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Émile Cammaerts
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 59 pages of information about Through the Iron Bars.

II.

The lowered flag.

The contrast which I have endeavoured to indicate, in the first chapter, between the attitude of the German administration before the fall of Antwerp and its behaviour afterwards is nowhere so well marked as in the measures taken for the purpose of repressing all Belgian manifestations of patriotism.

During the two first months of occupation, the Germans made at least a show of respecting the loyal feelings of the population.  In his first proclamation, dated September 2nd, in which he announced his appointment as General Governor of Belgium, Baron von der Goltz declared that “he asked no one to renounce his patriotic feelings.”  And when, a few days later, the Governor of Brussels, Baron von Luttwitz, issued a poster “advising” the citizens to take their flags from their windows, he did this in conciliatory words, giving the pretext that these manifestations might provoke reprisals from the German troops passing through the town:  “The Military Governor does not intend in the least to hurt, by such a measure, the feelings and self-respect of the inhabitants.  His only aim is to protect them against all harm.” (September 16th.) Every Belgian was still wearing the national colours, pictures of the King and Queen were sold in the streets, and the Brabanconne was hummed, whistled, and sung all over the country.  The people had lost every right but one:  they could still show the enemy, in spite of the declarations of the German Press, that they were not yet ready to accept his rule.

This apparent tolerance is easy to explain.  After the massacres of August, the German authorities were anxious not to exasperate public opinion, and not to spoil by uselessly vexatious measures the effect which had been produced.  During the Marne and the three sorties of the Belgian army, they had only a very small number of men at their disposal to garrison the largest towns.  The slightest progress of the Belgian army might have endangered their line of communications.  We know now that the withdrawal of the seat of the government from Brussels to Liege was at one moment seriously contemplated, and that the same troops were made to pass again and again through the streets of the capital in order to give the illusion that the garrison was stronger than it really was (Frankfurter Zeitung, August 22nd, 1916).  Besides, Germany had not yet given up all hopes of coming to terms with King Albert, since a third attempt was to be made at Antwerp to separate the Belgian Government from the Allies.  In these circumstances it seemed wiser to let the Belgian folk indulge in their harmless manifestations of loyalty, so long as they did not cause any disturbance and did not complicate the task of the military.

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