Posted by: secondeguerremondialeclairegrube | January 12, 2014

1914-1918: atrocity propaganda

1914-1918 : atrocity propaganda

Grüß Gott !

Soldiers from all countries, during the Great War, were accused of commiting atrocities. Rightly or wrongly.

Atrocity propaganda 1914-1919 / James Morgan Read / Yale University Press / 1941:

« This propaganda of hate had certain definite objectives ; it was used to stiffen spirit of soldiers and civilians, help raise war loans, encourage enlistment, and justify breaches of international laws. (…) The atrocity stories was especially calculetd to kindle the passions of the fighters. »

« Nomeny. On August 20, 1914, the Germans penetrated into the city about noon. According to what one them related, their chiefs had affirmed that the French torture the wounded by gouging out their eyes and cutting off parts of the body. As a result they were in a state of terrible excitement. »

« William G. Shepherd, United Press correspondent :

« I was in Belgium when the first atrocity stories went out. I hunted and hunted for atrocies during the first days of the atrocity scare. I couln’t find atrocies. I couln’t find people who had seen them. I traveled on trains with Belgians who had fled from the German lines and I spent much time among Belgian refugees. I offered sums of money for photographs of children whose hands had been cut off or who had been wounded or injured  in other ways. I never found a first-hand Belgian atrocity story ; and when I ran down second-hand stories they all petered out. »

« One wrote to the American newspaper in Paris : The curate of Etain had both hands cut off while picking up the wounded, and this was no work of shells, but of a German sword. The Germans have made it a point in some regions to cripple boys in order to render them incapable of bearing arms later on. Another claimed to have information that the Germans « cut the fingers off the young boys between sixteen and eighteen ».

« One soldier in East Prussia made a sizable collection of atrocites which were alleged to have been perpetrated  by the Russians in that province. These he forwarded to his family as a true picture of conditions in the invaded regions. The letter was put at the disposal of the editor of a Königsberg newspaper who ran down the stories – of thirty school children who had their fingers chopped off by the Cossaks, of nine women in another place who had been raped and a gendarme whose nose and ears had been cut off, of an officer who found his wife and child nailed to the table, of a Kalmuck who had raped, then mutilated a woman and when apprehended was found to be carrying seventeen fingers with rings on them. (…) In each case the editor… received a resounding negative. »

« Certains types of cases, much advertised between 1914-18, have been disproved beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt. This applies to stories from both sides. The most famous alleged that the Germans cut off the hands of Belgian children, sometimes out of mere spite, sometimes out of a desire to make them unfit for fighting when they grew up. »

« Were the Germans guilty of every imaginable refinement of cruelty and bestiality in Belgium ?… atrocities like the tale of a man who had his ears cut off before being covered with gasoline and thrown into his burning house. »

« The atrocity propaganda was quite systematically organized. The Russians were accused above all of cutting the arms and legs off the men, the breast the women. The French and Belgians were accused of gouging out eyes. There were variations and combinations. But the leitmotiv remained always the same : in the east, hacking and cutting, in the west, gouging. »

« Atrocities, atrocities and always more atrocities – tales of Belgian women haunting the scenes of fighting and gouging out wounded Germans’eyes. »

« The deeds of the Cossacks proved that they were the descendants of the Huns who run babies through, ravish women in the sight of their relatives, cut off hands of old men and little children, gouge out eyes, and cut off tongues. »

« Beside wholesale murder and rape the Russians were accused of cutting off women’s hands and drawing and quartering children. »

« The French were seen cutting fingers of badly wounded Germans. »

« This described the fate of two German merchants from the Cameroons, who were  killed on Spanish territory by five native soldiers of the English forces. The murders cut off and carried away as trophies the ears and hands of their victims. »

« In the hospital where he was sent after being wounded, Meyer declared he had seen at least eight cases of the mutilation of wounded German soldiers. Three had had their eyes put out, three their tongues cut off, and two their ears cut off. Four of them had told him they had been mutilated by English soldiers. »

« An examination of the depositions themselves, most of them sworn statements of returned prisoners, reveals only one « most severe atrocity » reported in 1918, but dozens of gouged-out eyes, cut-off hands and fingers recorded in the period prior to 1918. »

« In 1919 the German foreign office also published in English the collection of notes sent to neutral powers on the status of prisoners. Although designed to influence the peace negociators, the volume was written in such miserable English that it made a very lame impression, despite the fact that it was filled with examples of the most brutal forms of atrocity. One instance of mutilation was described as « Crucifixion with abdomen slit open. »

« The spring and summer of 1915 saw a host of stories of German brutality to Russian prisoners printed in the French press. Ten Russian prisoners had been burned alive ; a non-commissioned officer had been mutilated because he refused to talk ; many wouded had been slaughtered by the Germans ; a Russian infantryman, captured while on patrol and refusing to talk, had had his ears and half his tongue cut off by a German non-commissioned officer ; a Cossack officer, lightly wounded, having fallen from his horse, had been seized by Tyrolese who cut off his arms and legs. »

« After a Bulgarian invasion of the Dobrudja the news was relayed to Paris that the Danube carried hundreds of bodies of Rumanian officers and soldiers as well as inhabitants of New Dobrudja, whose limbs were cut off, eyes gouged out, and entrails opened up. »

« Thus the report asserted that at Malines « one witness saw a German soldier cut a woman’s breast after he had mudered her, and saw many other dead bodies of women in the streets ». Another witness testified that at Malines a drunken soldier met a two-year old child. « The soldier… drove his bayonet with both hands into the child’s stomach, lifting the child into the air on his bayonet, he and his comrades still singing. » The postwar Belgian report on Malines did not mention anything like either of these two cruelties. »

« The Appendix, less squeamish, recorded the type of mutilation, adding incidents at Elewyt, including the murder of a woman, and the amputation of a child’s hands and feet. »

« In a series of depositions describing the actions of the Germans at Alost in September, 1914, the witnesses interviewed by the English barristers talked of people burned alive, boys with their hands cut off, a man shot down because his door was closed, a woman of eighty pierced by bayonet, people with throats cut or heads smashed with rifle butts, a girl of seventeen bayoneted in the back. (…) In the Belgian report of 1922 not one of fourteen depositions on Alost, including a statement of a doctor, mentions any of these atrocious crimes. »

« Some stories brought forth by these commissions and other correspondents were demonstrably falsified, such as those of the Belgian babes whose hands had been cut off or the German soldiers whose eyes had been gouged out. Some were exaggerated… Some rested on a factual foundation… Some were magnified as atrocities… Some were labeled atrocities. »

« Not all atrocities were concocted. Many actual excesses occurred… Both sides had unclean hands. Just as both sides invented atrocities to ascribe to the enemy, so did both sides commit atrocities. »


« Not all atrocities were concocted. … »

Claire GRUBE


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