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The German Army in Belgium, August 1914

Jeff Lipkes

Publication Year: 2007

Rehearsals is the first book to provide a detailed narrative history of the German invasion of Belgium in August 1914 as it affected civilians. Based on extensive eyewitness testimony, the book chronicles events in and around the towns of Liège, Aarschot, Andenne, Tamines, Dinant, and Leuven, where the worst of the German depredations occurred. Without any legitimate pretext, German soldiers killed nearly 6,000 non-combatants, including women and children, and burned some 25,000 homes and other buildings. For more the seventy-five years, however, charges against the German Army about the killing, raping, looting, and arson have been dismissed in Germany, the U.K., and U.S. as mere atrocity propaganda. Recently, the case has been made that the violence, which cresendoed between august 19th and 26th , was the result of an spontaneous outbreak of German paranoia about francs-tireurs (civilian sharpshooters). Rehearsals provides much evidence that the executions were in fact part of a deliberate campaign of terrorism ordered by military authorisaties.

Published by: Leuven University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-4

Table of Contents

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pp. 5-6

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pp. 7-10

I’m grateful for the help I’ve received from various archivists and their staffs. I’d especially like to thank Pierre-Alain Tallier of the General State Archives in Brussels, Dr. Françoise Peemans of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Manuel Duran, Sandrine Smets, Luc Vandeweyer, ...

Abbreviations, Map

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pp. 11-12

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pp. 13-20

This book describes what happened when three German armies invaded Belgium in August 1914. In district after district, troops looted and burned homes and murdered the inhabitants. By the end of the month, nearly 6,000 Belgian civilians were dead, the equivalent of about 230,000 Americans today. ...

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1. An Ultimatum

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pp. 21-38

Sunday, August 2, 1914, was not an auspicious day in the career of Karl-Konrad von Below-Saleske, German Minister to Belgium.1 Suave and polished, recruited from the ranks of the aristocracy, like nearly all prewar diplomats, the forty-eight-year-old envoy had served the German Empire in Turkey and China before assuming his position in Brussels in October, 1913. ...

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2. Liège

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pp. 39-124

The first Belgians to encounter the invaders were two border guards at Gemmenich, on the route to Visé, officers Thill and Conard. They were approached by about twenty-five uhlans at 8:05 on the morning of August 4th. The gendarmes stood their ground and ordered the patrol to halt. “Belgian frontier!” ...

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3. Aarschot

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pp. 125-170

The Germans approached Aarschot very early on the morning of August 19. At 5:30 a.m., their artillery began bombarding Belgian positions east of the town. The 9th Regiment of the 3rd Division was not attempting to hold Aarschot, but was covering the Army’s retreat to the Antwerp forts. ...

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4. Andenne

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pp. 171-206

Andenne, with a little over 7,900 inhabitants in 1914, sits on the right bank of the Meuse, about one-third of the way from Namur to Liège. It lay in the path of the 28th Regiment of Pioneers and the 81st, 83rd, and 87th Infantry Regiments of the southernmost corps of von Bülow’s Second Army, ...

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5. Tamines

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pp. 207-256

“I have said that the worst of all was Tamines,” wrote the American minister to Belgium, Brand Whitlock, of the massacres of civilians during August. ...

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6. Dinant: Introduction, Leffe

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pp. 257-294

Although it goes unmentioned in German records and memoirs (there is a passing reference in the German White Book)1, a decisive French victory on August 15 may have provoked the destruction of Dinant and the massacre of its inhabitants on the 23rd. ...

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7. Dinant: St. Jacques, St. Nicolas

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pp. 295-342

The officers and soldiers who executed civilians in Leffe and in the districts south of St. Jacques attempted to explain and justify their actions in the German White Book. But the principal massacre in the quartier St. Jacques, the shooting of thirty men against a wall in the rue des Tanneries, goes unmentioned by its perpetrators in that bulky volume. ...

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8. Dinant: Les Rivages, Neffe

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pp. 343-378

Les Rivages in 1914 consisted of two streets running parallel to the river. Homes faced the water across quai de la Meuse and lined both sides of rue des Rivages a block east. Because of its exposed position, the Germans didn’t reach the Meuse at Les Rivages until mid-afternoon on Sunday, the 23rd. ...

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9. Leuven: Preliminaries

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pp. 379-400

Hervé de Gruben, a student at the Higher Institute of Philosophy (Institute St. Thomas), left Leuven on July 22nd, just before the three-week examination period ended. He was looking forward to a restful vacation in the country. ...

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10. Leuven: Fire and Sword

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pp. 401-470

Until the night of the 25th, one of the most distressing things about the German occupation was the dearth of news. Leuven residents had no idea that the “First Sortie” had commenced the afternoon of the 24th until they heard guns booming in the distance the following morning. ...

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11. Leuven: Exodus

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pp. 471-522

For most of Leuven’s residents, the suffering inflicted on them after they were expelled from the city exceeded what they had endured during the first forty-eight hours of the sack. Much depended on where one went. Most families were directed to the station, where hundreds of individuals had been taken by force before the 27th. ...

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12. Leuven: Aftermath

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pp. 523-542

Armed with bleaching powder and carbolic acid, and wearing a surgeon’s apron and rubber gloves, Frans Claes (Father Valerius), Professor of Social and Political Science, began the daunting task of locating and transporting to the cemetery the bodies of those massacred on the 25th and 26th. ...

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13. Explanations

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pp. 543-574

Were German soldiers responding, albeit harshly, to attacks by Belgian civilians? The question as to whether or not there were any franc-tireurs had been discussed in the chapter on Liège. To recapitulate briefly, any determination has to rest ultimately on the plausibility of Belgian accounts, ...

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14. Denials: Germany

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pp. 575-602

The following two chapters describe attempts in Germany, Great Britain, and the U.S. to deny that the German Army massacred innocent civilians during the 1914 invasion of Belgium. The motives of those in Germany who wished to discredit the evidence of war crimes were straightforward. ...

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15. Denials: U.K. and U.S.

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pp. 603-668

The section that follows describes how German war crimes in Belgium came to be regarded in the English-speaking world as the invention of British propagandists. From unpromising beginnings – the quixotic wartime pronouncements of Bertrand Russell and G. B. Shaw – ...

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pp. 669-688

At 3 a.m. on May 17, 1940, a monk in the Benedictine abbey of Keizersberg high above Leuven was startled to observe flames flickering from the roof of the University Library, rebuilt in the late 1920s. An hour later, a Minorite friar in town stepped outside and saw small pieces of burned paper flying up in the air. ...

Appendix: The Report of the British Committee on Alleged German Outrages (RBC)

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pp. 689-704


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pp. 705-788


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pp. 789-802

Illustration Credits

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pp. 803-804


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pp. 805-816

E-ISBN-13: 9789461660398
Print-ISBN-13: 9789058675965

Page Count: 816
Publication Year: 2007