Monday, December 6, 2021


 “Fusillé par les Allemands” (Shot by the Germans)

            This “extremely aggressive guerrilla warfare,” as von Kluck called it, and especially the sniping by franc-tireurs at German soldiers, exasperated him and his fellow commanders. From the moment his army entered Belgium he found it necessary to take, in his own words, “severe and inexorable reprisals” such as “the shooting of individuals and the burning of homes” against the “treacherous” attacks of the civil population. Burned villages and dead hostages marked the path of the First Army. On August 19 [1914] after the Germans had crossed the Gette and found the Belgian Army withdrawn during the night, they vented their fury on Aerschot, a small town between the Gette and Brussels, the first to suffer a mass execution. In Aerschot 150 civilians were shot. The numbers were to grow larger as the process was repeated by von Bülow’s army at Ardennes and Tamines, by von Hausen’s in the culminating massacre of 664 at Dinant. The method was to assemble the inhabitants in the main square, women usually on one side and men on the other, select every tenth man or every second man or all on one side, according to the whim of the individual officer, march them to a nearby field or empty lot behind the railroad station and shoot them. In Belgium there are many towns whose cemeteries today have rows and rows of memorial stones inscribed with a name, the date 1914, and the legend, repeated over and over: “Fusillé par les Allemands” (Shot by the Germans). In many are newer and longer rows with the same legend and the date 1944.

            General von Hausen, commanding the Third Army, found, like von Kluck, that the “perfidious” conduct of the Belgians in “multiplying obstacles” in his path called for reprisals “of the utmost rigor without an instant’s hesitation.” These were to include “the arrest as hostages of notables such as estate-owners, mayors, and priests, the burning of houses and farms and the execution of persons caught in acts of hostility.” Hausen’s army were Saxons whose name in Belgium became synonymous with “savage.” Hausen himself could not get over the “hostility of the Belgian people.” To discover “how we are hated” was a constant amazement to him.

[Barbara W. Tuchman, [1962]. The Guns of August: The Outbreak of World War I; Barbara W. Tuchman's Great War Series (Modern Library 100 Best Nonfiction Books) (Kindle Locations 4338-4354). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

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