Work For The Germans
( Originally Published 1917 )
THE interests of Germany in France, Great Britain and Russia were placed with our American Ambassadors in these countries. This, of course, entailed much work upon our Embassy, because we were the medium of communication between the German Government and these Ambassadors. I found it necessary to establish a special department to look after these matters. At its head was Barclay Rives who had been for many years in our diplomatic service and who joined my Embassy at the beginning of the war. First Secretary of our Embassy in Vienna for ten or twelve years, he spoke German perfectly and was acquainted with many Germans and Austrians. Inquiries about Germans who were prisoners, negotiations relative to the treatment of German prisoners, and so on, came under this department.
One example will show the nature of this work. When the Germans invaded France, a German cavalry patrol with two officers, von Schierstaedt and Count Schwerin, and several men penetrated as far as the forest of Fontainebleau, south of Paris. There they got out of touch with the German forces and wandered about for days in the forest. In the course of their wanderings they requisitioned some food from the inhabitants, and took, I believe, an old coat for one of the officers who had lost his, and requisitioned a wagon to carry a wounded man. After their surrender to the French, the two officers were tried by a French court martial, charged with pillaging and sentenced to be degraded from their rank and transported tp Cayenne (the Devil's Island of the Dreyfus case). The made strong representations, and our very Ambassador in Paris, the Honourable William C. Sharp, took up the matter with the Foreign Office and in preventing the transportation of the of-he sending of the officers and men, however, into y prison where they were treated as convicts eat indignation throughout Germany. The of-many and powerful connections in their own ho took up their cause. There were bitter the German press and caricatures and cartoons were published.
Mr. Rives to Paris and told him not to leave until he had seen these officers. He remained in Paris some weeks and finally through Mr. Sharp obtained per-visit the officers in the military prison. Later h showed a tendency to be lenient in this case, hard to find a way for the French Government to back down gracefully. Schierstaedt having become insane in the meantime, a very clever way out of the difficulty was suggested, I believe by Mr. Sharp. Schierstaedt having been found to be insane was presumably insane at the time of the patrol's wandering in the forest of Fontainebleau. As he was the senior officer, the other officer an. the men under him were not responsible for obeying his commands. The result was that Schwerin and the men the patrol were put in a regular prison camp and Schierstaedt was very kindly sent by the French back to Germa y, where he recovered his reason sufficiently to be able te come and thank me for the efforts made on his behalf.
I made every endeavour so far as it lay in my power to oblige the Germans. We helped them in the exchange of prisoners and the care of German property in enemy countries.
There were rumours in Berlin that Germans taken as prisoners in German African Colonies were forced to work in the sun, watched and beaten by coloured guards. This was taken up by one of the Grand Dukes of Mecklenburg who had been Governor of Togoland and who also took great interest in sending clothes, etc., to these prisoners. Germany demanded that the prisoners in Africa be sent to a more temperate climate.
Another royalty who was busied with prisoners' affairs was Prince Max of Baden. He is heir to the throne of Baden, although not a son of the reigning Duke. He is very popular and, for my part, I admire him greatly. He travels with Emerson's essays in his pocket and keeps up with the thought and progress of all countries. Baden will be indeed happy in having such a ruler. Prince Max was a man so reasonable, so human, that l understand that von Jagow was in favour of putting him at the head of a central department for prisoners of war. I agreed with von Jagow that in such case all would go smoothly and humanely. Naturally, von Jagow could only mildly hint at the desirability of this appointment. A prince, heir to one of the thrones of Germany, with the rank of General in the army, he seemed ideally fitted for such a position, but unfortunately the opposition of the army and, particularly, of the representative corps commanders was so great that von Jagow told me the plan was impossible of realisation. I am sure if Prince Max had been at the head of such a department, Germany would not now be suffering from the odium of mistreating its prisoners, and that the two million prisoners of war in Germany would not return to their homes imbued with an undying hate.
Prince Max was very helpful in connection with the American mission to Russia for German prisoners which I had organised and which I have described in the chapter on war charities.
All complaints made by the Imperial Government with reference to the treatment of German prisoners, and so forth, in enemy countries were first given to me and transmitted b our Embassy to the American Ambassadors having charge of German interests in enemy countries. All this, with the correspondence ensuing, made a great amount . f clerical work.
I think that every day I received one or more Germans, who were anxious about prisoner friends, making inquiries, and wishing to consult me on business matters in the United States, etc. All of these people showed gratitude for what we were able to do for them, but their gratitude was only a drop in the ocean of officially inspired hatred of America.