File No. 855.48/438

The Minister in Belgium ( Whitlock ) to the Secretary of State


38. I have the honor to request that the following communication be transmitted to the President:

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Dear Mr. President: The German Government of Occupation in Belgium has just communicated to me the tenor of a communication made by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of the Imperial German Government to the American Ambassador at Berlin stating that the Central powers have declared a blockade of the English, French, and Italian coasts. Thus far the ships of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, transporting food to the Belgian people and the inhabitants of the north of France, have been compelled to touch at an English port in order to permit the British Government to satisfy itself that these ships were not transporting contraband of war. If this measure is maintained, that is to say, if in future the ships of the commission are compelled to touch at an English port, the inevitable consequence will be the suppression of the relief to this people already so sorely tried. Therefore, I respectfully beg you to intervene with the British Government in order if possible that it may take no measure that will have the effect of breaking down the relief. This great humanitarian work, which has always enjoyed your high patronage, has had the effect thus far of saving from ruin and distress more than seven millions of Belgian civilians, and more than three millions of French who otherwise would have perished. The maintenance of the relief is all the more necessary and urgent because in the midst of the severest winter that this country has known for years the deplorable situation of the poor is aggravated to point that must excite the pity of every human heart. Any interruption, even [if it] were momentary, in the provisioning of the country would menace with famine ten millions of human beings already deep in misery. I beg you, therefore, in the names of all these suffering ones to effect if possible some arrangement by which the ships of the commission can continue to bear their saving cargoes of [food to] these people. I am assured by the German authorities that the Imperial German Government has no intention of interfering with the humanitarian works of the Commission for Relief in Belgium. The situation could be saved if the control exercised heretofore in English ports were exercised instead either at the port of embarkation or at the port of debarkation in Holland. A communication similar to this is being sent by his excellency the Spanish Minister to his Catholic Majesty and by the Dutch Chargé to Her Majesty, the Queen of the Netherlands. In the autumn of 1914 I had the honor to despatch a telegram to you, and in your great heart you found a way to succor the civil population of this land and Northern France, and it is the hope of all those who at great sacrifice have now for more than two years devoted themselves to that great work that your great influence may be exercised to secure its continuance.