Above the Battle/Chapter 12
OUR NEIGHBOUR THE ENEMY
March 15, 1915.
While the war tempest rages, uprooting the strongest souls and dragging them along in its furious cyclone, I continue my humble pilgrimage, trying to discover beneath the ruins the rare hearts who have remained faithful to the old ideal of human fraternity. What a sad joy I have in collecting and helping them!
I know that each of their efforts—like mine,—that each of their words of love, rouses and turns against them the hostility of the two hostile camps. The combatants, pitted against each other, agree in hating those who refuse to hate. Europe is like a besieged town. Fever is raging. Whoever will not rave like the rest is suspected. And in these hurried times when justice cannot wait to study evidence, every suspect is a traitor. Whoever insists, in the midst of war, on defending peace among men knows that he risks his own peace, his reputation, his friends, for his belief. But of what value is a belief for which no risks are run?
Certainly it is put to the test in these days, when every day brings the echo of violence, injustice, and new cruelties. But was it not still more tried when it was entrusted to the fishermen of Judea by him whom humanity pretends to honour still—with its lips more than with its heart? The rivers of blood, the burnt towns, all the atrocities of thought and action, will never efface in our tortured souls the luminous track of the Galilean barque, nor the deep vibrations of the great voices which from across the centuries proclaim reason as man's true home. You choose to forget them, and to say (like many writers of to-day) that this war will begin a new era in the history of mankind, a reversal of former values, and that from it alone will future progress be dated. That is always the language of passion. Passion passes away. Reason remains—reason and love. Let us continue to search for their young shoots amidst the bloody ruins.
I feel the same joy when I find the fragile and valiant flowers of human pity piercing the icy crust of hatred that covers Europe, as we feel in these chilly March days when we see the first flowers appear above the soil. They show that the warmth of life persists below the surface of the earth, that fraternal love persists below the surface of the nations, and that soon nothing will prevent it rising again.
I have on several occasions shown how the neutral countries have become the refuge of this European spirit, which seems driven from the belligerent countries by the armies of the pen, more savage than the others because they risk nothing. The efforts made in Holland or in Spain to save the moral unity of Europe, the burning charity and untiring help that Switzerland lavishes on prisoners, on wounded, on victims of both sides, are a great comfort to oppressed souls, who in every country are suffocating in the atmosphere of hatred forced on them, and who look for purer air. But I find still more beautiful and touching the signs of fraternal aid between friends and enemies in belligerent countries, however rare and feeble they may be.
If there are two countries between which the present war seems specially to have created an abyss of hatred and misunderstanding, they are England and Germany. The writers and publicists of Germany, whose orders are to profess for France rather sympathy and compassion than animosity, and who are even constrained to distinguish between the people and the Government of Russia, have vowed eternal hatred against England. Hasse England has become their Delenda Carthago. The most moderate declare that the struggle cannot be ended except by the destruction of the Seeherrschaft (naval supremacy) of Britain. And Great Britain is not less determined to continue the conflict until German militarism has been totally eradicated. Yet it is precisely between these two nations that the noblest bonds of mutual assistance for the misfortunes of the enemy have been formed and maintained.
Two days after the declaration of war there was founded in London, with the support of such well-known persons as the Archbishop of Canterbury, J. Allen-Baker, M.P., the Right-Hon. W. H. Dickinson, M.P., Lord and Lady Courtney of Penwith, the Emergency Committee for the Assistance of Germans, Austrians, and Hungarians in Distress. This work, which affects a large part of England, consists in paying the repatriation expenses of destitute civilians, of accompanying German women and girls on their return journey, of securing hospitality in families for poor Germans and finding work for them. By the end of December almost £10,000 had been spent in this way. Several sub-committees visit Prisoners' Camps, facilitate correspondence between the belligerent nations, or undertake, for Christmas, to convey to interned alien enemies more than 20,000 parcels and 200 Christmas-trees. Another English society, already in existence before the war, the Society of Friends of Foreigners in Distress, regularly looks after 1,800 German and Austrian families. Finally, the Central Bureau (London) of the International Union of Women Suffrage Societies has rendered great service to foreigners, paying for the return journey of between seven and eight thousand women.
In Germany there has been founded at Berlin a similar Bureau for giving information and assistance to Germans abroad, and to foreigners in Germany (Auskunfts-und Hilfsstelle für Deutsche im Ausland und Auslænder in Deutschland). Amongst its members may be noted aristocratic names, and persons well known in the religious and academic world: Frau Marie von Bülow-Mœrlins, Helene Græfin Harrach, Nora Freiin von Schleinitz, Professors W. Foerster, D. Baumgarten, Paul Natorp, Martin Rade Siegmund-Schultze, etc. At its head is a lady of deep religious feeling, Dr. Elisabeth Rotten. As will be readily imagined, an undertaking of this kind has not failed to evoke suspicion and opposition in nationalist quarters. But it has emerged successful, and persists; and here are the terms in which it justifies its high mission against the ravings of German Chauvinism:
"Since the beginning of the war we have recognised the obligation to interest ourselves in the welfare of foreigners stranded in Germany. Efforts such as ours are as unpopular in our country as in other countries. At a time when the whole German people is engaged in resisting the enemy, it seems superfluous to render to those who belong to foreign countries more than minimum services to which they are legally entitled. But it is not only the thought of our kinsmen abroad which urges us to this work, it is our own desire to render friendly service (Freundendienste) to these who, through no fault of their own, are in d fficulties because of the war. Even in war time, our neighbour is he who is in need of our help; and love for one's enemy (Feindesliebe) remains a sign whereby those who retain their faith in the Lord may recognise one another.…
"We have been able to reassure German families as to the lot of their members in enemy countries, and in return to vouch to foreigners for the fact that their friends in our country will be able to rely on us for assistance if they need it. We have been able to help as neighbours (Naechstendienste) innocent enemies, in whom we see human brothers and sisters. Above and beyond this practical aid, we find consolation and comfort in being able freely to hearken, even in such times as these, to the voice of humanity, and to the command "love thy neighbour." The tragedy which bursts over the earth on every side, which fills all our being with a religious respect for human suffering, but also stirs our love and self-sacrifice, enlarges our hearts and leaves no room except for feelings of affirmation and benevolent action.
"Our desire to help and to alleviate suffering knows no frontiers. This need is all the more urgent when we find in the sufferings of others the traits of what we ourselves also suffer. What unites men goes deeper into our being than what separates them. That we can tend the wounds that we are constrained to deal, and that the same is the case in the enemy's country, gives promise of the brighter days which will come. In the midst of the tempest which destroys all around us so many things which we consider worthy of eternal existence, the possibility of such action strengthens our courage and gives us hope that new bridges will be rebuilt, on which the men, who now find themselves separated, will once more be closely united in a common effort."
I dedicate these noble words to my friends amongst the people of France, who have so often, by letter or by message, declared to me their sympathy for such thoughts and their unchanging faith in humanity. I dedicate them to all in France who, even in these days, by their justice and goodness contribute to make their country loved, as much as she makes herself admired by her arms—to those who assure her of the name which I read with emotion on a postcard written yesterday, on his way to Geneva, by a badly wounded German who had been repatriated: the name of gutes Frankreich, "good France," or, as our tender-hearted old writers used to say, "Douce France."
I take this opportunity of recommending to my French readers the publication of Mme. Arthur Spitzer (Geneva): Le Paquet du prisonnier de guerre. It has contributors in Paris, and was founded in November "to bring comfort in their misery to such French, Belgians, and English prisoners as cannot be assisted by their families." It begs all who wish to send a parcel to a relation or friend who has been taken prisoner, to send with it, when possible, a similar consignment for some other prisoner—one of their fellow-countrymen without relations, friends, or resources. May this noble thought of solidarity be extended later, in more humane times, so that whoever helps a prisoner belonging to his own country may be willing at the same time to help an enemy prisoner!
Journal de Genève, March 15, 1915.