO VILLALOBAR, giving assurance that the C.N. would not be used to force Belgians to work for the German Army

BRUSSELS, 29 July 1915

To His Excellency, the Marquis de Villalobar, Brussels


I have the honor to acknowledge your letter of the 16th of July with regard to the provisioning of Belgium ....

I am happy to be able to inform Your Excellency that M. the Governor General has agreed to the following principles, which I am sure are the same as those stated by Your Excellency, viz.:

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

That the Governor General will at no time make use of the Comité National to force the Belgian working population to employment for the benefit of the German army, contrary to the stipulations of the Hague Conventions.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .





German decree concerning measures to ensure the continuance of necessary labor in the interest of the public(285)

BRUSSELS, 14 August 1915


Anyone who without adequate reason refuses to undertake or continue labor in the interest of the public, for which he is called upon by German authorities and which is in the line of his professional activity, shall be punished by detention or imprisonment for not more than one year.

In particular, any reason for such refusal based on international law is to be accepted as adequate.


Article 2 of the Decree of 19th November 1914 (Gesetz- und Verordnungsblatt für die okkupierten Gebiete Belgiens, No. 17, p. 57) is replaced by the following regulation:

Whoever undertakes, by force, threats, persuasion, or other means to restrain others from undertaking or continuing labor in the interest of the public, for which he is called upon by German authorities and which is in the line of his professional activity, or labor for German authorities or for contractors executing contracts for German authorities, shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than five years.


Anyone who knowingly aids or abets a refusal to work which incurs punishment in accordance with Article 1, by furnishing support [Unterstützungen] or in any other manner, shall be punished by a fine of not more than ten thousand marks, in addition to which a sentence of imprisonment for not more than one year may be imposed.


If communes, unions [Vereinigungen], or other organizations aid or abet refusal to work as described in Article 3, the penalty shall be imposed on the leaders.


Sums of money which are proved to be destined for the support of the persons designated in Article 1 shall be confiscated for the benefit of the Belgian Red Cross.


The German military courts and the German military authorities have jurisdiction in these cases.


Independently of the foregoing regulations, the competent authorities may when the circumstances so justify levy coercive impositions [Zwangsauflagen].


This decree takes effect immediately upon its promulgation.

The Governor-General in Belgium




MASTERS OF THE LESSINES QUARRIES TO VON BISSING, concerning conditions of the resumption of work in the quarries and the arrest of masters and men by the authorities

LESSINES, 25 October 1915

His Excellency Freiherr von Bissing
of Belgium


We learn that you have directed an inquiry into the facts as a result of which a certain number of directors and assistants as well as numerous quarrymen of Lessines were recently condemned to prison by a War Court for refusing to work.

We ask you to authorize us to demonstrate that the position taken by them is not only sanctioned by the rules of International Law but also by Article 1 of your Decree of 14th August 1915.

For more than a year all operations have been suspended in the Lessines quarries and great misery prevails among the working population of that city and the adjacent villages. Further, masters and workmen would embrace with joy the opportunity to resume work which would not be opposed to their patriotic duty.

This was our attitude at the first. We so declared it on 21st August to Mr. Martini, Berg-Assessor at Mons. We told him that if sufficient guarantee could be given that the product of the quarries would not be employed either directly or indirectly for military purposes, we were convinced that all difficulties would be easily settled. Unfortunately, the guarantees we asked were refused us without discussion, which could only be interpreted by us as a confirmation of our fears that it was desired to force us to aid the operations of the German Army against the Belgian Army and the Allies. Furthermore, we have received proof that the macadam of Lessines is shipped toward the German lines.

Under these conditions our refusal to work is legitimate, as we stated above, through Article 52 of regulations concerning laws and customs of war, and through Article 1 of your Decree of 14th August 1915.

Also, may we count upon the equity of Your Excellency, to have justice done to our fellow-citizens, recently sentenced.

We think it advisable to demonstrate once more the legality of our position, to confirm to you that we are disposed now, as at the first, to do all in our power to induce the workmen to resume work if this resumption may be undertaken under conditions compatible with our patriotic duty. A simple method would permit us to give satisfaction to the German authorities.

We are ready to endeavor to induce the workmen to resume work if formal assurance is given us that no product of the Lessines quarries will be acquired or requisitioned for any military purpose whatever.

We understand quite well that it might not be possible to authorize us to ourselves verify the execution of this engagement, but would it not be easy to grant to an authority or a citizen of a neutral country the right to control the destination of the product of the Lessines quarries?

If that were done we should be enabled to show our workmen that they might resume work without committing an act of treason toward their country, and we are sure that they would receive with joy the possibility of increasing the comfort of their families, now subjected by a spirit of sacrifice, to the greatest privations.

In closing, we venture to draw the attention of Your Excellency to the treatment inflicted upon the recently sentenced directors of Lessines.

They are under a régime of hard labor, which is particularly serious on account of the age and state of health of several of them.

We are sure that such action could only have been taken without the knowledge of the higher authorities of the German Government. Also, we dare to hope that Your Excellency will see fit, without awaiting the result of the enquiry which you have ordered, to intervene in order that the treatment to which our friends are subjected, may be mitigated.

We beg Your Excellency to accept the assurance of our high consideration.

Signed by The Masters of the Lessines Quarries,
except Jacquemin, Vandevelde, and new quarry owner




VON BISSING, replying to the preceding and stating the German position

BRUSSELS, 5 November 1915

The memorandum of 25th October 1915 concerning the refusal to work at Lessines has not altered my opinion on the subject.

The opposition of the operators and the workmen to my efforts to settle the question of work and to effect the well-being of the population is not justified by the Convention of The Hague.

The operators should recognize my efforts to induce the workmen to earn a regular salary (see my Decree August 16) and had better demand the protection of the military power to force the recalcitrant men to work.

You may not refer the matter to the Convention of The Hague, for even if the macadam was not used exclusively for the needs of the occupied country, as for instance for the repair of important military roads, or, as an exception, once for the need of the army, this is no reason for refusing to produce it.

For as these products do not serve primarily for military undertakings of war, the workmen do not take part in operations of war against their country.

Therefore, I have no guarantee to give that the product of the Lessines Quarries shall not have a military application and I must reject this requirement, which is that the authorities should be subject to control as concerns the use of this macadam.

The application of my Decree of 18th August 1915 to the refusal to work at Lessines has received my approval, and the penalties imposed are just because they are not counter to Article 52 of the Hague Convention and the culprits were warned of the penalties they incurred in refusing to work.

The extent of the penalty is also justified by reason of the stubborn opposition of the offenders.

Finally, as regards the article relating to hard labor and to the régime to which the prisoners are subjected, this assertion is inexact, for I have been advised that, on the contrary, privileges were granted them at the prison at Mons, in the matter of cleaning the cells, baths, and the transport of baggage on their departure.





GREY TO PAGE, indicating that the German methods of coercing Belgian workers are likely to cause the British to withdraw their support of relief

22 September 1915

The United States Ambassador, London


You will recollect that Lord Crewe's letter of July 7th,(286) laying down the conditions governing the work of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, contained the following remark:

"If the German authorities desire to use the machinery of the Commission and the Comité National for the purpose of coercing the working population of Belgium to employ themselves against their own will and conscience, directly or indirectly in the service, or for the benefit, of the occupying Army, they must themselves provide the relief which these bodies dispense, and all arrangements between His Majesty's Government and the Commission must cease."

In my subsequent letter(287) of July 17th, I stipulated that "there shall be no interference of any kind whatever by the German authorities either in the sale of these foodstuffs or in their free distribution in the way of relief to those whom the Commission and the Comité National shall consider deserving of such relief."

In reply to this, Baron von der Lancken stated in his letter(288) to Mr. Whitlock of July 29th that "Monsieur le Gouverneur Général ne se servira. jamais du Comité National pour forcer la population belge à s'employer au service de l'armée allemande, contrairement aux stipulations des Conventions de la Haye."

On August 14th and 15th the Governor General of Belgium issued two decrees which were published in the Gesetz und Verordnungsblatt at Brussels on August 22nd. These decrees impose severe punishments on workmen who refuse to give their labour to "works of public interest" or who, being in receipt of either public or private relief, refuse to accept work offered to them. Similar penalties are imposed on persons, "communes, associations, or other groups" who, "by the distribution of relief or by other means," "favour" such refusal to work. The decree of August 14th is to be enforced by the military tribunals. The decree of August 15th imposes automatically imprisonment for a fortnight to six months on all who, having refused work, become a charge on either public or private relief.

Both these decrees contain a clause exempting from their operation those cases where refusal to work is based on considerations admitted by international law, and I am well aware that the German authorities will claim that this exemption is a sufficient fulfilment of their promise quoted above. They will also doubtless claim that the word "favour" implies a deliberate use of relief for certain objects and does not apply to the assistance given by the relief committees of the Comité National. Unfortunately, the German authorities cannot expect, in view of their known actions in such matters, that any reliance should be placed on the interpretation to be given to such vague phrases by their military tribunals. The report recently published by the Belgian Commission of Inquiry (9th Report, August 6th) on the methods of coercion applied by the German authorities to the railway workmen at Luttre has revealed the German policy in such matters, and it is alleged on good evidence that, in order to give effect to that policy, the relief committees, communal soup-kitchens, etc., have in many cases been forbidden to give relief to classes of workmen whose labour the German authorities desire to enlist in their service. It is, however, unnecessary to rely on such allegations, since, by the decree of August 15th itself, the mere grant of relief to a workman renders that workman liable to imprisonment on the ground that he has in the past refused employment.

It is unnecessary to recapitulate the account given in the report above-mentioned, or to dwell on the measures of deliberate starvation, imprisonment, deportation, and torture to which these workmen have been subjected. This, it must be assumed, is the "law of nations" which is referred to in these German decrees and to which the relief committees are to be subjected, and this is the interpretation to be placed on the "Hague Conventions" and on the phrase "the service of the German Army" in Baron von der Lancken's letter. If any Belgian workman, knowing the wide extent of the needs of the German army and the manner in which every industry in Germany is already devoted to the task of supplying it, should refuse to work in industries indirectly essential to the maintenance of that army, relief is to be denied to him and starvation and imprisonment await him.

I feel that, were this correspondence to be published---and it will I fear, soon be my duty to ask Your Excellency's consent to its publication if present conditions continue--the people of this country would draw from it the conclusion that no further assistance should be given on their behalf by His Majesty's Government to a relief organisation whose activities are in danger of being so controlled by the enemy.

In face of the grave alternatives before which the whole work of relief is thus placed, I feel obliged to ask you to be good enough to draw the attention of the patrons of the Comité National at Brussels once more to the facts I have stated, in order that they may take the necessary steps to satisfy themselves both now and as time goes on, that the German authorities abstain from all interference in the work of relief which those authorities themselves have so recently promised to leave free and untrammelled. I sincerely regret to be obliged to trouble Your Excellency further in this matter in view of the efforts already made by Mr. Whitlock to put the whole organisation on a sound basis, but you will, I hope, understand the necessity for a clear understanding on such important matters.

In conclusion I must again call attention to what I said in my letter of July 17, that this work could not be based on the strict belligerent rights of either Government. Your Excellency knows that the Commission is enabled to exist solely by the assistance given to it by His Majesty's Government, and His Majesty's Government having so far gone beyond their duties and renounced their rights, they cannot tolerate that they should be met in this matter by an assertion of rights on the part of those who have renounced their duties.

I have sent an identic letter to the Spanish Ambassador, and have furnished the Netherlands Minister with a copy at his request.

Yours sincerely,

(Signed) E. GREY


During the winter of 1915-16 the Germans increased their pressure on Belgian workers, particularly on employees of the railways and railway shops. The method was first to forbid the Société Coopérative to continue its advances to the worker; then to offer the worker a job, to arrest and try him before a German court if he refused the job, and to give him a prison sentence or deport him to Germany if he persisted in his refusal. The idea of deporting Belgians for work in German factories appears to have been first broached at an economic congress of German industrialists and functionaries held at Brussels in June 1915. The plan was not put into effect on a large scale until a year later.(289)



C. M. TORREY, C.R.B. DELEGATE TO NAMUR, TO C.R.B., BRUSSELS, describing efforts of German authorities to compel Belgians to work in railway shops

NAMUR, 29 March 1916

The Commission for Relief in Belgium,
Executive Department, Brussels


Regarding the question of attempts by the military occupants to force Belgian workmen to do repair and construction of a military or semi-military nature on the railroads, I have been made acquainted with the details of one case and the general features of two others in this province.

The case to which I should first refer is that at Rochefort in this province. Upon the occasion of a visit there yesterday, I was informed by three of the persons concerned of the facts in the matter.

It appears that the three with whom I spoke---Josef Francau, Eugene Paquet, and Emil Delhaize--- had, up to the 7th of February 1916 and for four months past enjoyed a chomeur's remittance from the local committees of Secours, of 1.50 francs a day and for two days each week. On the 7th of February 1916 a summons to these three and to eleven other able-bodied men of Rochefort (most of whom were in the like position of chomeur) came from the office of the German Kommandantur, commanding the men to present themselves at Jemelle, a village two kilometers away, where railroad repair and construction shops are situated. Following this demand, the fourteen presented themselves the same day at Jemelle, at these shops as requested. When all had gathered there at 8:00 A.M., a German officer evidently in charge of the shop asked them to work, describing the labor generally as that of repair, and offering as payment 3 marks 60 pfennigs a day. Further, it seems that certain specific positions, among them locomotive engineer, chief workman, and inspector of material, were offered to individuals who were interrogated and considered by the military to have the necessary qualifications. In any event, the men at that time and later seemed to agree substantially that the work demanded was either directly military (as making over cars for the carriage of soldiers and specific munitions) or indirectly so as being connected in general with the main purpose of the Germans' use of Belgian railroads.

This request to sign a contract to work and the offer of payment was made in the morning shortly after eight, and was immediately refused by each of the fourteen. Upon such refusal, they were detained at Jemelle until 10:00 P.M., at which hour they were conducted to the Kommandantur's office at Rochefort. There they were individually interrogated, stripped, and searched; and upon another refusal given at the end of this process, at 2:00 A.M. February 8th, they were taken off to Dinant, which they reached at 6:00 A.M., thence to Namur, which they reached (under military conduct) about 10:00 A.M. In Namur they were first put into prison without examination or interrogatory, and kept there thenceforward on a diet (they tell me) of bread and water. Finally on February 25 their formal examination and trial was held, at which they were condemned to a month's imprisonment dating from February 8th. On March 10 they were liberated.

Meanwhile, according to our Secours Central Bureau in Namur, the military commanded that the payment of chomage to such of these men as were chomeurs (like Francau, Paquet, Delhaize) cease. This order was complied with.

The names of the fourteen men in this case are as follows (all of Rochefort) :

Josef Francau
Emil Delhaize
Alfred Delhaize
Nestor Dumont
Eugene Auspere
Joseph Bodart
Theophile Bacquet
Eugene Paquet
Arthur Biebuca
Auguste Dumonte
Fernand Baiot
Leopold Barnich
Emil Charrier
Jules Delimois

The first three men (with whom I talked) are now working in private employ. None of the others has accepted the contract to work for the military, and they are engaged in various occupations---some again enjoying chomage. It is to be inferred that the Germans raised no objection to paying chomage to these men after their month of prison.

A second case, which resulted otherwise, took place about the same time at Jemelle. Nineteen men of that place, after offer made, signed the contract. But after such signature, they regretted their action and refused to work---whereupon they were, in the same manner, put into prison. The men at Rochefort said yesterday that after six weeks of prison they accepted the contract again, and are now working at Jemelle. The delicacy of entering the German railroad shop at Jemelle and talking to their employees deterred me from making yesterday a more exhaustive investigation, but I expect to have the full facts from a reliable source on Friday, the 31st, and shall immediately advise you.

The third case took place at Namur itself. Twenty-three workmen, most of whom were railroad employees before the war, were approached by the military on or about the 1st of March and asked to work at repairing locomotives and rail-wagons. They refused. Up to the time of the request and refusal, most of these men had received through the medium of the Société Coopérative d'Avances et de Prêts, rue Montague de l'Oratoire No. 14, at Brussels, a monthly remittance of 37 1/2 per cent of their salary before the war, with a minimum of 60 francs. But upon such refusal, the German authorities signified to the Société Coopérative their prohibition to remit any money. The case has been assigned meanwhile for military trial, the sitting to be held Thursday, March 30, 1916.

Further, the Namur agents of police, acting under orders of the military authorities, are now making visits to the houses of former railroad workmen, demanding of them to take up such work again, and noting any reasons given for refusal.

I enclose herewith copy of German affiches on the subject (of which 1st Copie A, page 1, Article 2, and Copie B, Article 1, will be of interest), and correspondence giving German consent to the Secours by medium of the Société Coopérative.

Very truly yours

(Signed) C. M. TORREY

P.S. I also enclose papers received later from our Provincial Secours office, as follows:

1. Order of military prohibiting payment of secours to Warlin.

2. Lists of men prohibited from receiving secours.

3. German letter to Société Coopérative.

4. Second list of secours prohibitions.

I have just had a statement from one of our C.P. staff (a) that only Belgian locomotives are repaired in Belgian shops so far as he has seen, and (b) that Belgian locomotives are used only for transporting materials, not troops.


2. The Deportation of Belgians, October 1916-September 1918

During the summer of 1916 a steadily increasing number of Belgians were forced to accept German employment in Belgium or in Germany. At first there was no technical violation of relief guarantees, but Hoover and the C.R.B. officials in Belgium exerted themselves in every direction to convince the German authorities in Belgium of the disastrous effects of this policy not only on neutral opinion, but on the conduct of relief. Civil officials and even the Governor-General recognized the soundness of these arguments, and disapproved the policy, but affairs in Germany had reached the stage where the opinions of civil officials carried but little weight. Recognition, at the Great Headquarters (to which von Hindenburg and Ludendorff came at the end of August) of the inferiority in man power of the Central powers led to drastic action. Early in September the Supreme Army Command demanded the complete mobilization of German man power. Strong opposition immediately gathered against this proposal. Why, it was asked, should such drastic measures be used in Germany until the manpower resources of the conquered territories had been utilized? Great Headquarters had not overlooked the man power of Belgium and Poland and it was determined to make use of it. Belgian deportations, it was clear, would serve the double purpose of releasing more Germans for military service and of meeting one form of political opposition to an extension of German conscription.(290) At any rate the Supreme Command "requested" the Governor-General in Brussels to make up the shortage of labor in German industries by more extensive deportations from Belgium. The Governor-General acquiesced and wholesale deportations followed. To Cardinal Mercier's moving protest, von Bissing replied that the deportations were an attempt to save Belgian workers from demoralization by unemployment which was caused by the British blockade. The outcry which followed in neutral and Allied countries and even in Germany was to Ludendorff merely an exhibition of a "very childish judgment on the war."(291)

The German determination to push on with the deportations on a large scale and regardless of consequences left the C.R.B. with two alternatives: to make an issue of the deportations with the certain result that all its activities would be terminated and the great mass of the Belgian people be left without the aid of foreign relief upon which they depended; or accept the situation as inescapable and to exert itself to mitigate the suffering which the deportations entailed and to continue to aid those Belgians left in their homes. Hoover chose the second alternative and the Allied Governments, recognizing the compelling reasons for this decision, did not carry out the threat implied in the correspondence of the British Foreign Office to cut off their support of relief activities. The American Government protested at Berlin, while in Belgium the C.R.B. endeavored to bring pressure on the German Government indirectly and to hold the German authorities to the terms of their guarantees.(292)



GREY TO SECRETARY AMERICAN EMBASSY AT LONDON, asking for a statement whether German authorities are observing their guarantees in respect to liberty and conscience of Belgian workmen

4 October 1916


1. You will recollect the communications which I felt obliged to address to you on various occasions regarding the question of forced labour in Belgium.

2. As you have been kind enough to assume, together with the United States and Spanish Ministers at Brussels, the function of supervising for the guidance of the governments concerned, the carrying out of the guarantees under which the Commission for Relief in Belgium works, I shall be glad if you could inform me whether, in the opinion of the Patrons of the Commission and of the Comité National, the guarantees given by the Germans to respect the liberty and conscience of Belgian workmen are being duly carried out.




PERCY To HOOVER, setting forth policy to be followed by the C.R.B. in respect to forced labor and deportations

20 October 1916


I want to draw your attention to Lord Robert Cecil's recent answer in the House of Commons(295) to a question as to the distribution of foodstuffs in Belgium in connexion with the German labour policy. Lord Robert laid down in that answer that the Commission worked on the following principles:

1. The Commission supplies nothing to any German civilian.

2. The Commission supplies nothing, except bread, to any Belgian who earns enough to feed himself from native supplies.

3. Any workman working for the Germans under coercion must be maintained by the Germans entirely, without any assistance whatever from the Commission.

You should take this as a direction to the Commission on which they should model their action.

As you know, the Press at the present moment is full of the accounts of the coercion of Belgian workmen and their deportation to the place where the Germans wish them to work. There are two points in connexion with this that you should bear in mind.

First, if deportations take place, it does not matter whether they take place to Germany or to other parts of the occupied territory, since under the third rule set out above you will have no further responsibility for them. If, therefore, deportations take place on any large scale under any general decree of the Governor-General, it will become necessary to consider whether your importations should be proportionately reduced, and as it will be impossible for us here to judge accurately the extent to which any such decrees are being enforced at any given moment, or will be enforced by the time that any one of your shipments reach the ultimate consumer in Belgium, it will become necessary for us, in order to meet the pressure of public opinion here, to make a rough general reduction in your ration probably out of all proportion to the actual number of workmen coerced.

Secondly, to judge from the Press reports---and indeed from the necessities of the situation---all coercion of labor in Belgium is bound to be based upon the criterion that men who fall under your relief owing to unemployment are liable to be coerced. Now, all relief, whether in kind or in cash, given in Belgium arises from your importations and is made on your responsibility. Therefore, this criterion amounts to a statement that a workman renders himself liable to enslavement by the mere fact of accepting relief from you. This is clearly equivalent to the use of your relief as a means of coercing workmen against their conscience, and therefore constitutes a clear and deliberate violation of the German guarantees.

You should be guided by these considerations in dealing with this very serious and dangerous question.

Yours sincerely




by KELLOGG, regarding forced labor in Belgium

BRUSSELS, 20 October 1916

Among the undertakings given by His Excellency the Governor General to the Protecting Ministers is one which provides that the German authorities will not make use of the institutions of the relief work for the purpose of compelling the Belgian population to work for the service of the German Army. Until recently this undertaking has been rigorously lived up to, both as to the wording of the undertaking, and, which is no less important, as to its intention. Recent happenings , however, give grave cause to fear that measures are under way of execution which are in open contradiction to the intention and even to the wording of the undertaking. It is common knowledge that demands are being made upon unemployed, and even employed men, to work for the German army. The most conspicuous examples of these measures now under way of enforcement are in the Belgian Etappen, but there are in addition specific cases in the territory of the General Government, for example, in the province of Luxembourg and in the region of Tournai in the province of Hainaut. It is, of course, true that the region of Tournai has been, for purpose of military control, recently transferred from the territory of the General Government to that of the French Etappen, but for the purpose of ravitaillement this region is still attached to the General Government and is still provisioned under the general regulations and guarantees established for the territory of the General Government.

In the Luxembourg, orders have been issued which prevent the civil population from continuing to labor at certain public works established by the civil authorities of the province and the representatives of the Provincial Committee (which itself is but a suborganization of the Comité National). Further orders prevent the men thus thrown out of employment from being employed by private persons. These men are then invited by the German military authorities to work for them. This is a condition which, if not directly, at least indirectly, produces an infraction of the intention of the undertaking with regard to the forcing of labor. Indeed, in connection with the situation in the Luxembourg there have been numerous incidents which contravene the wording of the undertaking.

In Tournai the situation is even more serious. Direct demands have been made upon large numbers of men to take up work for the military authorities. On the refusal of these demands the men have been interned in camps, practically as prisoners, and put upon a ration of bread and water. The ration of bread has been fixed by the military authorities at 750 grams per person per day, and it has been ordered that the relief organizations furnish this bread but may not furnish any other part of the regular ration (bacon, lard, rice, peas and beans, etc.). If the Comité National and the Commission for Relief in Belgium should accept this situation without protest, they would be permitting an indirect infraction of the undertaking between the General Governor and the Protecting Ministers, and would even be a party to the punishment, by a limitation of the food rations, of these Belgian men.

There have been numerous instances in various parts of Belgium. of demands made by the military authorities on the local committees of the relief organizations for lists of chomeurs, with the expressed intention of using these lists as a means of determining what men should be impressed for labor in the service of the German Army. There have even been arrests and deportations to Germany of the local civil authorities for refusing to give these lists.

All together, the incidents and conditions which are apparent today in various parts of Belgium seem to indicate a definite purpose on the part of the military authorities to force parts of the civil population to work in the service of the German Army in contravention of the undertakings given by the Governor-General to the Protecting Ministers. The situation is one, therefore, that calls for immediate consideration and strong protest.




HOOVER TO WHITLOCK, suggesting a vigorous protest against German policy of deportations

BRUSSELS, 8 November 1916


Reports this morning from all over the country show seizure of men right and left regardless of employment, including members of our local committees and employees. I fear it is the beginning of the end.

It is worth your considering uttering a full and strong protest with all the vigor of which you are so capable.

This is a greater issue to the Belgian people than anything since the invasion and they look to you as to America for some strong action.

It may result in nothing, but it will have put the American stamp on it in indelible terms, and if we do nothing else for Belgium we will go down in a blaze of indignation at this, its worst of any trials since the first agony.





HOOVER To DR. BRUHN OF THE DEUTSCHE VERMITTLUNGSSTELLE, C.N., regarding position of the C.R.B. in respect to forced labor and deportations

BRUSSELS, 11 November 1916

Dr. Bruhn
Deutsche Vermittlungsstelle, C.N., Brussels


Dr. Rieth called this morning regarding any suggestions I might be able to offer with regard to regulations to be put in force to ameliorate the conditions surrounding the forced labor from Belgium. The matter is now in discussion between the American Legation in Brussels and the American Embassy in Berlin and, in consequence, it would be entirely wrong of me to intervene in any way.

The whole question is one which I feel very deeply and one out of which I can see no good end.

Yours faithfully




Press statement(296)
concerning Department of State instructions to Chargé d'Affaires, Berlin, relative to the effect of deportations on neutral opinion, especially in the United States

WASHINGTON, 15 November 1916

In consequence of the deportations from Belgium, the State Department has directed Mr. Grew, its chargé d'affaires in Berlin, to discuss the matter personally with the Imperial Chancellor.

Mr. Grew is requested to inform Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg that such deportations cannot but have a most unfortunate effect on neutral opinion, particularly in the United States, which has the welfare of the Belgian civilian population very much at heart.

These instructions are the outcome of a long report from Mr. Grew stating that he had discussed the situation informally and unofficially with Herr Zimmermann, who admitted that the definite policy had been adopted of enforcing the labour of Belgians in cases where they refused to work voluntarily, on the ground that so many had refused to work that the strain on public charity had become intolerable.

The deportations are viewed here not only as a violation of international law, but in a certain degree as a violation of Germany's assurances made to Mr. Gerard in June, which, though relating to the deportation of French women from Lille, Roubaix, and Turcoing,(297) are felt to be applicable to the present case.


The theory by which the Germans justified the forced labor and deportation policy was that unemployment was demoralizing the Belgian workers and hence that work even for Germany was after all for the good of the Belgians. According to this theory only the chômeurs would be deported, but once the deportations were under way, the Germans ignored the distinction between employed and unemployed, and began to deport persons employed by the relief organizations. These raids on the personnel of the Commission and C.N. constituted a violation of the German guarantees, since it dangerously interfered with the maintenance of the relief organization. The Commission protested vigorously to the German authorities, but to no avail. The threats of the British to stop relief and the protests of the United States Government at Berlin were equally without effect.



by WARREN GREGORY, regarding forced labor, with reports of the C.R.B. delegates of deportations at Antwerp, Court-St. Etienne, and Wavre

BRUSSELS, 20 November 1916

The taking of chomeurs continues and will probably commence in the city of Brussels this week. Thus far our cards have been respected with one exception below noted. Indeed, in Antwerp, one of our representatives succeeded in getting on the train and taking back two men who had already been passed, to the great admiration and gratitude of the Belgian people. The exception noted is at Mons, where, on the 17th inst., nine of our men were taken. I am attaching copy of a letter written to the Vermittlungsstelle, which will describe the circumstances. I have also informed the Ministers, at their meeting on Friday last, of this transaction. I do not consider this single evasion of their promise as vital, provided it does not act as a precedent. I am, however, greatly concerned regarding the statement of Dr. Bruhn, which is the subject matter of the concluding paragraph of the letter. If this decision is adhered to, it will seriously cripple our working force, and I shall endeavor as vigorously as possible to obtain a rescission of this conclusion on the part of the authorities.

Attached also are reports from Messrs. Jackson, Richardson, and Brackett on this subject.

I think our men have done some good work in this regard, but in future our plan is not to send them unless the arrangement is being violated, for the reason that their presence may irritate the military authorities.

15 November 1916

The taking of chomeurs to Germany from the province of Antwerp has been going on this week. Four thousand men are called every day to present themselves at the railroad station, and of this number up to date, from the closest calculations we have been able to make, 5,856 have been sent to Germany. This is from the city of Antwerp alone and does not include the country districts.

When the men present themselves at the railroad stations the Germans make every effort to induce them to sign contracts to work. Among the inducements offered is pay at the rate of 6 marks a day. Those who do not sign but are forced to go nevertheless are told they will receive only 3 marks a day and have to work in camps. In addition, to the men that sign they advance 20 marks if single and 40 marks if married. They are then permitted to go home for two or three days before starting.

They are also promised that if they sign they can go to Longwy or Liège.

In general every pressure is brought upon the men to sign, but in most cases the Belgians have refused to do this. Those who present certificates that they are employed in general are released, but those who have no certificates are put on trains and sent to Germany.

One hundred and three men employed in the guano factory of Ohlendorf were all sent to Germany in a block, some of the workers being fifty years old.

We are sending a special report on this particular case to the Ministers.

The C.R.B. employment cards that we have issued have been uniformly respected and as yet we have no cases to report of C.R.B. employees having been taken to Germany.

Yours faithfully

C.R.B. Representative for Antwerp

15 November 1916

Yesterday, 14th November, I went to Court-St. Etienne to attend the taking of Belgian men by the Germans. I was obliged to leave, by order of the captain in charge, about half or three-quarters of an hour after the beginning, but about half an hour later came back and remained till the end, except for half an hour for dinner.

The men were brought in by a long path to a "filature" some distance from the town. The women and children therefore were not present. All men who stated themselves to be sick were examined by a doctor, and a certain number were thus released.

The others came on to the filature---to an open space between two buildings---where they presented themselves and their papers, such as cartes d'identité and cards from the Meldeamt, together with any certificates of one sort or another which they might possess. They were on the whole very decently treated by the Germans, but they were usually too frightened or confused or embarrassed to be very intelligent, as proved by the fact that often when told to go "à gauche" which was the way out and to liberty (though they perhaps didn't know it) they took the other path, which led to Germany., Many were turned back by soldiers, but as there was nothing on their cards to show in which direction they should go, I have no doubt that some were taken whom the Germans intended to liberate. Certain ones who were sent or went to the right---i.e., toward Germany---were afterward released, owing to special examinations, explanations, or to efforts of persons interested.

Various burgomasters and employers were present to urge special reasons for exemption, or to give assurance that certain men were actually and regularly employed. The Germans certainly really tried to take the young and unmarried men without employment, rather, than others. They released many men who were employed in usines, and on farms, or who were small cultivateurs on their own account.

But toward the end of the list, when perhaps they were afraid they would not get as many men as required, they took a number of factory workers for whom their employer, Mr. Henricot, gave assurance that they were regularly employed. When he protested to the Commissaire Civil, the latter replied that this difficulty would not have occurred if the bourgomestre had given the lists of chomeurs. I believe certain workmen employed elsewhere were also taken.

Later, after the whole process was finished, I learned that two of the De Broux workmen, who had cards from the C.R.B., had been taken. I protested to the Commissaire Civil, explaining that the men worked exclusively for the Commission and had cards issued with the assent of his Government. He said we were lucky that so few were taken, that no one is irreplaceable, and that he had no instructions concerning our cards.

It appears that in the town, where the men collected before being marched to the filature, there was a bureau established presumably by the Kreischef, where the cards we had given were taken away and a stamp "Kreis Nivelles" put on the cartes d'identité of those who had had our cards. I am told that certain men, having obtained this stamp, went away without presenting themselves at the filature. The others came along with the crowd and, thanks to the stamp, were allowed to go free.

A few, however, whose attention had not been drawn to the bureau in the town, failed to obtain the "cachet" and arrived without it, but still provided with their cards given by us. The officers seem to have been somewhat at a loss as to the proper procedure in such cases. My belief is---though I have no proof as I did not see them taken---that the two men taken by the Germans were of this class. (Cf. the Civil Commissaire's statement that he had no instructions concerning these cards.) Of these two men, one was later released, so that the final result was that only one of De Broux's laborers, out of about ninety-six who presented themselves, was taken. As far as I know, no member of a local committee who had received one of our cards was taken.

Conclusion: Orders had apparently been given to the Kreischef that our cards were to be respected, but they had not been communicated to the officers making the actual selection of men. These officers tried to choose primarily the men without work, and the young men without families to support. But they did not confine themselves strictly to these. In certain instances they took men concerning whom they had the positive assurance of their employers that they were working regularly. The decisions in these matters seemed more or less arbitrary, as certain laborers would be allowed to pass and others, for whom the employer made an equally positive statement that they were working regularly, were taken.

My impression is that the officers had orders to take so many---1,000, I believe---men, and that when they thought too many were being let off, and that there might be difficulty in completing the number, they felt obliged to take a larger proportion of those who presented themselves, workers or not.

(Signed) R. A. JACKSON

17 November 1916

As requested by Director Gregory, I was present at the requisition of men at Wavre on Wednesday, 15th November. Leaving Brussels very early in the morning, I arrived at Wavre before the gates of the city were closed to outsiders and before the requisition began; by means of the automobile pass and my personal card as delegate of the C.R.B. I was able to pass the various lines of guards and sentinels and reached the Place du Marché where the men were gathered.

Every approach to this square was crowded with men, women, and children, the men from neighboring communes waiting at different entrances the turn of their commune and held back in the meantime by lines of soldiers.

Arriving at the square, after some difficulty, I found Mr. Foreau, of the Brabant provincial committee and Regional President of Wavre, also Mr. Francq, one of the regional controllers.

From them, and by personal investigation, I learned that the cards which we have issued were actually in the hands of those who were entitled to them, i.e., those who had been duly listed by the regional president as engaged in the work of Secours and Alimentation either as members of the regional and local committee or in their employ.

These men were grouped together and they were later placed by the German officers with the town officials near the head of the column into which the men were formed.

The examination was conducted in two places; one on the "Place du Sablon" (Place du Marché), and the other at the Ecole Moyenne des Filles.

Besides the city of Wavre, the requisition included Limal, Limelette, Archennes, Bierges, La Hulpe, Chaine, Rixensart, Dion-le-Mont, Dion-le-Val, Genval, Lasne, and Nethen.

As Wavre was called first, I joined the C.R.B. group in the Wavre column and went with them to the Ecole des Filles, entering the examination room with them and remaining there for some time, together with Mr. Foreau, Mr. Francq, and an échevin of the city.

Being in this or the adjoining room, through which all men passed during the greater part of the forenoon, I was able to observe the examination of all the men from Wavre as well as some from neighboring districts. I gathered still more information later by mingling with the people and looking up members of our Committee in the various communal groups after they came out.

The method of conducting the requisition may be first described. First of all, the chomeurs and those who had signed a statement consenting to work were called for and taken; those from Wavre numbered perhaps 150.

Then the men of the communal government and those engaged in the work of Secours and Alimentation were passed in and released. After them, the rest entered without special order; those who claimed release on account of sickness were led to a room for medical examination by a physician and those who received this certificate were later released.

All the rest passed at once into a room where four or five German officers examined them, considering their certificates, and deciding whether they were to be taken or released.

From this room, they were sent to an adjoining room in two files, with the single phrase "à droite" or "à gauche." The former filed past an official who stamped their cartes d'identité with a cachet and dismissed them---free; the others were sent on to another room guarded by soldiers and presumably escorted to the train for deportation.

It was impossible for anyone else to approach the train and no one was allowed to see the men after this separation. A strong corps of soldiers were present at the Ecole, a good many officers were moving about, mounted cavalry lancers patrolled the place, and several hundred soldiers were on duty in the square and about the city.

The following observations may be noted:

1st: All men from 17 to 55 (inclusive) except ministers, physicians, lawyers, and teachers, were required to be present (a copy of the "avis" is appended).

As the population of Wavre and the region covered in this requisition is over 30,000 there must have been some 4,000 or 5,000 men.

2nd: All who had the C.R.B. certificates were free. There were one or two cases in which some employees, who were not listed by the regional or communal president and so did not receive a card, were taken. I was not present when this occurred and did not learn of it until the next day.

3rd: It is difficult to estimate the number taken, but I judge it to be between 700 and 800, the proportion being greater in the smaller communes than in Wavre. In Bierges for instance, more than two-fifths were taken, while in Wavre, it seemed to be about one in ten or twelve.

4th: The majority of those who were taken were young men but a good many were over 40 years of age and some over 50. The greater part were probably unmarried, but a considerable number were men of family, in certain instances men of large families dependent upon their labor.

5th: The requisition was not confined to men without work: the controller pointed out a number of men whom he knew personally and knew to be steadily employed; other instances were afterwards called to my attention. Railway employees especially were among the number taken.

6th: Beyond the general facts stated above, no definite or consistent basis of selection was apparent. On the whole, those presenting certificates showing that they had regular employment were freed, and they were mostly those of the better classes; but many striking exceptions occurred.

7th: The examinations were made rapidly and the decision "à gauche" or "à droite," quickly made, was final. No discussion was permitted save in a few instances, where an explanation was given by the burgomaster or échevin.

There was no disorder, and no attempts at resistance were made, the men being hurried through in single file like animals. Those who were to be deported were treated with distinctly less consideration than those who were freed, but without violence.

Relation to the C.R.B.: Considering the matter in its relation to the C.R.B., I have come to the following conclusions:

1st: That in the Brabant the certificates of the C.R.B. are recognized and those who held them are released as agreed by the German authorities.

2nd: That the presence of the C.R.B. delegate at the requisition, while perhaps desirable at first for the sake of direct information, is probably unwise in subsequent requisitions in the province. This judgment is based partly upon theory and partly upon experience. The delegate of the C.R.B. must be present either by permission or by suffrance and may be summarily dismissed if the authorities so desire. He has no final authority personally to enforce any objections he may wish to make. His presence is not desired, but is, in fact, distinctly resented. When he has asked for permission, it has been refused. When he has entered without securing permission in advance, he has been asked to withdraw. His position is thus undignified. Having secured the agreement of the occupying authorities to release those who are properly provided with cards, the more dignified course for the C.R.B. is to assume that the agreements will be respected. This course is evidently more acceptable to the German officials, and the cards are even more likely to be honored than if a C.R.B. delegate is present. In case a man possessing our card is deported, the matter may be taken up in a more effective and dignified way with the final authorities. Information may be secured from the town officials, who are always present, or from our local committees, who know the men personally and are cognizant of all circumstances. These have been notified to inform us immediately of any infractions in cases of those who have cards.

3rd: This report is made from the point of view of a neutral observer in the interest of the C.R.B. and does not touch any other question concerning the requisition.

(Signed) F. P. BRACKETT



GREGORY TO DR. BRUHN, protesting against deportations of employees of the C.R.B. and the C.N.

BRUSSELS, 20 November 1916

To the Deutsche Vermittlungsstelle C.N.
Attention of Dr. Bruhn


I have the honor to recapitulate to you in writing the substance of our conversation of the 17th concerning the selection of men working for the ravitaillement service of this Commission.

A selection of men took place on the 16th at Mons, in the suburb of Nimy. Prior to that time the list of employees engaged in the ravitaillement service of this Commission and of the Comité National had been carefully examined and cut down to the minimum. Before the selection, Mr. Tuck and Mr. Gade, our representatives in the province of Hainaut called at the office of the Kreischef, as well as upon Captain Brande of the staff of the Kreischef, and left samples of the cards, and samples had also been forwarded to the office of Mr. Haniel, president of the civil administration. At the office of the Kreischef these gentlemen were instructed to present their men in a unit at the beginning of the proceedings. Accordingly the employees, numbering approximately 175, went to the designated place, accompanied by Messrs. Tuck and Gade, and also by Dr. Hilbert. Each man had his card in hand for easy inspection.

Of this total number 15 of our employees were originally taken, but some of them were later returned, so that the list of those who were finally taken is as follows:

On 16th November at Nimy

1. Brichaut, Victor, No. 40 Ruelle Rachot, Mons
2. Cantigneua, Maurice, 11 Cite Balasse, Mons
3. Cardinal, François, 40 Mont du Parc, Mons
4. Farix, Francois, 3 Rue du Petit, Quievroy, Mons
5. Fraix, Jean-Desire, Ghislain, Place Warocque, Mons

On 13th November at Havre

6. Vangrundenbergh, Gustave, Route d'Ath, Nimy

On 31st October at Jemappes

7. Dunortier, Oscar, Grant Place, Guesnes

On 16th November at Nimy

8. Maurice Ziger, Mons
9. Fernand Erquans, Mons

At the time these men were taken it was directly stated to the officer by our representative that the men were not chomeurs, but were actually employed in the ravitaillement service. Six of the men taken were dock-hands, who are now badly needed in Mons and the last two mentioned were members of the office force at Mons and badly needed. Care was taken to assure the officer that every man on the list was essential to the ravitaillement. work, but in the course of procedure the major informed the inferior officers "that he could not permit the passing of so many men." Our representatives were uncertain whether the officer intended to say that he did not know of the cards, or whether or not he definitely would not recognize them. They do say that the officials of the civil government were most courteous and endeavored during the entire proceedings to assist them, but were repeatedly overruled by the military officers. As soon as Messrs. Tuck and Gade saw that their further efforts would be of no avail they withdrew.

As I have stated to you, I fear that this proceeding may be a precedent by which large numbers of our men may be taken. I hope sincerely that this may be avoided, especially in view of the fact that at the selections which have taken place prior to the 17th I am advised that our cards were recognized at once and without difficulty.

I regret also that I am obliged to protest against the taking of men in the ravitaillement service simply because they may have been formerly engaged in skilled employments, such as railroading, blacksmithing, etc. It would seem that this is contrary to our understanding that only those who are chomeurs shall be taken. If a man is known to be working for us in good faith and has been so working for some time, then we have necessarily shown that he is not a chomeur, regardless of his former occupation. We have the additional ground that he is necessary for the ravitaillement service which is protected by a guarantee. I greatly fear that these exceptions will cause endless difficulties, because it departs from the simple principle laid down as above noted. I am not advised as to the number of these so-called skilled men engaged in our services but no doubt there are numbers of them. We did not attempt to make any exceptions when the cards were issued, but if it now results that these cards are recognized only in certain cases, then it will break down the system. When a man is taken not because he is a chomeur but because he is skilful in a particular line it must result on the basis of selection that it is not his present inability to find work but the necessities of the military authorities.

I am sure you will agree with me that this is a fundamental difference in the principle of selecting men. It will therefore be greatly appreciated by this Commission if the full and free exemption of men who are actually and bona fide engaged in the ravitaillement service could be made and we should be most pleased if instructions could be given accordingly.

Very respectfully yours






HOOVER TO C.R.B., NEW YORK, regarding policy of C.R.B. in respect to deportation

LONDON, 20 November 1916


Am informed German authorities they expect to take two hundred fifty thousand work people from Belgium and Northern France. The whole operation is accompanied by the greatest suffering. German authorities apparently carefully weighed the possibility that this might result in breaking down Relief but determined to proceed in any event. We can see no hope in its suppression except pressure public opinion and protest by neutral governments. German procedure does not conflict with any actual guarantees in connection with Relief and we believe Allied Governments are so sympathetic to the welfare of the people left behind that we hope no drastic retaliation will ensue. Our impression is that press reports of actual incidents are rather understated than overdrawn. Am issuing a short statement as to our position through Associated Press. Do not believe it is in the interest of the Relief for us to offer any opinions in our own name.




GREY TO PAGE, requesting that the United States Government exert pressure on Germany to prevent the termination of relief work which may result from continuation of German policy

22 November 1916

His Excellency the Honorable W. H. Page London


1. I venture to ask Your Excellency to transmit a message from me personally to Your Excellency's Government in regard to a matter of which you have fuller knowledge and which you can more fully explain than would be possible for His Majesty's Ambassador at Washington to do, were I to transmit the message through him.

2. The recent deportations from Belgium and the reported recrudescence of seizures and exports of Belgian foodstuffs cut at the root of the guarantees on which the whole relief work in Belgium is based, and while His Majesty's Government are no less keenly anxious than in the past to fulfil their duties toward the populations of the occupied territories, it will be clear to Your Excellency that it may at any moment become materially impossible to continue a work the basic guarantees of which have been destroyed. I should therefore be grateful if you could communicate by telegraph to your Government a personal appeal from me that they will exert themselves at Berlin and Brussels to see that this great work of international benevolence and co-operation which I think Your Excellency will be able to assure your Government has never been used by His Majesty's Government for any but purely neutral purposes, and which they have indeed regarded as of inevitable military advantage to their enemies, shall not be endangered or destroyed by acts which it is impossible for the Allied peoples to countenance or tolerate.

3. The constant efforts and valuable services rendered by yourself and the United States Minister at Brussels on behalf of this work emboldens me to hope that your Government will not allow an undertaking to be imperilled with which they have become so closely identified in the eyes of the world.

4. I have sent a similar letter to the Spanish Ambassador.

Believe me, my dear Ambassador

Yours sincerely




HOOVER TO C.R.B., NEW YORK, stating policy of C.R.B. in respect to deportations

LONDON, 24 November 1916


We feel deeply that all questions involving the opinion of the Americans in relief or otherwise are entirely apart from any service which you or we can perform to Belgian people in amelioration of forced labor questions. It is a violation of the most elementary principles of human liberty and upon which America through the President should take a determined stand in protest. You will realize the impossibility of any open action from us as such would jeopardize other protection which we can give the Belgian people through the Relief. We are gratified by your support. We do not think time arrived to take up matter Washington until all efforts this side been exhausted which will require further ten days. Matter is now before Belgian Government. The British Government assures us that there will be a solution to the matter which will satisfy responsibility and dignity of all Americans engaged in the work. Dr. Page authorizes me to say that unless Belgium will welcome full acceptance of all proposals(298) as to administrative measures in Belgium he will advise the withdrawal of the Commission.




DEPARTMENT OF STATE TO CHARGÉ D'AFFAIRES AT BERLIN, protesting against the deportations

WASHINGTON, 29 November 1916

Mr. Grew is directed to obtain an interview with the German Chancellor as soon as possible and repeat to him the following:

"The Government of the United States has learned with the greatest concern and regret of the policy of the German Government to deport from Belgium a portion of the civilian population for the purpose of forcing them to labor in Germany, and is constrained to protest in a friendly spirit but most solemnly against this action, which is in contravention of all precedent and of those humane principles of international practice which have long been accepted and followed by civilized nations in their treatment of noncombatants in conquered territory. Furthermore, the Government of the United States is convinced that the effect of this policy, if pursued, will in all probability be fatal to the Belgian relief work, so humanely planned and so successfully carried out, a result which would be generally deplored and which, it is assumed, would seriously embarrass the German Government."



of Allied Governments with regard to German policy of forced labor and deportations with an appeal to the neutral world

LONDON, 5 December 1916

The German slave raids in Belgium and the deliberate paralyzation of local industries, on which Germany has entered in order to excuse the most barbaric infamy of which she has yet been guilty, threaten to put an end to the great work of the neutral Relief Commission, which has saved the Belgians from starvation.

The following declaration by the Allies, regarding the present state of Belgium was issued by the British Government last night, with the approval and concurrence of the French, Russian, and Italian Governments, who are issuing declarations to the same effect:

The Allies must warn the world of what is about to take place. As their own situation grows more desperate, the Central Empires intend to tear up every guarantee on which the work of the Relief Commission rests. They intend to cast aside all their promises, and to use Belgian foodstuffs and Belgian labor to support their own failing strength. The work of the relief which neutrals have built up for two years is about to lose its foundation, and is in danger of falling.

As soon as the financial resources of the Belgian Government were exhausted the Allies provided sums for the continuation of the work. They have furnished the Commission with shipping and all other necessary facilities. Further, they have done their utmost through the neutral Commission to protect Belgian industry from the disastrous consequence of invasion.

The Allies have only stipulated that the Germans should equally draw no advantage from the operations of the Commission; that they should not seize either imported or native supplies, and that the distribution of relief should not be used for the purpose of coercing Belgian workmen against their conscience.

These conditions which the Germans have pledged themselves to obey, have in the past been frequently violated. Belgian cattle have been driven out of Belgium to feed the German armies at the front, Belgian workmen are being coerced, and seizures and requisitions of foodstuffs have taken place throughout the occupied territories.

The Germans have also seized raw materials, machinery, and all the property of Belgian factories, essential to the maintenance of the national industry and have thus deliberately created unemployment and misery. These infractions of the German guarantees have in the past been disavowed in many cases by the German Government, and the Allies were content to rely on the neutral Commission to watch over and enforce the fulfilment of the conditions under which it worked.

Now, however, the situation is changing. The Germans have abandoned all pretense of respecting personal freedom in Belgium. They have deliberately ordered the suspension of public relief works supported by the neutral Commission and have openly, in spite of all their professions to the contrary, aimed at creating the unemployment which would furnish them with an excuse for deportations.

They have become themselves the "organizers of and co-operators with man-hunts" which they solemnly pledged themselves by the Brussels Convention of 1890 to put down in Africa. Further, the machinery of Belgian industry has now been totally destroyed and the export from Belgium of foodstuffs essential for the maintenance of the population has begun again on a large scale.

The Allies do not intend to change their policy or to desert the oppressed people of Belgium in this most critical moment of the war, but as it will be impossible for the relief work to continue if its basic guarantees are destroyed, they appeal to the civilized world, not on their own behalf, but on that of the innocent civilians who cannot protect themselves to see that this great work of international benevolence and co-operation which has grown up in the midst of war, and for which the Allies have advanced the money, shall not be endangered by treachery or destroyed by violence.



General Report,
by C.R.B., relative to deportations to date.

BRUSSELS, 30 December 1916

The requisition of men in Belgium has been carried out under the announced intention of furnishing work for the "sans-travail." The Commission for Relief in Belgium has been obliged to turn its attention most seriously to this expatriation of men, because included among the so-called chomeurs are a large number of its employees. it is not within the realm of the duties of the C.R.B. to protest against the general seizure of Belgians, but when it finds that the ravitaillement of Belgium is endangered by the fact of the requisition of its own personnel, it then feels that it should make vigorous protestation.

It should be borne in mind that the requisition of men is justified by the occupying authorities as a measure intended to relieve that part of the Belgian population which is out of work. La Belgique of 15th November 1916 prints a statement of von Bissing, the Governor-General of Belgium, which leaves no doubt as to the intentions of the occupying authorities. From this we shall quote. After discussing the cause of chomage in Belgium, which he attributes to the English blockade, the Governor-General says:

Hundreds of people being without work in Belgium, and work abounding in Germany, the occupation of Belgian workmen in Germany has therefore become an economic and social necessity. [Translation]

It would be useless to enter into the details of the entire argument, but the substance of it is a justification of requisition of men on the grounds of lack of work in Belgium. After this the question naturally arises: are C.R.B. employees and voluntary workers to be considered in the class of unemployed? The object of this paper is to outline the situation in regard to the requisition of men in Belgium with special regard to the seizure of C.R.B. employees.

When the requisitions commenced, the C.R.B. considered that the ravitaillement would not be endangered. It thought this for very good reasons, which are ably presented by the Minister of the United States in a letter to His Excellency Baron von der Lancken dated 27th November 1916, a quotation from which follows:

The Minister of the United States begs to draw the kind attention of His Excellency Baron von der Lancken to the following facts:

In the guarantees which His Excellency the Governor-General has been good enough to give to the Minister Protectors of the Comité National on July 29, 1915, it was provided that the Comité National and the Commission for Relief in Belgium would have full liberty of action for the accomplishment of their mission. As a complement to these guarantees it has recently been agreed between the Deutsche Vermittlungsstelle C.N. and the Commission for Relief in Belgium that the latter were to remit to the members of the two organizations occupied in ravitaillement an identification card, like the enclosed pattern, which would be respected by the German authorities, and which would protect the bearers against possible requisition or deportation to Germany as chomeurs. [Translation]

The C.R.B. has issued these cards in each province, in good faith. The results which have come to us to date have been very discouraging.

It is interesting to note the form of procedure which was followed throughout Belgium, and for this the attached letter of John A. Gade will give an excellent idea. It is applicable to all the provinces except to Antwerp, where the guarantees were observed. This letter of Mr. Gade's, dated 17th November 1916, follows in toto.

MONS, 17 November 1916


The selection of "chomeurs" from the city of Mons took place yesterday morning in the suburb of Nimy.

In order that there might be no confusion as to the employment of the C.R.B. or to their authorized cards, we called the day before at the office of the Kreischef as well as upon Captain Brande of the Kreischef's office, leaving samples of the two cards issued by our office, namely the earlier yellow card and the later white one, with German identifications.

Samples of both cards had likewise earlier been forwarded to the office of Mr. Haniel, President of the Civil Administration. At the office of the Kreischef, Mr. Tuck and I were instructed to present our men in a unit, and at the beginning of proceedings. We informed the Kreischef's office of the fact that these instructions would be followed carefully, and that our employees number approximately 175 persons, representing the Regional and Local Committees of Secours and Alimentation, the "Commission des Récoltes," the employees busied with distributing bread, busied in our mills, and on our docks.

Mr. Tuck and I marched our men to Nimy, and accompanied by Dr. Hilbert, presented them, cards in hand, in a unit for early inspection. Among our employees, some sixteen were taken, the exact names of whom will at once be submitted. We remonstrated vigorously, especially when six dock hands badly needed at this moment were taken from us. One of the officers interrogating our men replied to our remonstrances that we had altogether too many employees for him to be able to pass them. We observed that every man provided with one of our cards was essential to our work, and the number had most scrupulously been cut down to the smallest possible working force for the head office ....

After a preliminary selection of the men by three inferior officers, the major present informed the inferior officers that he could not permit the passing of so many of our men.

We handed the names of two of our men, just taken, and essential to us, as members of our Provincial Committee, to Mr. Haniel's Secretary. He made strenuous efforts to procure their release, but unavailingly.

In reply to my question, whether the white card with which our men had been provided, did not protect them, we were informed that the card in question was not acknowledged as affording such protection.

During the entire proceedings the officers of the civil government did much to assist us, but were repeatedly overruled by the officers of the military government.

Mr. Tuck and I remained until our efforts were exhausted and the selection from among our men was completed.

Respectfully yours

(Signed) JOHN A. GADE

It will be seen that the American delegates in the Hainaut did everything within their powers to conform to the wishes of the German authorities. Regardless of that, the number of the C.R.B. employees taken in the Hainaut amounted to over three hundred.

The Province of Namur has suffered severely. We have the lists of men taken, but we have not the full reports of proceedings that we have from other provinces.

In the Luxembourg the situation is perhaps the gravest. The number of our men taken far exceeds, in proportion to the number of service cards issued, that of other provinces, always excepting Antwerp.

A quotation from the letter of December 21 shows from the Luxembourg the existing state of affairs:

This state of affairs has had as a result the disorganization of the services of ravitaillement and secours. Certain regional and local committees have been obliged to suspend their work completely and that until the arrival of help sent by our Central Administration. [Translation]

When this situation was brought to the attention of the Vermittlungsstelle, they promised a closer observance of the guarantees, as per postscript to a letter of the Director to Mr. Coppée dated December 8, 1916, which follows:

I have this moment received a telephonic communication from Dr. Bruhn, informing me that they have telephoned to the Military Officer in the Luxembourg, to take our cards into very special consideration during the requisitions which are to take place in the next two or three days.

I shall be very interested to know if this measure will succeed. [Translation]

Regardless of this, requisitions which have continued since then have showed no diminution in rigor. The question is serious, and unless these men are returned, the ravitaillement will be greatly hampered.

There is a better showing in the provinces of Brabant and the Limbourg.

In the Brabant twenty-four men with cards have been taken, and thirty-nine to whom cards had not yet been issued. From the point of view of the ravitaillement this number is not so alarming. The Limbourg fared well. In some parts of the province the requisitioning officers showed a disposition to respect our cards. This was particularly true of the town and outlying hamlets where the C.R.B. card-bearers were even exempted from appearing at the requisition. Their cards were stamped at the "Meldeamt" the day before.

Even at this, out of the whole province thirty-three were taken.

In the last report we spoke of the excellent showing in the province of Antwerp. Both at Antwerp and Malines the C.R.B. cards have been respected. Only two men were taken, and these were in the train before the protest was filed. But the very fact that our C.R.B. card-bearers were exempted at Antwerp is the strongest argument why they should have been regarded in the others. There has been a direct violation of the guarantee not to hamper the C.R.B. in the ravitaillement of Belgium.

As was stated in the report of last week, the C.R.B. has done everything in its powers to procure the repatriation of its employees. From the beginning of the requisition the Director and the Department of Inspection and Control have been in touch with the Vermittlungsstelle. In the Luxembourg, as we have above stated, the telephone message of Dr. Bruhn that the requisitioning officers had special orders to observe our cards had no result. Finally we have succeeded in procuring a form, approved by the Vermittlungsstelle C.N., on which we are to inscribe the names of our employees. These names, on separate sheets, are then to be handed to the Vermittlungsstelle, C.N. They have promised, in their letter of 20th December 1916 to look into each case, and if the complaint is found to be justified they will without further information arrange for the return of the individual in question. A copy of this letter and a sample of the form to be used follow in the appendix.

The number of our men taken up to date in the different provinces is as follows:


Men taken having cards

Men taken, entitled to cards but not having received them

Hainaut 453 ...
Namur 250 15
Luxembourg 234 9
Limbourg 30 ...
Brabant 24 39
  991 63



Paraphrase of telegram,
SECRETARY OF STATE TO PAGE, requesting Hoover's opinion on deportations

WASHINGTON, 29 December 1916


Department would be glad to have Hoover's opinion for its confidential information regarding continuance of Belgian deportations, whether there has been any change in the policy of the German authorities since the protest of this Government on November 29.




HOOVER FOR DEPARTMENT OF STATE, regarding deportations from Belgium

LONDON, 2 January 1917

There has been no apparent change in German policy since the President's protest, deportation continuing on a large scale---now apparently three to five thousand per week. Despite assertions made to the President, no distinction is made as to whether deportees are unemployed or not and in fact there seems a definite policy to secure all members of certain trades and the desire to secure these and other skilled labor leads press gangs to deliberate choice of those in actual employment. Moreover, they have taken all together, up to 15th December, over 700 persons employed by the Commission, despite the exhibit of credentials and their specific agreement with us to the contrary and against our protest. Furthermore, our American members have witnessed the taking of several thousands, particularly from Flanders to Northern France, and together with local French people, are now being forced to work for the German Army in the preparation of timber and fascines for the trenches. Refusal to perform such labor has here been met with refusal of food and other brutal acts. It is also reported to us from what we believe to be reliable sources that Belgian and French civilians have been required to work on trench construction in Northern France and certain deportees have been recently returned wounded by shellfire. Of the deportees to Germany, some 300 have been returned to the Hainaut Province, of whom a part were apparently returned because physically unable to work, but the remainder maintain that they were returned because of their steadfast passive resistance to pressure, although they were entirely refused food over a considerable period and were ultimately returned for their recalcitrancy. Their appearance confirms this.

Altogether, the assurances given the President that only unemployed were taken and that they are not employed on military work or brutally treated, are absolutely untrue, not only before but since the assurances were given. It does appear that the civil government in Brussels has made some efforts to prevent brutality in selection, to confine selections to unemployed, and to protect the employees of the Commission, and they have even solicited complaints, but they appear unable to control the military press gangs or effect any remedies.

It does not appear to us, however, that protest from the President, based on failure to carry out assurance given as to the method or purpose of these deportations is consonant with the attitude that the Americans should take, for the real issue is the very act of forced deportation as being a violation of the most primary human liberty and international law. Any protest on method or purpose alone will be construed as a recognition by America of the right to force civilians from their homes and country.

I am now convinced that the Entente Governments will take no action against the Relief as a consequence of these deportations, as they are convinced that stoppage of relief would be no remedy, and, they generally recognize, would only accentuate the misery.

The hourly witnessing of these outrages and the prayers to the Americans from a people now in a state of complete terror, since Americans have been so peculiarly their protectors during the past two years, make it difficult for us to control the natural feeling of our staff and we can only hope that no untoward incident may occur. My impression is that any further protest at the moment in the name of humanity and international law would have no other effect than to produce irritation and the usual denials, although if other means fail a renewed protest should be delivered with the utmost vigor as a definition of America's attitude and as a deterrent to other outrages which may be contemplated.

For immediate practical purposes, in the hope of remedying or ameliorating this particular evil, I would like to suggest a personal and private message from the President to the Emperor, in the belief that the Emperor is intrinsically a humane man and generally desirous of promoting peace, such message to take the general line that the constant filtration of reports of these deportations and their surrounding circumstances is today one of the strongest stimuli to resolution for continuance of the war amongst the population in the Entente countries, and has afforded an unparalleled basis of anti-German propaganda among neutrals which no assertion of benevolent intentions can counteract, for the fundamental basis of deportation and compulsion of the population to work against its will and conscience being wrong can only bring suffering and criticism; that if Germany is genuinely anxious for peace she can scarcely hope for sympathetic sentiment to grow abroad to that end coincident with these acts, and that a total cessation of the deportations and forced labor and the return of the deported Belgians and French to their homes would be not only an act of great magnanimity but also of the greatest assistance in the promotion of peace sentiment.


Although the deportations continued despite diplomatic protests and a hostile world opinion, the Allies did not carry out their threat to put a stop to relief. They recognized, as did the members of the Commission, that while the responsibility might be placed on the Germans, it was the Belgians and French who would suffer the consequences. The Commission did what it could to mitigate the suffering caused by this policy, and to secure the return to Belgium of relief employees who had been deported.



WHITLOCK TO VON DER LANCKEN, protesting against deportations of employees of C.R.B. and C.N.

BRUSSELS, 10 January 1917

The Minister of the United States has the honor to refer to his notes No. 4920, dated 27 November 1916, and 4944, dated 28 November 1916, concerning the carrying away of members and employees of the Commission for Relief in Belgium and of the Comité National de Secours et d'Alimentation, deported into Germany as unemployed.

His Excellency the Baron von der Lancken will remember that the Governor-General was good enough to give, in the month of July 1915, to the Minister Protectors of the Comité National the assurance that the Commission for Relief in Belgium and the Comité National could enjoy all the liberty of action necessary to carry out the mission which has devolved upon them by the contracts arrived at between the General Government and the representatives of the neutral Powers. In addition and in order to prevent the application of the steps taken by the German authority relative to the work of the unemployed from prejudicing these guarantees, the Commission for Relief in Belgium, in accord with the German Vermittlungsstelle C.N. distributed to the members, employees, and workpeople of the various organizations connected with the Comité National special cards certifying their capacity, thus putting the German agents employed to carry out these steps, in a position to be able to avoid error as regards the said members, employees, and workpeople.

The Minister Protectors have been able to confirm that these cards have been delivered exclusively to persons who really have the right to them and that a very strict surveillance has been exercised to avoid abuse. They recognize willingly that in the province of Antwerp the cards of the Commission for Relief in Belgium have been taken into consideration and that their bearers have been exempt from deportation; but they regret to learn that in other districts of the country not only has no account been taken of them but the military authorities have torn them up, saying that they were without value.

Thus, up to the present, in the territory of the General Government, about a thousand men who bore the official card of the Commission for Relief in Belgium have been deported into Germany; the figure amounts to 1,054 if those are added who had a right to the card and were picked out for deportation before it was possible to furnish them with it.

The exact figures are, it appears, the following:

Provinces Persons taken away although furnished with cards Persons taken away not yet furnished with the card to which they had the right
Luxembourg 234 9
Brabant 24 39
Namur 250 15
Limbourg 30 ...
Hainaut 453 ...
  991 63

As regards Luxembourg particularly, it has been brought to the knowledge of the Minister Protectors that men have been taken in spite of the protestations of the presidents of the local and regional committees who were present at the requisitions and that no account was taken of the cards of the Commission for Relief in Belgium. It appears even that men were taken away in certain districts only on presentation of that card; in others they only escaped deportation by not showing the card of which they were bearers. The result of these facts has been, it appears, to completely disorganize the alimentation and assistance service in certain parts of that province; several regional and local committees found themselves, it is added, obliged to totally suspend their work; others have experienced, on account of the anxiety of the populations, the greatest difficulty in finding on the spot the staff strictly indispensable to provisionally replace the deported agents.

His Excellency von der Lancken will certainly realize that this state of affairs is contrary to the assurances which have been given to the Minister Protectors.

The Minister of the United States thinks it right to recall further that in the course of negotiations between the German Vermittlungsstelle C.N. and the Commission for Relief in Belgium, the German Vermittlungsstelle C.N. kindly gave the assurance that the necessary steps would be taken to repatriate the members, employees, and workpeople of the Comité National, wrongly deported.

Mr. Whitlock is convinced that the steps promised will produce their effect; but he considers that the question has such a character of gravity that it appears to him to be his duty to inform the Governor-General of it by the kind intermediary of His Excellency Baron von der Lancken. He is confident that His Excellency the Governor-General will be good enough to give him the assurance that the members, employees, and workpeople of the Comité National already deported into Germany will be repatriated as soon as possible and that the necessary steps will be taken to assure that in the future no more members of the above-named organizations will be deported.




HOOVER TO PAGE, respecting deportations of C.R.B. employees

LONDON, 10 January 1917

His Excellency the Honorable W. H. Page, London


Since furnishing you the memorandum and cable on deportation I have received a further report from Brussels(302) of which I enclose two copies herewith, in case you wish to forward one to Washington. You will see by this report that up to the 30th December, 991 men, employed on relief work, have been taken, who actually presented their cards of identification in the manner agreed between us and the German authorities. A further 63 have been taken, who were not in actual possession of their cards so that a distinction might be drawn.

The taking of these men accords very ill with the constant assertion of the German authorities that they are only taking the actually unemployed. We have a vast amount of data relating to the details of deportation, but it does not seem to me worth encumbering your files with repeated proof of the same things. You will realize, of course, that while we protest against the taking of our people, we are very anxious that American authorities should not make the commitment, for which the Germans are apparently so anxious, by acquiescing in principle of deportation by negotiations as to failure to carry out the deportation according to assurances as to methods.

Yours faithfully



By 1918 the Germans had gone beyond deportations to Germany, and were compelling Belgian and French beneficiaries of relief to labor on military construction. The Commission no longer had American representatives in Belgium, and it could do nothing except request the C.R.B. representative in Brussels to raise the question with the C.N., the C.F., and the Spanish-Dutch Committee for such action as they deemed advisable under the circumstances.



C.R.B. LONDON TO C.R.B. REPRESENTATIVE IN BRUSSELS, regarding the employment on military works of Belgian and French citizens receiving relief

LONDON, 19 September 1918

Commission for Relief in Belgium, Brussels

We would very much like to have you discuss the following serious situation with M. Francqui, M. Le Blan, and the Spanish and Dutch directors of the neutral committee, and ask that you send by first practicable mail their separate and independent judgment as to the course to be followed, and your own recommendations.

The grave action of the Germans in so working that now actually, in occupied France and Flanders and to a considerable extent in Belgium, imported rations are being issued to so-called "free" laborers from overseas imports, brings about a situation which threatens the entire ravitaillement. Free labor was first employed for non-military purposes, and the C.R.B. continued to feed it. Gradually it has been arranged with German cunning so that it is now largely employed in actual military construction, and we still feed it. Such labor is employed in building trenches, military railways, making trench timbers, getting out and placing concrete for military work. This is in direct violation of The Hague Convention and the Comity of Nations. What shall be done?

The alternatives seem to be, first, to allow the present situation to continue, which would make almost inevitable the exploitation of the people by those means of indirect pressure which the brutal conquerors of the country have developed, with the almost further certainty of refusal of the governments to allow the feeding of the occupied regions to continue, just as it was refused that food might be sent to the starving victims of the deportations; second, that a strong protest be presented through the protecting ministers and a demand made that the employment of Belgians and French on work of military importance cease, with the statement that if it is continued ravitaillement of these regions where it exists will not be allowed---at the same time making a complete statement in the press of the neutral countries as to the whole situation.

The results, if the Germans do not cease, would be of course most grievous, as many helpless persons would starve along with those working for the Germans. How could such a regulation be applied, e.g., what limits might be given? Would it cover all France and Flanders? The special workers for the Germans only? Who could determine between military and non-military work? Could the C.H.N. delegates do this? Would there be danger of the Germans' seizing the native products and devoting them exclusively to their labor battalions or workers for the Germans? These considerations we feel that you are far better able to discuss than we, and the Belgian, French, and British Governments as well as the C.R.B. will take no action until we hear from you, but we hope you will discuss the question fully in giving your recommendation and will recognize that it can hardly continue.


3. The Deportations in Northern France. April-May 1916

In Northern France, where military rule and methods prevailed, there were also wholesale deportations. Here the object was not to force French workers to labor in German industry but to transfer industrial workers to the agricultural districts of France in the German Army Zone. The methods by which this was accomplished were harsh and inhumane. Without warning the military authorities seized several thousand persons in Lille without regard to sex or capability for agricultural labor, herded them on trains and distributed them in rural communes.(303)

The intervention of the C.R.B. described in the following documents was striking and effective. The Germans first suspended the deportations pending investigation and then abandoned the policy. Later four or five thousand women, children, and infirm were returned to their homes.



by POLAND, describing conversations at Charleville with Quartermaster General Zoellner and others regarding the deportations from Lille

ROTTERDAM, 8 May 1916

About the 25th April, Count Wengersky advised me that it was the intention of the General Staff to evacuate 50,000 persons from Lille, Roubaix, and Tourcoing, to the agricultural districts of Vervins and Charleville, where there was insufficient rural population to plant and harvest the crops. He advised that, as far as possible, volunteers would be asked for, whole families would be transported together when practicable, the main object was to obtain laborers, and, in general, laborers only would be selected. I told him that while in principle we could not object to the moving of the population of these cities to points where they could support themselves, still we anticipated that such a movement could be carried out only with disturbance and suffering. On the request of Captain Weber and Captain zur Strassen, arrangements were made for adjusting the food supply to accommodate the changed distribution of the population which might follow.

On April 29th, our representatives came in from Lille with a history of the most distressing conditions resulting from the manner in which the German edict had been carried out. It appeared that there were no volunteers and that, despite the protests of the people, families were broken up, wives were taken out of families, young girls and young women sent away, the women being put in one part and the men in another. Many young women from eighteen to twenty-five years old were taken out of families and herded together, the most respectable being placed, in some cases, with most undesirable characters and sent off without proper protection and supervision and with no clear idea of their destination. The distress of the population was intense bordering on despair and insurrection. In the midst of reports as to these conditions, during our staff meeting, we were called to the telephone and advised by General Headquarters that we (the director and representatives of Northern France) were invited to proceed to Charleville by a special train to meet the American Ambassador, Mr. Gerard, who was then negotiating with the General Staff in connection with the answer of the German authorities to the Note from the United States in regard to the submarine warfare.(304) The invitation was accepted and the party conveyed to Charleville, where it arrived about 5:00 P.M. Shortly thereafter a reception and tea was arranged, at which were present: the American Ambassador Mr. Gerard, Secretary of Legation Mr. Grew, General Zoellner, Count Wengersky, Captains zur Strassen and Weber, Oberleutnants Fritz and Paul Neuerbourg, Baron von Boecklin, and Baron von ....

The proper opportunity occurring, I begged leave to call General Zoellner's attention to the distressing conditions which had arisen in Lille, as a result of the evacuation movement. It was stated by the Director that three considerations might have, in our opinion, decided the German authorities to carry out this movement:

Firstly, lack of food in the congested districts of Lille, Roubaix, and Tourcoing. This condition, however, would immediately disappear if the increased ration of 19,000 tons of flour, etc., which had been offered by the C.R.B., were introduced, and which depended only on the guarantee of the German authorities to issue 200 grams of potatoes per capita per day. As it was estimated that this might be accomplished by importing 25,000 tons of potatoes from Prussia, it was hoped that the German authorities would immediately furnish the guarantee.

Secondly, the idea of punishment for the slight disturbances and rioting at Roubaix, where the shops were broken into for the purpose of obtaining food. So far from having a salutary effect, it was pointed out that the extreme agitation of the population must have produced much worse conditions from a military point of view than had before existed.

Thirdly, if the not unreasonable desire of the German authorities to take the idle population from the above points and move them to agricultural districts, where labor was badly needed, was to be successful, the movement should have been confined to actual workmen, rather than to those unable even to support themselves.

One of the considerations which most strongly influenced the Commission to undertake, at the request of the German authorities, the relief work for the people of the occupied territory of the North of France was the suggestions by the occupying authorities that a large number of the population be evacuated across the line, would be carried out and that our importations of food and other forms of relief might be a means of saving the people from the misery and distress which must attend any such movement. On behalf of the Commission I therefore respectfully protested against the evacuation and begged that it be stopped.

The actual facts were vouched for by Messrs. Wellington and Richardson. Captain zur Strassen and Count Wengersky maintained that the movement was being carried out now in a proper and satisfactory manner. Oberleutnant Fritz Neuerbourg and Captain Weber were silent. General Zoellner expressed himself as much surprised and stated that the condition described was not intended in his order. He was requested to consult Oberleutnant Paul Neuerbourg and had a private talk with him at once, at which it was understood Oberleutnant Paul Neuerbourg gave the facts as above.

Ambassador Gerard was much affected by the statements. General Zoellner advised that an immediate investigation would be made and the trouble remedied. It was understood that the general commanding the Lille operations had been summoned to Charleville immediately. The evacuation was suspended by telegraphic orders.

Our next news was on the 5th of May, when the representatives from Northern France again reported at Brussels. Apparently the movement had been stopped and it was understood that it would be confined to workmen only if resumed but this has not yet been officially confirmed.

Our imperfect information is that about 11,000(305) of the population have so far been evacuated. We shall endeavor to remedy any extreme cases of hardship resulting from this order and have indeed been promised unofficially that this will be done.

It should be noted that at the moment the relations between the C.R.B. and the occupying German forces in the North of France are very strained and it is difficult to accomplish much. It is considered probable that the result to the people of the North of France would be exceedingly unfavorable should the attention of the Allied Governments be called to these conditions through the offices of the C.R.B. until further reports are made. For the moment the action seems to have been ended. Ambassador Gerard offered to use his influence with the Emperor to modify these conditions if subsequent reports indicated to him that the German authorities themselves had not taken steps to do so.

(Signed) W. B. POLAND
Director for Belgium and the North of France



by L. C. WELLINGTON, C.R.B. DELEGATE AT LILLE, describing the deportations from Lille

LONDON, 6 October 1916

1. The seed for the idea of removing a part of the inhabitants from the most congested district in the North of France occupied by the German troops seems to have been sown by a small riot which occurred in the city of Roubaix in the month of March. Exact facts cannot be given, but, in general, about two hundred people forced an entrance to a few small grocery stores in this city and seized what small amounts of food were to be had. It is assumed that when this was reported to the German Headquarters of the western front at Charleville, the conclusion was drawn that conditions were such that riots might again occur; that this one in particular was due to too great a congestion of an idle laboring population, which, under the circumstances, could not be sufficiently fed to prevent the recurrence of an uprising in one form or another. It was therefore decided at General Headquarters that it would be wise to remove fifty thousand people from the laboring classes, give them work in the fields of the agricultural districts of the North of France, and pay them a small salary. This scheme in theory was not a bad one, had it been possible to carry it out without undue hardship to the laborers themselves. It would place them in regions where it would be easier for them to supplement the diet which they receive from the Commission for Relief in Belgium (this Commission will be referred to hereafter as the C.R.B.); it would give them employment and a small salary.

2. It was therefore decided, at first, to test out this theory by a call for volunteers from the laboring classes to work in the fields. It is to be understood that the three cities of Lille, Roubaix, and Tourcoing are the largest in the most thickly populated and most highly industrial region of Northern France; fully eighty per cent of the population is made up of laborers who, in ordinary times, are employed in textile mills and who have been accustomed to life in the city for generations. They consequently know nothing of agricultural labor, and it is not surprising that upon this call for volunteers there was response from no more than thirty-five or forty individuals.

3. Nevertheless it was considered feasible at General Headquarters to go ahead with the theory and to force the population to comply. Fifty thousand was decided upon as an outside limit for the number of inhabitants to be deported and in order to make the necessary arrangements for the feeding of these people after they had been transported from the cities where they dwelt to the agricultural districts, a visit was made by Captain Weber.(306) A conference was held between Captain Weber, the French Committee at Lille, and the American delegate of the Lille district. Captain Weber was sent to Lille as a delegate from General Headquarters. He requested, in the first place, that an arrangement should be made whereby the three cities from which inhabitants were to be removed should continue their war payments to their respective inhabitants. These payments are of two kinds---"'allocations militaires" and "chomage," or money paid by French municipalities to inhabitants thrown out of work owing to the war. In the second place, Captain Weber requested that the C.R.B. should transfer a sufficient quantity of food from the Lille district to supply the fifty thousand inhabitants who were to be removed from the Lille district to those of Vervins and Charleville. This last matter was taken up by the German captain at the Brussels office of the C.R.B. and consent was given. The members of the French Committee at Lille objected very strongly to the whole proposition of the removal of the inhabitants; firstly, from the point of view of the hardships that would necessarily result and also from the impossibility which there would be in continuing the war payments to the individuals who were to be removed.

4. The deportations commenced on 22d April, the day before Easter, and the order, coming through the German ranks as a military command, was naturally carried out in a blunt, brutal, military way. A whole regiment was placed in a given quarter of the city and machine guns were placed in the streets, and six, eight, or ten fully armed soldiers entered each house to remove all inhabitants capable of doing field labor.

The present account is given on information obtained from the acting mayor and other members of the French Committee at Lille as well as from the actual observation of the writer. The situation which ensued throughout the three cities in question is beyond description. Every household, whether entered or not, was thrown into panic for fear that some of its members might be taken sooner or later. Whatever his position, no individual was exempt from approach, and the fact that over twenty thousand people were shipped off in eight days is testimony to the methods that were adopted. If any explanations were made they seemed to the individual like simple pretexts for some form of cruelty. Each officer had orders to deliver a given number of souls at a designated point, and they were herded through the streets on foot or in cars like so many beasts, being made to wait hours in the cold. Any reluctant attitude was treated with the bayonet point. Industrial schools, with several hundred young women in them, were entered and cleared of all their pupils, who, often without the chance to see their parents, were ordered into tram cars and sent to a railway station, from which they were shipped to no one knew where. Girls of good family, women up to the age of fifty, and men up to the age of sixty-five were taken from all parts of the cities without any discrimination or consideration as to what class of society they were from. Girls who had known nothing but the protection of refined homes were thrown together with prostitutes or men of low life. The lot of people were all examined as a matter of form by a German Red Cross doctor, but this examination seems to have been very superficial in most cases, many of which were passed when the individual was suffering from one disease or another and evidently incapable of doing field labor. Monsieur Crepy, the "Adjoint du Maire," tells of watching an examination in which several extreme cases of varicose veins(307). were passed upon by the doctors, and when their condition was noticed by an ordinary German officer and referred again to the doctor the reply was to the effect that they were quite capable of doing hard labor. It was evident to the French men of the Committee that the task of removing the people was often an odious one to the officers carrying out their instructions. The writer came in personal contact with the case of an employee in one of the shops of Lille. It was taken for granted everywhere that people who already had employment were not to be removed, but this distinction does not seem to have been made with very great care, for in this particular case the girl in question not only had employment but was provided by her employer with a certificate to show where and what her employment was. She was seized on the street when going to her work, was given half an hour to pack up what she wanted, and then marched off. By good fortune she passed an officer who had been one of her clients; she appealed to him and was released. One could go on and cite fifty or more tragic cases where families were broken up and consequent sorrow entered the houses of the three cities. Even the "Adjoint du Maire" himself of the city of Lille was not exempt. His house was entered, and it was only upon an explanation of his identity and position that his own servants were protected. We cite the case of a tram conductor who returned at nightfall to find that his wife had been removed during the day. This is typical of hundreds of others.

It was arranged by the C.R.B. to give these unfortunate people a supplementary ration for two days for the time during which they were being transported from their homes to their destination in the rural districts. Subsequently, the Commission has done all in its power to relieve this extreme distress by providing any extra clothing or food that has been available.

5. Naturally, the American representative wished to do all in his power to alleviate the situation in any way possible, and consequently an explanation of the tragedy was made in detail at Brussels at the end of the first week. It is the custom to have a reunion of the American representatives in the north of France in Brussels ever tin Saturday morning. Owing to a most happy coincidence, this Saturday, April 29, was the date when Ambassador Gerard had come on from Berlin to Charleville with the German Kaiser and the Chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg, for conference at General Headquarters wit reference to the American Note on the "Sussex" affair. Ambassador Gerard requested an interview with the American representatives of the C.R.B. in the North of France and it was accordingly arranged that they, together with the Brussels Director of the C.R.B., should go to Charleville that afternoon on a special train provided by Headquarters. It was decided that the least the American Commission could do would be to bring the tragedy of the Lille deportations to the attention of Ambassador Gerard and, if possible, to obtain from General Headquarters some action for an amelioration of the situation. Therefore at Charleville the matter was discussed in detail with the German officers concerned, in the presence of Ambassador Gerard and Quartermaster General Zoellner. It was argued by the Americans that from a military point of view a greater risk than before was being taken in rousing the antagonism of the Lille population, and that from the point of view of the C.R.B. the eviction were much against its wishes, inasmuch as one of the chief object of the relief work is to feed the population sufficiently so that individuals will not be forced to leave their homes in order to be properly nourished. Arguments to uphold the theory for the evacuation of a portion of the congested population were given by the German officers present. After a general discussion there were conferences held apart, both with Ambassador Gerard and Quartermaster General Zoellner, who were given in detail the tragic and impractical aspects of the situation. It is to be noted that all the arguments of the American representatives at Lille and of the Brussels Director were upheld by the German officer, Lieutenant Paul Neuerbourg, who had been at Lille to see and hear the details as they appeared on the ground. Credit is due to him for this support, both from the point of view of sympathy shown for the French people and for the risk which he took in combatting the argument of officers of much superior rank. It goes without saying that this support lent great weight to the objections advanced by the C.R.B. A further conference was held that evening between Ambassador Gerard and Quartermaster General Zoellner, the result being that, instead of fifty thousand approximately, twenty thousand individuals were sent away from their homes.

6. The month following between three and four hundred individuals were returned owing to sickness, but up to the 1st August 1916, when the writer returned to the United States, no further action had been taken to repatriate them.

7. It is difficult for me to describe the resultant suffering which was visited upon these miserable people in the localities where they were put to work. This can be more accurately done by those Americans who have been in the agricultural districts which received the "Evacués." It must be understood, however, that any avowed attempt to make investigations of this sort would be met with a flat refusal from the German authorities who control the work of the C.R.B. and who keep its representatives under the closest surveillance. Nevertheless, I can cite my visit to the village of Queant, in the district of Valenciennes. About forty people from Lille, the majority of them women, were unloaded here. I was not allowed to speak with them, but I spoke a few words with the "Maire," who asked why they had been sent to his village. "To work in the fields," I told him. "But," he said, with a look of mystification, "these are girls of nice families; they know nothing of field labor; and, more over, we have already more than enough Russian prisoners to do that kind of work. There is no place to put these new people. The town is choked with troops. They swallow everything and there is not even a bit of straw for our friends from Lille to sleep on, much less a roof to put over their heads. My wife and I are doing what we can, but there is very little left here."

It is known that the unfortunates were carted about in motor trucks, unloaded, and reloaded like merchandise. In some cases the promised salaries were paid by the Germans either entirely or in part in food instead of in cash.

A vivid imagination is not required to make conclusions as to the inevitable dangers to which particularly the women were exposed. Quartered in the same houses with troops, forced to work in the fields, to harvest the German crop, the story of the inhabitants of Lille, Roubaix, and Tourcoing is an "Evangeline" too horrible for poetical treatment.


Needless to say the story of the Lille deportations lost nothing in the telling in the Entente press, and the Allied propagandists made the most of the incident as another example of German "frightfulness." There is no doubt of the brutality with which the evacuation of these unfortunate and innocent people was carried out, but it is clear that this brutality was not a deliberate policy of the higher German authorities. It is significant that in the confidential statement he was asked to prepare for the United States Department of State, Hoover discredited the extravagancies of the propagandists, exculpated the German authorities of intentional brutalities and placed the responsibility where it belonged---on individuals of subordinate rank who appear to have been both incompetent and insensible. The historical importance of the following document is obvious.



HOOVER To LANSING, reporting on the Lille deportations

LONDON, 10 October 191

The Hon. Robert Lansing,
Secretary of State, Washington, D.C.


I have a request from the American Embassy in London to furnish you with a short, confidential statement with regard to the evacuation of certain persons from Lille during April 1916.

In this matter, I send you herewith:

1. Memorandum prepared at the time by Mr. Poland, who was then our Director in Belgium and Northern France;

2. Memorandum prepared by Mr. Wellington, our staff representative in Lille;

3. English translation, of the brochure issued by the French Government on the matter.

Our summary of the incident is as follows:

1. The German General Staff determined upon the evacuation of a large number of people from the congested urban sections around Lille into the agricultural sections of Northern France. The objective was two-fold---to relieve the congestion and food difficulties in the urban areas and at the same time to furnish more labor to the agricultural sections in order to increase the productivity of these areas. They initially called for volunteers, but, securing none, gave orders that compulsion should be used.

2. These orders were carried out with great brutality. People were seized, regardless of class, sex, and family membership. They were loaded on to railway trains on a few hours' notice and dumped into agricultural districts without any preparation; all sexes were thrown promiscuously in the open, under conditions of the utmost hardship.

3. The immediate protests at the German Headquarters by Mr. Poland, backed by Messrs. Wellington and Richardson, all of the Relief Commission, later on seconded by Mr. Gerard, brought about an investigation as to the methods employed; a suspension of the measures and ultimately rescission of the project. Furthermore as a result of the investigation initiated some four or five thousand women, children, and infirm have been returned; the balance have now settled amongst the agricultural population and we do not believe that they are specially discontented.

4. The Relief Commission provided foodstuffs for the people en route, gave them extra rations upon their arrival, and provided them with blankets, shoes, etc., in the refugee camps, generally protecting them in the best manner we could with the limited resources at our disposal.

5. It is our belief that the brutality of the operation was largely the fault of the local commandants and lack of adequate arrangements for the reception of and distribution of the evacués. We do not believe that any such brutalities were committed with intent of the high authorities. We believe they honestly and expeditiously corrected the matter as far as they were able when it came to their attention, and we are informed that disciplinary measures were taken. We do not believe the stories of rape, concubinage, etc., spread in the propagandist press.

The incident is one of sufficiently terrible order, but as things go in this war it has resulted in less volume of human suffering than many other continuing barbarities in Europe.

Yours faithfully


Chapter 11

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