File No. 763.72/1646

Report of the Consul at Leipzig ( Kent )

The outbreak of war in Germany occurred on the 2d day of August, 1914, on which date the order was issued for the immediate mobilization of the active land and sea forces of the Empire. The experiences of this consulate, resulting from the effort to afford aid, comfort, and safety to American citizens who, panic-stricken or in actual distress, were attempting to escape from the country and to return to their homes, were not exceptional, and the Department has long ago learned of the part played by consular officers in Europe in the relief of their countrymen during the stress and storm of the first months of the war. These were amongst the most trying experiences of a lifetime coming, as they did, without warning, and with an office force inadequate to such an emergency, the crisis could not have been met, had it not been for the volunteer clerical and other assistance rendered by certain American gentlemen, themselves fugitives, who put their trained minds and hands to the relief of the overburdened consulate. Through the medium of a relief fund raised by this consulate and its friends, and through the application of passport fees, under instructions so appropriated, the immediate distress of many Americans was relieved. But, it was that act of unparalleled generosity on the part of the American Government in sending American gold to be loaned or given to its citizens for their repatriation which constituted the substantial and adequate relief and which prevented a condition of continuing distress. Through these means of relief actual want came to no American citizen who sought the assistance of this consulate, and as soon as transportation became available, with few exceptions, they all returned home. The exceptions to which reference is made are some forty or fifty American citizens yet remaining in Leipzig and at [Page 23] other points in this consular district. These are composed of certain students attending the university and the conservatory of music whose necessity for completing their education has outweighed their prudence, and of certain families long resident here who would leave under extreme pressure alone. But in addition to extraordinary tasks in connection with the care of American citizens, the consulate has been charged with the interests of the British, the Japanese, and the Servians. For a short time the interests of France were so committed and, for a few days, those of Russia in addition. Fortunately, French and Russian interests were soon transferred to the Spanish consul, and to that extent this consulate was relieved. The Japanese and Servians, having been interned, are now fortunately all out of the district and in neutral territory. Only the British remain. Of these, not only Britons but colonials, with the exception of Australians, are interned. Women are required to remove themselves to points thirty kilometers distant from Leipzig and reside there, or else to return to England. The general result is that this district is fairly well freed of foreigners with whose interests this consulate is charged.

Feeling towards America and Americans. It is a matter of regret that the feeling of the German people has undergone a most marked and unpleasant change within the past few weeks towards the United States and towards American citizens remaining in the country. During the earlier months of the war, there had been a constant expression of cordial feeling and of sympathy with our position of neutrality. The wearing exposed to view of small American flags by American citizens, in order that they might not be mistaken through appearance or language for British subjects, had constantly exempted the wearers from the insults heaped upon the British and had even been the means of inviting to them especial courtesy and consideration. But now, within the period indicated, the bearing and expression of the German people have undergone such a marked change as to indicate not only a feeling of irritation and of hostility towards the United States and its citizens, but to give occasion for a reasonable apprehension that some incident may at any time occur which will lead to unpleasant and regrettable results. This changed attitude of public opinion finds expression through the hostile criticism and misleading statements of a section of the public press, which in turn reacts upon the body of the people who, in this matter, blindly follow the press and are misled into an attitude of almost open hostility towards American citizens. American ladies have been threatened and insulted upon the streets when they have been heard to speak in English, although their nationality had been made known. At the opera, American ladies and gentlemen have been insultingly ordered by officers of the army to discontinue their private conversations in English, and these demands have been tumultuously supported by adjacent auditors, notwithstanding that the offenders have declared their American citizenship and have made known that they spoke no other language than English. Even into business matters the feeling against America has extended. In at least one case a German manufacturer of machinery has refused to accept an order from an American firm, placed through this consulate, giving as a reason for the refusal [Page 24] the unwillingness of the manufacturer to sell anything to a citizen of a country that is permitting the sale of munitions of war to Germany’s enemies.

A people gone mad. It is a strange anomaly in the psychology of peoples that this intelligent, disciplined, and self-poised nation, under the stress of war, should so far abandon an attitude of reasonableness for one of blazing malice towards all who in fact or in imagination thwart its wishes. In this regard there is no difference in classes, and intelligence and culture in no wise differentiate the learned from the unlearned. The professor in the university, the minister in the pulpit, the author of famous books, the newspaper writers, the lecturers, are like the man in the street in their hatred of the real or imaginary enemies of their country. In these respects, “The best are like the worst.” In their present frame of mind it is useless to point out to any of these the earnest desire of America to preserve her present position of neutrality, and that her complications with England are quite as serious as with Germany. If they are requested to point to any infraction of international law on the part of America, and if such infraction has occurred, why the German Government has remained silent upon the subject, the answer is that the sale of munitions of war by America to Germany’s enemies when Germany is blockaded is an unfriendly act. The reply that Germany has never lost an opportunity to sell war material to any belligerent, as she had the right to do, makes no impression upon a people who are wholly blinded to reason, and the nation’s prayer of Gott strafe England is uttered with a suggestion that America be included in the malediction. That this state of opinion should exist, and that it should have been created and fanned by the press, not only is detrimental to business relations, but prepares the way for some serious difficulty which may arise over some sudden and unfortunate incident. In similar mood the declared resolution of Germany to undertake piratical excursions against the commerce of the United States and other neutrals flying their respective flags, is applauded. There exists the utmost confidence in the success of the proposed general attack through submarines upon British shipping, and the advantages to Germany which would accrue, should the effort meet with expected success, outweigh any disadvantage that might come to her through adding the United States to the number of her enemies. Indeed, there is a widespread opinion that, aside from some moral and commercial disadvantages that might come to Germany through such a hostile addition, the arraying of the United States against her would be but little more formidable than if impotent China were called into the fray—in such disesteem do they hold our naval and military effectiveness.

How long will it last? Except as these questions bear upon trade conditions, it is not within the province of this report to discuss the probable duration of the war or its results. But these subjects are so closely interwoven with American commercial interests, as affording relief from the paralysis of trade now existing and set forth in a former report, as to render unavoidable some reference to them. No fact is more patent to an observer on the ground and living in the atmosphere of the war than that this war is not merely the Kaiser’s war, but a war of the entire German people. [Page 25] The belief is unanimous that the question of national existence is involved. With such belief, race instinct is aroused and the German people are willing, with enthusiasm, to make any sacrifice of money, suffering, and life to accomplish their purpose. Blockaded and surrounded by a ring of fire, overmatched by a great superiority of military strength and resources, her only hope of success depends upon the superior efficiency of the forces that she possesses and the unlimited willingness and capacity of her people for endurance and self-sacrifice. Such is the fallibility of human judgment, that in every great enterprise the determination of the event frequently turns upon the unexpected and the unknown. In so far as the duration of the war will depend upon the fighting capacity of the forces now arrayed, or which either side can bring into action, or so far as it depends upon the exhaustion of either side, there appears to be little prospect that a decisive advantage will be gained by either combatant within a year, and perhaps for a much longer time thereafter. Germany is not nearly exhausted either in fighting men or in material for military or civic existence, whilst the spirit of her people flames even higher in unshaken belief, not only in the justice of their cause but in the certainty of ultimate triumph over all her enemies. Already Germany has been twice disappointed in her expectations of material assistance from her allied powers. The first disappointment came when Italy declined to join her. The second came with the fiasco of the proclamation of a holy war through Turkey. Other resources, however, remain to her whose success or failure may determine the issue but which yet are so imponderable as to fall into the category of the unexpected or the unknown. Amongst these may be enumerated the threatened early assault of an irresistible submarine fleet against the naval and commercial shipping of Great Britain. Should a measure of success attend this adventure, the present balance of the scales may be materially disarranged; and to rescue the enterprise from the domain of the chimerical it is but necessary to recall that day in 1863 when in Hampton Roads, after the engagement between the Merrimac and the Monitor, the warships of every nation of the world became useless. Again, it is confidently believed that the effectiveness of the Zeppelins, as an agency of assault, has not yet been effectively tested, and that this test will soon be made in such force against the enemies’ fleets and coasts as to work terror and destruction. It is difficult to believe that the German people, who have applied scientific knowledge to so many practical ends, would undertake the expenditure of such great sums of money without a reasonable assurance of practical results.

Again, it is generally believed here, that of all of the belligerents Russia is laboring most painfully under the strain and stress of war. It is estimated that there are a million Russian prisoners on German and Austrian soil. Her losses have been the heaviest and her resources, except in untrained men, are least available and soonest exhausted. Hence the belief is current that but a few more losses of severity sustained by Russia would lead her to detach herself from the Triple Entente and to seek a separate peace upon terms previously agreed upon. The successful accomplishment of any of these effects, yet undeveloped but of potential moment, would probably [Page 26] result in bringing the war to an earlier close than if left to the termination of issues as at present defined. Deductions from the foregoing premises imply that the success of any of the possibilities indicated would redound to the advantage of Germany and her allies. But there exist other possibilities whose realization would be equally disastrous to the same interests. The emergence of Italy from an attitude of neutrality and the casting of her weight of an army of a million trained men into the scale upon the side of the Allies would produce a decisive effect upon an issue which now seems so evenly balanced. Should the United States be drawn into the conflict through the sinking of ships flying the national flag, or should effective combination of neutral states bring moral and material pressure to bear, the decision of the issue might still be prolonged, but the final result could not remain in doubt. And so we revert to the earlier statement, that if the termination of the war is to depend upon the crushing defeat of either side, the end can not now be foreseen, but at the same time there exist certain potentialities which can not now be estimated, but which at any time may place a different aspect upon the subject.

As to Germany’s exhaustion. It is only necessary to recall the fact that the Confederacy, during the sixties of the last century, fought valiantly and effectively against the superior forces of the Union Army for four years, although blockaded, invaded, and driven to the last test of endurance, in order that some idea may be formed of the ability of Germany to endure indefinitely under similar circumstances and still to fight effectively. The spirit of the people is keyed to the point, not only of ultimate sacrifice in the battle line, but of endurance of non-combatants. In such a frame of mind, though poverty and want stalk abroad, the people will suffer and sacrifice without murmur.

Factories are closed, enterprise suspended, business paralyzed. The labor that supplied these is in the trenches at the front. Their families are subsisting upon the soldiers’ pittance of pay, upon civic relief which has been provided, and upon charity when necessary. Against speculation in necessities or the hoarding of foodstuffs the Government is enforcing stringent regulations, and with the docile obedience for authority characteristic of the race, as well as through the inspiration of patriotism, apparently there is little effort at evasion. The extension of the list of contraband articles will inconvenience and to some extent impede the Government, but it will not more speedily terminate the war. Copper is very necessary for military purposes; but there are vast stores of copper already in Germany now applied to other uses. To commandeer this and appropriate it to military uses would interfere with the orderly processes of peace-time procedure; but the Government, when the necessity arises, would not hesitate to utilize the telephone wires, already its own property, or to appropriate copper in industrial use wherever found. Already the call for voluntary surrender of copper is meeting with abundant response. The exclusion from importation of petroleum and its products would ultimately hamper the Government seriously. But to guard against this disaster the Government has taken possession of whatever stores of these articles were to be found in the country and has applied them to exclusive military [Page 27] uses, doling out a pittance to civilian consumers, who have, in consequence, been driven to the use of substitutes. In order to bring out gold from its hoarding the newspapers have created the impression upon the masses of the people, but without official sanction, that all gold coinage would be reminted and that after the war the older coinage would be discounted heavily, with the result that gold aggregating large sums has been exchanged for currency at the Government’s depositories by the peasant and other small accumulators.

Coal has not gone up in price, not only for the reason that the Government has fixed a maximum price, but because the almost universal use in Germany of the more economical coal briquettes as a substitute for lump coal, burnt in the Dutch ovens for heating, requires relatively a smaller quantity, and because of the suspension in large part of factory consumption which compensates for the diminished output. Poultry, eggs, and butter have advanced heavily in price, for the reason in part that Germany relied in large part for her supply of these upon Russia, and for the further reason that the scarcity of grain for feeding purposes has caused the German producers to sell for immediate consumption their supply stocks. For a like reason the fresh meat supply is growing scarce and higher in price. Germany has the largest number of swine per capita of any of the belligerents. Her supply of cattle, sheep, and other food animals ranks well with them also. And to conserve the existing meat supply the people are urged to kill, salt, and preserve it according to usage. Her greatest weakness is a deficiency of home-grown grain which deficit, in ordinary times, is remedied in part by importations of grain and in part by feeding to livestock the refuse of her vast potato crop which is converted into excellent animal food by a process in wide use. Although ordinarily a large exporter of sugar and the producer of an annual crop of potatoes averaging two billion bushels, both of these products in bulk are about to be taken over by the Government and their distribution for consumption adjusted through Government agency. The supply of coffee, tea, chocolate, rice, and a large number of tropical importations is becoming exhausted, as is evidenced by soaring prices.

The bread shortage. The most serious food problem in Germany is that of supplying the army and the civilian population with bread. Both wheat and rye flour are in staple use. Of neither of these does the country produce a sufficient quantity, even in normal times, to meet the demands of consumption and a deficiency of one third is met by importations. The crop of last year was a good one and was fully up to the standard yield of sixty-five bushels per acre. Despite the call to arms and the shortage of agricultural labor resulting, beginning with the planting season of the late summer and early autumn of last year, the women, the youths, and the old men have planted even a larger crop than usual for this year, which at this time is in excellent condition with present promise of a standard yield. This crop, however, will not be harvested before the latter part of July or the earlier part of August, and in the meantime the Government is taking extraordinary precautions to husband its resources of bread material. The supply of wheat, rye, and other grain in the country, together with all flour, has been taken over by [Page 28] the Government. Bakers are permitted to buy and sell under Government regulation alone. The art of bread making is not practiced in the homes of Germany and bakeries are under Government regulation. A census of bread consumers in all families has been made and tickets are issued permitting the purchase from the bakeries of three pounds of bread per week for each adult in the family and of two pounds per week for minors under ten years of age. If a guest comes to one’s table he must bring his own bread, or else some one of the host’s family must remain without bread. But the bread that is thus sold by the bakeries is largely adulterated with potato flour. It is dark, heavy, hard, and of as inferior quality as it is possible for human beings to eat. And even this allotment, it is announced, is temporary, and designed to remain in force for one month from February 15. After that date there will be a new allotment, based upon their existing necessities. It thus appears that the first actual pinch of war is being felt in Germany in the matter of the bread supply, which would have been exhausted were it not heavily adulterated with potato flour, and even through this extension it appears to be probable that serious difficulties will arise during the next six months and before the fruits of the next harvest are available.

Shortage of arms. It may also be concluded that the German Government is already experiencing embarrassment through a shortage of arms for its infantry. The heavy loss of German prisoners, presumably with their arms, is not reported by the press of the country. It tells only of such losses sustained by the Allies. But that such a shortage of arms is being felt would appear from the fact that recruits are being drilled with captured French rifles and prisoners’ camps are guarded by infantry likewise armed.

Exchange and failures in business. The rate of exchange for bills on New York continues to steadily increase, as the gold deposits of bankers are drawn upon to meet payments for goods imported from America. From a normal rate of 4.20 the advance has been steady to the present rate of 4.80. Bankers forecast an early rate of 5. As might have been expected, failures in business in Leipzig have been numerous since the war began. It is estimated that the sum total will amount to about twenty million marks.

Prospects for American trade. As a corollary from the foregoing, the present outlook for American trade with Germany is gloomy. In another report1 the exact losses sustained in this consular district are set forth. The needs of Germany are great enough for American goods, but with the extension of contraband and deficiencies of transportation, as well as through the almost prohibitive rate of exchange, it appears at present to be almost impossible to supply them. Even should hostilities terminate within a reasonable time, it is evident that whilst there will be urgent demand for such American importations as Germany most requires, the general purchasing power of the people will have been so seriously impaired as to have a depressing effect upon the volume of general importations.

Respectfully submitted.

Wm. P. Kent
  1. Not printed.