FEW days after the events narrated in Chapter XII, von Jagow called to see me at the Embassy and invited me to visit the Emperor at the Great General Head-quarters; but he did not state why I was asked, and I do not know to this day whether the Chancellor and those surrounding the Emperor had determined on a temporary settlement of the submarine question with the United States and wished to put that settlement out, as it were, under the protection of the Emperor, or whether the Emperor was undecided and those in favour of peace wished me to present to him the American side of the question. I incline to the latter view. Von Jagow informed me that an officer from the Foreign Office would accompany me and that I should be allowed to take a secretary and the huntsman (Leibjaeger), without whom no Ambassador ever travels in Germany.
Mr. Grew, our counsellor, was very anxious to go and I felt on account of his excellent work, as well as his seniority, that he was entitled to be chosen. Lieutenant von Prittwitz, who was attached to the Foreign Office as a sort of special aide to von Jagow, was detailed to accom-, pally us. ‘We were given a special salon car and left on the evening of Friday, April twenty-eighth. As we neared the front by way of the line running through Saar Bracken, our train was often halted because of long trains of hospital cars on their way from the front to the base hospitals in the rear; and as we entered France there were many evidences of the obstinate fights which had raged in this part of the country in August, 1914. Parts of the towns and villages which we passed were in ruins, and rough trench lines were to be discerned on some of the hillsides. At the stations, weeping French women dressed in black were not uncommon sights, having just heard perhaps of the death, months before, of a husband, sweet-heart or son who had been mobilised with the French army.
The fortress city of Metz through which we passed seemed to be as animated as a beehive. Trains were continuously passing. Artillery was to be seen on the roads and automobiles were hurrying to and fro.
The Great General Headquarters of the Kaiser for the Western Front is in the town of Charleville-Mézières, situated on the Meuse in the Department of the Ardennes, which Department at that time was the only French Department wholly in the possession of the Germans. We were received at the railway station by several officers and escorted in one of the Kaiser’s automobiles, which had been set apart for my use, to a villa in the town of Charleville, owned by a French manufacturer named Perin. This pretty little red brick villa had been christened by the Germans, “Sachsen Villa,” because it had been occupied by the King of Saxony when he had visited the Kaiser. A French family servant and an old gardener had been left in the villa, but for the few meals which we took there two of the Emperor’s body huntsmen had been assigned, and they brought with them some of the Emperor’s silver and china.
The Emperor had been occupying a large villa in the town of Charleville until a few days before our arrival. After the engineer of his private train had been killed in the railway station by a bomb dropped from a French aeroplane, and after another bomb had dropped within a hundred yards of the villa occupied by the Kaiser, he moved to a red brick château situated on a hill outside of Charleville, mown as either the Château Bellevue or Bellaire.
Nearly every day during our stay, we lunched and dined with von Bethmann-Hollweg in the villa of a French banker, which he occupied. About ten people were present at these dinners, the Chancellor’s son-in-law, Zech, Prittwitz, two experts in international law, both attached to the Foreign Office, and, at two dinners, von Treutler, the Prussian Minister to Bavaria, who had been assigned to represent the Foreign Office near the person of the Kaiser and Helfferich who, towards the end of our stay, had been summoned from Berlin.
I had been working hard at German and as von Bethmann-Hollweg does not like to talk English and as some of these persons did not speak that language we tried to carry on the table conversation in German, but I know that when I tried to explain, in German, to Helfferich the various tax systems of America, I swam out far beyond my linguistic depth.
During our stay here I received cables from the Department of State which were transmitted from Berlin in cipher, and which Grew was able to decipher as he had brought a code book with him. In one of these it was expressly intimated that in any settlement of the submarine controversy America would make no distinction between armed and unarmed merchant ships.
We formed for a while quite a happy family. The French owner’s of the villa seemed to have had a fondness for mechanical toys. After dinner every night these toys were set going, much to the amusement of von Bethmann-Hollweg. One of these toys, about two feet high, was a Hoochi-Koochi dancer and another successful one was a clown and a trained pig, both climbing a step ladder and performing marvellous feats thereon. Grew, who is an excellent musician, played the piano for the Chancellor and at his special request played pieces by Bach, the favourite composer of von Bethmann-Hollweg’s deceased wife. One day we had tea in the garden of the villa formerly occupied by the Emperor, with the Prince of Pless (who is always with the Kaiser, and who seemed to be a prime favourite with him), von Treutler and others, and motored with Prince Pless to see some marvellous Himalayan pheasants reared by an old Frenchman, an ex-jailer, who seemed to have a strong instinct to keep something in captivity.
The Kaiser’s automobile, which he had placed at my disposal, had two loaded rifles standing upright in racks at the right and left sides of the car, ready for instant use. On one day we motored, always, of course, in charge of the officers detailed to take care of us, to the ancient walled ‘city of Rocroy and through the beautiful part of the Ardennes forest lying to the east of it, returning to Charleville along the heights above the valley of the Meuse.
The feeding of the French population, which is carried on by the American Relief Commission, was a very interesting thing to see and, in company with one of the members of the French committee, we saw the workings of this system of American Relief. We first visited a storehouse in Charleville, the headquarters for the relief district of which Charleville may be called the capital.
For relief purposes Northern France is divided into six districts. From the central distribution point in each district, food is sent to the commune within the district, the commune being the ultimate unit of distribution and each commune containing on the average about five hundred souls. We then motored to one of the communes where the distribution of food for the week was to take place that afternoon. Here in a factory, closed since the war, the people of the commune were lined up with their baskets waiting for their share of the rations. On entering a large room of the factory, each stopped first at a desk and there either paid in cash for the week’s al lowance of rations or signed an agreement to pay at some future date. The individuals who had no prospect of being able to pay received the rations for nothing. About one-third were in each class. The money used was not always French, pr real money, but was, as a rule, the paper money issued in that part of Northern France by each town and redeemable after the war.
Signs were hung up showing the quantity that each person was entitled to receive for the next fifteen days and the sale price per kilo to each inhabitant. For in-stance, in this particular period for the first fifteen days of the month of May, 1916, each inhabitant could, in this district, receive the following allowances at the following rates.
In addition to these articles each inhabitant of the commune which we visited, also received on the day of our visit a small quantity of carrot seed to plant in the small plot of ground which each was permitted to retain out of his own land by the German authorities.
The unfortunate people who received this allowance looked very poor and very hungry and very miserable. Many of them spoke to me, not only here but also in Charleville, and expressed their great gratitude to the American people for what was being done for them. Those in Charleville said that they had heard that I was in their town because of trouble pending between America and Germany. They said they hoped that there would be no war between the two countries because if war came they did not know what would become of them and that, in the confusion of war, they would surely be left to starve.
In Charleville notices were posted directing the in-habitants not to go out on the streets after, I think, eight o’clock in the evening, and also notices informing the population that they would be allowed a small quantity of their own land for the purpose of growing potatoes.
After visiting the factory building where the distribution of rations was taking place, we motored to Sedan, stopping on the way at the hamlet of Bazeilles, and visiting the cottage where Bismarck and Emperor Napoleon the Third had their historic interview after the battle of Sedan.
The old lady who owns this house received us and showed us bullet marks made on her house in the war of 187o, as well as in the present war. She apologised be-cause she had had the window-pane, broken by a rifle shot in this war, replaced on account of the cold. As a girl, she had received Bismarck and Napoleon and had shown them to the room upstairs where they had held their consultation. I asked her which chair in this room Bismarck had sat in, and sat in it myself, for luck. I also contributed to the collection of gold pieces given to her by those who had visited her cottage.
In Sedan we visited an old mill where stores of the relief commission were kept, and in the mayor’s office were present at a sort of consultation between the Prussian officers and members of the French Committee of Sedan in which certain details relative to the feeding of the population were discussed.
The relief work is not, of course, carried on right up to the battle line but we visited a small village not many kilometres in the rear of the German line. In this village we were, as before, shown the stores kept for distribution by the relief commission. As there were many soldiers in this village I said I thought that these soldiers must have stores of their own but, in order to be sure that they were not living on the supplies of the relief commission, I thought it only fair that I should see where the soldiers’ stores were kept. I was taken across the railroad track to where their stores were kept and, judging from the labels on the barrels and boxes, I should say that a great many of these stores had come from Holland.
During this trip about the country, I saw a number of women and girls working, or attempting to work, in the fields. Their appearance was so different from that of the usual peasant that I spoke to the accompanying officers about it. I was told, however, that these were the peasants of the locality who dressed unusually well in that part of France. Later on in Charleville, at the lodging of an officer and with Count Wengersky, who was detailed to act as sort; of interpreter and guide to the American Relief Commission workers, I met the members of the American Relief Commission who were working in Northern France and who had been brought on a special train for the purpose of seeing me to Charleville. This Count Wengersky spoke English well. Having been for a number of years agent of the Hamburg American Line in London, he was used to dealing with Americans and was possessed of more tact than usually falls to the lot of the average Prussian officer. We had tea and cakes in these lodgings, and then some of the Americans drew me aside and! told me the secret of the peculiar looking peasants whom I had seen at work in the fields surrounding Charleville.
It seems that the Germans had endeavoured to get volunteers from the great industrial towns of Lille, Roubeix and Tourcoing to work these fields; that after the posting of the notices calling for volunteers only fourteen had appeared. The Germans then gave orders to seize a certain number of inhabitants and send them out to farms in the outlying districts to engage in agricultural work. The Americans told me that this order was carried out with the greatest barbarity; that a man would come- home at night and find that his wife or children had disappeared and no one could tell him where they had gone except that the neighbours would relate that the German non-commissioned officers and a file of soldiers had carried them off. For instance, in a house of a well-to-do merchant who had perhaps two daughters of fifteen and seventeen, and a man servant, the two daughters and the servant would be seized and sent off together to work for the Germans in some little farm house whose location was not disclosed to the parents. The Americans told me that this sort of thing was causing such indignation among the population of these towns that they feared a great uprising and a consequent slaughter and burning by the Germans.
That night at dinner I spoke to von Bethmann-Hollweg about this and told him that it seemed to me absolutely outrageous; and that, without consulting with my government, I was prepared to protest in the name of humanity against a continuance of this treatment of the civil population of occupied France. The Chancellor told me that he had not known of it, that it was the result of orders given by the military, that he would speak to the Emperor about it and that he hoped to be able to stop further deportations. I believe that they were stopped, but twenty thousand or more who had been taken from their homes were not returned until months afterwards. I said in a speech which I made in May on my return to America that it required the joint efforts of the Pope, the King of Spain and our President to cause the return of these people to their homes; and I then saw that some German press agency had come out with an article that I had made false statements about this matter because these people were not returned to their homes as a result of the representations of the Pope, the King of Spain and our President, but were sent back because the Germans had no further use for them. It seems to me that this denial makes the case rather worse than before.
At the Chancellor’s house in the evenings we had discussions on the submarine situation and I had several long talks with von Bethmann-Hollweg alone in a corner of the room while the others listened to music or set the mechanical toys in motion. These discussions, without doubt, were reported to the Emperor either by the Chancellor or by von Treutler who at that time was high in favor with his Majesty.
I remember on one evening I was asked the question as to what America could do, supposing the almost impossible, that America should resent the recommencement of ruthless submarine warfare by the Germans and declare war. I said that nearly all of the great inventions used in this war had been made by Americans; that the very sub-marine which formed the basis of our discussion was an American invention, and so were the barbed wire and the aeroplane, the ironclad, the telephone and the telegraph, so necessary to trench warfare; that even that method of warfare had been first developed on something of the present scale in our Civil War; and that I believed that, if forced to it, American genius could produce some invention which might have a decisive effect in this war. My German auditors seemed inclined to believe that there was something in my contentions. But they said, “While possibly you might invent something in America, while possibly you will furnish money and supplies to the Allies, you have no men; and the public sentiment of your country is such that you will not be able to raise an army large enough to make any impression.” I said that possibly if hostilities once broke out with the Germans, the Germans might force us by the commission of such acts as had aroused Great Britain, to pass a law for universal military service. This proposition of mine, was branded by the Germans as absolutely impossible; and, therefore, I am sure that the adoption by the United States of universal service in the first round of the war struck a very severe blow at the morale of Germany.
Von Bethmann-Hollweg always desired to make any settlement of the submarine question contingent upon our doing something against Great Britain; but I again and again insisted that we could not agree to do anything against some other power as a condition of obtaining a recognition of our rights from the German Empire.
During my stay at the General Headquarters, General Falkenhayn, although he was there at the time, carefully avoided me, which I took to be a sign that he was in favour of war with America. In fact, I heard afterwards that he had insisted on giving his views on the subject, but that a very high authority had told him to confine him-self to military operations.
After we had been a day or so at Charleville, the Vice-Chancellor, Helfferich, arrived. I have always believed that he was sent for to add his weight to the arguments in favour of peace and to point out that it was necessary for Germany to have the friendship of America after the war, so as to have markets where she could place her goods. And I am convinced that at this time, at any rate, the influence of Helfferich was cast in the scale in favour of peace.
Finally, I was told that on the next day, which was Monday, May 1st, I was to lunch with the Emperor. Grew was invited to accompany me, and von Bethmann-Hollweg said that he would call for me about an hour before the time set for lunch as the Emperor desired to have a talk with me before lunch. In the afternoon an extract from the log of a German submarine commander was sent to me in which the submarine commander had stated that he had sighted a vessel which he could easily have torpedoed, but as the vessel was one hundred and twenty miles from land, he had not done so because the crew might not be able from that distance to reach a harbour. When the Chancellor called for me the following morning, he asked me if I had read this extract from the submarine officer’s log, and noted how he had refrained from torpedoing a boat one hundred and twenty miles from land. I told the Chancellor that I had read the extract, but that I had also read in the newspaper that very morning that a ship had been torpedoed in stormy weather at exactly the same distance from land and the crew compelled to seek safety in the ship’s boats; that, anyway, “one swallow did not make a summer,” and that reports were continually being received of boats being torpedoed at great distances from land.
We then got in the motor and motored to the château about a mile off, where the Kaiser resided. We got out of the motor before going into the courtyard of the château, and immediately I was taken by the Chancellor into a garden on the gently sloping hillside below the château. Here the Emperor, dressed in uniform, was walking.
As I drew near the Emperor, he said immediately, “Do you come like the great pro-consul bearing peace or war in either hand?” By this he referred, of course, to the episode in which Quintus Fabius Maximus, chief of the Roman envoys sent to Hannibal in the Second Punic War, doubled his toga in his hand, held it up and said: “In this fold I carry peace and war: choose which you will have.” “Give us which you prefer,” was the reply. “Then take war,” answered the Roman, letting the toga fall. “We accept the gift,” cried the Carthaginian Senator, “and welcome.”
I said, “No, your Majesty, only hoping that the differences between two friendly nations may be adjusted.” The Emperor then spoke of what he termed the uncourteous tone of our notes, saying that we charged the Germans with barbarism in warfare and that, as Emperor and head of the Church, he had wished to carry on the war in a knightly manner. He referred to his own speech to the members of the Reichstag at the commencement of the war and said that the nations opposed to Germany had used unfair methods and means, that the French especially were not like the French of ’70, but that their officers, instead of being nobles, came from no one knew where. He then referred to the efforts to starve out Germany and keep out milk and said that before he would allow his family and grandchildren to starve he would blow up Windsor Castle and the whole Royal family of England. We then had a long discussion in detail of the whole submarine question, in the course of which the Emperor said that the submarine had come to stay, that it was a weapon recognised by all countries, and that he had seen a picture of a proposed giant submarine in an American paper, the Scientific American. He stated that, anyway, there was no Ionger any international law. To this last statement the Chancellor agreed. He further said that a person on an enemy merchant ship was like a man travelling on a cart behind the battle lines he had no just cause of complaint if injured. He asked me why we had done nothing to Great Britain because of her alleged violations of international law why we had not broken the British blockade.
In addition to the technical arguments based on inter-national law, I answered that no note of the United States had made any general charge of barbarism against Germany; that we complained of the manner of the use of submarines and nothing more; that we could never promise to do anything to Great Britain or to any other country in return for a promise from Germany or any third country to keep the rules of international law and respect the rights and lives of our citizens; that we were only demanding our rights under the recognised rules of inter-national law and it was for us to decide which rights we would enforce first; that, as I had already told the Chancellor, if two men entered my grounds and one stepped on my flowerbeds and the other killed my sister, I should probably first pursue the murderer of my sister; that those travelling on the seas in enemy merchant ships were in a different position from those travelling in a cart be-hind the enemy’s battle lines on land because the land travellers were on enemy’s territory, while those on the sea were on territory which, beyond the three-mile limit, was free and in no sense enemy’s territory. We also discussed the position taken by the German Government in one of the Frye Notes, in which the German expert had taken the position that a cargo of food destined for an armed enemy port was presumed to be for the armies of the enemy, and therefore contraband. The Emperor spoke of the case of the Dacia with some bitterness, but when I went into an explanation the Chancellor joined in the conversation and said that our position was undoubtedly correct. I said that it was not our business to break the blockade that there were plenty of German agents in the United States who could send food ships and test the question; that one ship I knew of, the Wilhelmina, laden with food, had been seized by the British, who then compromised with the owners, paying them, I believed, a large sum for the disputed cargo. And in taking up the doctrine of ultimate destination of goods, i.e., goods sent to a neutral country but really destined for a belligerent, I said I thought that during our Civil War we had taken against Great Britain exactly the same stand which Great Britain now took; and I said I thought that one of the decisions of our Supreme Court was based on a shipment to Matamoros, Mexico, but which the Supreme Court had decided was really for the Confederacy.
Discussing the submarine question, the Emperor and Chancellor spoke of the warning given in the Lusitania case; and I said: “If the Chancellor warns me not to go out on the Wilhelmplatz, where I have a perfect right to go, the fact that he gave the warning does not justify him in killing me if I disregarded his warning and go where I have a right to go.” The conversation then became more general and we finally left the garden and went into the château, where the Emperor’s aides and guests were impatiently waiting for lunch.
This conversation lasted far beyond lunch time. Anxious heads were seen appearing from the windows and terraces of the château to which we finally adjourned. I sat between the Emperor and Prince Pless. Conversation was general for the most of the time, and subjects such as the suffragettes and the peace expedition of Henry Ford were amusingly discussed.
After lunch, I again had a long talk with the Emperor but of a more general nature than the conversation in the garden.
That night about eleven o’clock, after again dining with the Chancellor, we left Charleville in the same special salon car, arriving at Berlin about four P. M. the next day, where at the station were a crowd of German and American newspaper correspondents, all anxious to know what had happened.
At this last dinner at the Chancellor’s he took me off in a corner and said, “As I understand it, what America wants is cruiser warfare on the part of the submarines.” And I said, “Yes, that is it exactly. They may exercise the right of visit and search, must not torpedo or sink vessels without warning, and must not sink any vessel unless the passengers and crew are put in a place of safety,”
On the morning of the third of May, I heard that the German note had been drafted, but that it would contain a clause to the effect that while the German submarines would not go beyond cruiser warfare, this rule, nevertheless, would not apply to armed merchantmen.
As such a proposition as this would, of course, only bring up the subject again, I immediately ordered my automobile and called on the Spanish Ambassador, stating to him what I had heard about the contents of the note; that this would mean, without doubt, a break with America ; and that, as I had been instructed to hand the Embassy over to him, I had come to tell him of that fact. I gave the same information to other colleagues, of course hoping that what I said would directly or indirectly reach the ears of the German Foreign Office. Whether it did or not, I do not know, but the Sussex Note when received did not contain any exception with reference to armed merchantmen.
With the receipt of the Sussex Note and the President’s answer thereto, which declined assent to the claim of Germany to define its attitude toward our rights in accordance with what we might do in regard to the enforcement of our rights against Great Britain, the sub-marine question seemed, at least for the moment, settled. I, however, immediately warned the Department that I believed that the rulers of Germany would at some future date, forced by public opinion, and by the von Tirpitz and Conservative parties, take up ruthless submarine war again, possibly in the autumn but at any rate about February or March, 1917.
In my last conversation with von Bethmann-Hollweg before leaving the Great General Headquarters, when he referred to the cruiser warfare of the submarines, he also said, “I hope now that if we settle this matter your President will be great enough to take up the question of peace.” It was as a result of intimations from government circles that, after my return to Berlin, I gave an interview to a representative of a Munich newspaper, ex-pressing my faith in the coming of peace, although I was careful to say that it might he a matter of months or even years.
Thereafter, on many occasions the Chancellor impressed upon me the fact that America must do some-thing towards arranging a peace and that if nothing was done to this end, public opinion in Germany would undoubtedly force a resumption of a ruthless submarine war.
In September of 1916, I having mentioned that Mrs. Gerard was going to the United States on a short visit, von Jagow insistently urged me to go also in order to make every effort to induce the President to do some-thing towards peace; and, as a result of his urging and as a result of my own desire to make the situation clear in America, I sailed from Copenhagen on the twenty-eighth of September with Mrs. Gerard, on the Danish ship, Frederick VIII, bound for New York. I had spent almost three years in Berlin, having been absent during that time from the city only five or six days at Kiel and two week-ends in Silesia in 1914, with two weeks at Munich in the autumn, two days at Munich and two days at Parten-Kirchen in 1916, and two week-ends at Heringsdorf, in the summer of the same year, with visits to British prison camps scattered through the two and a half years of war.
On the Frederick VIII were Messrs. Herbert Swope of the New York World and William C. Bullitt of the Philadelphia Ledger, who had been spending some time in Germany. I impressed upon each of these gentlemen my fixed belief that Germany intended shortly, unless some definite move was made toward peace, to commence ruthless submarine war; and they made this view clear in the articles which they wrote for their respective news-papers.
Mr. Swope’s articles which appeared in the New York World were immediately republished by him in a book called “Inside the German Empire. In Mr- Swope’s book on page ninety-four, he says, “The campaign for the ruthless U-boat warfare is regarded by one man in this country who speaks with the highest German authority, as being in the nature of a threat intended to accelerate and force upon us a movement toward peace. Ambassador Gerard had his attention drawn to this just before he left Berlin but he declined to accept the interpretation.
On page eighty-eight he writes, “Our Embassy in Berlin expected just such a demonstration as was given by the U-53 in October when she sank six vessels off Nantucket, as a lesson of what Germany could do in our waters if war came.”
On page seventy-four he says further, “Throughout Germany the objection for the resumption of ruthless U-boat warfare of the Lusitania type grows stronger day by day. The Chancellor is holding out against it, but how long he can restrain it no one can say. I left Germany convinced that only peace could prevent its resumption. And the same opinion is held by every German with whom I spoke, and it is held also by Ambassador Gerard. The possibility was so menacing that the principal cause of the Ambassador’s return in October was that he might report to Washington. The point was set out in press despatches at that time.”
I wrote a preface to Mr. Swope’s book for the ex-press purpose of informing the American public in this way that I believed that Germany intended at an early date to resume the ruthless U-boat warfare.
Our trip home on the Frederick VIII was without incident except for the fact that on the ninth day of October, Swope came to the door of my stateroom about twelve o’clock at night and informed me that the captain had told him to tell me that the wireless had brought the news that German submarines were operating directly ahead of us and had just sunk six ships in the neighbourhood of Nantucket. I imagine that the captain slightly changed the course of our ship, but next day the odour of burning oil was quite noticeable for hours.
These Danish ships in making the trip from Copenhagen to New York were compelled to put in at the port of Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands, north of Scotland, where the ship was searched by the British authorities. On the occasion of our visit to Kirkwall, on this trip, a Swede, who had been so foolish as to make a sketch of the harbour and defences of Kirkwall from the top deck of the Frederick VIII, was taken off the boat by the British. The British had very cleverly spotted him doing this from the shore or a neighbouring boat, through a telescope.
Ships can enter Kirkwall only by daylight and at six o’clock every evening trawlers draw a net across the en-trance to the harbour as a protection against submarines. A passage through this net is not opened until daylight the following morning.
Captain Thomson of the Frederick VIII, the ship which carried us to America and back to Copenhagen, by his evident mastery of his profession gave to all of his passengers a feeling of confidence on the somewhat perilous voyage in those dangerous waters.
When I reached America, on October eleventh, I was given a most flattering reception and the freedom of the City of New York. Within a few days after my arrival, the President sent for me to visit him at Shadow Lawn, at Long Branch, and I was with him for over four hours and a quarter in our first conference. I saw him, of course, after the election, before returning to Germany, and in fact sailed on the fourth of December at his special request.
Before I left I was impressed with the idea that he de-sired above all things both to keep and to make peace. Of course, this question of making peace is a very delicate one. A direct offer on our part might have subjected us to the same treatment which we gave Great Britain during our Civil War when Great Britain made overtures looking towards the establishment of peace, and the North answered, practically telling the British Government that it could attend to its own business, that it would brook no interference and would regard further overtures as unfriendly acts.
The Germans started this war without any consultation with the United States, and then seemed to think that they had a right to demand that the United States make peace for them on such terms and at such time as they chose; and that the failure to do so gave them a vested right to break all the laws of warfare against their enemies and to murder the citizens of the United States on the high seas, in violation of the declared principles of international law.
Nevertheless, I think that the inclination of the President was to go very far towards the forcing of peace.
Our trip from New York to Copenhagen was uneventful, cold and dark. We were captured by a British cruiser west of the Orkneys and taken in for the usual search to the port of Kirkwall where we remained two days.
The President Impressed upon me his great interest in the Belgians deported to Germany. The action of Germany in thus carrying a great part of the male population of Belgium into virtual slavery had roused great indignation in America. As the revered Cardinal Far-ley said to me a few days before my departure, “You have to go back to the time of the Medes and the Persians to find a like example of a whole people carried into bondage.”
Mr. Grew had made representations about this to the Chancellor and, on my return, I immediately took up the question.
I was informed that it was a military measure, that Ludendorf had feared that the British would break through and overrun Belgium and that the military did not propose to have a hostile population at their backs who might cut the rail lines of communication, telephones and telegraphs; and that for this reason the deportation had been decided on. I was, however, told that I would be given permission to visit these Belgians. The passes, nevertheless, which alone made such visiting possible were not delivered until a few days before I left Germany.
Several of these Belgians who were put at work in Berlin managed to get away and come to see me. They gave me a harrowing account of how they had been seized in Belgium and made to work in Germany at making munitions to be used probably against their own friends. I said to the Chancellor, “There are Belgians employed in making shells contrary to all rules of war and the Hague conventions.” He said, “I do not believe it.” I said, “My automobile is at the door. I can take you, in four minutes, to where thirty Belgians are working on the manufacture of shells.” But he did not find time to go.
Americans must understand that the Germans will stop at nothing to win this war, and that the only thing they respect is force.
While I was in America von Jagow, as had been predicted by his enemies in Berlin, had fallen and Zimmermann had been given his place.
I remained a day in Copenhagen, in order to arrange for the transportation to Germany of the three tons of food which I had brought from New York, and, also, in order to lunch with Count Rantzau, the German Minister, a most able diplomat.
Therefore, the President’s peace note arrived in Berlin just ahead of me and was delivered by Mr. Grew a few hours before my arrival. Joseph C. Grew, of Boston, was next in command during all my stay in Berlin. He most ably carried on the work of the Embassy during my absence on the trip to America, in the autumn of 1916; and at all times was of the greatest assistance to me. I hope to see him go far in his career.
This note was dated December eighteenth, 1916, and was addressed by the Secretary of State to the American Ambassadors at the capitals of the belligerent powers. It commenced as follows: “The President directs me to send you the following communication to be presented immediately to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the government to which you are accredited.
“The President of the United States has instructed me to suggest to the (here is inserted a designation of the government addressed) a course of action in regard to the present war which he hopes that the government will take under consideration as suggested in the most friendly spirit, etc.”
In the note which was sent to the Central Powers it was stated : “The suggestion which I am instructed to make, the President has long had it in mind to offer. He is somewhat embarrassed to offer it at this particular time because it may now seem to have been prompted by a desire to play a part in connection with the recent overtures of the Central Powers.”
Of course, the President thus referred to the address made by Bethmann-Hollweg in the Reichstag in December, in which, after reviewing generally the military situation, the Chancellor said: “In a deep moral and religious sense of duty towards this nation and beyond it towards humanity, the Emperor now considers that the moment has come for official action towards peace. His Majesty, therefore, in complete harmony and in common with our Allies decided to propose to the hostile powers to enter peace negotiations.” And the Chancellor continued, saying that a note to this effect had been transmitted that morning io all hostile powers, through the representatives of these powers to whom the interests and rights of Germany in the enemy States had been entrusted; and that, therefore, the representatives of Spain, the United States and Switzerland had been asked to forward the note.
Coincidently with this speech of the Chancellor’s, which was December twelfth, 1916, the Emperor sent a message to the commanding generals reading as follows : “Soldiers! In agreement with the sovereigns of my Allies and with the consciousness of victory, I have made an offer of peace to the enemy. Whether it will be accepted is still uncertain. Until that moment arrives you will fight on.”
I return to the President’s note.
The President suggested that early occasion be sought to call out from all the nations now at war an avowal of their respective views as to the terms upon which the war might be concluded, and the arrangements which would be deemed satisfactory as a guarantee against its renewal.
He called the attention of the world to the fact that according to the statements of the statesmen of the belligerent powers, the objects which all sides had in mind seemed to be the same. And the President finally said that he was not proposing peace, not even offering mediation; but merely proposing that soundings be taken in order that all nations might know how near might be the haven of peace for which all mankind longed.
Shortly after the publication of this note Secretary Lansing gave an interview to the representatives of the American press in which he stated that America was very near war. This interview he later explained.
As soon as possible after my return to Berlin I had interviews with Zimmermann and the Chancellor. Zimmermann said that we were such personal friends that he was sure we could continue ‘to work, as we had in the past, in a frank and open manner, putting all the cards upon the table and working together in the interests of peace. I, of course, agreed to this and it seemed, on the surface, as if everything would go smoothly.
Although the torpedoing without warning of the Marina, while I was in the United States, had resulted in the death of a number of Americans on board, nevertheless there seemed to be an inclination on the part of the government and people of the United States to forget this incident provided Germany would continue to keep her pledges given in the Sussex Note. During all the period of the war in Germany I had been on good terms with the members of the government, namely, von Bethmann-Hollweg, von Jagow, Zimmermann and the other officials of the Foreign Office, as well as with Helfferich, Dr. Solf, the Colonial Minister, Kaempf, the President of the Reichstag and a number of the influential men of Germany such as von Gwinner, of the Deutsche Bank, Gutmann of the Dresdener Bank, Dr. Walter Rathenau, who for a long time was at the head of the department for the supply and conservation of raw materials, General von Kessel, Over-Commander of the Mark of Brandenburg, in spite of many tiffs with him over the treatment of prisoners, Theodor Wolff, editor of the Tageblatt, Professor Stein, Maximilian Harden and many others.
For a long time the fight waged by von Bethmann-Hollweg was America’s fight and a fight for peace, so much so that the newspapers which attacked the Chancellor were the same ones which had attacked President Wilson, America and Americans in general, and which had very often included me in their attacks. During every crisis between America and Germany I had acted with von Jagow and Zimmermann in a most confidential way, looking forward always to one object, namely, the preservation of peace between our respective countries. Many suggestions were made which, I think, materially aided up to that time in the preservation of peace.
The Chancellor and the Foreign Office, however, through sheer weakness did nothing to prevent the insults to our flag and President perpetrated by the “League of Truth” ; although both under the law and the regulations of the “State of Siege” this gang could not operate with-out the consent of the authorities. So far as I was concerned personally, a few extra attacks from tooth carpenters and snake dancers meant nothing, but certainly aroused my interest in the workings of the Teutonic official brain.
On my return every one in official life, von Bethmann-Hollweg, Zimmermann, von Stumm who succeeded Zimmermann, von der Busche, formerly German Minister in the Argentine, who had equal rank with Stumm in the Foreign Office all without exception and in the most convincing language assured me that cases like that of the Marina, for example, were only accidents and that there was every desire on the part of Germany to maintain the pledges given in the Sussex Note.
And the great question to be solved is whether the Germans in making their offers of peace, in begging me to go to America to talk peace to the President, were sincerely anxious for peace, or were only making these general offers of peace in order to excuse in the eyes of the world a resumption of ruthless submarine warfare and to win to their side public opinion in the United States, in case such warfare should be resumed.
Had the decision rested with the Chancellor and with the Foreign Office, instead of with the military, I am sure that the decision would have been against the resumption of this ruthless war. But Germany is not ruled in war time by the civilian power. Hindenburg at the time I left for America was at the head of the General Staff and Ludendorf, who had been Chief of Staff, had been made the Quartermaster General in order that he might follow Hindenburg to General Headquarters.
Hindenburg, shortly before his battle of the Masurian Lakes, was a General living in retirement at Hanover. Because he had for years specialised in the study of this region he was suddenly called to the command of the German army which was opposing the Russian invasions. Ludendorf, who had been Colonel of a regiment at the attack on Liège, was sent with him as his Chief of Staff. The success of Hindenburg in his campaigns is too well known to require recapitulation here. He became the popular idol of Germany, the one general in fact the one man whom the people felt that they could idolise. But shortly before my trip to America an idea was creeping through the mind of the German people leading them to believe that Hindenburg was but the front, and that the brains of the combination had been furnished by Ludendorf. Many Germans in a position to know told me that the real dictator of Germany was Ludendorf.
My trip to America was made principally at the in-stance of von Jagow and the Chancellor, and, in my farewell talk with the Chancellor a few days before leaving, I asked if it could not be arranged, since he was always saying that the civilian power was inferior to that of the military, that I should see Hindenburg and Ludendorf before I left. This proposed meeting he either could not or would not arrange, and shortly after my return I again asked the Chancellor if I could not see, if not the Emperor, at least Hindenburg and Ludendorf, who the Chancellor himself had said were the leaders of the military, and, therefore, the leaders of Germany. Again I was put off.
In the meantime and in spite of the official assurance given to me certain men in Germany, in a position to know, warned me that the government intended to resume ruthless submarine war. Ludendorf, they said, had declared in favour of this war and, according to them, that meant its adoption.
At first I thought that Germany would approach the resumption of ruthless submarine war via the armed merchantman issue.
The case of the Yarrowdale prisoners seemed to bear out this theory. A German raider captured and sunk a number of enemy vessels and sent one of the captured boats, the Yarrowdale, with a prize crew to Swinemunde. On board, held as prisoners, were a number of the crews of the captured vessels; and among those men I learned “under the rose,” were some Americans. The arrival of the Yarrowdale was kept secret for some time, but as soon as I received information of its arrival, I sent note after note to the Foreign Office demanding to know if there were any Americans among the prisoner crews.
For a long time I received no answer, but finally Germany admitted what I knew already, that Americans taken with the crews of captured ships were being held as prisoners of war, the theory of the Germans being that all employed on armed enemy merchant ships were enemy combatants. I supposed that possibly Germany might therefore approach the submarine controversy by this route and claim that armed merchantmen were liable to be sunk without notice.
Instructed by the State Department, I demanded the immediate release of the Yarrowdale prisoners. This was accorded by Germany, but, after the breaking of relations, the prisoners were held back; and it was not until after we left Germany that they were finally released.
I asked permission to visit these prisoners and sent Mr. Ayrault and Mr. Osborne to the place where I knew they were interned. The permission to visit them arrived, but on the same day orders were given to remove the prisoners to other camps. Mr. Osborne and Mr.
Ayrault, however, being on the ground, saw the prisoners before their removal and reported on their conditions.
On January sixth the American Association of Commerce and Trade gave me a dinner at the Hotel Adlon. This was made the occasion of a sort of German-American love-feast. Zimmermann, although he had to go early in the evening to meet the Foreign Minister of Austria-Hungary, was present; Helfferich, Vice-Chancellor and Secretary of the Interior; Dr. Solf, the Colonial Minister; Sydow, Minister of Commerce; Dernburg; von Gwinner of the Deutsche Bank; Gutmann of the Dresdener Bank; Under Secretary von der Busche of the Foreign Office; the Mayor and the Police President of Berlin; the President of the Berlin Chamber of Commerce; Under Secretary von Stumm of the Foreign Office; and many others of that office. There were present also Under Secretary Richter of the Interior Department; Lieu-tenant Colonel Doeutelmoser of the General Staff; the editors and proprietors of the principal newspapers in Berlin; Count Montgelas, who had charge of American affairs in the Foreign Office; naval officers like Captain Lans; the American correspondents in Germany; and Prince Isenburg; rubbing shoulders with the brewers, George Ehret and Krueger, of New York and Newark. ;There were literary lights like Ludwig Fulda, Captain Persius, Professor Hans Delbrück, Dr. Paasche, Vice-President of the Reichstag, and many others equally celebrated as the ones that I have named. Speeches were made by Mr. Wolf, President of the American Association of Commerce and Trade, Helfferich, Zimmermann, von Gwinner and me. A tone of the greatest friendliness prevailed. Zimmermann referred to our personal friendship and said that he was sure that we should be able to manage everything together. Helfferich in his speech said that I, by learning German and studying the life of the German people, was one of the few diplomats that had come to Germany who had learned something of the real life and psychology of the Germans. Von Gwinner made a speech in English that would have done credit to any American after-dinner speaker; and I, in my short address, said that the relations between the two countries had never been better and that so long as my personal friends like Zimmermann and other members of the government, who I named, were in office, I was sure that the good relations between the two countries would be maintained. I spoke also of the sums of money that I had brought back with me for the benefit of the widows and orphans of Germany.
The majority of the German newspapers spoke in a very kindly way about this dinner and about what was said at it. Of course, they all took what I said as an expression of friendliness, and only Reventlow claimed that, by referring to the members of the government, I was interfering in the internal affairs of Germany.
The speeches and, in fact, this dinner constituted a last desperate attempt to preserve friendly relations. Both the reasonable men present and I knew, almost to a certainty, that return to ruthless submarine war had been decided on and that only some lucky chance could prevent the military, backed by the made public opinion, from insisting on a defiance of international law and the laws of humanity.
The day after the dinner von Bethmann-Hollweg sent for me and expressed approval of what I said and thanked me for it and on the surface it seemed as if everything was “as merry as a marriage bell.” Unfortunately, I am afraid that all this was only on the surface, and that perhaps the orders to the submarine commanders to re-commence ruthless war had been given the day preceding this love-feast.
The Germans believed that President Wilson had been elected with a mandate to keep out of war at any cost, and that America could be insulted, flouted and humiliated with impunity.
Even before this dinner we had begun to get rumours of the resumption of ruthless submarine war and within a few days I was cabling to the Department information based not upon absolute facts but upon reports which seemed reliable and which had been collected through the able efforts of our very capable naval attache, Commander Gherardi.
And this information was confirmed by the hints given to me by various influential Germans. Again and again after the sixth of January, I was assured by Zimmermann and others in the Foreign Office that nothing of the kind was contemplated.
Now were the German moves in the direction of peace sincere or not?
From the time when von Bethmann-Hollweg first spoke of peace, I asked him and others what the peace terms of Germany were. I could never get any one to state any definite terms of peace and on several occasions when I asked the Chancellor whether Germany was willing to withdraw from Belgium, he always said, “Yes, but with guarantees.” Finally in January, 1917, when he was again talking of peace, I said, “What are these peace terms to which you refer continually? Will you allow me to ask a few questions as to the specific terms of peace? First are the Germans willing to withdraw from Belgium?” The Chancellor answered, “Yes, but with guarantees.” I said, “What are these guarantees?” He said, “We must possibly have the forts of Liège and Namur; we must have other forts and garrisons throughout Belgium. We must have possession of the railroad lines. We must have possession of the ports and other means of communication. The Belgians will not be allowed to maintain an army, but we must be allowed to retain a large army in Belgium. We must have the commercial control of Belgium.” I said, “I do not see that you have left much for the Belgians except that King Albert will have the right to reside in Brussels with an honor guard.” And the Chancellor said, “We cannot allow Belgium to be an outpost (Vorwerk) of England”; and I said, “I do not suppose the English, on the other hand, wish it to become an outpost of Germany, especially as von Tirpitz has said that the coast of Flanders should be retained in order to make war on England and America.” I continued, “How about Northern France?” He said, “We are willing to leave Northern France, but there must be a rectification of the frontier.” I said, “How about the Eastern frontier?” He said, “We must have a very substantial rectification of our frontier.” I said, “How about Roumania?” He said, “We shall leave Bulgaria to deal with Roumania.” I said, “How about Serbia?” He said, “A very small Serbia may be allowed to exist, but that is a question for Austria. Austria must be left to do what she wishes to Italy, and we must have indemnities from all countries and all our ships and colonies back.”
Of course, “rectification of the frontier” is a polite term for “annexation.”
On the twenty-second of January, 1917, our President addressed the Senate; and in his address he referred to his Note of the eighteenth of December, sent to all belligerent governments. In this address he stated, referring to the reply of the Entente Powers to his Peace Note of the eighteenth of December, “We are that much nearer to the definite discussion of the peace which shall end the present war.”
He referred to the willingness of both contestants to discuss terms of peace, as follows : “The Central Powers united in reply which stated merely that they were ready to meet their antagonists in conference to discuss terms of peace. The Entente Powers have replied much more definitely and have stated, in general terms, indeed, but with sufficient definiteness to imply details, the arrangements, guarantees and acts of reparation which they deem to be the indispensable conditions of a satisfactory settlement. We are that much nearer a definite discussion of the peace which shall end the present war.” The President further referred to a world concert to guarantee peace in the future and said, “The present war must first be ended, but we owe it to candour and to a just regard for the opinion of mankind to say that so far as our participation in guarantees of future peace is concerned, it makes a great deal of difference in what way and upon what terms it is ended.” He said that the statesmen of both of the groups of nations at war had stated that it was not part of the purpose they had in mind to crush their antagonists, and he said that it must be implied from these assurances that the peace to come must be “a peace without victory.”
In the course of his address he said: “Statesmen everywhere are agreed that there should be a united, independent and autonomous Poland.” In another place he said: .”So far as practicable, moreover, every great people now struggling toward a full development of its resources and its powers should be assured a direct out-let to the highways of the sea.” Where this cannot be done by cession of territory it can no doubt be arranged by the neutralisation of direct rights of way; and he closed by proposing in effect that the nations of the world should adopt the Monroe Doctrine and that no nation should seek to explain its policy for any other nation or people.
After the receipt of the Ultimatum of January thirty-first from Germany, the Chancellor, in a conversation I had with him, referred to this Peace Note of December eighteenth and to the speech of January twenty-second.
I must say here that on my return to Germany I went very far in assuring the Chancellor and other members of the Government of the President’s desire to see peace established in the world; and I told them that I believed that the President was ready to go very far in the way of coercing any nation which refused a reasonable peace; but I also impressed on all the members of the Government with whom I came in contact my belief that the election had not in any way altered the policy of the President, and I warned them of the danger to our good relations if ruthless submarine warfare should be resumed.
Von Bethmann-Hollweg, however, at this interview after the thirty-first of January, said that he had been compelled to take up ruthless submarine war because it was evident that President Wilson could do nothing towards peace. He spoke particularly of the President’s speech of January twenty-second and said that in that speech the President had made it plain that he considered that the answer of the Entente Powers to his Peace Note formed a basis for peace, which was a thing impossible for Germany even to consider; and said further (and this was a criticism I heard not only from him, but also from many Germans), that when the President spoke of a united and independent Poland he evidently meant to take away from Germany that part of Poland which had been incorporated in the Kingdom of Prussia and give it to this new and independent Kingdom, thereby bringing the Eastern frontier of Germany within two hours by motor from Berlin; and that, further, when the President spoke of giving each nation a highway to the sea, he meant that the German port of Dantzig should be turned over to this new State of Poland, thereby not only taking a Prussian port but cutting the extreme Eastern part of Prussia from the remainder of the country. I said that these objections appeared to me very frivolous; that the President, of course, like a clever lawyer endeavouring to gain his end, which was peace, had said that all parties were apparently agreed that there should be a peace; that if Germany were fighting a merely defensive war, as she had always claimed, she should be greatly de-lighted when the President declared that all the weight of America was in favor of a peace without victory, which meant, of course, that Germany should be secured from that crushing and dismemberment which Germany’s statesmen had stated so often that they feared. I said, further, that I was sure that when the President spoke of the united and independent State of Poland he had not, of course, had reference to Poland at any particular period of its history, but undoubtedly to Poland as constituted by Germany and Austria themselves; and that, in referring to the right of a nation to have access to the sea, he had in mind Russia and the Dardanelles rather than to any attempt to take a Prussian port for the benefit of Poland.
Von Bethmann-Hollweg said that one of the principal reasons why Germany had determined upon a resumption of ruthless submarine warfare was because of this speech of the President to the American Senate. Of course, the trouble with this feeling and the criticism of the President’s speech made by the Chancellor is that the orders for the resumption of ruthless submarine warfare had been given long before the news of the speech came to Germany.
I had cabled the information collected by Commander Gherardi as to the orders given to submarines long before the date of the President’s speech, and it happened that on the night after I had received the German note announcing this resumption I was taking a walk after dinner about the snow-covered streets of Berlin. In the course of this walk I met a young German woman of my acquaintance who was on intimate terms with the Crown Princess. She was on her way on foot from the opera house, where she had been with the Crown Princess, to the underground station, for by this time, of course, taxis had become an unknown luxury in Berlin, and I joined her. I told her of the Ultimatum which I had received at six o’clock that evening from Zimmermann and I told her that I was sure that it meant the breaking of diplomatic relations and our departure from Germany. She expressed great surprise that the submarine warfare was set to commence on the thirty-first of January and said that weeks before they had been talking over the matter at the Crown Princess’s and that she had heard then that the orders had been given to commence it on the fifteenth. In any event it is certain that the orders to the submarine commanders had been given long prior to the thirty-first and probably as early as the fifteenth.
I sincerely believe that the only object of the Germans in making these peace offers was first to get the Allies, if possible, in a conference and there detach some or one of them by the offer of separate terms; or, if this scheme failed, then it was believed that the general offer and talk about peace would create a sentiment so favourable to the Germans that they might, without fear of action by the United States, resume ruthless submarine warfare against England.
A week or two before the thirty-first of January, Dr. Solf asked me if I did not think that it would be possible for the United States to permit the resumption of ruthless submarine warfare against Great Britain. He said that three months’. time was all that would be required to bring Great Britain to her knees and end the war. And in fact so cleverly did von Tirpitz, Grand Admiral von Meuster, the Conservatives and the enemies of the Chancellor and other advocates of submarine war carry on their propaganda that the belief was ingrained in the whole of the German nation that a resumption of this ruthless war would lead within three months to what all Germans so ardently desired peace. It was impossible for any government to resist the popular demand for the use of this illegal means of warfare, because army and navy and people were convinced that ruthless submarine war spelled success and a glorious peace.
But this peace, of course, meant only a German peace, a peace as outlined to me by the Chancellor; a peace impossible for the Allies and even for the world to accept; a peace which would leave Germany immensely powerful and ready immediately after the war to take up a campaign against the nations of the Western hemisphere; a peace which would compel every nation, so long as German autocracy remained in the saddle, to devote its best energies, the most fruitful period of each man’s life, to preparations for war.
On January thirtieth, I received a definite intimation of the coming Ultimatum the next day and, judging that the hint meant the resumption of ruthless submarine war, I telegraphed a warning to the American Ambassadors and Ministers as well as to the State Department. On January thirty-first at about four o’clock in the afternoon I received from Zimmermann a short letter of which the following is a copy :
“The Secretary of State of the Foreign Office, Zimmermann, requests the honor of the visit of his Excellency, the Ambassador of the United States of America, this afternoon at six o’clock in the Foreign, Office, Wilhelmstrasse 75/76.
“Berlin, the 31St January, 1917.”
Pursuant to this letter, I went to the Foreign Office at six o’clock. Zimmermann then read to me in German a note from the Imperial Government, announcing the creation of the war zones about Great Britain and France and the commencement of ruthless submarine warfare at twelve P. M. that night. I made no comment, put the note in my pocket and went back to the Embassy. It was then about seven P. M. and, of course, the note was immediately translated and despatched with all speed to America.
After the despatch of the note I had an interview with the Chancellor in which he, as I have stated above, criticised both the Peace Note of December eighteenth as not being definite enough and the speech to the Senate of January twenty-second; and further said that he believed that the situation had changed, that, in spite of what the President had said in the note before the Sussex settlement, he was now for peace, that he had been elected on a peace platform, and that nothing would happen. Zimmermann at the time he delivered the note told me that this submarine warfare was a necessity for Germany, and that Germany could not hold out a year on the question of food. He further said, “Give us only two months of this kind of warfare and we shall end the war and make peace within three months.”
Saturday, February third, the President announced to Congress the breaking of diplomatic relations with Germany. The news of this, of course, did not reach Berlin until the next day; and on this Saturday afternoon Mrs. Gerard and I had an engagement to go to the theatre with Zimmermann and Mrs. Friedlaender-Fuld-Mitford, a young lady whose father is considered the richest man in Berlin, and who had been married to a young Englishman, named Mitford, a son of Lord Redesdale. Through no fault on the lady’s part, there had been an annulment of this marriage; and she was occupying a floor of her own in the handsome house of her father and mother on the Pariser-Platz in Berlin. We stopped for Mrs. Mitford and took her to the theatre where we saw a very clever play, I think by Thoma, called “Die Verlorene Tochter” (The Prodigal Daughter). Zimmermann did not come to the play but joined us later at the Friedlaender-Fuld House where we had a supper of four in Mrs. Mitford’s apartments. After supper, while I was talking to Zimmermann, he spoke of the note to America and said: “During the past month, this is what I have been doing so often at the General Headquarters with the Emperor. I often thought of telling you what was going on as I used to tell you in the old days, but I thought that you would only say that such a course would mean a break of diplomatic relations, and so I thought there was no use in telling you. But as you will see, everything will be all right. America will do nothing, for President Wilson is for peace and nothing else. Everything will go on as before. I have arranged for you to go to the Great General Headquarters and see the Kaiser next week and everything will be all right.”
The next day, Sunday, we had a German who is connected with the Foreign Office and his American wife to lunch, and another German who had been in America, also connected with the Foreign Office. Just as we were going in to lunch some one produced a copy of the “B. Z.,” the noon paper published in Berlin, which contained what seemed to be an authentic account of the breaking of diplomatic relations by America. The lunch was far from cheerful. The Germans looked very sad and said practically nothing, while I tried to make polite conversation at my end of the table.
The next day I went over to see Zimmermann, having that morning received the official despatch from Washington, and told him that I had come to demand my passports.
Of course, Zimmermann by that time had received the news and had had time to compose himself. The American correspondents told me that when he saw them on the day before, he had at first refused to say anything and then had been rather violent in his language and had finally shown great emotion. I am sure, from every-thing I observed, that the break of diplomatic relations came as an intense surprise to him and to the other members of the government, and yet I cannot imagine why intelligent men should think that the United States of America had fallen so low as to bear without murmur this sudden kick in the face.
The police who had always been about our Embassy since the commencement of the war, were now greatly increased in numbers; and guarded not only the front of the house, but also the rear and the surrounding streets; but there was no demonstration whatever on the part of the people of Berlin. On Tuesday afternoon I went out for a walk, walking through most of the principal streets of Berlin, absolutely alone, and on my return to the Embassy I found Count Montgelas, who, with the rank of Minister, was at the head of the department which included American affairs in the Foreign Office. I asked Montgelas why I had not received my passports, and he said that I was being kept back because the Imperial Government did not know what had happened to Count Bernstorff and that there had been rumours that the German ships in America had been confiscated by our government. I said that I was quite sure that Bernstorff was being treated with every courtesy and that the German ships had not been confiscated. I said, moreover, “I do not see why I have to disprove your idea that Bernstorff is being maltreated and the German ships confiscated. It seems to me it is for you to prove this; and, at any event, why don’t you have the Swiss Government, which now represents you, cable to its Minister in Washington and get the exact facts?” He said, “Well, you know, the Swiss are not used to cabling.”
He then produced a paper which was a reaffirmation of the treaty between Prussia and the United States of 1799, with some very extraordinary clauses added to it. He asked me to read this over and either to sign it or to get authority to sign it, and said that if it was not signed it would be very difficult for Americans to leave the country, particularly the American correspondents. I read this treaty over and then said, “Of course I cannot sign this on my own responsibility and I will not cable to my government unless I can cable in cipher and give them my opinion of this document.” He said, “That is impossible.” This treaty was as follows:
Agreement between Germany and the United States of America concerning the treatment of each other’s citizens and their private property after the severance of diplomatic relations.
After the severance of diplomatic relations between Germany and the United States of America and in the event of the out-break of war between the two Powers the citizens of either party and their private property in the territory of the other party shall be treated according to Article 23 of the treaty of amity and commerce between Prussia and the United States of II July, 1799, with the following explanatory and supplementary clauses.
German merchants in the United States and American merchants in Germany shall so far as the treatment of their persons and their property is concerned be held in every respect on a par with the other persons mentioned in Article 23. Accordingly they shall even after the period provided for in Article 23 has elapsed be entitled to remain and continue their profession in the country of their residence.
Merchants as well as the other persons mentioned in Article 23 may be excluded from fortified places or other places of military importance.
Germans in the United States and Americans in Germany shall be free to leave the country of their residence within the times and by the routes that shall be assigned to them by the proper authorities.
The persons departing shall be entitled to take along their personal property including money, valuables and bank accounts excepting such property the exportation of which is prohibited ac-cording to general provisions.
The protection of Germans in the United States and of Americans in Germany and of their property shall be guaranteed in accordance with the laws existing in the countries of either party. They shall be under no other restrictions concerning the enjoyment of their private rights and the judicial enforcement of their rights than neutral residents; they may accordingly not be transferred to concentration camps nor shall their private property be subject to sequestration or liquidation or other compulsory alienation except in cases that under the existing laws apply also to neutrals.
As a general rule, German property in the United States and American property in Germany shall not be subject to sequestration or liquidation or other compulsory alienation under other conditions than neutral property.
Patent rights or other protected rights held by Germans in the United States or Americans in Germany shall not be declared void; nor shall the exercise of such rights be impeded nor shall such rights be transferred to others without the consent of the per-son entitled thereto provided that regulations made exclusively in the interest of the State shall apply.
Contracts made between Germans and Americans either before or after the severance of diplomatic relations, also obligations of all kinds between Germans and Americans shall not be declared cancelled, void or in suspension except under provisions applicable to neutrals.
Likewise the citizens of either party shall not be impeded in fulfilling their liabilities arising from such obligations either by injunctions or by other provisions unless these apply also to neutrals.
The provisions of the sixth Hague Convention relative to the treatment of enemy merchant ships at outbreak of hostilities shall apply to the merchant vessels of either party and their cargo.
The aforesaid ships may not be forced to leave port unless at the same time they be given a pass recognised as binding by all the enemy sea powers to a home port or a port of an allied country or to another port of the country in which the ship happens to be.
The regulations of chapter 3 of the eleventh Hague Convention relative to certain restrictions in the exercise of the right of capture in maritime war shall apply to the captains, officers and members of the crews of merchant ships specified in Article 7 and of such merchant ships that may be captured in the course of a possible war.
This agreement shall apply also to the colonies and other foreign possessions of either party.
Berlin, February, 1917.
I then said, “I shall not cable at all. Why do you come to me with a proposed treaty after we have broken diplomatic relations and ask an Ambassador who is held as a prisoner to sign it? Prisoners do not sign treaties and treaties signed by them would not be worth any-thing. And I also said, “After your threat to keep Americans here and after reading this document, even if I had authority to sign it I would stay here until hell freezes over before I would put my name to such a paper.”
Montgelas seemed rather rattled, and in his confusion left the paper with me something, I am sure, he did not intend to do in case of a refusal. Montgelas was an extremely agreeable man and I think at all times had correctly predicted the attitude of America and had been against acts of frightfulness, such as the torpedoing of the Lusitania and the resumption of ruthless submarine war. I am sure that a gentleman like Montgelas undertook with great reluctance to carry out his orders in the matter of getting me to sign this treaty.
I must cheerfully certify that even the most pro-German American correspondents in Berlin, when I told them of Montgelas’ threat, showed the same fine spirit as their colleagues. All begged me not to consider them or their liberty where the interests of America were involved.
As soon as diplomatic relations were broken; and I broke them formally not only in my conversation with Zimmermann of Monday morning but also by sending over a formal written request for my passports on the evening of that day, our telegraph privileges were cut off. I was not even allowed to send telegrams to the American consuls throughout Germany giving them their instructions. Mail also was cut off, and the telephone. My servants were not even permitted to go to the nearby hotel to telephone. In the meantime we completed our preparations for departure. We arranged to turn over American interests, and the interests of Roumania and Serbia and japan, to the Spanish Embassy; and the interests of Great Britain to the Dutch. I have said al-ready that I believe that Ambassador Polo de Bernabe will faithfully protect the interests of America, and I believe that Baron Gevers will fearlessly fight the cause of the British prisoners.
We sold our automobiles; and two beautiful prize winning saddle horses, one from Kentucky and one from Virginia, which I had brought with me from America, went on the stage, that is, I sold them to the proprietor of the circus in Berlin !
The three tons of food which we had brought with us from America we gave to our colleagues in the diplomatic corps, the Spaniards, Greeks, Dutch and the Central and South Americans. I had many friends among the diplomats of the two Americas who were all men of great ability and position in their own country. I think that most of them know only too well the designs against Central and South America cherished by the Pan-Germans.
Finally, I think on the morning of Friday, Mr. Oscar King Davis, correspondent of the New York Times, received a wireless from Mr. Van Anda, editor of the New York Times, telling him that Bernstorff and his staff were being treated with every courtesy and that the German ships had not been confiscated. In the evening our telephone was reconnected, and we were allowed to receive some telegrams and to send open telegrams to the consuls, etc. throughout Germany; and we were notified that we would probably be allowed to leave the next day in the evening.
Always followed by spies, I paid as many farewell visits to my diplomatic colleagues as I was able to see; and on Saturday I thought that, in spite of the ridiculous treatment accorded us in cutting off the mail and telephone and in holding me for nearly a week, I would leave in a sporting spirit: I therefore, had my servant telephone and ask whether Zimmermann and von Bethmann-Hollweg would receive me. I had a pleasant farewell talk of about half an hour with each of them and I expressly told the Chancellor that I had come to bid him a personal farewell, not to make a record for any White Book, and that anything he said would remain confidential. I also stopped in to thank Dr. Zahn, of the Foreign Office, who had arranged the details of our departure, and gave him a gold cigarette case as a souvenir of the occasion. At the last moment, the Germans allowed a number of the consuls and clerks who had been working in the Embassy, and the American residents in Berlin, to leave on the train with us; so that we were about one hundred and twenty persons in all on this train, which left the Pots-damer station at eight-ten in the evening. The time of our departure had not been publicly announced, but al-though the automobiles, etc., in front of the Embassy might have attracted a crowd, there was no demonstration whatever; and, in fact, during this week that I was detained in Berlin I walked all over the city every afternoon and evening, went into shops, and so on, without en-countering any hostile demonstration.
There was a large crowd in the station to see us off. All the Spanish Embassy, Dutch, Greeks and many of our colleagues from Central and South America were there. There were, from the Foreign Office, Montgelas, Dr. Roediger, Prittwitz and Horstmann. As the train pulled out, a number of the Americans left in Berlin who were on the station platform raised quite a vigorous cheer.
Two officers had been sent by the Imperial Government to accompany us on this train; one, a Major von der Hagen, sent by the General Staff and the other, a representative of the Foreign Office, Baron Wernher von Ow-Wachendorf. It was quite thoughtful of the Foreign Office to send this last officer, as it was by our efforts that he had secured his exchange when he was a prisoner in England; and he, therefore, would be sup-posed to entertain kindly feelings for our Embassy.
I had ordered plenty of champagne and cigars to be put on the train and we were first invited to drink champagne with the officers in the dining car; then they joined us in the private salon car which we occupied in the end of the train. The journey was uneventful. Outside some of the stations a number of people were drawn up who stared at the train in a bovine way, but who made no demonstration of any kind.
We went through Wurttemburg and entered Switzerland by way of Schaffhausen. The two officers left us at the last stop on the German side. I had taken the precaution before we left Berlin to find out their names, and, as they left us, I gave each of them a gold cigarette case inscribed with his name and the date.
At the first station on the Swiss side a body of Swiss troops were drawn up, presenting arms, and the Colonel commanding the Swiss army (there are no generals in Switzerland), attended by several staff officers, came on the train and travelled with us nearly to Zurich.
I started to speak French to one of these staff officers, but he interrupted me by saying in perfect English, “You do not have to speak French to me. My name is Iselin, many of my relations live in New York and I lived there myself some years.”
At Zürich we left the German special train, and were met on the platform by some grateful Japanese, the American Consul and a number of French and Swiss news-paper reporters, thus ending our exodus from Germany.