Paris - Spies
( Originally Published 1915 )
DURING the first week of the war, I saw a number of man hunts. Frequently it was an altogether innocent person that was mauled by the crowd; in more than one instance, in fact, I saw Frenchmen Parisians who had never been out of the city and had never spoken to a German in their lives badly beaten. One could not reason with the crowd.
After all, the excitement and the nervousness were not unnatural. Germany let loose the war, and even before it was declared her troops were over our borders. They were boasting that they would be in Paris in a fortnight. The knowledge that there were thousands of Germans in the city sending out information to aid the invaders made Parisians suspicious.
It is curious how suspicion works. When you are thinking hard about a thing or looking for it (that is, anything except money) you see it all around you. Whenever I am waiting anywhere for some one, I see him a dozen times in the crowd before he really arrives. In our mental processes, we habitually jump to conclusions. it It is a wonder that we hit things right as often as we do I remember in those first few days how I would sit on the terrace of a café, looking at my neighbors and scanning carefully the faces of those who passed. I could swear that every other man was a German. I was positive of it. The Gallic type of countenance seemed to have disappeared. When I got over thinking about Germans and spies,never suspected any one I met of being a "Boche."
So it was with all the Parisians. The mad period of man hunting was a phase that passed quickly. There were other things to think about. We heard no more about the Germans in Paris. Some had been expelled from France; others had been sent into detention camps; but the majority of them remained and prudently kept under cover. Only if a neighbor had a personal spite against some one and denounced him at the police station, was a German molested.'
That was while we thought we were winning. When we woke up to the fact that we were not winning and that Von Kluck was on his way to see us, there were more engrossing subjects for the Parisians and the authorities to think about than the question of what to do with the Germans who had been granted permis de séjour to remain in Paris.
These two weeks that have followed the Battle of the Marne have witnessed the growth of a feeling of bitterness and hostility toward the Germans as a nation naturally translated into a hatred of the Germans as individuals. This hatred is different from the effervescent demonstrations against the Germans during the first week of the war. Nothing effervescent is serious. The more the effervescence the less the effect (of course, I except ;champagne!). So the rowdyism of August second and third had no consequences.
We heard about the atrocities and the destruction wrought by the German army in Belgium in August, and we were as indignant as it was possible to be over the sufferings and misfortunes of others. But we know how superficial that indignation was when we contrast it with the way the suffering of our own receiving the messages from the Eiffel Tower by means of a wireless installation upon his roof, and shot on the spot. This was afterwards formally denied. No German spy was killed in Paris: none was condemned to death.
Since the Battle of the Marne, the newspapers have done their work. They have spread far and wide the news of what has happened to the people and to the cities of northern and eastern France. Every German in Paris is anathema. He is a spy : and if there is n't proof enough to court martial him, he can at least be shut up in prison.
But why a spy ? Germans who have been living here for long years, whose interests and associations are wholly in Paris and with the Parisians ought they to be treated as spies ? Is not prejudice and passion at work ? Ought noncombatant Germans to suffer for what the armies of their country, for which they are not responsible, have done? Is there any rhyme or reason in the wholesale arrest of thousands who have given no ground for suspicion, and many of whom can hardly speak the language, if they speak it at all, of the country of which they are technically subjects?
If I did not live in Paris, if I dici not understand and appreciate the motives underlying the arrest and sending to detention camps of all German subjects, I might, as other correspondents have done, write in protest against the wholesale decree that is resulting in so much suffering for its innocent victims. Many of them are innocent victims.
When it comes to the individual case in which my personal sympathies are enlisted by personal acquaintance with the victim, I have protested. I have called the law an outrage because it does not discriminate.
For example, a young woman whom I knew came to me in great distress, and begged me to intercede for her. Married to a German who is a chauffeur in England, she is a Parisian, daughter of a veteran of 1870, granddaughter of a colonel in the Duc d'Aumale's glorious Algerian army. She had in her hand her acte de naissance to prove that she was French, and the papers to substantiate her statements about her father and grandfather. I went with her to the commissaire. He was obdurate. Her marriage to a German was sufficient to apply the decree against her. "Nothing to discuss, Monsieur," he said, and when he saw that I did not take this as final and was about to continue my plea for her, he got up and slammed his fist down upon the desk, and cried in a voice loud enough to be heard by every one in the room, "Were you the Minister of War himself, you could not succeed in keeping this woman from going into the detention camp !"
The commissaire was right. There could be no exceptions, and the innocent would have to suffer with the guilty.
It is easy enough to urge that Great Britain and Germany are showing no such tolerance, and have not molested the women and children of alien enemies. 'But neither Great Britain nor Germany is invaded , The case is not analogous. There has been spying here, and plenty of it. It has been carried on in the most unbelievable ways, with the most uncanny and devilish skill, and by the most unsuspected persons. This spying has aided the Germans during the past month. It is aiding them now. France is fighting for national existence. Paris is still the objective of the German armies. There is no way of separating the sheep from the goats. All must go.
So the Germans of Paris, women and children as well as men, are leaving us. The scenes in the different commissariats, where they were called for the revocation of their permis de séjour, awaken pity for these victims of the war, most of them poor, honest folk, whose whole life is being ruined by the war. They are leaving by trains from St. Lazare. They do not know where they are going. The future is black. Most of them love France at least, they love the Paris that is home to them far more than they do Germany. But they must suffer for the sins of their countrymen : they must suffer for the base treachery of those among them, safe from detection, who have eaten the salt of Paris while betraying Paris.
There is something dramatic about their exit. For, as the German spies and suspected spies leave Paris, they pass at the railway station the refugees coming in from the north. In each pitiful line, going out in terror and coming in from terror, there is the same succession of husbandless women with children and babies. Their men are fighting at the front, against each other mostly. The lines pass, and there is hardness of heart on both sides. You see it in the faces. You see it in the weary shoulders, drawn up for the moment in scorn and defiance, in the attempt to prove oneself unbroken, in the attempt to prove the other the transgressor. But sinner and sinned against, the suffering is the same. This is war.