AmOF course, as soon as there was a prospect of war, the Embassy was overrun with Americans. Few Americans had taken the precaution of travelling with passports, and passports had become a necessity. All of the Embassy force and all the volunteers that I could prevail upon to serve, even a child of eleven years old, who was stopping in the house with us, were taking applications of the Americans who literally in thousands crowded the Wilhelm Platz in front of the Embassy.
The question of money became acute. Travellers who had letters of credit and bank checks for large sums could not get a cent of money in Germany. The American Express Company, I believe, paid all holders of its checks. When, with Mr. Wolf, President of the American Association of Commerce and Trade in Berlin, I called upon the director of the Imperial Bank and begged him to arrange something for the relief of American travellers in Germany, he refused to do anything; and I then suggested to him that he might give paper money; which they were then printing in Germany, to the Americans for good American credits such as letters of credit and bank checks, and that they would then have a credit in America which might become very valuable in the future. He, however, refused to see this. Director Herbert Gutmann of the Dresdener Bank was the far-seeing banker who relieved the situation. Gutmann arranged with me that the Dresdener Bank, the second largest bank in Germany, would cash the bank checks, letters of credit and the American Express Company’s drafts and international business checks, etc., of Americans for reason-able amounts, provided the Embassy seal was put on the letter of credit or check to show that the holder was an American, and, outside of Berlin, the seal of the American Consulate. This immediately relieved the situation.
With the exception of Mr. Wolf who was, however, quite busy with his own affairs, I had no American Committees such as were organised in London and Paris to help me in Berlin. In Munich, however, the Americans there organised themselves into an efficient committee.
Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Pulitzer were in Berlin and immediately went to work in our Embassy. Mr. Pulitzer busied himself at giving out passports and Mrs. Pulitzer proved herself a very efficient worker. She and Mrs. Ruddock, wife of our Third Secretary, and Mrs. Gherhardi, wife of the Naval Attaché, with Mrs. Gerard formed a sort of relief committee to look after the Americans who were without help or resources.
I arranged, with the very efficient help of Lanier Winslow, for special trains to carry the Americans in Germany to Holland. Trains were run from Switzerland, Munich and Carlsbad across Germany to Holland, and from Berlin were run a number of trains to Holland.
The first room on entering the Embassy was the ticket office, and there, first Mr. Winslow, and afterwards Captain Fenton, sold tickets, giving tickets free to those who were certified to be without funds by the committee of Mrs. Pulitzer and Mrs. Gerard. This committee worked on the second floor of the Embassy in the ballroom, part of it being roped off to keep the crowds back from the ladies.
Each week I bought a number of steerage passages from the Holland American Line and the ladies resold them in the ballroom. We had to do this because the Holland American Line had no licence to sell steerage tickets in Germany; but by buying two or three hundred at a time direct from the Company, I was enabled to peddle them out in our ballroom to those Americans who, in their eagerness to reach their own country, were willing to endure the discomforts of travel in the steerage.
Winslow accompanied one special train to Holland, and I must say that I sympathised with him when I learned of what he had to do in the way of chasing lost hand baggage and finding milk for crying babies.
These special trains were started from the Charlottenburg station, in a quiet part of Berlin so that no crowd was attracted by the departure of the Americans. The Carlsbad train went through very successfully, taking the Americans who had been shut up in Carlsbad since the commencement of the war.
One of the curious developments of this time was a meeting of sympathy for the Americans stranded in Germany, held in the town hall of Berlin on the eleventh of August. This meeting was commenced in one of the meeting rooms of the town hall, but so many people attended that we were compelled to adjourn to the great hall. There speeches were made by the over-Burgomaster, von Gwinner, Professor von Harnack and me. Another professor, who spoke excellent English, with an English accent, made a bitter attack upon Great Britain. In the pamphlet in which the speeches of Harnack and the over-Burgomaster were published this professor’s speech was left out. In his speech stating the object of the meeting, the over-Burgomaster said: “Since we hear that a large number of American citizens in the German Empire, and, especially, in Berlin, find themselves in embarrassments due to the shutting off of means of return to their own country, we here solemnly declare it to be our duty to care for them as brethren to the limit of our ability, and we appeal to all citizens of Berlin and the whole of the German Empire to co-operate with us to this end.”
Professor von Harnack, head of the Royal Library in Berlin, is one of the ablest of the German professors. In his speech he gave expression to the feeling that was prevalent in the first days of the war that Germany was defending itself against a Russian invasion which threatened to blot out the German Kultur. He said, after referring to Western civilisation : “But in the face of this civilisation, there arises now before my eyes another civilisation, the civilisation of the tribe, with its patriarchal organisation, the civilisation of the horde that is gathered and kept together by despots,–the Mongolian Muscovite civilisation. This civilisation could not endure the light of the eighteenth century, still less the light of the nineteenth century, and now in the twentieth century it breaks loose and threatens us. This unorganised Asiatic mass, like the desert with its sands, wants to gather up our fields of grain.”
Nothing was done for the Americans stranded in Germany by the Germans with the exception of the arrangements for the payment of funds by the Dresdener Bank on the letters of credit and the dispatching of special trains by the railroad department of the German government. As a matter of fact, nothing more could have been required of the Germans, as it was naturally the duty of the American government to take care of its citizens stranded abroad.
Almost the instant that war was declared, I cabled to our government suggesting that a ship should be sent over with gold because, of course, with gold, no matter what the country, necessaries can always be bought. Rumours of the dispatch of the Tennessee and other ships from America, reached Berlin and a great number of the more ignorant of the Americans got to believe that these ships were being sent over to take Americans home.
One morning an American woman spoke to me and said she would consent to go home on one of these ships provided she was given a state-room with a bath and Walker-Gordon milk for her children, while another woman of German extraction used to sit for hours in a corner of the ballroom, occasionally exclaiming aloud with much feeling, “O God, will them ships never come?”
In these first days of the war we also made a card index of all the Americans in Berlin, and, so far as possible, in Germany; in order to weed out those who had received the passports in the first days when possibly some people not entitled to them received them, and to find the deserving cases. All Americans were required to present themselves at the Embassy and answer a few questions, after which, if everything seemed all right, their passports were marked “recommended for transportation to America.”
I sent out circulars from time to time to the consuls throughout Germany giving general instructions with regard to the treatment of Americans. The following circular sent out on August twelfth is a sample :
“AMERICAN EMBASSY, BERLIN, August I2, 1914,
“To the Consular Representatives of the United States in Germany, and for the general information of American Citizens.
“A communication will tomorrow be published in the Berlin Lokal Anzeiger regarding the sending of a special train to the Dutch frontier for the special conveyance of Americans. Other trains will probably be arranged for from time to time. No further news has been received regarding the sending of transports from the United States, but applications for repatriation are being considered by the Embassy and the various consular offices throughout Germany according to the Embassy’s last circular and the announcements published in the Lokal Anzeiger.
“All Americans leaving Berlin must have their pass-ports stamped by the Foreign Office, for which purpose they should apply to Geheimer Legationsrat Dr. Eckhardt at Wilhelmstrasse 76. Americans residing outside of Berlin should ascertain from their respective consular representatives what steps they should take in this regard.
“Letters for the United States may be sent to the Embassy and will be forwarded at the first opportunity.
“German subjects who desire to communicate with friends in Great Britain, Russia, France or Belgium, or who desire to send money, should make their requests to the Imperial Foreign Office. Americans are permitted to enter Italy. The steamers of the Italian lines are running at present, but are full for some time in advance. The Embassy is also informed that the steamer from Vlissingen, Holland, runs daily at 11 A M. The Ambassador cannot, however, recommend Americans to try to reach Holland by the ordinary schedule trains, as he has received reports of delays en route, owing to the fact that all civil travellers .are ejected from trains when troops require accommodations. It is better to wait for special trains arranged for by the Embassy.
“The Dresdener Bank and its branches throughout Germany will cash for Americans only letters of credit i and checks issued by good American banks in limited amounts. Included in this category are the checks of the Bankers’ Association, Bankers’ Trust Company, Inter-national Mercantile Marine Company, and American Express Company. All checks and letters of credit must, however, be stamped by American consuls, and consuls must see that the consular stamp is affixed to those checks and letters of credit only as are the bona fide property of American citizens. The Commerz & Disconto Bank makes the same offer and the Deutsche Bank will cash checks and letters of credit drawn by its correspondents.
“American consular officers may also draw later on the Dresdener Bank for their salaries and the official expenses of their consulates. Before drawing such funds from the bank, however, all consular officers should submit their expense accounts to me for approval. These expense accounts should be transmitted to the Embassy at the earliest opportunity.
It will be noticed from the above circular that all Americans were required to have their passports stamped at the Foreign Office. One American did not receive back his passport, although he had left it at the Foreign Office. The Foreign Office claimed that it had delivered the passport to some one from the Embassy, but we were not very much surprised when this identical passport turned up later in the possession of Lodi, the confessed German spy, who was shot in the Tower of London.
After a time the American Government cabled me to advance money to destitute Americans; and the ladies in the ballroom, with their assistants, attended to this branch, advancing money where needed or so much as a person needed to make up the balance of passage on steerage tickets from Holland to the United States. At the same time we gradually built up a banking system. Those in the United States who had friends or relatives in Germany sent them money by giving the money to our State Department, and the State Department in turn cabled me to make a payment. This payment was made by my drawing a draft for the amount stated on the State Department, the recipient selling this draft at a fixed rate to the Deutsche Bank in Berlin. This business assumed great proportions, and after the Americans who were in a hurry to go home had disappeared, the ones remaining were kept in funds by their friends and relatives through this sort of bank under our management.
On August twenty-third, Assistant Secretary of War Breckenridge, who had come from America on the warship Tennessee, bringing gold with him, and a certain number of army officers, arrived in Berlin and took over our relief organisation in so far as it applied to the repatriation of Americans, housing it in rooms hired in a nearby hotel, the Kaiserhoff. This commission was composed of Majors J. A. Ryan, J. H. Ford and G. W. Martin and Captains Miller and Fenton, but the relief committee and the banking office were still continued in the Embassy ballroom.
A bulletin was published under the auspices of the American Association of Commerce and Trade and the advice there given was that all Americans having the means to leave should do so when the opportunity for leaving by special trains was presented, and proceed direct to London whence they could obtain transportation to the United States. All Americans without means were directed to apply to the relief commission which was authorized to pay for the transportation and subsistence of stranded Americans in order to enable them to return home.
The enormous quantity of baggage left behind by Americans in Germany was a problem requiring solution.
In spite of repeated advice to leave, many Americans insisted on remaining in Germany. Few of them were business people; there were many song-birds, piano players, and students. We had much trouble with these belated Americans. For example, one woman and her daughter refused to leave when advised, but stayed on and ran up bills for over ten thousand marks; and as arrest for debt exists in Germany, they could not leave when they finally decided to go. All of us in the Embassy had to subscribe the money necessary to pay their most pressing debts and they finally left the country, leaving an added prejudice against Americans.