The Destruction Of Louvain

More than one hundred years ago, Napoleon, the famous French general,

started out to conquer the world, just as the Germans have been

dreaming of doing. Napoleon had almost unbelievable success--carrying

the banner of France into practically the whole of Europe. But into

whatever provinces Napoleon went, though bent upon the subjugation of a

world, he never allowed his army to wantonly lay waste and destroy.

There was
reat attraction for him in the wonderful works of art which

he found in many of the large cities. He ordered his men to seize these

works secretly and to carry them back to Paris. There they were

preserved. France indeed is now named the preserver of the arts.

Had the German officers done even this, their crime would not be so

great to-day. The French not only saved art and property, but also

tried to save the lives of non-combatants as often as possible.

One of the leading daily papers of Cologne, Germany, explained in its

issue of February 10, 1915, why the German soldiers have committed

deeds that will forever shame the German people in the minds of the

rest of humanity. Like the invasion of Belgium, these deeds are not

defended as right or just but as necessary to help on the German

advance to victory. The article read as follows:

We have adopted it as a principle that the wrong-doing of an

individual must be expiated by the entire community to which he

belongs. The village in which our troops are fired upon will be

burned. If the guilty one is not found, substitutes will be

chosen from the population at large, and will be executed under

martial law.... The innocent must suffer with the guilty, and,

if the latter are not caught, must receive punishment in their

place, not because a crime has been committed, but to prevent

the commission of a future crime. Every case in which a village

is burned down, or hostages are executed, or the inhabitants of

a village which has taken arms against our invading forces are

killed, is a warning to the inhabitants of the territory not yet

occupied. There can be no doubt that the destruction of Battice,

Herve, Louvain, and Dinant has served as warning. The

devastation and bloodshed of the opening days of the war have

prevented the larger Belgian cities from attempting any attacks

upon the weak forces with which it was necessary for us to hold


The destruction of works of art and of the beautiful cathedrals built

in the Middle Ages cannot be explained and defended in this way, but

some other pitiable and often childish excuse is offered. The Germans

always assume that others do as they would do in the same

circumstances. They assumed England would not interfere, if the

neutrality of Belgium was violated, for Germany would not have

interfered, had she been in England's place. They assumed the French

and English would use the towers of the cathedrals for observation

posts, for Germany would have done so; and although they were promised

by the Allied officers that the towers would not be so used and were

informed by the bishops and priests that they were not so used, yet

they proceeded to destroy the beautiful structures. Their own promises

and statements in a similar case would have been of no value, and so

they assumed the promises of others were valueless and that the priests

had been compelled to lie about the matter, as the Germans would have

forced them to do, if possible.

They also fired upon the cathedrals of Ypres, Soissons, Arras, and

Rheims in retaliation, whenever the enemy bombarded the German lines

near by. Destroying a cathedral was like killing pure and beautiful

women and children. The Huns felt the Allies would let them advance

rather than have it happen.

As the Germans were on their way to seize Antwerp, after they had taken

the Belgian capital, they were driven out of Malines and turned upon

Louvain. They were greatly irritated at the strong resistance which the

Belgian army was making. They even feared that suddenly Belgium's

allies would join her at Antwerp and invade Germany, upsetting the

German plans entirely.

Therefore they sought to terrorize and subdue the country by a complete

destruction of Louvain, one of the most ancient and historic towns in

that section of Europe. Its buildings and monuments were of world-wide


Repulsed and chased back to the outskirts of Louvain, the troops were

ordered to destroy the town. The soldiers marched down the streets,

singing and jeering, while the officers rode about in their military

automobiles with an air of bravado, as they contemplated the deed they

were about to do. They first attempted to anger the people, so as to

have some pretext for the criminal deed they had determined upon. But

the people, knowing the character of the Germans, showed remarkable

restraint. They gave up all firearms, even old rifles and bows and

arrows that were valuable historic relics. They housed and fed their

enemies, paid them immense sums of money; and when the commander sent

for two hundred and fifty mattresses, they even brought their own beds

and cast them, with everything they could lay hands on, down into the

market-place. They knew the penalty for refusal was the death of their

respected burgomaster.

The people of Boston, at the time of the Revolution, refused to feed

and house the British soldiers. But these people of Louvain submitted

to much worse than that, hoping that the enemy would pass on and spare

their lives and their homes.

But on Tuesday evening, August 25, as the people were sitting down to

their evening meal, the soldiers suddenly rushed wildly through the

streets, and furnished with bombs, set fire to all parts of the town.

That night witnessed some of the most terrible deeds in all history.

The town of 45,000 inhabitants was wiped out; many of the citizens were

killed, and others were sent by train to an unknown destination.

Besides the loss of life, there was lost to the world forever a great

store of historic and artistic wealth.

But one principal building in all the town was left standing--the Hotel

de Ville. This was purposely saved as a monument to German authority,

when the whole country should be taken over and rebuilt as a


This cowardly act of cruelty will always stand out as typical of German

atrocity. Louvain was undefended and was already in the hands of the

Germans. By this one deed perhaps more than any other, Germany showed

to what depths of degradation she would stoop. By the destruction of

Louvain, she put back civilization and culture for five hundred years,

and her own good name was burned away from among the nations of the

world. The Germans from that day were branded as the enemies of the

human race. The world sprang with united sympathy to the side of little

Belgium--so that for her the destruction of Louvain meant more than a

glorious victory.