After The Deluge

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The New Year After The Deluge
written by Hubert Richmond Kemp
Almost Altogether Machinery
From The Canadian Forum, January 1921, p. 104



It was the sixth anniversary of the declaration of war in Berlin. Although the streets were quiet, the comers were guarded by armed members of the Sicherheitspolizei in their green uniforms. Evidently the government had reinforced the police for fear that the unhappy city might suffer from fresh uprisings on that terrible anniversary. As we walked from the Brandenburger Tor through Unter den Linden towards the cathedral it was hard to believe that the street could ever have been filled with a war-maddened crowd; at this very corner the Crown Prince's car had been stopped while he waved his sword and led cheers for the war. Now he was a fugitive and an exile: and not even the machine guns of Kapp and Lüttwitz (spreading corpses in the same street) had availed to force a new militarist government upon the German Republic. The scene of these stirring events lay in Sunday stillness.

But we were not destined to go to church that morning. A more impressive service was in progress outside. In the Pleasure Garden, which is bounded on three sides by the Friedrich Wilhelm Museum, the Cathedral, and the ex-Kaiser's palace, crowds of people were listening to orators who spoke from the portico of the museum, the cathedral steps, the fountains, and wherever they could find room. Every moment the crowd was augmented by the arrival of parades — a band of metal workers, a group of young socialists, a party of ex-soldiers — all bearing banners with the words "Nie wieder Krieg!" — No more war! Berlin had selected this anniversary and the ground under the Kaiser's windows for a great Peace Demonstration.

The museum steps had been reserved for wounded soldiers. There they sat, seven or eight hundred men in field-gray; some holding their crutches, others with empty sleeves pinned across their breasts, others who had had eyes or noses shot away in France. Were they thinking of revenge? Not if one could judge from speeches and banners. Everywhere we saw signs of longing for peace and food. "Nie wieder Krieg!" "Krieg dem Kriege! ' "Wir wollen Völkerfrieden!" "Wir wollen Versöhnung." — "No more war. War upon war! We desire peace and reconciliation among the nations!" Other inscriptions emphasized the fact that Germany has not been able to care for her two million wounded soldiers in proportion to their needs. "We sacrificed life and health, but now we are trodden in the dust! German people, help your wounded soldiers who still lie in hospital in their distress! The future of the wounded soldiers - starvation! Once we were the Kaiser's servants — where are our rights now?" Still other inscriptions appealed to the German politicians who still cherished the desire for military power. "Do you want more cripples? Are our sufferings so soon forgotten?" Speakers declared that the German people had been deceived in the objects of the war and expressed determination to allow no new wars. A telegram of greeting had come from a French organization of wounded soldiers, and the meeting resolved to send a telegram to Henri Barbusse in answer.

It would perhaps be useless to describe such an isolated occurrence in Germany for Canadian readers were it not for the fact it is typical of a general revulsion from militarism in that country. Notwithstanding the perennially recurring rumours of a secret army ready to spring to activity, and the continued existence of a few nationalist organizations, the reports of competent observers in all parts of the country agree that war and preparations for war are very unpopular there. Both domestic and international politics are overshadowed by a far more urgent subject — daily bread.

[105] For the cessation of war has not even yet restored the German food supply. The blockade continued in force for several months after the armistice. The loss of the German merchant marine, together with colonies, foreign trade, investments abroad, and a considerable part of the coal and iron supply, not only diminished the wealth of the German nation as a whole but also made it impossible to buy sufficient food for the citizens. It is generally known that the German mark has sunk to something like one-seventeenth of its pre-war value for making purchases abroad; but only those who have themselves observed the present situation in Central Europe can easily realize the effect of this situation on the people.

Food is still rationed, as it was during the war. For a recent month the list of articles rationed in Berlin per head was as follows:

Bread — This brown, hard, sour mixture of wheat, rye, bran and potato flour, which is very strictly rationed, costs ten times as much in marks as it did before the war. Ration — about half a pound per day.

Macaroni, etc. — One pound a week.

Rice — One ounce per week.

Cocoa — One ounce per week.

Potatoes — Between three and four pounds per week.

Meat — Half a pound per week, including bones.

Butter — The ration (2-3 ounce per week) is eked out with 3 ounces of margarine, 3 ounces of lard, and 1 ounce of suet. In practice, you eat lard on your bread and save the butter for the children.

Sugar — 6 ounces a week. Far too valuable to use in your Ersatz coffee — use saccharine instead.

"Marmalade" — This horrid concoction is made of apples, turnips, saccharine, gelatine and perhaps a little fruit. Three ounces a week.

The weekly cost of this diet is now twenty-three marks — just thirteen times the cost in July, 1914. It will be noticed that there is not a drop of milk except for children under six years old, nursing and expectant mothers, and invalids. For children under two there is a daily ration of about one quart of milk if the parents can afford to buy it. The milk shortage is having serious consequences. In the home of the Berlin clergyman with whom the writer lived, there were three children. Little Wilhelm and Lily were delicate and under weight, but being over six years old they were not entitled to receive milk. Their mother, being in poor health, had received a medical prescription which entitled her to buy a pint a day. She used to divide this milk among the children. Not all families were so fortunate.

As the rationed foods mentioned are barely sufficient for a child of ten, the German family has to supplement its rations by the purchase of extra foods, of which the cheapest are potatoes (if obtainable), beans, barley, rice, vegetables and (if possible) more margarine. Some of these articles can be legally purchased, but the food shortage has brought into existence a great contraband trade or Schleichhandel. Farmers eagerly hoard potatoes, grain and meat, to sell them surreptitiously to the Schieber ("profiteers") and restaurant proprietors at a price considerably higher than that fixed by law. Newspaper readers will have noticed a recent report that the German Government has threatened to use the army to put down this practice. So long as the German rations are insufficient to maintain life, and so long as some individuals have the money and the will to circumvent the law, it is most improbable that Schleichhandel will be checked.

What is the general situation then with regard to food? Foreign visitors to Germany, who can afford to live at the best hotels, fare sumptuously every day and tell the newspaper reporters on their return that there is no suffering in Germany. Some Germans who can afford Schleichhandel can still get all the food they need. The great mass of people in the cities make their breakfast and lunch out of a couple of slices of bread and lard, with meat once a week, an occasional egg, and potatoes, beans, or porridge to supply the deficiencies. Practically the whole nation is undernourished.

In this universal want the children are most to be pitied. Hundreds of thousands have been medically examined in connection with the relief work administered by American and English Quakers. Tuberculosis has swept the country like a plague: in Leipzig there are 8,000 tuberculous children, in Cologne 10,000, in Berlin 30,000. The disease of rickets has become everywhere prevalent. The death rate among children is still higher than before the war (50 per cent. more infants died in Berlin during 1919 than in 1913). British military authorities at Cologne report the following comparison for the years 1913 and 1919 applying to the Cologne and Bergheim districts:

1913 1919
Well nourished. 57.0% 6.5%
Normal. 12.5 5.5
Badly nourished. 30.5 88.0
Very badly nourished. Nil 3.5

In the rural districts of Richrath and Revsrath 538 school children between the ages of 6 and 14 were weighed and 399 or 74 per cent. were found to be under weight. Dr. Savels, one of the school physicians at Cologne, informed the writer this summer that 10 per cent. of the children there are unable to enter school at the statutory age as the result of physical or mental retardation; before the war only two per cent. were so retarded. The relief organizations of the Society of Friends, working also in Austria and Poland, consider the condition of children in Germany so serious as to warrant the feeding of more than six hundred thousand of them every day, while many for whom it is impossible to provide food are almost as greatly in need of it. While the cost of living has risen from ten to fifteen times, increases in wages have [106] fallen far short of this rise. Dr. R. Kuezynski, director of the statistical bureau of Berlin (Schöneberg), estimated in August that the minimum cost of living for a married couple with two children was 328 marks a week. At that time the prevailing rate of wages was between 250 and 300 marks a week. The incomes of civil servants were even less, while many persons depending upon pensions or interest for a livelihood were quietly starving. Their deaths are not attributed to that cause in the official records. They die of "heart disease," or of any minor ailment which they may contract. A gentleman in Düsseldorf told the writer very prosaically, "If you fall ill in Germany now — no matter what the disease — it is all up with you."

Yet the feeling of self-respect is so strong that the people continue to present a brave front. The men's clothes are pressed and spotless, although they may have been turned once and again. The women have used up their hoarded stocks of domestic linen for clothing. Confirmation is the greatest event in the life of a German child. Those who have seen the ceremony in recent months describe how the wardrobe of an entire family is mobilized in order that little Hans or Lisel may be worthily attired for the great occasion. Meanwhile the people are working in a spirit of determination. While the Ruhr miners were sending in petitions for better bread and complaining about the scarcity and indigestibility of their food, they were increasing their output of coal.

The financial experts at Brussels have been told that German taxes have increased sevenfold; that the government already faces an annual deficit of twenty-four billion marks, while the State postal and railroad services have an equally large deficit. But the most urgent problem in dealing with Germany and the rest of Central Europe is that of providing enough food to keep the inhabitants alive and maintain order. Charitable aid is a most immediate need, but the provision of credit and the resumption of friendly relationships (difficult though the latter may be) are the only means of permanent improvement.

Germany will again become a great nation. The patient industry, the love of order, the scientific and artistic qualities which made her strong before the war have not been destroyed. If she is to do her part towards the reconstruction of the world she must be allowed once more to sell her goods abroad. The distrust justly inspired during the war will have to yield to the new spirit of co-operation already suggested in recent financial conferences and in the famous message of the Oxford professors. The help for suffering children in Central Europe, which is dictated by humanity, will yield a rich dividend in better international relationships. Goodwill has never been more greatly needed; it has never promised a greater reward.

H. R. Kemp.