Monday, June 20, 2011


The Exiled Belgian Royalist has some reflections on The Beast of Berlin, a melodramatic American propaganda film produced during World War I, demonizing Kaiser Wilhelm II and portraying his much-admired cousin and opponent, King Albert I, as something of an avenging angel. While many are aware that the Kaiser suffered from undue vilification in the wake of the war, fewer probably realize that King Albert himself endured his share of mudslinging at the same time. Lionized in the Allied press as the incarnation of right versus might, he was shamelessly defamed and derided by German journalists as a coward, traitor and general failure. The Belgian patriot Emile Cammaerts lamented:
In spite of the most authentic documents, of the most glaring material proofs, it might be difficult to realise that the human spirit may fall so low. It seems as if we were diminishing ourselves when we accuse our enemies. We have lived so long in the faith that "such things are impossible" that, now that they happen almost at our door, we should be inclined to doubt our eyes rather than to doubt the innate goodness of man. Never did I feel this more strongly than when I saw, for the first time, a caricature of King Albert reproduced from a German newspaper.
Surely if one man, one leader, has come out of this severe trial unstained, with his virtue untarnished, it is indeed Albert the First, King of the Belgians. His simple and loyal attitude in face of the German ultimatum, the indomitable courage which he showed during the Belgian campaign, his dignity, his reserve, his almost exaggerated modesty, ought to have won for him, besides the deep admiration of the Allies and of the neutral world, the respect and esteem even of his worst enemy. There is a man of few words and noble actions, fulfilling his pledges to the last article, faithful to his word even in the presence of death, a leader sharing the work of his soldiers, a King living the life of a poor man. When in Paris, in London, triumphal receptions were awaiting them, he and his noble and devoted Queen remained at their post, on the last stretch of Belgian territory, in the rough surroundings of army quarters.
The whole world has noted this. People who have no sympathy to spare for the Allies' cause have been obliged to bow before this young hero, more noble in his defeat than all the conquerors of Europe in their victory. But the Germans have not felt it. Not only did they try to ridicule King Albert in their comic papers. Even the son of Governor von Bissing did not hesitate to fling in his face the generous epithet, "Lackland." (1) As soon as the last attempt to conciliate the King had failed the German press in Belgium began a most violent and abusive campaign against him. The Diisseldorfer General-Anseiger published a venomous article, in which he was represented as personally responsible for "the plot of the Allies against Germany and for the crimes of the franc-tireurs." He was stigmatised as "the slave of England," and it was asserted that " If he did not grasp the hand stretched out to him by the Kaiser on August 2nd and the 9th it is only because he did not dare to do so" (October 10th, 1914). He was said to have "betrayed his army at Antwerp. Had he not sworn not to leave the town alive?" And Le Reveil, another paper circulated in Belgium by German propagandists, announced solemnly that, once on the Yser, the King wanted to sign a separate peace with Germany, but England had forbidden him to do so. The Hamburger Nachrichten, the Vossische Zeitung and the Frankfurter Zeitung repeated without scruple this tissue of gross calumnies. The Deutsche Soldatenpost, edited specially for the German soldiers in Belgium, went even a step further and violently reproached the Queen of the Belgians for not having protested against the cruelties inflicted on German civilians in Brussels and Antwerp, at the outbreak of the hostilities! (Through the iron bars: two years of German occupation in Belgium: Volume 4, Issue 61917, pp. 28-30)
(1) Suddeutsche Monatshefte, April 1915.

1 comment:

Christina said...

Thank you for this, Matterhorn. I had never heard of King Albert being vilified, too! Good heavens - propaganda is such a ridiculous thing that I wonder how people still fall for it. It's true that King Albert really was the hero of the hour - an innocent and courageous man who, more than any other monarch was fighting totally in defence of his country. It's euqally, true, isn't it, that the media has so much to answer for in both bringing about and prolonging that dreadful war. Thank you for this fascinating post.