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Archive for the month “February, 2015”

036 Anton Kröller and the lover’s trick

Anton Kröller

Anton Kröller

Trust company keeps the Netherlands going

It is Sunday 28 February 1915. It is the 36th week after the shooting at Sarajevo.

Soissons and Reims cathedral are bombed by the Germans.

 At Perthes in the Champagne district the battle goes back and forth.

 The French attack German positions on the Hartmannsweilerkopf in the Vosges.

 In the Dardanelles British ships bombard the Turkish fortresses on the coast and further to the south the Ottoman coastal town of Smyrna also comes under fire.

 Winston Churchill optimistically starts giving an outline of the conditions for an armistice after capitulation of the Turks.

 At the Neman river the Germans have to flee from the Russians, who also put great pressure on the Austrians in the Carpathians.

 In Greece King Constantine dismisses his prime minister Eleftherios Venizelos, because the latter is willing to help the British and the French in their Dardanelles Campaign.

 The British Admiralty dictates that crew members of German submarines who were taken prisoner can be denied ‘honourable treatment’.

 And as a reaction to the blockade of Great Britain by German U-boats, the British government will even more tightly control the merchant navy, which further increases the importance of the Netherlands Oversea Trust, a creation of entrepreneur Anton Kröller.

While the world around them was set alight, the Dutch also had to keep their fires burning, preferably in such a way that they were not drawn into either of the war camps. For this purpose they needed tricks and the cleverest trick was the Netherlands Oversea Trust. Its abbreviation is NOT. Freely adapted from Shakespeare, for the Dutch economy in the Great War it was a matter of ‘not to be or to be not’.

In fact the bottom line of it was to import as much as possible without getting into trouble with the English. It would mean mayhem, if Dutch companies started exporting their import goods again to Germany. The Dutch government of course could forbid this export, but then this would be a hostile act in the eyes of the Germans. So the Netherlands and their economic interests were caught between the warring parties.

‘Holland cannot make love’ is the title of a song. ‘Holland cannot help but preserve its decency – It cannot make love in these days’ (literal translation of the original Dutch words). However, there was a lovers’ trick. Ships delivered their merchandise to a private enterprise, which was of course the NOT. And the NOT could warrant that a warring country, Germany in particular, would not be the final destination of the goods. In 1916 the English periodical The Economist called the NOT ‘a stroke of genius’.

In a short period of time the NOT grew from an organisation with a few staff members into a bureaucracy in fifteen buildings scattered over The Hague. They were not allowed to make a profit. Shipping companies that were committed to the NOT promised only to sell their goods for domestic use. Their ships carried the striped black-and-white NOT cone.

It was the Rotterdam industrialist Anton Kröller who set up the NOT at the end of 1914, though rumour has it that a British trade commisioner had whispered the idea into the ears of the Dutch. Time over again the British had stopped Dutch ships in the first months of the war. This was not only an irritating but also a costly affair.

The British were looking for contraband, goods which were put on a black list. Initially this only meant war stuff such as weapons and ammunition. International law allowed  control of this. But the British started to stretch the definition of contraband further and further. Soon also food was considered contraband. Not only the Netherlands, but also the United States complained about these far-reaching trade restrictions. However, President Woodrow Wilson was not very strict to the British with their minefields that marked the narrow shipping channel for the merchant ships which had to be inspected. He was much stricter to the Germans who turned the economy into a war with their U-boats.

The Netherlands owed peace to its commercial potential. Old Von Schlieffen had drawn an outline of a swing of his troops both through Belgium and the Netherlands in his plan of the attack on France. But in later years the Germans had started to realize the importance of the neutrality of the Netherlands as a ‘Luftrohr’ (windpipe) for their own economy. At the same time this was what the British feared. How could they turn Germany into a terminal patient as long as it was drip-fed by a neutral country? The Germans could hardly do without iron ore from Sweden, nickel and copper from Norway and agricultural imports from the Netherlands but also from Denmark. During the war Germany’s trade deficit was an average 5.6 per cent of the net national income.

In the first years of the war the Dutch economy survived only just after pure panic had broken out. After the attack at Sarajevo shares dropped considerably and exactly a month later, on 28 July 1914, it even proved necessary to close the stock exchange. During the financial crisis that broke out people started stockpiling and only spent paper money. At the banks long queues of customers were forming who wanted to cash in their banknotes.

On 3 August, the day before the German invasion of Belgium, the Dutch government made a firm decision. Emergency money had to regain consumer trust. And even though counterfeiters regularly undermined the system, the so-called zilverbons (silver coupons) continued to prove their value throughout the war. In 1918 about 71.6 million guilders worth of silver coupons were in circulation.

The firm approach of the threatening war crisis concealed a golden duo. Willem Treub, a radical liberal, proved to be a strong Minister of Finance for the Netherlands. Historian Paul Moeyes describes him as ‘a brilliant organizer and instigator’. Treub’s trademark was the blue-and-white dot printed bowtie, the so-called ‘Treub tie’. Perhaps less flamboyant but just as decisive was the strong man from the business world, president C.J.K. van Aalst of the Netherlands Trading Society. Van Aalst was made chairman of the board of directors of the NOT.

Treub and Van Aalst were literally sitting next to Queen Wilhelmina when she launched the National Support Committee. Poverty was also lurking in the haven of calm which was called the Netherlands. Especially families of mobilized soldiers needed support. Many had to beg the Support Committee for life. A writer of occasional verse made a Dutch version of the Tipperary march: ‘It’s a long way to the committee…’.

Nevertheless the Netherlands managed to survive the war relatively unscathed. The year 1916 economically even proved to be a peak year. After that it became a lot less, which was mainly the result of the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare by the Germans. In 1917 and 1918 only half of the number of seaships of 1916 entered the Dutch ports, despite the efforts of the NOT.

Frankly speaking the NOT had to manoeuvre through a minefield. The British were quite annoyed by the export of Dutch pigs to Germany. The NOT had promised not to channel any products to Germany that had been compiled of imported goods. The Dutch pigs had been fattened with imported maize. Therefore the British demanded the NOT to forbid the exportation of the so-called ‘maize on legs’.

The British thought they could keep Dutch trade under control with the help of the NOT, but in the end the Trust did not prove to be very compliant. And if an export embargo was announced at all, hordes of smugglers showed up who were willing to sell Dutch merchandise on the other side of the border.  All in all the British saw enough reason to tighten the screws of the Dutch freight trade some more. Dutch ships were no longer allowed to bunker in Port Said, before the Suez Canal, from January 1916 onwards. As of now the navigation route to the Dutch East Indies went via the Cape of Good Hope, which was a detour of over 4,000 miles.

In the eyes of the British also the fish appeared questionable. In June 1916 the Royal Navy was ordered to phase out the entire Dutch fishing fleet. The indignation about this in the Netherlands was so big that the British in their turn restrained themselves again. Yet a certain degree of friction remained. And if it weren’t the British that seized a merchant ship for examination, a Dutch vessel would always run the risk of encountering a German U-boat. SS Katwijk for example was hit by a German torpedo on 14 April 1915. Its cargo was indeed maize.

The Netherlands, and the NOT in particular, were bouncing back and forth throughout the war. In the NOT a man like Anton Kröller appeared on various occasions to be especially open to the German side of the story. Whoever leafs through the family album will not be surprised. Kröller’s grandfather settled in Rotterdam as a German immigrant. Kröller himself started as a trainee in Düsseldorf at a trading firm in iron ore, called Wm. H.Müller & Co. Not only did he gain the trust of the management, but he also seduced Helene Müller, the daughter of the founder.

Anton Kröller expanded the firm into an empire, while Helene Kröller-Müller compiled an imposing art collection. Millions were withdrawn from the firm’s capital to satisfy the aesthetic self-indulgence of Helene. In the thirties all her works of art were to find a home in a museum on the Hoge Veluwe, though as a result of financial problems this place never reached the size Helene had dreamed of.

The famous architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage spent the entire Great War building an imposing hunting lodge for the couple on their estate on the Hoge Veluwe. The First World War certainly paid off to Anton Kröller and his wife. Müller & Co acquired the monopoly on cereal and ore. In order to nuance his reputation of Deutschfreundlichkeit (sympathy for Germany), Kröller bought the indigent daily newspaper Het Vaderland. During the war he also became advisor for a Rotterdam Bank and he was involved with the foundation of the Koninklijke Nederlandsche Hoogovens en Staalfabrieken (Royal Dutch Furnace and Steel Works). In the first year after the war Kröller interfered in the launch of KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines).

But in the thirties he loses grip of his own empire, Müller & Co. When Kröller is already in his seventies, the shareholders force him to resign. In 1941 he dies on the Hoge Veluwe at the age of 79. Two years earlier he had responded to the request of the Foreign Ministry to join the Swedish industrialist Birger Dahlerus in encouraging the German neighbours to peace. Without any chance of success of course.

In an official biography he is given a send-off as follows: ‘Contemporaries praised his sharp financial understanding, which unfortunately at Müller & Co had to give way to passion of collecting and lust for power, with disastrous consequences. The splendour of the fantastic heritage of the couple is greatly affected by the knowledge that this was achieved by inappropriate business management.’

Anton Kröller has also been called Oweeër, in Dutch short for war usurer. ‘No doubt Kröller has had a ‘good’ war’, Paul Moeyes writes, with the word ‘good’ in inverted commas. ‘As a cereal buyer he is said to have pocketed millions in commissions and freight costs. Already during the war it had been pointed out to Minister Treub that Kröller charged the government a personal commission of fifteen per cent for the cereal he bought. Kröller was also supposed to have mediated, traded and spied for the Germans.’

Dutch top industrialist Anton Kröller took advantage of the war, while his wife feasted her eyes on her Van Goghs. In the meantime a whole generation of young men perished in the trenches. According to the biography Eva Rovers wrote about Helene Kröller-Müller’s life, this caricature is of course not entirely fair. During the war she was a nurse for a while and as such she looked after the wounded in a lazaret in Liège. After the war she offered two of her houses on the Veluwe for the recovery of German children.

Next week: H.H. Asquith

Tom Tacken (translation Peter Veltman)

035 Rosa Luxemburg and the blazing trumpets of the revolution

Rosa Luxemburg

Rosa Luxemburg

Left-wing Germany becomes further divided

It is Sunday 21 February 1915. It is the 35th week after the shooting at Sarajevo.

Reims cathedral is heavily damaged during a German bombing.

The Germans claim the victory in the Winter Battle of the Masurian Lakes and take 100,000 Russians as prisoners of war.

The Russians in their turn can boast having seized the Polish town of Przasnysz.

Grand Duke Nicholas promises the British to send the Black Sea navy of the Russians and an army to Constantinople.

After a five-day delay because of bad weather, the British resume their bombardment of Turkish and German artillery units along the Dardanelles.

Besides, British troops land at Sedd el Bahr on the Gallipoli peninsula.

German submarines sink a series of allied merchant ships.

The French make some progress in the Champagne district and the British achieve a modest success at La Bassée

And, lonely in a German prison cell, a small woman is still dreaming of a socialist revolution: Rosa Luxemburg.

In one of her many letters from prison Rosa Luxemburg writes to a friend: ‘Sometimes it seems to me that I am not really a human being at all but like a bird or a beast in human form. I feel so much more at home even in a scrap of garden like the one here, and still more in the meadows when the grass is humming with bees than at one of our party congresses. I can say that to you, for you will not promptly suspect me of treason to socialism! You know that I really hope to die at my post, in a street fight or in prison. But my innermost personality belongs more to my tomtits than to my comrades.’

Here is the tender side of the high-calibre marxist, the razor-sharp theoretician of Germany’s left wing. The small brave woman who saw in imperialism and militarism the last convulsions of capitalism, but who was hidden away in a prison-cell almost the whole war. She got four years for an inflammatory public statement she made in 1913 against the war that she foresaw.

And yet Rosa Luxemburg kept fighting her class struggle behind bars between 1914 and 1918. Friends succeeded in smuggling her writings under the pseudonym Junius out of prison. In these she gave an outline of the dilemma of society, ‘socialism or babarism’, but she especially dealt with the social-democrats, who had betrayed the cause of the workers according to her. Already before the war she targeted the moderate-left revisionists, who thought they could enter socialist paradise by social reforms.

Rosa Luxemburg was born in 1871 as the daughter of an emancipated Jewish merchant. After having studied economics in Switzerland, she became a German citizen through a marriage of convenience. So a Jewish, Polish, red-headed woman was the perfect object of ridicule in imperial Germany. Besides having a passion for politics Rosa Luxemburg also leads an active love life. She flirts with Kostja Zetkin who is fourteen years her junior. Kostja is the son of Clara Zetkin, the other woman from the vanguard of the left movement.

She is small and slight of build. A hip impediment causes her to walk with difficulty. But within there is a fire which cannot be put out. She could charm halls full of people. During one of her speeches a police-inspector has to maintain order, but he is so carried away by the flaming argument of Red Rosa that he begins to applaud. Afterwards Luxemburg sends him a note: ‘It is a pity that a man as sensible as you should be in the police, but it would be a greater pity if the police should lose so human an example. Don’t applaud any more.’

In 1904 she is sent to prison for lese-majesty. She said that though the kaiser speaks of a good and secure existence of the German workers, he has no idea of the true facts. In the years after she will issue louder and louder warnings for a war between the European superpowers. Using general strikes the international proletariat will have to change this course. This is also what Jean Jaurès urges France to do. And in 1913 Rosa Luxemburg addresses a crowd of people as follows: ‘If they expect us to lift the weapons of murder against our French or other foreign brothers, then let us tell them ‘No, we won’t do it’.’

With this Rosa Luxemburg seems to have deserved the monument which she got in Berlin in 2006. Before the fall of the Berlin Wall she was the unsurpassed heroine of the German Democratic Republic, but also after the Wende Rosa Luxemburg continues to capture the imagination of left-wing Germany. Since 2006 sixty dark wooden beams have been hidden in the ground in her very own Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, in nazi times known as the Horst-Wessel-Platz. The beams contain political as well as personal quotes of Luxemburg herself.

A competition was organised for this work of art. The second prize was awarded to the couple that wanted to commercialize the brand name ‘Rosa de Luxe’ as an art form, such as Che Guevara, which you come across on thousands of T-shirts in the streets of Berlin. ‘Rosa de Luxe’ would also be printed on the label for example of the package of cottage cheese. Rosa Luxemburg herself wrapped her left-wing ideals in literary paper. When she wanted to express her categoric rejection of the capitalist system, she aptly chose these words: ‘Die Revolution ist großartig, alles andere ist Quark!’ ‘The revolution is magnificent. Everything else is bilge.’


Parliamentary democracy was of little interest to Rosa Luxemburg. Comrades who had joined the Reichstag were scorned by her. On the first day of the war another divisive issue could be added to this. The entire faction of the SPD, the party to which also Rosa Luxemburg had counted herself, voted for the war loans. On 2 December 1914 SPD member Karl Liebknecht was the only member of the Reichstag to vote against the new war loans. He would have to give up his place in the SPD faction, of which party his father Wilhelm had been one of the founders.

In August 1916 Karl Kautsky, a prominent social-democrat on the German side, wrote in a letter to his Austrian colleague Viktor Adler, that he knew who was the most popular man in the trenches at that moment: Karl Liebknecht. ‘The dissatisfied masses understand nothing of his policy’, Kautsky declares. ‘But they see him as the man who is working for an end to the war, and this is what counts for them.’

Against the war and for the revolution is the line which Rosa Luxemburg has followed right from the start, just like Vladimir Lenin. But there are also big differences with the Russian bolsheviks, who have a thorough understanding of the importance of a well-organised revolutionary vanguard, a party elite. Rosa Luxemburg thinks that the masses will revolt all by themselves after some agitation and propaganda. That will prove to be Rosa’s fatal mistake.

Red Rosa  has never succeeded in reaching the masses, let alone setting them in motion. The Spartacus League, of which she and Karl Liebknecht were the figureheads, merged into the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands on the last day of 1918. This League remained a rather insignificant left-wing splinter, even in the turbulent months after the fall of the empire.

Spartacus was the man who had led a rebellion of slaves in the Roman Empire of the first century B.C.. But the German wage slaves of just after the Great War would rather identify with the middleclass citizen and social-democrat Friedrich Ebert. He was proclaimed the first president of the new German republic. It is his government that will restore order and authority with the help of paramilitary troops, the Freikorps, at the expense of red rioters such as Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht.

They both die in the same manner.  On 15 January 1919 Luxemburg and Liebknecht are dragged to the Berlin Eden Hotel by men of the Garde-Kavallerie-Schützen-Division. They do not carry a warrant for their arrest. Rosa Luxemburg managed to put a couple of her favourite  books in her suitcase. After all, she is used to being apprehended. But this time it ends differently. In the hotel there is a brief interrogation and a brutal molestation. A soldier does his job and smashes their skulls with the butt of his rifle. They are dragged into a car half dead. Liebknecht is thrown out of the car near the zoo and gets  killed. The offical reading is that he was shot when on the run. Rosa Luxemburg, 47 years old, gets a bullet through her temple. The public is informed that she was lynched by an angry mob. The death squad dumps her body into the Landwehr canal. The corpse does not turn up until months later.

It has never become clear who was really behind the double murder. Leader of the death squad was someone called Waldemar Pabst, who was never convicted. Arms trafficking made him rich and he died a wealthy man in 1970. Pabst maintained that he had the full support of the social-democrat Gustav Noske, under whose direction the leftist revolt was ended. But did in the background also president Ebert agree with the murder? Note that Ebert was one of those who had been taught the socialist  tricks of the trade at the party school of the SPD by teacher Rosa Luxemburg in the years before the war.

It is highly unlikely that Luxemburg and Liebknecht would have succeeded in claiming the revolution, if they had been granted more time to live. Barely released from a prison cell of the empire, they could hardly get a grip of the revolutionary developments in the new republic. They worked as if possessed, furiously turning out their articles for Die Rote Fahne.

Rosa Luxemburg’s final article ended as follows: ‘Tomorrow the revolution will rear its head once again, and, to your horror, will proclaim, with trumpets blazing: I was, I am, I will be!’. Revolutionary rhetoric that does not really sink in outside the editorial office. The author Sebastian Haffner disagrees with the notion that the German revolution of 1918-1919 should coincide with the Spartacus Uprising of January 1919. Haffner refers to Luxemburg and Liebknecht when he says that was exactly how everything would have happened, if they had not been there. According to Haffner, even one-day wonders such as seaman Karl Artelt and officer Heinrich Dorrenbach have had a stronger influence on the developments than the two famous revolutionaries.

That is why the assassination of Luxemburg and Liebknecht was mainly of symbolic importance in January 1919. Covenient violence, however, became the general spirit in Germany for the next decades. Sebastian Haffner placed the double murder forty years ago in that particular perspective. He writes: ‘The murders of January 15, 1919, were a prelude – the prelude to murders by the thousand in the following months under Noske, and to murders by the million in the ensuing decades under Hitler. They were the starting signal for all the others. Yet this one crime remains unadmitted, unexpiated and unrepented. That is why it still cries out to heaven in Germany. That is why its light sears the German present like a lethal laser beam.’

Historically speaking the twofold scandalous act of 15 January 1919 is so significant,  because it sealed the division within the leftist family for good. Social-democrats and communists, members of the SPD and of the KPD were to continue their struggle for power stubbornly when the Brownshirts were already marching the streets of Germany. Would Hitler have been able to seize power, if the left had formed a single front against him? This is one of many questions history asks without supplying the answer.

Next week: Anton Kröller

Tom Tacken (translation Peter Veltman)

034 Bernhard von Bülow and the fatal tutu

Bernhard von Bülow

Bernhard von Bülow

Weltpolitik lacks diplomatic ingenuity

It is Sunday 14 February 1915. It is the 34th week after the shooting at Sarajevo. 

Germany declares only to discontinue its war zone if the British stop their blockade of the German ports. 

The French start the attack on almost the full length of their front, but only record a slight profit at Verdun and in Artois, Champagne and the Vosges.

On the eastern front the fighting in the Carpathians and Galicia continues.

Albanians are driven across the Serbian border.

A new French-British air raid on the Flemish seaside towns of Zeebrugge and Ostend is undertaken.

The two zeppelins which bombed the English east coast in January are forced to make an emergency landing in Denmark.

An imposing English-French navy bombs Turkish fortresses at the entrance of the Dardanelles, which marks the beginning of the Gallipoli campaign.

The Germans gain some territory at Ypres.

The Austrian conquests, notably of Czernowitz, are followed by a successful counter attack of the Russians.

And in Rome the Germans do everything they can to keep Italy away from the allies, which is a special job for former chancellor Bernhard von Bülow.

Kaiser Wilhelm II is an unpredictable man, to which also Bernard von Bülow can testify. In 1917 he stood a good chance to succeed Von Bethmann Hollweg as chancellor. The latter was dismissed because he was too soft to the liking of the military. But Wilhelm did not want to have anything to do with Von Bülow, the man whom he had cherishingly called ‘my own Bismarck’ years before.

Von Bülow served the kaiser as chancellor nine years, from 1900 till 1909. It was the same Von Bethmann Hollweg who had come to take over from him in 1909. The liberal-conservative block that Von Bülow had managed to keep together for a long time, eventually came to grief on the budget. Von Bülow had very nearly been forced to pack his bags already a year earlier. The reason was a rather unfortunate interview his emperor had given to the London Daily Telegraph. Wilhelm had planned to talk firmly to the English. What got into their heads to refuse his gestures of friendship time over again. This made it very difficult for him to remain a good friend of England. The Prussian chest-beating transcended the British newspaper columns.

In England they were not amused. But in Germany the article was not welcomed either. Von Bülow wanted to take his responsibility for the diplomatic damage by resigning. The interview had been presented to him for checking, but he had put it aside on his desk because of busy work.

Von Bülow, however, had to stay. In parliament he subsequently said he was confident that the kaiser would understand that he had to express himself more prudently in future in order to avoid damaging the unity of policy and the authority of the crown. Wilhelm II would indeed keep quiet in the time to come, but the kaiser’s love for his chancellor was over.

Even before the Daily Telegraph affair Von Bülow had been very busy dealing with the impetuous kaiser, but in 1907 the chancellor himself was staring in the full glare of the spotlights. In a pamphlet a man called Adolf Brand had argued that the German chancellor was blackmailed with his homosexuality. Von Bülow started legal proceedings for defamation. Brand, who could not provide evidence for his statement, was convicted to eighteen months’ imprisonment.

The affair did not appear out of the blue. It was part of the scandal around Philipp zu Eulenburg, a confidant of both the kaiser and the chancellor. Another writer, Maximilian Harden, had painted a homosexual picture of the highest circles in the empire, with Eulenburg as the lecherous key-figure. At the end of his life none less than Bismarck himself was to update Harden over a glass of wine on the love for men which was rampant around the kaiser. According to Harden’s analysis it was small wonder that German foreign policy so hopelessly derailed with all those effeminate protagonists at the top.

It did not help publicity either that a senior military figure, Dietrich Graf von Hülsen-Häseler, had died of a heart attack in the presence of the kaiser when doing a little dance dressed in a tutu. Ottokar von Czernin, an Austro-Hungarian diplomat who was to become Foreign Minister in the second half of the First World War, saw the kaiser himself panic: ‘In Wilhelm II, I saw a man, who for the first time in his life, with horror-stricken eyes, looked upon the world as it really was.’

Wilhelm was hardly informed by Von Bülow about all the spicy innuendo in the press. It was Wilhelm’s son, the crown prince, who had to convince his majesty of the seriousness. Embarrassed by the situation, Wilhelm decided to dismiss Eulenburg. This is how a true anglophile was removed from the kaiser’s entourage, somebody who had repeatedly urged the kaiser to engage in friendly relations with England.

When Von Bülow took on the office of chancellor, he seemed to fit in perfectly with the selfish ambition of Wilhelminian Germany. As far as that is concerned he would certainly not come forward as the new Bismarck. After all the Iron Chancellor had adopted a conservative political attitude after the proclamation of the German Empire was announced in 1871. The new Germany had better guard the status quo on the European continent first. But the young kaiser, who had climbed on the throne in Bismarck’s later life, wanted more than just mind the store.

It was Von Bülow who expressed as foreign minister the ambitions of imperial Germany in 1897 as follows: ‘We wish to throw no one into the shade, but we demand our own place in the sun.’ Gone were the days when the Germans left the earth to one neighbour and the sea to the other, while they only kept the sky for themselves.

Germany’s Weltpolitik really took off in the beginning of the twentieth century. It was especially the spectacular build-up of the navy that testified to this. In Von Bülow’s  first year as chancellor the Germans also went to China to curb the Boxer Rebellion with a lot of fuss. In German Southwest Africa the German Imperialism of the days of chancellor Von Bülow showed its ugliest face. From Berlin kisses in the air were blown to the Boers in South Africa and to the muslims in the Ottoman Empire. But then Germany did support Austria-Hungary when it annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908 at the expense of the Ottomans.

It is especially the German experience in Morocco which is of importance for the relations with the two biggest European powers on the world stage, Great Britain and France. In 1905 Von Bülow sees an opportunity to play a nasty trick on the eternal enemy France. The French have a problem in unruly Morocco, where the sultan tries to forward from under the shadow of Paris. A year earlier the French were more or less given a free hand by the English in Morocco. In exchange for this Paris promised London to relinquish any claim on Egypt. This bargaining forms the basis of the Entente Cordiale, the affectionate commitment between England and France

Von Bülow now hopes to drive a wedge between the two by promising Germany’s support to the Moroccan sultan. The climate is favourable as Russia, the closest ally of the French, is lying in the corner, knocked out after the defeat against Japan.

The kaiser himself may deliver the message. On 31 March 1905 he moors his yacht in Tangier. Von Bülow has arranged a beautiful white horse on which the kaiser can ride through the packed streets of Tangier. ‘I landed because you wanted me to in the interest of the Fatherland’, Wilhelm will later tell his chancellor. ‘I sat upon a strange horse despite the riding problems my disabled left arm causes, and I came within a centimeter of that horse taking my life. I had to ride against Spanish anarchists because you wanted me to and because it was your policy to gain from this.’

It was certainly not a masterstroke of Von Bülow. The international turmoil around Morocco resulted in the Algeciras Conference. It was decided that France could continue to consider Morocco as its protectorate. The German point of view on international control was only taken over by the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary.

In 1911 the Second Morocco Crisis takes place when German gunboat Panther enters the Moroccan port of Agadir. By then Von Bülow has already left as chancellor. And again Germany exits by the side door. England appears to stand foursquare behind France, which can also rely on Russia. After the pathetic Panther-leap of Agadir, Germany finds itself alone against the rest of Europe.

Einkreisung is the right word for this sentiment. In his time Von Bülow tried to escape this encirclement by strengthening the Dreibund. It is quite alright between two of the three, Germany and Austria-Hungary. The third partner, Italy, however, is not always in line. It even fails to inform both friends when it suddenly invades Tripoli in 1911. But the French appear to be at peace with the Italian presence in that part of North Africa.

This is an important omen, as at the outbreak of the First World War the Italians do not feel duty-bound to help their two Dreibund-partners. On the contrary, very soon Italy threatens to tilt over to the allied camp. In order to defuse this calamity, the German government calls on an ‘old’ veteran in the diplomatic profession, Bernhard von Bülow. During his time as chancellor he had been granted the title of prince, Fürst.

He is also married to a princess, who is a piano student of Franz Liszt. She is also of Italian descent. The German government hopes this will be an advantage in Rome. But the charm offensive fails. Von Bülow will not bring his diplomatic job as special ambassador to a successful end.

On 3 August 1914 Italy had emphatically declared itself neutral, but on 24 May 1915 it moves to the side of the allies in the war. Could this have been prevented? In any case, in the first months of the war Germany urges Austria to engage with Italy as constructively as possible. Rome develops a deep-rooted grievance against Vienna, which has to do with the Italian fight for freedom from the nineteenth century. The Austrians have thrown the necessary spanners in the works in that period. And then there are of course the terre irredente, territories in the Austria-Hungary empire that  according to the Italians belong to them. The allies will eagerly start accepting these claims.

From the beginning the Austrians trod cautiously on the eastern front, so there would have been strong arguments to stay friends with Italy. But ingenuity and a sense of reality happen to be scarce qualities in the circles around kaiser Franz Joseph. Vienna does not wish to pay a high price for Italian neutrality. Then Von Bülow of course will have to tell the Italian government that war with Austria-Hungary also means war with Germany. But this threat perishes in the nearly erotically charged desire for battle, which has meanwhile taken possession of the Italian people.

Would Bernhard Fürst von Bülow have looked back with satisfaction on a full political life when he died in 1929? It is difficult to imagine. During the Von Bülow years Germany got bogged down in international isolation deeper and deeper. What he sold as Weltpolitik, proved to be the prelude to a Weltkrieg.

Next week: Rosa Luxemburg

Tom Tacken (translation Peter Veltman)

033 Marie Curie and the enemy’s X-rays

Marie Curie

Marie Curie

War divides scientists

It is Sunday 7 February 1915. It is the 33rd week after the shooting at Sarajevo.

The second Battle of the Masurian Lakes breaks out against a wintery background in an attempt of the Central Powers to capture the Russians via Galicia and East Prussia.

Heavy snowfall in the west contributes to a lasting trench front.

South African general Louis Botha prepares for the attack on Windhoek, the capital of German Southwest Africa.

From the Black Sea warship Breslau, originally German, but now sailing under Turkish flag, bombards Jalta on the Crimean peninsula.

The Russians do the same with Trabzon on the Black Sea coast.

The British seize the cargo of SS Wilhelmina on suspicion of having Germany as its destination.

The British Foreign Office justifies flying a neutral flag at sea.

The United States warn both Great Britain and Germany: British ships should not sail under a neutral flag and German attacks on American ships in the so-called war zone will not be tolerated.

From Dunkirk the British carry out an air-raid on the Belgian seaside towns of Ostend and Zeebrugge.

And behind the West Flanders front X-ray photographs of wounded soldiers are made by Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie. 

Science also has to show its true colours in the war. Marie Curie, the internationally renowned scientist who won two Nobel Prizes, hurries to the front in Flanders with her daughter already in the first year of the war. She intends to help the doctors there diagnose wounded soldiers correctly. She can do this thanks to a relatively new specialized area in medical science called radiology. With the help of electro-magnetic rays it has become possible to trace a bullet or pieces of shrapnell in the human body or map a fracture.

The X-rays, which Madame Curie so gratefully uses, also carry the name of their discoverer, Wilhelm Röntgen. Just like Marie Curie he was laureled with a Nobel Prize, in 1901. Röntgen has also taken sides in the war, but for the other party. He is one of 93 intellectuals – artists and scientists – who addressed the world in October 1914 with a manifesto. Germany had fallen into disrepute because of what was seen as barbaric actions in Belgium. Especially setting fire to the Library of the University of Leuven had given the Germans bad publicity worldwide. Their emperor was seen as a descendant of Attila the Hun, who had defeated the Europeans as the scourge of God long ago. The 93 intellectuals thought these odious lies. The world had nothing to fear. The Germans of Wilhelm II would maintain as a civilized nation the heritage of Goethe, Beethoven and Kant.

After the war Röntgen distanced himself from the manifesto. Without really thinking he had signed it, but maybe that says a great deal. Röntgen was known as an extremely thorough researcher, for whom facts were sacred. But also the conscientious Röntgen, who had spent his childhood in the Netherlands, immersed himself in the all consuming passion of patriotism.

Of course this applied to the other side as well. In the very same month The Times published the reaction of British scientists to the manifesto of the 93 Germans. But there were also some scholars who emphatically set themselves above the parties. Heart specialist Georg Friedrich Nicolai reacted to the pro-German manifesto with an ‘Appeal to the Europeans’. Albert Einstein was one of the few to sign this initiative.

Those who read the ‘appeal’ of Nicolai and Einstein realizing that it was only October 1914, will restrospectively take off his hat. Just listen to this: ‘The struggle raging today will likely produce no victor: it will leave probably only the vanquished. Therefore, it seems not only good, but rather bitterly necessary that educated men of all nations marshall their influence such that – whatever the still uncertain end of the war may be – the terms of peace shall not become the wellspring of future wars.’

In the years after also Einstein would observe that the Great War developed into a playing ground for applied science. Fritz Haber, also one of the 93 to sign the ‘Manifesto to the civilized world’, was perhaps the most telling example of this. Haber used all his knowledge for the monstrous novelty of chemical warfare. Due to science gas entered the war.

The relation is of course mutual, the war also controlled science. To put it bluntly, psychiatrists and surgeons could learn from an abundance of practical experience. However, to the Dutch writer Leo van Bergen this statement is an outright myth which enabled doctors to justify their participation in the war. Van Bergen also points out that in wartime only research which was in the interest of this particular war was given a chance. The rest had virtually come to a standstill. Those who want to consider the medical battlefield of the Great War, should read ‘Before my helpless sight – Suffering, Dying and Military Medicine on the Western Front, 1914-1918’, by Leo van Bergen.

The beginning of the twentieth century had shown a true explosion of knowledge. Sigmund Freud had descended into the very depths of the human psyche. Karl Landsteiner had come with a system of bloodgroups. Thanks to dogs that started drooling before they got their food, Ivan Pavlov had been able to describe the conditioned reflex. Guglielmo Marconi had succeeded in telegraphing across the Atlantic Ocean wirelessly. Ernest Rutherford developed the first atom model. Paul Ehrlich and Sahachiro Hata found a cure against the dreaded venereal disease syphilis. Louis Blériot had flown a self-designed aeroplane from Calais to Dover and Willem Einthoven had invented the string galvanometer, a device that could register the heartbeat in cardiograms.

Man was well on the way towards solving all the problems of the world. Ernst Haeckel had written the bible of this scientific materialism at the end of the last century. The title of this book was Die Welträtsel, the riddles of the world. The zoologist Haeckel had reached the philosophical question of the meaning of life. He did not try to find the answer higher up, but as an atheist held the opinion that all human behaviour could be reduced to matter. A thought process was to Haeckel merely a meticulously worked out interaction of nerve clusters.

Is it coincidence that it is Haeckel who is the first to have used the term ‘First World War’? It is not until the early thirties when it is imaginable there will be another global war, that the term ‘Great War’ is beginning to give way to ‘First World War’. But already on 20 September 1914 Haeckel writes the following: ‘There is no doubt that the course and character of the feared ‘European War’ will become the first world war in the full sense of the word.’ It is the materialist who made the cold analysis of a war that was started by overheated romantics.

Marie Curie distinguishes herself from the other scientists by travelling to the front and helping out the wounded, just like Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War of the previous century. Because of the war Curie cannot continue her work as head of laboratories in both Paris and Warsaw. So she starts to serve the French army by equipping lorries with radiological machines and setting up field hospitals. She shows up behind the Flemish front in Veurne, Poperinge, De Panne and Hoogstade, where she will also meet the Belgian King Albert.

Marie Curie was born in Warsaw in 1867 as Maria Skłodowska. She discovered the element polonium and called it after her native country Poland. In her childhood Polish territory is still occupied by Russia. Women are not admitted to university, which is why Marie resorts to the clandestine Flying University of Warsaw. Penniless she works like a woman possessed. The title of one of Marie Curie’s biographies is ‘Obsessive Genius’. In this book one can read that she controls her depressive nature by unrestrained activity.

In 1891 she moves to Paris. As a nanny she has earned enough money to study mathematics, physics and chemistry at the Sorbonne. She focuses on the mysterious phenomenon of radioactivity. In Paris she also meets Pierre Curie. She not only marries him, but also devotes her life with him to science. Together they are awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903, according to the motivation ‘in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel’. Marie Curie is the first woman to have received a Nobel Prize, but in 1911 she will be awarded another one, for a different discipline: chemistry. The ceremony , however, is overshadowed by her affair with a married family man, fellow scientist Paul Langevin. She is named and shamed by the press.

In 1911 Pierre Curie has been dead for five years. Alone with his thoughts he was run over in Paris by a horse and cart near the Pont Neuf. He and Marie had two daughters. The youngest, Ève, becomes a pianist and a writer, among other things of a biography of her mother.  Ève died in 2007 at the age of 102, after having survived her father by more than a century.

Just like her mother Irène Curie was awarded a Nobel Prize, also together with her husband. Following in the footsteps of her parents Irène Curie focused on nuclear physics. But the parallel with her mother goes further, even in death. Both died of leukaemia, probably as a result of continued exposition to radioactive radiation. Marie Curie was 66 when she died, her daughter Irène only 58. If men can  become heroes by exposing themselves to the dangers of war, mother and daughter Curie have found their fatal heroism in science.

It is cruel irony that it was the Curies who have contributed greatly to the fight against cancer cells. Marie remained indifferent to the harmful consequences of radioactivity for a long time. Even when deep cracks covered her hands and she had almost turned blind, she refused to acknowledge the dangers of radioactivity.

In 1995 the bodies of Marie Curie and her husband were placed in the Panthéon in Paris, in the presence of president François Mitterrand and his Polish counterpart Lech Walesa. Another feminist achievement is that Marie Curie is the first woman to get a place in this holy sanctum of the French dead for her own merits.

This is a tribute that was never paid to Lise Meitner. This physicist is also called the ‘German Madame Curie’, though she was from Austrian-Jewish descent. She did groundbreaking research in the field of nuclear physics, but like Marie Curie she was to be found behind the trenches during the Great War. Her field of activity was Galicia on the eastern front, where she fanatically X-rayed wounded front-line soldiers as a röntgen nurse.

Mother and daughter Curie had left for the front at an early stage to assist the medical service. We still have a beautiful photo of the then 18-year-old Irène Curie from the autumn of 1915. The picture is taken in the Flemish town of Hoogstade. Irène Curie, dressed in a nurse’s uniform, is standing on the step of a medical mobile vehicle with the words Service Radiologique written on it. She is flanked by two men with moustaches.

Eventually the French army had 140 mobile vehicles like this, which were nicknamed ‘little curies’. It is a word which is alien to the war. ‘Little curie’ sounds like tenderness and care, though it may be argued that prompt treatment of wounded soldiers on the basis of technologically advanced diagnostics served only one purpose, patching up the poor sods for battle.

Next week: Bernhard von Bülow

Tom Tacken (translation Peter Veltman)

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