Primary Documents - The Sacking of Louvain - Official German Statement, August 1914
Reproduced below is the official German statement - addressed to the then-neutral U.S. government - dealing with the virtual destruction of the ancient city of Louvain in Belgium in August 1914.
Written by German Foreign Minister Gottlieb von Jagow, the statement took issue with the suggestion that German soldiers deliberately destroyed the city; rather, the city was devastated in consequence of a widescale revolt by the city's Belgian populace - an act that ran counter to the conventions of war, suggested von Jagow.
He reasoned that if the German military responded with wholly necessary reprisals in the face of such unwarranted civilian aggression - the spectre of franc-tireurs was raised - it was only be reasonably expected.
The German statement was itself only issued once international furore over the destruction of Louvain spread to the U.S. Evidence then (as now) suggested that the sacking of Louvain was largely premeditated, although it was clear that German soldiers in the area operated under constant fear of civilian attack.
Louvain - Official Statement by the German Minister of State, Addressed to the United States Government by Gottlieb von Jagow
Long ago the Belgian Government had organized an insurrection of the people against the invasion of the enemy. Some stores of arms had been established, and upon each gun was the name of the citizen who was to use it.
Since the Hague Conference it has been recognized, at the request of the little powers, that an insurrection of the people is in conformity with international law, if weapons are carried openly and the laws of war respected.
Such an insurrection, however, could be organized only to combat an enemy who invaded the country. At Louvain, on the other hand, the city had already surrendered and the population had then abandoned all resistance. The city was occupied by German troops.
Nevertheless the population attacked from all sides the German garrison and the troops who were in the act of entering the city, by opening upon them a murderous fire. Because the attitude of the population was obviously pacific these troops arrived at Louvain by railroad and autos.
In the present case, then, there is no question of a measure of defence in conformity with international law, nor an admissible ruse of war; but it was a traitorous attack on the part of the civilian population.
This attack is the more unjustifiable because it has been proved that it had been planned long before and was to have taken place at the same time as the sortie from Antwerp. The weapons were not carried openly. Some women and young girls took part in the combat, and gouged out the eyes of the wounded.
The barbarous acts of the Belgian people in almost all the territories occupied by the German troops have not only justified the most severe reprisals on the part of the German military authorities but have even compelled the latter to order them for safeguarding the troops.
The intensity of the resistance of the population is proved by the fact that it took our troops twenty-four hours to overcome the attacks by the inhabitants of Louvain.
In the course of these combats the city of Louvain has been destroyed in large part by a conflagration which broke out after the explosion of a convoy of benzine, and this explosion was occasioned by shots fired during the battle.
The Imperial Government is the first to deplore this unfortunate result, which was in no way intentional. Nevertheless, because of the acts of the francs-tireurs, it was impossible to avoid such an outcome.
Moreover, any one who knows the conciliatory character of the German soldier could not seriously assert that he has been led to act in such a manner without serious provocation.
Under these circumstances the Belgian people, who respect neither right nor law, bear all the responsibility, in conjunction with the Belgian Government, which, with a criminal nonchalance, has given to the people orders contrary to international law by inciting them to resistance, and which, in spite of reiterated warnings by the German authorities, did nothing, after the capture of Liege, to induce the people to take a pacific attitude.
Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. II, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923
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