File No. 763.72115/2728
The Ambassador in Great Britain ( Page ) to the Secretary of State
[Received January 4, 8.30 a.m.]
5397. Department’s 4231, December 29, 3 p.m. Hoover submits following statement:
There has been no apparent change in German policy since the President’s protest. Deportation continuing on a large scale, now apparently three to five thousand per week. Despite assertions made to the President no distinction is made as to whether deportees are unemployed or not, and in fact there seems a definite policy to secure all members of certain trades and the desire to secure these and other skilled labor leads press gangs to delegate choice of those in actual employment. Moreover, they have taken altogether up to December 15 over 700 persons employed by the commission, despite the exhibit of credentials and their specific agreement with us to the contrary and against our protest. Furthermore, our American members have witnessed the taking of several thousands, particularly from Flanders, to northern France and together with local French people are now being forced to work for the German army in the preparation of timber and fascines for the trenches. Refusal to perform such labor has here been met with refusal of food and other brutal acts. It is also reported to us from what we believe to be reliable sources that Belgian and French civilians have been deported to work on trench construction in northern France, and certain deportees have been recently returned wounded by shell fire. Of the deportees to Germany some 300 have been returned to Hainaut Province, of whom a part were apparently returned because physically unable to work, but the remainder maintain that they were returned because of their steadfast passive resistance to pressure although they were entirely refused food over a considerable period and were ultimately returned for their recalcitrancy; their appearance confirms this. Altogether the assurances given the President that only unemployed people were taken and that they are not being employed on military work or brutally treated are absolutely untrue, not only before but since assurances were given. It does appear that the civil government in Brussels has made some efforts to prevent brutality in selection, to confine selections to unemployed, and to protect the employees of the commission, and they have even solicited complaints; but they appear unable to control the military press gangs or effect any remedies. It does not appear to us, however, that protest from the President, based on failure to carry out assurance given as to the method or purpose of these deportations, is consonant with the attitude [Page 666] that the Americans should take, for the real issue is the very act of forced deportation as being a violation of the most primary human liberty and international law. Any protest on method or purpose alone will be construed as a recognition by America of the right to force civilians from their homes and country. I am now convinced that the Entente Governments will take no action against the relief as a consequence of these deportations as they are convinced that stoppage of relief has been no remedy and they generally recognize would only accentuate the misery.
The hourly witnessing of these outrages and the prayers to the Americans from a people now in a state of complete terror, since Americans have been so peculiarly their protectors during the past two years, make it difficult for us to control the natural feelings of our staff and we can only hope that no untoward incident may occur. My impression is that any further protest at the moment in the name of humanity and international law would have no other effect than to produce irritation and the usual denials, although if other means fail a renewed protest should be delivered with the utmost vigor as a definition of America’s attitude and as a deterrent to other outrages which may be contemplated.
For immediate practical purposes in the hope of remedying or ameliorating this particular evil, I would like to suggest a personal and private message from the President to the Emperor in the belief that the Emperor is intrinsically a humane man and generally desirous of promoting peace; such message to take the general line that the constant filtration of reports of these deportations and their surrounding circumstances is to-day one of the strongest stimuli to resolution for continuance of the war amongst the population in the Entente countries and has afforded an unparalleled basis of anti-German propaganda among neutrals, which no assertion of benevolent intentions can counteract; for the fundamental basis of deportation and compulsion of the population to work against its will and conscience being wrong can only bring suffering and criticism; that if Germany is genuinely anxious for peace she can scarcely hope for sympathetic sentiment to grow abroad to that end coincident with these acts, and that a total cessation of the deportations and forced labor and the return of the deported Belgians and French to their homes would be not only an act of great magnanimity but also of the greatest assistance in the promotion of peace sentiment.