11/2/1917 Germany tries to put the Belgians to work

Belgium was invaded by Germany at the start of the war. The heroic resistance of the Belgian army at Liège may have slowed the Germans sufficiently to deny them victory in France. However in the Autumn of 1914 the Germans overran almost all of the country, apart from a small corner nestling against the French border (which includes the Yser and Ypres sectors). The rest of the country has had to endure German occupation.

In 1914 the Germans shocked the world by their brutal treatment of Belgian civilians and committing vile acts like the burning of Louvain library. Since then the occupation regime has been relatively benign. General Moritz von Bissing heads the military government of the country. He assumes that after the war Belgium will be attached to the German Empire. As a result he is against harsh treatment of the Belgians, hoping to turn them into good citizens of the Reich.

Germany nevertheless is keen to recruit Belgian labour to support its war effort. However the Belgians are not keen to work for their occupiers. And they have no real incentive to do so voluntarily. An international relief programme is keeping them fed, carefully monitored to ensure that food for the Belgians is not diverted to Germany. Belgian civilians are effectively sitting out the war, enjoying a degree of comfort that is relatively rare on the European continent.

Against Bissing’s objections, Ludendorff and Hindenburg order the forced deportation of Belgians to Germany. There they are held in ill-equipped camps, subjected to harsh treatment and poor food until they sign employment contracts with German employers. But the programme is a failure. Despite a high mortality rate in the camps, few of the deported Belgians agree to work for Germany. The programme attracts widespread protests, both from the Belgian clergy and from neutral countries. The reputation for barbarism Germany acquired in 1914 is further cemented.

image sources:

German-occupied Belgium (Wikipedia)

Moritz von Bissing (Wikipedia)

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