The Belgian People's War







































In laying an English translation of the German White-Book on the franctireur war in Belgium before the public it should be pointed out—as may also be seen from the numbering of the annexes—that the English version is not a complete rendering of the German original. Of the annexes, which contain over two hundred and twenty affidavits and reports, only about one-third have been included, so as to save the reader a wearisome repetition of numerous similar incidents and to give him, with less labor to himself, an approximate idea of the kind of actions indulged in by the Belgian civilian population.

The German original is open for inspection at the Imperial German Embassy and the Imperial German Consulates in this country.

New York, July, 1915.




[p. 4]




1.  Memorial of the Imperial German Foreign Office                             5- 10


2.  Annexes concerning offenses in general                                          11- 33


3.  The revolt of the Belgian population at Aerschot                            35- 50


     a. Summary report                                                                            37- 39


     b. Annexes relative thereto                                                              41- 50


4.  The revolt of the Belgian population at Andenne                             51- 57


     a. Summary report                                                                            53- 54


     b. Annexes relative thereto                                                              55- 57


5.  Fight of the Belgian people at Dinant                                               59- 86


     a. Summary report                                                                            61- 69


     b. Annexes relative thereto                                                              71- 86


6.  The revolt of the Belgian people at Louvain                                   87-135


     a. Summary report                                                                            89- 94


     b. Annexes relative thereto                                                             95-135


[p. 5]


Immediately after the outbreak of the war in Belgium a savage fight was started by the Belgian civilians against the German troops, a fight which was a flagrant violation of international law and had the gravest consequences for Belgium and her people.

That fight of a population which was governed by savage passion raged throughout Belgium during the whole advance of the German army. When after obstinate fights the Belgian army receded before the German troops, the Belgium civilian population endeavored not only by all possible means to halt the German advance in those parts of the country which were still unoccupied, but even in places which had long been occupied by German troops the Belgian civilians did not shrink from damaging and weakening the German host by cowardly and treacherous attacks.

The extent of this armed resistance of the population may be seen from the appended geographical sketch (Annex 1) in which the German routes of advance and the Belgian places, in which the fighting of the population has been raging, have in the main been indicated. Overwhelming evidence has been collected which proves that on these marching routes and at these places the Belgian civilian population of every class, age and sex took part in the lighting against the German troops with the greatest bitterness and fury. This evidence is based on official statements, most of them made under oath, and on official reports; a selection of it is given in the appendix, which however comprises only the more important events and which can at any time be amplified by further evidence.

According to this evidence the Belgian civilian population has fought against the German troops at many places in the provinces of Liège, Luxemburg, Namur, Hainault, Brabant, East and West Flanders. The fights at Aerschot, Andenne, Dinant and Louvain assumed a particularly terrible character. About these, special reports have been drawn up by the Military Bureau for the Investigation of Offenses against the Laws of War established in the army department (see annexes A, B, C, D). In these fights men of the most varied classes: workmen, manufacturers, doctors, teachers, even clergymen, nay, women and children were caught with arms in hand. (Annexes 18, 25, 47; A 5; C 18, 42, 56, 63; D 1, 34, 37, 38, 45, 48). In districts from which the regular Belgian troops had long withdrawn shots were fired on the German troops from houses and gardens, roofs and cellars, fields and woods. In those fights means were used which no regular [p. 6] troops would have employed. Thus large quantities of sporting rifles and ammunition, obsolete pistols and revolvers were found, (Annexes 6, 11, 37; A 2; C 52; D 1, 2, 37), and numerous, in consequence, were the wounds by small shot and also by burning with hot tar and boiling water. (Annexes B 2, C 5, D 25.) From all this it is evident that the war of the people in Belgium was not only waged by individual civilians, but by large masses of the population.

The warfare of the Belgian civilian population was in complete violation of the universally recognized rules of international law, as expressed in the Hague Regulations respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, which have also been accepted by Belgium. These rules distinguish between an organized and an unorganized people's war. In the organized people's war (Art. 1) the militia and the volunteer-corps, in order to be recognized as belligerents, have to conform with the following four conditions: they must have responsible leaders at their head, they must wear a certain distinctive emblem recognizable at a distance, they must carry their arms openly and they must observe the laws and customs of war. The unorganized people's war (Art. 2) is free from the first two conditions, that is to say the responsible leaders and the military emblems, but is on the other hand, bound to two other conditions: it may only be waged in the territory not yet occupied by the enemy and there must have been lack of time to organize the people's war.

The two special conditions established for the organized people's war were doubtlessly not fulfilled by the Belgian franctireurs. For according to the consensus of reports from the German military commands the civilians who were found fighting had no responsible leaders at their head, nor did they wear any kind of distinctive emblems. (Annexes 6, C 4, 5, 15; D.) The Belgian franctireurs may therefore not be regarded as organized militia or volunteer-corps as understood by the laws of war, this notwithstanding the fact that apparently also Belgian military persons and members of the "Garde civique" took part in their undertakings. For as these persons likewise did not wear any distinctive emblems but, in civilian clothes, mingled with the fighting citizens, (Annexes 6; A 3; D 1, 30, 45, 46) the rights of belligerents can be accorded to them as little as to the civilians.

It results that the entire Belgian people's war can only be viewed as an unorganized armed resistance of the civilian population. As such is only allowed in unoccupied territory it doubtless was in violation, for this reason alone, of the law of nations in all those places which were already in possession of the German troops, more particularly in Aerschot, Andenne and Louvain. But also in places not yet occupied by the German troops, especially in Dinant and its environments, was the people's war not allowable, because the Belgian Government had had sufficient time for organizing the people's war in accordance with international law. The [p. 7] Belgian Government since years has counted on being drawn into the warlike events in case of a Franco-German war; the preparations for its mobilization can be proven to have set in at least a week before the invasion of the German army. The Government was, therefore, perfectly in a position to supply the civilian population, as far as their employment in possible fighting was intended, with military emblems and to appoint responsible leaders for them. The Belgian Government in a communication addressed to the German Government through the medium of a Neutral Power has asserted that it had taken corresponding measures. In stating this the Belgian Government only proves that it could have fulfilled the above-mentioned conditions; but such measures were, at any rate, not put into practice in the territories passed by the German troops.

Not only were, thus, the premises lacking which are provided by international law also for the unorganized people's war, but this war was also conducted in a manner which alone would have sufficed to place its participants outside the laws of war. For the Belgian franctireurs made it a rule not to carry their weapons openly, nor did they respect any of the laws and customs of war.

Irrefutable evidence proves that in a large number of cases the German troops at their entry were received with a semblance of friendliness by the Belgian civilian population, only to be attacked with arms at nightfall or at other opportune moments. Such cases particularly happened at Blegny, Esneux, Grand Rosière, Bièvre, Gouvy, Villers-devant-Orval, Sainte-Marie, Les Bulles, Yschippe, Acoz, Aerschot, Andenne and Louvain. All of these attacks evidently violate the provision of international law, that arms should be carried openly.

But what the Belgian civilians are especially to be charged with is the unheard-of violation of the customs of war. In different places, e. g., near Liège, Herve and Brussels, in Aerschot, Dinant and Louvain, German soldiers have been foully assassinated (Annexes 18, 55, 61, 65, 66; A 1; C 56, 67, 73, 74, 78), although Article 23, section 1 b, of the Hague Regulations of Warfare on Land forbids to "kill or wound treacherously individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army." Moreover, the Belgian population has disregarded the sign of the Red Cross, and thus offended against Article 9 of the Geneva Convention of July 6, 1906. Thus, Belgian civilians did not shrink from shooting under cover of this sign at the German troops and from attacking hospitals with wounded soldiers and the sanitary staff, while in the execution of their duty. (Annexes 4; C 9, 17, 18, 32, 56, 66, 67.) Finally it has been established beyond doubt that Belgian civilians plundered, killed and even shockingly mutilated German wounded soldiers, in which atrocities even women and children took part. Thus the eyes were gouged out of the German wounded soldiers, their ears, noses, finger-joints were cut off, or they were emasculated or disemboweled. (Annexes [p. 8] 54 to 66; C 73, 78; D 35, 37.) In other cases, German soldiers were poisoned or strung up on trees; hot liquid was poured over them, or they were otherwise burned so that they died under terrible tortures. (Annexes 50, 55, 63; C 56, 59, 61, 67, 74, 78.) All these bestialities of the Belgian population are an outrage not only to the express obligation "to respect and care" for the sick and wounded of the enemy (Article 1, Section 1 of the Geneva Convention) but also to the primary principles of the laws of war and humanity.

Under these circumstances the Belgian civilian population, which took part in the fight can, as a matter of course, lay no claim to a treatment such as is due to belligerents. It was, on the contrary, absolutely necessary in the interest of the self-preservation of the German army to take the severest measures against these franctireurs. Therefore, persons who by fighting opposed the German troops had to be killed, prisoners could not be treated as prisoners of war in accordance with the laws of war, but only as assassins in accordance with the customs of war. In all this, however, the formalities of jurisdiction were observed as far as military necessity permitted; the prisoners, whenever circumstances allowed of such a course, were shot only after due examination or after adjudication by a court martial. (Annexes 37, 38, 40, 43, 48.) Old men, women and children, even when under grave suspicion, were spared to the largest possible degree; more than that: the German soldiers, although their patience was put to a most severe test by the treacherous attacks, often cared for such persons in a manner which can only be termed as self-sacrificing, taking helpless persons who were in peril under their protection, sharing their bread with them or giving the weak and sick in charge.

There can be no doubt that it is to a great extent the fault of the Belgian Government that the Belgian population conducted itself towards the German army against all international law. For leaving aside that a government is under all circumstances answerable for such acts as represent the general expression of the people's will, the Belgian Government has at least to bear the grave reproach that, although it could have prevented that franctireur war, it did not do so. (Annexes 33, 51; D 42, 43, 48.) It would certainly have been an easy matter for the government to give the requisite instructions to its organs such as mayors, soldiers and the "garde civique" in order to restrain the passionate excitement which had been artificially stirred up among the people. Therefore, the Belgian Government alone is responsible for Belgium's fearful guilt of blood.

The Belgian Government has tried to evade this responsibility by putting the blame for the things that happened on the German troops whose lust of destruction is said to have made them commit violence without any provocation. The Belgian Government has appointed a commission for the investigation of the atrocities, alleged to have been committed by the German [p. 9] troops and it has made the findings of this commission a matter of diplomatic protests. This attempt to pervert the facts into their reverse has failed entirely. The German army is accustomed to warfare only against hostile armies but not against peaceful inhabitants. That from the beginning of their entry into Belgium the German troops were forced by the native population into a defensive fight in the interest of self-preservation, this irrefutable fact cannot be put out of the world by any investigation of whatever commission.

The tales of refugees compiled by the Belgian Commission which are represented as the result of strictly impartial investigations, bear the stamp of untrustworthiness, if not of malicious distortion, on their face. Considering the circumstances, the commission cannot possibly test the correctness of rumors reported to them, or see the interrelation of the various happenings. Hence their accusations of the German army are nothing else but base defamations which are easily disproved by the documentary evidence appended.

At Aerschot the fight of the German troops with the Belgian civilians did not arise, as the English insinuate, through an outrage  committed by German officers on the honor of the Mayor's family, but was the result of a premeditated attack in which the Aerschot population treacherously murdered the German chief-in-command (Annex A). Again it was not harmless peaceful citizens who succumbed to German arms at Dinant, but assassins who treacherously attacked German soldiers and thus caused the troops to take up a fight which was disastrous for Dinant (Annex C). In Louvain the fight with the civilian population did not arise from fugitive German troops attacking in mistake their comrades when entering the town; but it arose because a deluded population who could not properly gauge events thought they could without danger do away with German troops that were retreating to Louvain (Annex D). Those troops set fire to Louvain, as they did to other Belgian towns, only where dire necessity demanded it. The sketch showing the destruction of Louvain (Annex D 50), plainly demonstrates that the German troops confined themselves to the destruction of those quarters where the civilians offered treacherous and murderous resistance. It was even owing to German troops that the treasurers of art, not only in Louvain but also in other Belgian towns, were rescued as far as rescue was possible. A special German Commission has established the fact that German troops extensively protected works of art in Belgium.

The Imperial German Government is of opinion that the evidence published in the appendix proves convincingly that the actions of the German troops against the civilian population were provoked by the franctireur war which was a violation of international law, and that [p. 10] they were justified by military necessity. On the other hand the Imperial German Government protests solemnly and emphatically against the dishonest fight which a civilian population waged against German soldiers with the most reprehensible means, and even more against the attitude of the Belgian Government which after the utter neglect of its duties, shown in its indulgence of the wild passions of the population, now is shameless enough to belie and defame the German army, in order to exonerate itself from its own heavy guilt.

BERLIN, May 10, 1915.