Posts Tagged ‘collapse of imperial germany’

“The Prince remains seated bolt upright.

Only when the valet has gone does he get up and stagger across to his room. He throws off his clothes and climbs into bed. After a while he sits up, drops a sleeping-powder into a glass of water
and drinks it off.

But the dose is not strong enough. It lessens the pain but brings no real rest, no complete
forgetfulness. The Prince sinks into a half-stupor. His activities as Chancellor, as Director of the
Prisoners’ Welfare Organization, his negotiations with persons in authority, his meditations, his
doubts as to imperial policy-nothing of all this leaves him. Four weeks Chancellor of the
Revolution, four years of War, forty years of Empire – all this surges through his head, bashes
through his over- worked brain, wild confusion of disconnected thoughts, trains of broken sentences
somewhere heard, somewhere formulated – We all want peace. But the request for an armistice was
a mistake. We must defend ourselves, tooth and claw, horn and hoof! Rathenau is right, and Solf
and the Vice-Chancellor are right. But consider, Your Excellency – the superiority, the tanks! Of
course, there are the Guards – yes, the Guards and the Jäger battalions. Every man jack with a tank
on his horns. But soldiers must eat. Else they will leave the trenches, and greet the troops going to
their relief with cries of “Scab”. You see, it is a matter of potatoes. But Herr Scheidemann
understands nothing of foreign politics. General Groener? The very man, with his knowledge of the
railway and transport system, admirably qualified for the withdrawal of the troops.

No, not a real claw, of course, not a claw, only a hand, a timid outstretched hand. The widow’s
portion has been eaten. The inheritance of the orphan has been taken from him and given in war
loans. The aged have not wherewith to cover their nakedness, and at the barracks’ doors the
children stand hungry…

Alas, where is carpentry, there also will be shavings.
Man perishes, the work abides.
The Christian Empire! But he is here to liquidate that. Prince Max – Receiver in Bankruptcy!

Chancellor of the Revolution! But his great-uncle in the “Galerie des Glaces” in the palace of Louis
XIV of France – the Grand Duke of Baden and the Confederate Princes, Bismarck and Moltke. All
Germany from the Memel to the Bodensee knit together forever! Up ewig ungedeelt!

That was Versailles, January, 1871. That was the beginning: Germany built herself ships.
Germany bought herself colonies and coaling-stations; by peaceful penetration she won herself a
place in the sun.

The Programme: Heligoland-Baghdad.
German Emperor – Hurrah!

But the old methods of colonization won’t do any more. The happiness of other races, remember – yes, and the happiness of the coolies in Kiautschou and of the Hereros in South Africa. But those
statistics, those terrible statistics! 100,000 Hereros, and only 21,000 of them left. The report please.
Look at the seal and the signature! Precisely 7,000 men, 9,000 women, 5,420 children…

Prince Max groans aloud in his sleep.

He groans for the natives, who with their herds of cattle, their wives and children have been driven from the prairies to die of thirst by the dried-up waterholes. Can a cow bellow so loud as
that? And the face of a negro become so white?

Stay, wretched man! Who would deny to a disarmed foe… We must have a Ministry for War
Prisoners! War and imprisonment, they must be organized on humane principles. A most damnable
fact: even German soldiers have been known to shoot down unarmed prisoners! A boatswain split
with a hatchet the skulls of foreign sailors swimming for their lives!

“Understand me. Let there be no quarter. No prisoners. Carry your weapons so that in a thousand
years…” But that was a mere rhetorical slip on William II’s part. The fact remains: he who denies
pardon to a defenceless foe is a traitor.

But consider, Your Excellency – our own prisoners! Anyway, we must take reprisals against
France; against England they are unnecessary; and against Russia, useless. The Russian pays no
attention to the sufferings of his own people! Any reprisal must strike back a hundredfold on our
own prisoners. There is nothing for it in Russia but to appeal to influential persons.

Seventy thousand, Your Ladyship!

Seventy thousand German war prisoners building the Murman railway! They have no boots on
their feet, Your Ladyship! Yes, I know, those mujiks – they have no boots either. But think of the
latitude, the cold and the blizzards in the far north. The soldiers’ greatcoats are threadbare and give
no protection against such a climate. And the food, dearest Grand Duchess Elizabeth – the
prisoners eat like pigs. I am sure it is only because they have no spoons that they dip into the
containers with their hands. And if they are greedy, it is only because the food is insufficient to go
round. Do not take it amiss that I seek to enlist Your Ladyship’s influence in a matter of this kind.
There are no doctors, no medicine, no sick parade at all. If a man’s feet are frozen, he must hobble
along as best he can, he must still keep his place in the line, still keep on harrowing the dirt, lugging
sleepers and rails. Any man who breaks down is lashed to his feet and driven again to the work.
What is the sense of such methods? Neither can I understand it, Anna Elizabeth! No, I was not
aware that a man’s skin may become so cold that the stroke of a whip can be a warming caress. I do
not understand the economics of it, but it seems to be something like this: A man lives but once, and
he should not live in idleness. And the hours of ten thousand dying men are enough to carry the railway ten thousand yards forward.

Seventy thousand prisoners are engaged in constructing the railway. And so far 25,000 have

No protest has availed. I appeal to you and your husband, Konstantin Konstantinovitch – who is
a Russian poet, and has translated Hamlet! On the strength of our youthful friendship, Anna
Elizabeth – remember the days we spent together at Schloss Salem! Intervention on the part of the
Dowager Empress might bring some relief to the unfortunates!

What, the Empire in danger? And the Czar’s throne, too! By the gentle teaching of Jesus, by the
wisdom and righteousness of the Sermon on the Mount-yes indeed -but who would have imagined a
cow could bellow so, dearest Anna Elizabeth? And who would have guessed that the belly of a dead
soldier would look like that? Died of starvation, obviously. Only the bellies of the starving swell so.
With scurvy the teeth drop out. And beriberi softens the bones. Yes, unfortunately – it does happen,
even in our own prison camps – it is not entirely preventable.

Nor is the international character of the armament industry entirely to be prevented. Krupp sells
steel, Zeiss-Jena firing-directors, the Magdeburg Cable Company barbed wire. They all sell to the
foreigner. Krupp, Thyssen, Stinnes, all of them – and cheaper than to the Supreme Command!

The German soldiers attacking Douaumont were hung up in barbed wire from Magdeburg, and
in Flanders German marines were blown to bits by English shells with Krupp’s fuses. No, no,
steady on! that is going too far! Pardon me! Examine the documents for yourself. The Prussian
Minister for War enquired into the matter. Unfortunately it cannot be helped – you see, the Entente
supplies us with rubber, copper, and nickel in exchange.

And these men? Oh dear no, these men have not been selling steel to the enemy, nor infantry
shields, nor firing-directors! These are Belgian unemployed. There is no occasion for the women to
trail after them so; they have no reason to weep. Compulsory levies like this are necessary on grounds of security and they are permitted by international law. You see, the German heavy
industries want 20,000 Belgian workers a week. And what the heavy industries require, the
Supreme Command must supply. But the Supreme Command gets nothing in exchange, it makes
nothing out of it, you understand; it does it from pure patriotism. The Supreme Command and the
War Ministry are the most humane powers in Germany.

What, man! are you out of your wits?
The Grand Duchess Elizabeth murdered?
Reports admit no doubt of it, Your Highness. Anna Elizabeth dead. The Czarina, the Cesarevitch, the Czar – all dead. Murdered in a cellar, their bodies cut in pieces, soaked in petrol
and burned. An officer has brought the remains to Europe. A small suitcase full – bits of bone,
precious stones, a few rings melted to one lump, two almost intact still….

There is something fishy about it. Don’t come to me with such yarns! Won’t have it, understand?
What’s that you say?-the emerald still perfectly transparent once the soot was wiped off? One
emerald, three onyx, fourteen gold settings, all melted, one hundred and twelve pieces of bone, two
corset-ribs, almost perfect- and that is all that remains of the Court and the Royal Family?

Well, well, it will make excellent propaganda, no doubt, against Bolshevism! Was he well paid
for it, this prince, this officer?

Anyway, there is no disproving it.
And every labourer is worthy of his hire.
Man perishes, but the Murmansk railway abides.
Krupp’s steel for the Entente. Zeiss lenses for the English fleet. Magdeburg barbed wire for our soldiers at Douaumont. Shells with Krupp’s fuses for our men in Flanders.

And the Emperor travelling in a sealed carriage. Deputy Ebert – no, I don’t believe that! He will never make a courtier. Just look at his fat, hairy hands! But the fellow is doing what he can…
And His Excellency the Minister for the Interior, Herr Drews, too.

Baghdad – all change!

 After you, Your Ladyship! Long live the Czar! Hurrah for the Emperor!

Drews! – Good God, the man is under the wheels! … The Prince tosses on his couch. His face is
hectic red.

Thick sweat is on his brow. Gathering his strength he wrenches himself free and utters a cry of

The doctor is waiting with Hahn in the next room.

They had found the Prince already asleep and decided not to disturb him. But now they have
heard the groaning and the cry.

They knock on the half-open door and enter immediately.
The Prince is sitting bolt upright shouting: “Drews! Drews!”
“His Excellency, Herr Drews, has just telephoned. He has been received by the Emperor, but his mission has failed. He was told off roundly… “

The Chancellor has slipped half out of bed, his feet on the floor. He looks at the secretary, then at the doctor – gradually he comes to himself.

“Yes, of course, Drews… So the report has come?”
“No, only a verbal message, by telephone. The Minister for the Interior will be back in the morning.”

“Give me something to drink, will you, please?”
The doctor hands the Prince a glass of water. “Ask Dr. Solf to come, please.”
“Dr. Solf has gone from the House. He left a message that he would be back at midnight.”
“Pulse 70 – the fever has increased a little. Your Highness needs absolute rest. Let us try a sleeping draught.”

“I must speak to Dr. Solf first.”
“In your Highness’s weakened state – pardon me, but your Highness absolutely must have one night’s uninterrupted sleep.”

“Very well then, but something a little stronger, if you please. I have taken one already.”

The doctor gives him a dose – three times the usual strength.
The Prince scribbles a note:

“For Dr. Solf. And I must be called at eight in the morning.”
He sits up once again:

“What is that noise? Is it a demonstration?”
“No, Your Highness – it is the wind in the trees.””

– Theodor Plivier, The Kaiser Goes: The Generals Remain. Translated by A. W. Wheen.  London: Faber & Faber, 1933. pp. 21-23

Painting is Max Beckmann, Resurrection (Auferstehung) from Faces (Gesichter) 1918. Drypoint. Source: moma.org

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