I’ve written many scenes based on facts, but none have saddened me more than the chapter about the eponymous ‘Rape of Belgium.’
This happened in Louvain, a Belgian city between Liege and Brussels. It was the subject of mass destruction by the German army over a period of five days from 25 August 1914. The city itself fell to the German First Army on 19 August 1914 as part of the German strategy to overrun Belgium during the month of August 1914.
On that date German units to the rear of the city were attacked by a Belgian force advancing from Antwerp. Panicked, German troops withdrew to Louvain, which in itself caused confusion to German soldiers stationed in the city. Shots were heard amid fearful cries that the Allies were launching a major attack.
Once it became clear however that no such Allied attack was underway or even imminent, the city’s German authorities determined to exact revenge upon Louvain’s citizenry, whom they were convinced that contrived the confusion that day.
Ruins of the library Catholic Library of the Unoversity of Leuven
On August 25, 1914, the German army ravaged the city of Louvain, deliberately burning the University’s library of 300,000 medieval books and manuscripts with gasoline, killing 248 residents,and expelling the entire population of 10,000. Civilian homes were set on fire and citizens often shot in the place they stood. Over 2,000 buildings were destroyed and large amounts of strategic materials, foodstuffs and modern industrial equipment were looted and transferred to Germany. (There were also several friendly fire incidents between groups of German soldiers during the confusion.These actions brought worldwide condemnation.
Catholic University of Louvain
Already widely regarded as an unacceptable strategy internationally, the treatment of Louvain provoked highly critical press headlines (which routinely referred to German barbarism and ‘rivers of blood’) and caused great concern in neutral capitals.
The German retaliation ceased on 30 August.
However, not all historians agree that the such events were depicted correctly.
Historian Nicoletta Gullace wrote that “the invasion of Belgium, with its very real suffering, was nevertheless represented in a highly stylized way that dwelt on perverse sexual acts, lurid mutilations, and graphic accounts of child abuse of often dubious veracity,
In Britain, many patriotic publicists propagated these stories on their own. For example popular writer William Le Queux described the German army as “one vast gang of Jack-the-Rippers”, and described in graphic detail events such as a governess hanged naked and mutilated, the bayoneting of a small baby, or the “screams of dying women”, raped and “horribly mutilated” by German soldiers, accusing them of cutting off the hands, feet, or breasts of their victims.
Whatever the truth was, such scenes of depravity, all too common in war, are difficult to write about without feeling depressed and sad about what ahd taken place there.
But if a writer wants to give their stories an authentic edge, then horrid scenes such as these must be included.
Here’s something lighter to read – The Happy Cat’s Detective