File No. 763.72115/2730
The Minister in Belgium ( Whitlock) to the Secretary of State
[Received January 5, 8.15 a.m.]
29. Department’s 243, December 29, 3 p.m. It is extremely difficult to obtain accurate information regarding deportations because of the lack of facilities for communication in Belgium. We have [Page 667] no intercourse with the Étape; that is, that part of Belgium which is exclusively under military jurisdiction comprising the two Flanders, certain parts of Hainaut and Luxemburg, and all northern France. It is also difficult to employ calm and restrained expression in the presence of an event so shocking to every sentiment of liberty and to our conception and tradition of human rights. One feels too peculiarly impotent because any efforts to alleviate has the sad possibility of increasing the sufferings of the helpless folk one tries to aid.
Deportations continue sporadically, one day in this commune and one day in that. It is estimated that between sixty and one hundred thousand men have been taken. Of these possibly two thousand have been returned. Our own and other neutral Legations have brought to the attention of German authorities many cases that did not seem to fall within the categories expressly exempted by the German reply to neutral protest. Necessarily because of the extreme delicacy and tension of the situation these representations have been discreetly and unofficially made. We have confined ourselves to the transmission of complaints or petitions left at the Legation. Perhaps unluckily the numbers of exceptions thus reported and acted upon by us run into the tens of thousands so that to grant them all would amount to a practical abandonment of the policy. The German authorities say that these are receiving attention.
The men returning from Germany bring distressing accounts of suffering, hunger, lack of shelter, and of cruelties employed to force them to sign contracts of employment. Making all possible allowance for exaggeration the conditions must be most pitiful.
My one hope in the midst of the black depression caused by this unprecedented measure lies in the fact that the higher civil officials are not in sympathy with the policy and are doing what they can to bring about a response. I have had to-day a long conversation with Lancken, and he tells me unofficially and confidentially that the deportations will gradually cease although this is by no means to be taken as an official promise to the Government. They realize that the policy is a mistake, but their peculiar pride will not permit them to appear before the world as having yielded to external influences and protests or to the threats of adversaries. I pointed out to Lancken that the continuance of the policy placed in jeopardy the chances of peace; they realize this and may be influenced by it. This consideration I think, if emphasized in the right quarter in a manner that would not give offense, might prove effective as bitter criticism only aggravates and does not soften the military party.
The later preparations, I observe, are made with more care than those that preceded the earlier deportations. They are to take men [Page 668] at Malines on January 4 and I have arranged to have Herter1 witness the deportation as Lancken’s personal but unofficial guest.
The continued requisition of stocks and materials in the few industries still in operation complicates the situation by increasing the number of unemployed and thereby formally exposing them to deportation.
It is unnecessary to add that publication of this despatch would compromise our efforts to influence the situation and to render service in isolated cases. My only hope, unless peace comes soon, lies in our good offices and the steady influence of public opinion, which acting on German Liberals may bring this dark chapter to a close.
- Attached to the Legation.↩