On Sept. 11, when the Germans were driven out of Aerschot across the River Demer by a successful sortie from Antwerp, murders of civilians were taking place in the villages which the Belgian Army then recaptured from the Germans. These crimes bear a strong resemblance to those committed in Hofstade and other villages after the battle of Malines.
AERSCHOT AND DISTRICT.
Period I., (Aug. 19 and following days.)
The German Army entered Aerschot quite early in the morning. Workmen going to their work were seized and taken as hostages.
The Germans, apparently already irritated, proceeded to make a search for the priests and threatened to burn the convent if the priests should happen to be found there. One priest was accused of inciting the inhabitants to fire on the troops, and when he denied it the Burgomaster was blamed by the officer. The priest then showed the officer the notices on the walls, signed by the Burgomaster, warning the inhabitants not to intervene in hostilities.
It appears that they accused the priest of having fired at the Germans from the tower of the church. This is important because it is one of the not infrequent cases in which the Germans ascribed firing from a church to priests, whereas in fact this firing came from Belgian soldiers, and also because it seems to show that the Germans from the moment of their arrival in Aerschot were seeking to pick a quarrel with the inhabitants, and this goes far to explain their subsequent conduct. Hostages were collected until 200 men, some of whom were invalids, were gathered together.
M. Tielmans, the Burgomaster, was then ordered by some German officers to address the crowd and to tell them to hand in any weapons which they might have in their possession at the Town Hall, and to warn them that any one who was found with weapons would be killed. As a matter of fact, the arms in the possession of civilians had already been collected at the beginning of the war. The Burgomaster’s speech resulted in the delivery of one gun, which had been used for pigeon shooting. The hostages were then released. Throughout the day the town was looted by the soldiers. Many shop windows were broken, and the contents of the shop fronts ransacked.