Using French Journalism in Teaching the First World War: (2) ‘Infernal war,’ by Emile Henriot, L’Illustration, 26 September 1914


[Translated by Alastair Dunn. The elipses “…” follow those of the original French text. The images below are a selection of those that accompanied the original.]

In the midst of the French lines – in Soissons under bomabrdment – the ruins of Senlis.  17 September.

Rue Bellon, Senlis
The systematic destruction by the Germans of the old towns of France – The Rue Bellon, Senlis

We arrived by car in driving rain at La Ferté-Milon, having crossed all the battlefields of the Marne from Meaux onwards, and all the villages where they had passed, of which there remain only ruins and still glowing embers.  In these tragic times it is not the memory of Jean Racine that fills our spirits when we reach this friendly little town… The Germans came through after the retreat of our line. During their nine days of occupation, hundreds of thousands of men arrived, camped and passed through. You can still read the Germans’ writing on the doors, in chalk – how many men, how many horses, what quality of service. Those brave people who had remained, and who had not fled in the face of the barbarians, told us what they had seen. We questioned them avidly.

In general the town had not suffered. They requisitioned as much, and more, than they needed, and, under the guise of re-supply they emptied systematically shops, henhouses and wine cellars. The mayor offered himself as a hostage, a brave man – he did his duty, that was it. Thanks to him, the place was spared slightly. The Germans preferred to loot and pillage those houses where they would find no one to fight back or resist.  And, if any did resist, they would be up against a wall straight away…

When they left suddenly, retreating ahead of the English and our soldiers, they cut the bridge behind them. They passed through the town as if on parade. But it was nonetheless a retreat. This is witnessed by all the ammunition boxes and the big shells left on the road sides, the columns of supplies that our men captured and burned in the forests of Villers-Cotterets; and also by the completely abandoned battery high up on one side, dominating the town and the surrounding area. This battery of eight grey guns, with their carriages, and their breaches broken, carried the haughty and pretentious phrase Ultima regis ratio.[1]

While we were looking at these guns chat could no longer do any more harm to our side, we heard a bombardment in the direction of Soissons. In spite of the rain, that muffled and reduced the noise, the rumbling continued ceaselessly. We covered our ears, but the man from those parts who was accompanying us was used it, it didn’t disturb him anymore. Our papers being in order, we are going to see…

About fifteen kilometres from La Ferté, which we had left, the appearance of a column of French artillery showed us that we had arrived at the rear of our lines.  All the way up to Soissons, in effect, we constantly encountered our soldiers, in all the innumerable and necessary functions of an army on the move: convoys of munitions and supplies, commissariat, baggage trains, medical services, military vehicles, grey gun carriages with white lettering, vehicles of all types, official or requisitioned. Carriages, buses, cars, enormous canvas-covered lorries. For miles and miles the convoys rolled up and down, an immense movement, and a prodigious operation that brought comfort and pleasure…

Some villages. The people were at their doorsteps, in spite of the driving rain. Some troops were stationed there. At Longpont a crowd surrounded us, eager for news. These admirable soldiers, who had come to save France, and its honour, and who had been fighting for two weeks, wanted news, and asked for newspapers, cigarettes and tobacco. They even wanted to buy it from us, but we had already given away all our provisions…

Soldiers crossing the Oise
Verberie Bridge, near Compiegne. 18,000 French troops crossed The Oise on this bridge, improvised between 10pm and 7am, from barges and sleepers, by Captain of Engineers Bougier, his telegraph sappers, and thirty civilian volunteer well-wishers.

Over there the guns sounded. At each bounce of the car, on the waterlogged road, the sound grew louder and more voluble, in spite of the incessant traffic, as we approached. The battle was not far away. For an hour we had been passed by ambulances carrying the wounded from the front; today’s wounded, the freshly wounded, and whom we saw laid out on canvas, their heads or arms bandaged.… They were Algerian riflemen for the most part, wrapped in their long woollen cloaks. As we left one of the villages, we were hailed by a farmer who had seen everything. He put us in the picture. Every day the bombardment had extended but today it appeared to stay still, or so it seemed to him.  The fighting was north of Soissons.  A soldier told us they were firmly dug in, and that they would go for them with bayonets, and that the Algerians had captured a battery… This was where the wounded came from that we would see later.

A few kilometres from Soissons we asked the way from a couple of soldiers. They advised us against going any further: it was in the firing line and the route wasn’t safe. The Germans have the road under observation, and when they know that a convoy is passing by, they fire on it. Yesterday, a car was riddled. “Can we go on anyway?” we asked. “Yes but your own risk and peril” they replied. We shall see then…

Now we are all ready. But after a few moments the layman’s ear, if we can call it that, as it is not that of a soldier, recognises this terrible music and can distinguish between the sinister voices that form this orchestra: the regular intervals of our own 75mm guns, quick and sharp; the more deafening response of the German guns, and then, separated by long gaps, dominating and underscoring it all, the immense growling of the great siege mortars, which they call with their accustomed levity “Busy Bertha” and “Lazy Gretchen.”

Bombardment of Soissons
Bombardment of Soissons by German Heavy Artillery. Fires started by the shells. Bursts of shrapnel. French gun emplacements concealed on the banks of the Aisne. Photograph taken from the clock tower of Saint-Jean-des-Vignes.

For four days – we are on Thursday and they began on Monday – the Germans bombarded Soissons. We expected to be stopped at several checkpoints, asking to return whence we had come, and quickly. But there was none of that. An English officer, on being asked whether we could enter the town, said to us phlegmatically, “You can, but it is very unpleasant.” It did not take us long to see the effects of the bombardment, even from the outskirts.  The admirable church of St Jean-des-Vignes is the first witness to the Germans’ savagery: one of the long and narrow spires of the double clock-tower had been blown away; while the other had been torn by shrapnel. We were advancing through a three-quarters deserted town.  Here on the cobbled road there was a sort of ditch two to three metres deep and five or six wide, the cobbles had been ripped out, and the surface reduced to sand, with broken fragments all around. Here is a two-storey house that had been hit from behind, and had collapsed into the street like a house of cards.  Roofs blown off, walls knocked down, trees broken, we stopped counting.  The Post Office and the Great Seminary were in ruins.  When we passed by the cathedral it had suffered relatively little: only one of the chapels had been reduced to dust – and we rejoiced, with tears in our eyes, to have left it in such good condition.

We stopped on the Place de La Republique. Five or six women stopped us in front of a house. We questioned them.  One of them told us they had been bombarded for four days.  You should see it on the other side of the town. What misery ! At the moment they are firing on hospital and the station.  But for the last three hours it seemed to be calmer.

In effect, the firing of the big siege mortars had finished.  It was now only field artillery doing its work – to which our own replied ceaselessly. And hearing it alongside us we felt almost happy, a sense of security such as a child feels in the night when a big person holds their hand.  But our speaker had scarcely finished her words when the mortar shook the air with its bou-bou-boum ! followed also by a type of long howling. The woman had been speaking to us nudged us sharply:

“Look in the air !”

The shell passed, in effect, over heads. We sensed it rather than saw it.  And straight after, about 300 metres away, at the foot of one of the avenues leading off the square where we had been, it exploded with a formidable blast. A bright flash.  The cloud rose, thick and white.

It was the hospital.

The Germans had targeted the building where our wounded were. Systematically, methodically, scientifically, they searched for it to destroy it.  This morning a spy was arrested who had been guiding their firing. He was taken away between two gendarmes….

The enemy occupied heavily entrenched positions on the plateaux that overlooked the town from the North and North-West. They had converted the former quarries into a solid and well-defended fortress, which they have protected with beams, fascines, and strong sandbags. They have placed their mortars there, and bombard us from that well sheltered position. Our men tried to get then out with fixed bayonets, but the position is strong. It will require heavy guns to reduce it.  All around the battle rages. But the soldier and the officers whom we questioned are confident. They are preparing something.

We had hoped to sleep in Soissons, but it was scarcely possible, and where could we have found anywhere open?  Those remaining inhabitants hide in their cellars when the shelling becomes too loud. When it calms down, they go out and look at the sky. They aren’t afraid, these women laugh at the danger when it has passed.  But the hotels are closed, and as night is coming, it is time for us to move on.

German shell, Soissons
The effects of a German shell that fell in a Soissons street. A gutted house and two dead horses.

On leaving Soissons, we stopped on a hill. From that point we saw the whole town laid out before us. As well as the sky trembling under this ceaseless bombardment, masses of rain fell as if in bucket loads, as we watched the bombardment. Above the hillsides whose verdant ridge stands out against a sky that was clearing a little in that direction, and which reddened the burning gold of the sunset, little bursts of white smoke rose and then dissolved slowly in the air. These were the guns, spitting their fire. Higher up, against the uniform grey of the clouds, the eye begins to distinguish the rapid arc of the shells, or the explosions of the little black bullets; the canister-shot bursting in the sky like fireworks; a white burst … then other shells, other bombs, more shrapnel. … We couldn’t leave this spectacle, but suddenly I thought of the ambulance lorries that we had just recently passed on the road.

We slept at Longpont (15 kilometres from Soissons), in a fine hostel which the brave owners opened for us, next to the magnificent chateau and the famous ruins, and all night we heard the guns, always dominated by the German siege mortars, bombarding Soissons, an open town.

* * *

In order to complete the picture, setting out from Meaux and covering the immense battlefield of the Marne, already strewn with corpses and marked by the smouldering ruins of twenty towns, looted and burned, we returned from Soissons to Paris via Villers-Cotterets and Senlis…

Ah! The awful and dreadful spectacle! Poor fine Senlis. The doves are no longer fluttering around its bell tower … The bombardment and fires have driven them away. Will they return?  We came there from Crépy-en-Valois, by the same route that the German horde had taken. A little before we arrived the countryside began to present the appearance that we have come to expect from battlefields: shattered trees, branches scattered over the ground, great round craters in the earth, dug out by shells…  It took barely fifty steps into Senlis before we know how things stood there.  The first house is a hotel-restaurant on a small square. It’s been looted and burned. The main street of Senlis, the Rue de la Republique, extends from this square.  From one end to the other, it is now a street of ruins, like something out of Pompei or Herculaneum, but also more terrible, as these are ruins from yesterday, not cleaned and polished by the passage of time, but still blackened by the flames, and full of still warm slag and rubble. One of the inhabitants, who had been in Martinique at the time of the destruction of St Pierre de Miquelon, said to me that this scene reminded him of that.[2] But here, this was not a natural disaster, the sudden eruption of a volcano which caused these ruins, this was men’s work, to the shame of humanity.

They entered Senlis and began by looting these houses, removing all they could take, eat and drink, and they threw into these houses special bombs that, when they exploded, caused fires.  That was all the way down the street. It wasn’t the bombardment that caused the fires, we would come to understand that more.  A cold and reflective willpower had presided over this devastation. The witnesses confirmed this, and in certain of the houses that had been spared they found incendiary bombs that had not fulfilled their role.  To the right, at the beginning of this terrible procession, a block of houses that had been consumed by fire. All that remained were certain sections of wall, in the middle of which were the roofs, staircases, and a heap of blackish rocks crumbled to ashes. … Detached houses, mansions, dwellings of the rich and poor, modern villas or elegant structures from the past, charming little eighteenth-century houses, simple and gracious, ancient monuments – nothing had been spared.  The fine hall of the Palace of Justice and of the Sub-Prefecture, an exquisite model of the architecture of the era of Gabriel and Louis, is no more.  As if to show what has been lost, only the façade remains, opened to the sky, showing its fine proportions, the regular openings showing where the windows and doors had been … The rest is destroyed, and this façade is held up only by a miracle, and, one could say, to give a few more days for those wish to come and witness this irreparable loss and the Germans’ infamy. … We pass on. One ruin follows another. How many are there? One hundred? Two hundred ? We haven’t made this sinister reckoning. There, where things had been to the put the flames, everything had been devoured. There are no half-ruins there.  Through the ruined entrance in a collapsed wall, we saw a little garden, a mass of flowers that still spread life and colour.  These flowers still living among all this mourning made the mourning even sadder – but the contrast is too cruel…

Palace of Justice Senlis
The remains of the Palace of Justice, Senlis

The cathedral was not seriously damaged: a passing shell broke off a pillar, snapping off a pinnacle, and its fragments made white wounds in the ancient stones made grey and green by the passage of time. But this is nothing, and we shivered when thinking of Rheims, whose Cathedral ….

This is the way that the Germans avenged themselves, on an innocent little town, one of our country’s adorable jewels, the charming smile of our Ile de France, in response to a shot fired, or so they said, by one of the inhabitants against their invading army. This man was shot out of hand, but they gave this reason without any proof.  At the same time, they took away the mayor, M. Odent[3]; they led him under escort to Chamant, where they dug a grave in front of him and shot him without trial. Afterwards, they buried him feet upwards, and that is how the body of this unfortunate magistrate was found, when various pious hands came to exhume him to give a more decent burial.

Look at how our enemies make war against us, in the name of their barbarous civilisation, in the name of a Greater Germany. A foolish as well as ferocious people, who existing only through and for war, find new ways of dishonouring it.’


[1]“The king’s final argument”. This was an inscription that had been used historically on cannon, typically those of the Spanish monarchy.

[2] Volcanic eruption of 1902.

[3] Eugène Odent, mayor since 1912. Executed by the German Army as one of seven hostages on 2 September 1914.

Using French journalism in teaching The First World War: (1) The First Battle of the Marne

So much of our understanding of the First World War on the Western Front is derived from areas where the British Army was the predominant presence – notably parts of Picardy and the Ypres salient. The flooded shell craters and sunken duckboards around Passchendaele in the autumn of 1917 have become a visual signature for the war on the western front as a whole. This concentration on the British contribution to the Western Front is perhaps understandable, constituting as it does an on-going act of national remembrance as well as a core aspect of school history syllabus.

However, a very large proportion of the fighting across the hundreds of kilometres of the Western Front was undertaken by French forces. Save perhaps for the scenes of lunar desolation around the principal forts of Verdun in the later stages of that struggle, there is less familiarity with the imagery of the French sections of the front-line in British teaching and learning. British public awareness of the First Battle of the Marne – arguably the most decisive of Western Front encounters – extends little beyond the tales of Parisian taxis and buses pressed into service to rush French soldiers to the approaching front line.

As in all the belligerent states, there was a vast appetite in France for news from the front, and in France this was satisfied by an array of newspapers and journals. Maps showing changes to the front line and the dispositions of allied and enemy forces were common features – but also photographs and war art were particularly popular. French wartime journalism also shaped and reflected a commonly shared sense of outrage of the violation and occupation of territory. Civilian casualties, the destruction of buildings, and the devastation of historic monuments, all feature prominently in French print and photographic journalism of the First World War. This is where the French (and Belgian) First World War experience differs, as its farmland, infrastructure, civic and religious buildings and architectural patrimony were directly in the firing line for more than four years, as opposed to the occasional but devastating bombardment of towns such as Grimsby and Scarborough, and the largely ineffectual Zeppelin attacks on London.

In addition to 1.4 million military casualties, France’s civilian populations fell under a brutal occupation that included hostage-taking and reprisal executions, facts potentially lost amid classroom enthusiasm to root-out the “fake news” of false atrocity stories. This devastating experience shaped French foreign policy priorities during the peace negotiations of 1918-1919, and in the post-war period.

Of course, such journalistic writing needs to be read with an awareness of the patriotic and political priorities of the editors and proprietors, and of course the strictures imposed by the French state. However, a more nuanced approach can be taken to the evaluation of such material beyond those two tiresomely overused terms – “bias” and “propaganda.” In teaching and learning of History we need a more subtle and context-specific lexicon to capture the background, purpose and intended audience or readership for sources of all types.

Source: ‘Toward the Battle of the Aisne,by Gustav Babin, L’Illustration, 26 September 1914. (Text and photo captions tr. Alastair Dunn)

Commentary: L’Illustration was a popular fortnightly news magazine, first published in 1843, and which appeared throughout 1914-1918, combining large feature articles, maps, photography and war art. (By 1917 advertisements for prosthetic limbs were appearing regularly in the back pages.) In the aftermath of the First Battle of the Marne, Babin followed the line of the river from Lagny, just to the east of Paris, to the town of Chateau-Thierry. This sector, only just recaptured from the Germans, had seen highly fluid fighting that had saved Paris from direct assault and possible siege. A selection of the images that accompanied Babin’s text have been included.

‘Of all the epic battles where our men have fiercely driven the barbarian hordes out of France, exerting their heroism and spilling their blood without thought for the cost, we will only understand its terrible beauty from the accounts of those played a glorious role there.  There can be no passive observer of such valiance and self-denial.  And those who most fervently wish to bear witness these great deeds that are accomplished on a daily basis, are kept at a safe distance from the battlefield.  They are made to stay a long way in the rear, and have long journeys to collect evidence of the virtues of those who are fighting and dying for the Patrie. Also, they have to explore furtively as these routes are well guarded.

I was made to show my rather doubtful pass ten or twenty times between the gate and the far end of the entrenched camp at Paris. The last defences, and final checkpoint, are at the gates of Lagny.  That morning I found a bleak Lagny, normally so gay in the summer, full of the cries and shouts of the rowers on the Marne. That day however, it received a comforting visit from Monsignor Marbeau, the dignified bishop of Meaux. As we arrived, the bishop crossed the Marne on the temporary pontoon built by the engineers to replace the stone bridge and the railway bridge, both of which had been blown up as a defensive measure against the invader.  And, at his crossing, all hats were doffed and all heads respectfully bowed out of respect for the courageous attitude in the face of adversity, of this man of duty and priestly character.

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Mgr Marbeau, bishop of Meaux, crossing the temporary bridge at Lagny

It was only 20 kilometres from here that we found the traces of the enemy’s presence and of the scenes of the recent fighting at Haute-Maison and Pierre-Levée.  I think that after so many days have passed I can name these locations without fear. Also, this is not the place to give oneself over to retrospective strategy, but rather to note my impressions of the journey.

We were, it seemed, at the extreme left of the fighting on the Marne, at one of those points where the enemy began its retreat.  The Germans could do nothing other than show themselves. The inhabitants have kept the same horrible memories of the attack that are left wherever the Germans pass. They saw them arrive like the flooding that comes with a storm. For twelve hours they marched in close ranks, coming from the direction of Trilport and Meaux – cavalry, infantry and artillery. One of their officers who led them shouted, as they passed, “You wanted this! It was you who declared war on us. In eight days we will be in Paris, victorious.” On the following day they returned on the same road.  An important English force had been looking out for them. It attacked them on the plain at Pierre Levée, drove them back, diverting them towards Trilport and La Ferté-sous-Jouarre.  Farewell Paris!

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The bridge at Trilport, near Meaux, and a German car that had crashed into the Marne. German officers, unaware that sappers of the French Engineers had already blown the bridge at Trilport, tried to cross it in a car at 80kph. The car, after a prodigious jump, crashed into the river. Alongside the body of the driver were found those of a captain and a lieutenant.

If the inhabitants retain their memories of the labour duties that they were made to carry out, such as drawing water for their horses, the requisitions that that they were made to endure, and which were paid for in goods – in reality “scraps of paper”, in the phrase of M. Bethmann-Hollweg[1] – the landscape does not show many signs of fighting. These are not the great marks that one would imagine, huge craters opened by shells.  Only some tree trunks shredded by shells; and in the stubble some traces of bivouacs; on the road side, banks of earth by the sides of the ditches, and under the apple trees the ground strewn with green fruit brought down by artillery fire – then, here and there, a grave.

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A faithful dog on the common grave of ten soldiers of the 5th Infantry Regiment.
Falling during the battle of Esternay, near the village of Champguyon, ten soldiers of the 5th Infantry Regt. were buried side by side in the middle of a field. The regimental dog refuses to leave the graveside where those who cared for it lie.

There had not been time to loot the villages, and the inhabitants, who knew of the fate of certain of the neighbouring localities, which were stripped from floor to ceiling – Etrépilly among others – wondered at their good fortune. Alas, in other places the Teutonic savagery gave itself free rein!

La Ferté-sous-Jarre has known the worst ecstasies, a brutal occupation, bombardment – by friendly forces as the allies rushed to bring support – then the fires set by the Prussians as they fled.  Her two bridges are destroyed, blown up by the enemy keen to ensure themselves a relatively calm retreat.

The flow of the Marne, which is usually so charming here, is split by bent iron girders, and foams over the stones that have fallen on to its bed, and its green surface reflects the walls blackened by petrol-fuelled fires, the stripped roof of a fine building – a chateau that had been converted into a convent, burnt by the Germans as they retreated. On the verdant walls of the terraces where the inhabitants used to walk in calm reverie, you can see the bullet holes, and where the arcing machine-gun fire took down the willow and yew trees in the gardens by the river. One burns up, as if in response to a sacrilege, when recalling the ruins of this beautiful city, where Jeanne Poisson, marquise de Pompadour[2], once lived…

… Montreuil-aux-Lions was also under the German boot the week before last.  A horrific nightmare for this little township, clinging to a hillside, which has scarcely recovered.  At last the English arrived, following them headlong. A very heavy fight followed.  For almost the whole day a battery of seven guns, carefully dug-in, troubled our allies. Around 5pm, determined to finish this off, they gained a fix on these troublesome guns.  An aeroplane appeared in the sky, reconnoitring the fields and woods. One hour later it was all over: the seven Krupp guns were dead. The place won by a hard-fought struggle. The Germans buckled. In the neighbouring fields the grave mounds attest to the slaughter that took place there.

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Priests blessing the dead on the battlefield at Varreddes

We were told, “the guns are still there. Come and look at them.”  A steep path led to the middle of the copse which fully sheltered the battery. Trenches cut across the glebe field, littered with wreckage of all types, rucksacks, aluminium pots, dented and punctured helmets, bloody bandages – and also an album of clocks[3], the illustrated pages of which had scattered in the wind.  But the guns remained. “The English will come back for these tonight,” our guide murmured.  The seven gun carriages remained, and around them lay destroyed shells, peppered with shrapnel, allowing us to see the powder fuses in their torn-open casings. The man who buried them was there. He declared that not one of the crews survived. At each position, with dramatic gestures, he described the positions of the bodies that he collected.  This was fine work, and was a credit to the British artillery spotters. By the half broken wheel of one of the gun carriages was a grey forage cap, covered in dark brown blood, and punctured by a single hole. At least one of them had died without suffering.

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The chateau of Gué-a-Tresmes, near Congis, after the Germans had visited. The boots and personal effects of dead soldiers, now buried in the park, from an ambulance stationed there


We entered Chateau-Thierry as night fell. The melancholy of the fading light added to the sadness of the deserted town, which showed on all sides the evidence of its looting. Only those houses were the residents were present had been spared. And if we hadn’t found the hospitality of the most welcoming of hearths, that of the grandson of M. Alexandre Lenoir, founder of the Museum of French Monuments – we would, I think, have had to go without dinner and sleep beneath the stars.

At the foot of the garden of this blessed house, the river Marne was half-blocked by a strange wreck that, as we awoke, shone in the rising sun. When the Germans arrived a barge filled with petrol had been sunk there. And rather than see a cargo, precious beyond all others, fall into enemy hands, the boatman, a man of vigorous calibre, had set it alight. The barge burned like a match and then sank. A proportion of the petrol cans were saved and they are now used to store drinking water, a fortunate discovery in such times.

I can say that the homes here that had not been abandoned were, in a manner, respected.  Sometimes they were even protected, we even found proof of this delicate preoccupation at our host’s. On one of the fine paintings in the hallway, a large classical landscape with dense vegetation, a hand had written with the precise calligraphy of a sergeant-major, Bitte Nicht Plundern (“please don’t plunder”) a touching expression of the not so boorish side of the soldiers. We take this as an echo of the clumsy kindness of these people from beyond the Rhine, not long after they had tried to conquer us by steel and fire.

Since the previous evening we had heard in the distance the rumbling of the guns. Their low murmuring had attracted us; but hearing them a little closer now, we left in haste, as soon as we had woken.  It seemed that we were always following the same path. In this quick succession of places and horizons, the images became juxtaposed and merged.  Always on the battlefields the same shards of metal glittering in the sun, the same debris, traces of bivouacs and shredded tree trunks.  Once again the lost wander in these fields and woods, not knowing to whom to surrender, lying at the foot of the haystacks and behind hedges – the many dead without graves.

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The grave of a Zouave between Meaux and Chambry

At each stop the noise that assaulted our ears got closer. It was only in the morning that the rumbling was muffled, like that of a distant storm at the horizon of a summer sky. Now the blasts sounded more distinct ad clear, redoubled by the echoes. Soon the sound of engines no longer muffles them. And here on our left, our careful eyes have picked out, on the side of the hill, a white cloud rising into the azure of the morning sky. The smoke from a fire, we thought, perhaps a farm or another village burned by these savages. But the cloud faded soon after, replaced in the sky a little further away, towards the right, by one and then a second and a third.  Soon the whole crest of the hill in front of us was covered with plumes of smoke, vanishing as soon as they appeared, while the voices of the heavy guns growled ceaselessly. The battle was there, just a few kilometres from us, and we realised that evening, that we had passed close to the rear of our positions…

…After a brief stop at the next village, swarming with troops coming and going, where the long red cloaks of the Moroccan soldiers mixed with the grey coats of our gunners, it was time to head back. Travelling by roads flooded with English soldiers heading towards the front, we only got back to La Ferté-sous-Jarre with the greatest difficulty. It was fully dark by the time we returned, a sinister night of squalls and rain.  And at that moment not one of our thoughts was not with THEM, our hearts torn with anguish at the thought of THEM without shelter, under the inclement skies, after the rigours of the day.’[4]

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After the Battle of the Marne. German wounded treated at The Mairie at Varreddes


*     *     *

Using the Babin’s text and images in teaching and learning


Portrayal of the Germans

Babin describes the Germans at various points throughout the article

Discussion point: Why do you think Babin uses a variety terms to describe the Germans ?  Why do you think his tone changes at different points in the text ?


Physical destruction

Babin gives significant attention to the physical destruction of the towns along The Marne.

Discussion point: Why do you think Babin focuses on this detail ?


The dead

Babin’s narrative makes frequent references to the dead.

Discussion point: How do these various descriptions differ at various points in the story?


Extension task

-What memorials and cemeteries are there today in the towns mentioned in Babin’s account ?

-Can you find examples of modern-day images of the locations and buildings mentioned in the article ?

-How does Babin’s account and accompanying differ from any other First World War journalism you may have read, perhaps British sources, or those written later in the war?

* * *

[1] Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg (1856-1921), German Chancellor 1909-1917, who described the British guarantee of Belgian neutrality of 1839 as “a scrap of paper.”

[2] Marquise de Pompadour (1721-1764), one of the many mistresses of King Louis XV (ruled 1715-1744), who spent some of her time at the Chateau of Champs-sur-Marne.

[3] Presumably a photographic album of French clocktowers to help orientate German gunners in the flat lands of the Ile de France.

[4] The capitalisation follows the original French text.


I have reproduced these texts and images purely for educational purposes. I make no claim to the copyright of the original French text or the photographs.

Dunkirk 1947: a forgotten Franco-British Treaty

On 4 March 1947 representatives of the British and French governments signed a treaty of mutual alliance against any future aggression from Germany. Coming a year after Winston Churchill’s famous “Iron Curtain speech” in Fulton, Missouri, and a few days before President Truman’s declaration to the United States Congress outlining his Containment Doctrine, the Dunkirk Treaty now seems little more than a footnote in the broader story of the development of the Cold War. Given that Germany at this time was under military occupation and its industry largely in ruins, the hypothetical invasion and war envisaged in the treaty text seems quaint to the say the least.

But the Dunkirk Treaty merits closer scrutiny as it cuts across the narrative of a crudely bisected and bipolar Europe, and reminds us that France’s Foreign Policy at this time was shaped as much by its turbulent domestic politics, and by the memory of three wars with Germany, as by any future hypothetical conflict with the USSR.  It also helps us to understand the crucial roles played by individuals in Britain and France who strove to find common ground in a relationship that had suffered damage from the debacle of 1940 and the Petainist years, on-going imperial rivalries, and contrasting visions for East-West relations as well as for the future organisation of Europe.

A year earlier, at 6:25pm on 20 January 1946, Alfred Duff Cooper, British Ambassador in Paris since the liberation, had telegrammed the Foreign Office to report rumours of the resignation of Charles de Gaulle from the leadership of the Provisional Government.[1] The relationship between De Gaulle and his American and British wartime allies had long been fractured along several lines, including the future of France’s Levantine colonies, the question of Germany’s Western Boundaries, and the General’s belief that he could hold the balance between the Anglo-Saxon World and the USSR, thereby saving Europe from domination by either.[2]  Duff Cooper’s haste in communicating this news was due to a belief he shared with Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin that the General had represented an immovable obstacle to the conclusion of a long-overdue Franco-British treaty. But the removal of De Gaulle itself brought new uncertainties, due to the endless games of ministerial musical-chairs that came to characterize the Provisional Government (1944-6) and its successor, the Fourth Republic (1947-1958).[3]

Georges Bidault flanked on his left by Maurice Thorez and on his right by Felix Gouin

The most striking electoral feature of immediate post-war French politics was the success of the Communist Party, which appealed not only to working class disillusionment against the recent collaborationism in the bourgeoisie and the leaders of industry, but also to longer-term social tensions pre-dating the war, as well as to more recent preoccupations such as spiralling inflation. In the October 1945 legislative elections the Communists of Maurice Thorez became the single largest party, gaining 159 deputies from 26.2% of the vote, and seats in government alongside the centrist Mouvement Républicain Populaire (MRP) of Georges Bidault and the Socialists of Félix Gouin. While this coalition did achieve some significant social reforms, the threat of disintegration was never far away, in part due to bitter clashes over foreign policy.

In March 1946 Bidault glumly confided in Duff Cooper his fears that Britain saw France as “a lost country.”[4] The Gaullist vision of France emerging as an independent broker of relations between East and West had found expression in the Franco-Soviet Treaty of Mutual Alliance that Bidault had signed with the USSR in Moscow in December 1944. However, France’s exclusion from the February 1945 Yalta Summit, and the post-war Anglo-American focus on the reconstruction and subsequent merger of their German occupational zones, entailed a harsh brake one these ambitions, for the time being at least.

Annexation of German territory remained a cherished goal in France, no less than it had been in the years immediately following the First World War.  The French Government’s demands were in part a re-hashing of what President Raymond Poincaré and Marshal Ferdinand Foch had demanded of President Wilson more than twenty five years earlier – an independent Rhineland, a Saarland protectorate and international control over the Ruhr coalfields.[5] While the Saarland was declared a French-controlled Protectorate in 1946 (and would remain so until 1957), with its own flag and currency, negotiations regarding the Ruhr would drag on until 1949, finally culminating in the declaration of an International High Authority – out of which Robert Schuman’s plan for a European Coal and Steel Community (one of the progenitors of the present E.U.) would emerge in 1950-1.[6] French ambitions for some form of quasi-autonomous Rhineland republic foundered against British and American determination for the new West German State to be an economically viable unit, with a territorial integrity that preserved the essentials of what had emerged during Bismarck’s wars of 1864-1871.

Amid France’s diplomatic disappointments of 1946, the possibility of a British military guarantee of French sovereignty was back on the agenda. Now better remembered for his marriage to the renowned society beauty Lady Diana Manners, and for his colourful private life, the strongly Francophile Duff Cooper was in fact a significant voice in support of a comprehensive French treaty encompassing trade and defence. During the years of the Churchill wartime government, Cooper’s arguments had gained little traction with Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, whose scepticism about exclusively European projects would remain a constant in his diplomatic outlook.[7]  Remaining in Paris under the Attlee government, in many respects Cooper had a better working relationship with Ernest Bevin than with his predecessor as Foreign Secretary.[8]

Cooper’s despatches to London across the year 1946 reveal his understanding of the linkage in French government thinking between a possible Franco-British mutual military guarantee, and the possibility of their acceptance of an International High Authority for the Ruhr. In early April 1946 Oliver Harvey (Deputy Under Secretary in the Foreign Office) joined Cooper in Paris to negotiate over the future of the Ruhr, and to initiate general treaty discussions. While Bidault firmly re-asserted French determination to secure the Ruhr, his position was undermined by a growing split within his coalition. Rejecting Bidault’s intransigence as too a high price to pay for the loss of a treaty with Britain, Félix Gouin and his Socialists walked out of the cabinet.[9]

Sensing an opportunity, Cooper and Harvey pushed to Bidault the idea of decoupling the Ruhr issue from the Anglo-French treaty. Although Bidault refused to fundamentally change his position, Ambassador Massigli was already in conversation with Cooper, exploring alternative models for how the Ruhr might fit in a new West German state, and its relationship to France and the rest of Europe. Furthermore, in his conversations with Massigli and Finance Minister Robert Schuman, Cooper had implanted a key idea. Seeking to calm their fears that French failure to detach the Ruhr would jeopardise relations with the USSR, Cooper argued than a Franco-British military alliance could be framed in terms of a precaution against a resurgence of German nationalism. This appealed particularly to Schuman, who had only just emerged from a “tense” Cabinet meeting that included the Deputy Prime Minister, the Stalinist Maurice Thorez.  Notwithstanding major gaps remaining between the two countries, on 9 April 1946 the existence of the preliminary Franco-British talks was made public (America and the USSR having been informed four days earlier).

In Whitehall, the imperative of blocking the rise of the French Communists was felt just as keenly. In a memorandum dated 24 March 1946, Horace Rumbold had reported an approach to Cooper by General Pierre Billotte, the Assistant Army Chief of Staff with close links to De Gaulle, requesting funds and noting that “the right wing people tell us once the Communists get into power nothing will get them out again, that we would then have the Soviet Union twenty miles from our doorstep and would be driven in our own interests to support a French resistance against the occupier.”[10] Rumbold’s memorandum quickly dismissed as fanciful the notion of British intervention in the event of a Communist take-over, but recognising the urgency of the situation he recommended immediate action, including the emergency provision of 10,000 tons of cooking fat as an interim measure to extricate Bidault’s government from a food shortages crisis, combined with maximum publicity for such assistance, and the downplaying of British opposition to the annexation of the Ruhr. The winter of 1945-1946 had seen severe food shortages across France, worse in many respects than in the years of occupation, and repeated calls were made to Britain for wheat and flour, most of which were declined due to even more pressing demands in the British occupational zone of Germany.[11]  Food became a significant propaganda tool as the USSR announced an offer of 500,000 tons of wheat to France (in return for payment in US dollars!) in April 1946.[12]

French industrial production in key categories, 1938 and 1946

For the remainder of 1946 the journey to an Anglo-French Treaty was beset with false-starts and breakdowns, exacerbated by a series of crises in India, Greece and the Middle East that absorbed the attention of Bevin.[13] Matters inside France remained as complicated as ever. A key consideration was the French electoral calendar, and on 31 May, two days before France went to the polls, Cooper communicated his fears to Harvey that De Gaulle’s ally, the information minister and novelist André Malraux might resort to violence to lever his master back into the presidency.[14] In the event, Bidault’s MRP gained seats at the expense of the Communists and the Socialists, and the three-party coalition soldiered on.

Franco-British meetings in September 1946 resolved many economic aspects of the arrangement, including export and import terms for specific products, and a rescheduling of France’s £100 million debt to Britain for final repayment by 1962. In mid-October 1946 Bidault met with Bevin and dusted off the Gaullist notion of a European third force but further progress was limited by the imminence of the French elections. Cooper’s view was that the respective commitments of Bidault to the Russians and Bevin to the Americans left little room for a reconfiguration of a grand strategy.[15]

The election of 10 November 1946, brought the Communists 182 seats from 28% of the vote, and made them once more the single largest party.[16] In the final months of transition to the new Fourth Republic, the new Prime Minister was Léon Blum, the veteran socialist and former Popular Front leader from the 1930s, who was also something of an Anglophile. Cooper now seized his moment, and on 26 December he secured a personal meeting Blum and pushed for completion of the treaty. On 1 January 1947, as France lay in the grip of a freezing winter, Blum wrote to Clement Attlee, broaching the possibility of a supply of 1-2 million tons of British coal per month as part of a broader accommodation.  Although Attlee’s response ducked the coal issue, Blum was invited to London on 13 January, and negotiations on specific treaty terms formally opened the following day.[17] This diplomatic push owed much to the initiative of two men – Cooper himself and the new Under Secretary of State at the Quai d’Orsay, Pierre-Olivier Lapie.

Over the following three months many of the obstacles that had hitherto obstructed progress seemed to dissolve or diminish in importance.  Negotiations continued under the premiership of Paul Ramadier, and French momentum was maintained by several factors, including the dire economic situation, and a series of pessimistic internal reports from its own General Staff, suggesting that the country had little capacity to defend itself alone, in the event of a European war. British Army reservations over any binding commitments were assuaged by the general phrasing of the promised terms of assistance; intelligence sharing would be limited, and obligations would not extend to the defence of overseas territories; and pre-existing commitments to the USA would be prioritised.[18]  Cooper had hoped for an expansive treaty that would herald a general Franco-British Entente but both governments were nervous at the anticipated Soviet reaction, and therefore the terms provisionally reached on 25 February were heavily derivative of both countries’ wartime alliances with the USSR.[19]

In the Cabinet on 27 February 1947 Attlee expressed concern that Britain could now be tied to backing a French military occupation of the Ruhr, or some other nationalist provocation, but Bevin reassured him that the United Nations Charter could still be invoked in such instances, and that no automatic military trigger was in place.[20] For France a crucial priority was getting the signatures of both governments on the Treaty prior to the Moscow Foreign Ministers’ summit on 10 March, as anything less than a fait accompli was feared as a possible invitation to Soviet meddling.[21]

The bleakness of Dunkirk in early March was magnified by the enduring devastation from the German siege of May 1940, and by the driving rain that welcomed Bevin, Cooper, Bidault and Massigli to the sub-prefecture – one of the few intact buildings. Bidault claimed that the venue had been his idea, to exorcise the memories of 1940, but Jean Chauvel, Secretary General at the Quai d’Orsay, credited the British with a location that in French eyes was associated more with a failed alliance than with the miracle of escape. Bidault and Bevin spoke not a word of each other’s language, and small talk was therefore impossible to fill the delay caused by the breakdown of the car delivering the treaty texts. Amid the gloom Chauvel noted the vision of Lady Diana Cooper, turned out in a suitably non-committal gris clair.[22]

The Dunkirk Treaty stands at an intersection between the on-off entente and mésentente of Anglo-French relations, and the vast and complex efforts to re-order the political, military and economic structures of post-war Europe.  It showed that Britain and France still had common ground, and recognised an element of mutual dependence at a time when their empires were faltering, and international relations were being increasingly shaped by superpower rivalry. In helping France to accommodate itself to a new West German state, and to accept a compromise on the future of the Ruhr industrial complex that represented the abandonment annexationist aims, Dunkirk contributed to preparing the ground for the economic and political structures that led to the Rome Treaty a decade later, and the E.E.C. While the conduct of Foreign Policy under Bevin has been characterised as privileging Anglo-American relations, Dunkirk showed that Foreign Office thinking was enthusiastic to repair the damage done in the years of De Gaulle’s predominance. The nimble footwork of a Francophile British Conservative ambassador in building bridges with a temporary Socialist French Government confirms the importance of personal chemistry and the contingencies of domestic political bouleversements as much as fixed strategies. Seventy years on from The Dunkirk Treaty, the human element in Franco-British diplomacy seems more important than ever as Britain plans its withdrawal from some of the supranational structures that had their origins in this period.

[1] NA: PRO FO 371/59956.

[2] S. Berstein, Histoire du Gaullisme (Perrin, 2002), p. 306.

[3] R. Gildea, France since 1945 (Oxford, 2002), p. 41.

[4] FO 371/59952 (55803).

[5] For a general discussion of French territorial aims, see A. S. Milward, The Reconstruction of Western Europe, 1945-1951 (California, 1984), pp. 128-9.

[6] The Origins and Development of European Integration, ed. P. M. R. Stirk and D. Weigall (Pinter, London, 1999), p. 63.

[7] FO 371/59952 (55803), Cooper to Bevin, 19 Mar. 1946, citing correspondence of 30 May 1944 and 11 Mar. 1945.

[8] P. M. H. Bell, France and Britain, 1940-1994: The Long Separation (Routledge, 2007), p. 75.

[9]  FO 371/59952 (55803), Cooper to Foreign Office, 5 Apr. 1946.

[10] NA: PRO FO 371/59953.

[11] Bell, France and Britain, 1940-1994, p. 75.

[12] FO 371/59953, Sir Orme Sargent to Bevin, 3 Apr. 1946.

[13] J. W. Young, Britain, France the Unity of Europe, 1945-1951 (Leicester, 1984), p. 44.

[14] FO 371/59953, Cooper to Harvey, 31 May 1946.

[15] FO 371/59954, Duff Cooper to the Foreign Office, 15 Oct. 1946.

[16] R. Kedward, La Vie en Bleu, France and the French Since 1900  (Penguin, 2005), p. 356

[17] E. du Reau, ‘Les origins et la portée du traité de Dunkerque vers une nouvelle “entente cordiale?” (4 Mars 1947) in Matériaux pour l’histoire de nos temps, no, 18, 1990. La mésentente cordiale: les relations franco-britanniques, 1945-1957, p. 24.

[18] Ibid., p. 25.

[19] Young, Britain, France the Unity of Europe, p. 49.

[20] NA: PRO CAB 195/5  C.M. 25 (47).

[21] Du Reau, ‘Les origins et la portée du traité de Dunkerque …’ 25.

[22] G. Bidault, D’une Résistance à l’autre (Les Presses du Siecle, 1965) p. 145; J. Chauvel, Commentaire: d’Alger à Berne, 1944-1952 (Fayard, 1972), p. 193.

The Jäger Report and Holocaust Education: a case study

The Holocaust in the “East” and in the “West”

On 1 December 1941, SS Standartenführer Karl Jäger, chief of the German Security Police in Nazi-occupied Lithuania, drafted for his superiors a nine page report detailing the activities of his unit, Einsatzkommando 3, comprising the mass-murder of the overwhelming majority of that country’s Jewish population, with operations extending into Byelorussia and Latvia.

The fourth of five original copies of this report survived the war, and was recovered by Soviet forces in Lithuania in 1944 following the withdrawal of the Germans. The report remained unknown to Western scholars until 1963, when it was made available by Soviet authorities to the West German war-crimes prosecuting authorities. Published in a 1988 German compilation of sources, and re-published in English as Klee et. al. Those Were the Days, The Holocaust as seen by Perpetrators and Bystanders (Hamish Hamilton, 1991), the report is also available in both languages in a full digital version, originally created by the Holocaust History Project and now preserved by Further details on the transmission and historical use of the report can be found on Holocaust Controversies.

The Jäger Report is at once both a highly valuable resource for Holocaust education, but also – due to its provenance and purpose – a challenging document which poses important questions for both student and educator. When teaching and learning the Holocaust (especially in the West) we are perhaps most familiar with those primary sources that come to us from the victims and survivors of those camps that lay in Poland and in or around the German Reich, and which have been preserved by a worldwide network of museums, educational charities and private individuals. In recent years the human link between the ageing generation of survivors and school and college-age students has been re-enforced by speaker programmes, and valuable opportunities for school pupils to visit sites of Nazi atrocity, principally the camps of Poland and Germany.

The understanding in schools of how and where the Holocaust happened, and the circumstances and contexts of mass murder, has perhaps inevitably been shaped by geography, geopolitics and also by representation in memoir, documentary and historical fiction and dramatization. The patterns of persecution of Jewish populations in Nazi-occupied Western Europe – from restrictions on daily life through to enforced registration, round-up and deportation, culminating in enslavement and murder – are well established in teaching and learning.

American and British veterans’ direct encounters with the Holocaust largely centred on the liberation of the German concentration and slave labour camps in April 1945, such as Dachau and Bergen-Belsen and their networks of satellite and sub-camps, and in the management of refugees in the post-war period. The best known account of the individual Jewish experience in Nazi occupied Europe remains Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl.

In film and television the events of the Holocaust in Poland have received the most attention, whether in documentaries such as Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (1985) and Laurence Rees’s Auschwitz, The Nazis and the Final Solution (2005), and also in cinematic representations, such as Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993), Roman Polanski’s The Pianist (2002) and most recently in László Nemes’ Son of Saul (2016).

Geopolitical factors have also helped to shape the Western popular understanding of the Holocaust. The rapid deterioration in East-West relations following the end of the Second World War in Europe limited access to sites connected to the Holocaust on Soviet territory, and also to documentary evidence. Scenes of Holocaust atrocity in the states of the former Soviet Union were not easily accessible until the 1990s. In addition, the Communist authorities’ approach to commemoration had been to emphasize all civilian dead as having being Soviet citizens, often excluding references to Jews even at sites where they were the principal or sole victims of atrocity.

While many of the locations of atrocity in Germany, Poland and elsewhere in central Europe have become significant centres of memorialisation and remembrance, with hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, there is no such general cultural familiarity in the West with the locations of Nazi genocide on former Soviet territory, such as Babi Yar (Ukraine) or Ponary (Lithuania).

The distinct chronology of the Holocaust on former Soviet territory, and its exceptionally broad distribution, encompassing thousands of sites of incarceration, forced labour and mass killing, poses further challenges in terms of education and awareness. While very large numbers of Jews in occupied Soviet territory were concentrated in ghettoes, such as those at Wilna and Kaunas, before being transferred to killing sites, it is also the case that many others were murdered in a constellation of localised actions. Many of the Jews in occupied Soviet territory were murdered close to their homes – often within a 4-5 km radius, as Jäger himself noted in his report.

Of these smaller locations, many are only recorded, if at all, by local monuments, and others are perhaps already lost to living memory. Yad Vashem’s comprehensive list of sites of murder and suffering (including GPS coordinates) will help to mitigate the risk of their obliteration from memory, and yet the contours and phases of the Holocaust in the East remain poorly understood relative to events in Central and Western Europe. Only when we make more use of evidence relating to the Holocaust in the East in teaching and learning will this imbalance be rectified.

Using the Jäger Report to help us to understand the Holocaust in the East  

Between early July and late November 1941  Einsatzkommando 3 carried out the mass-murder of Lithuania’s Jews, which was part of a broader campaign of extermination across all Soviet and Soviet-annexed territory that came under German occupation. The deployment of these mobile killing squads, following the German Army into Soviet territory, was integral to the SS’s plans for the racial and political re-ordering of the East, to be achieved through the murder of Jews, Communists, Roma and any who opposed occupation.

The mass killings of Lithuanian Jews detailed in the Jäger Report were carried out at close range by firing squads, and took two main forms. In many instances the victims were held in ghettoes such as that at the Vilijampolė district of Kaunas, before being taken to central locations, such the historic Kaunas Forts (principally numbers IV, VII and IX), or from the Wilna locality to Ponary (Paneriai), which had been converted to sites of mass execution.  However, in other instances, especially in August and September 1941, the mobile killing squad (Rollkommando) of EK 3, led by Jäger’s deputy, the Baltic German Obersturmführer Joachim Hamann, itinerated between towns, killing the Jewish populations and others that had been concentrated from each locality.

The Jäger Report helps us to understand a number of dimensions of the Holocaust that we could not gain solely from the study of events in Western and Central Europe. The first of these relates to chronology. Studying the actions of the Einsatzgrüppen in Soviet territory, particularly in the months covered by the Jäger Report, highlights the sheer scale and intensity of murder by shooting that followed immediately in the wake of the German invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. As Browning notes (Origins of the Final Solution, p. 244), by December 1941 between 500,000 – 800,000 Jews had been murdered on Soviet territory, to which total Jäger’s EK 3 contributed well in excess of 130,000 victims.

Other than those actions perpetrated by Lithuanian militias without direct German supervision, the great majority of the killings listed in Jäger’s report was carried out by the Rollkommando of 8-10 German security police supported by 60-80 Lithuanian volunteers. According to Jäger’s report, responsibilities were rotated, with around 20 at any one time involved in the shootings, and the remainder involved in guarding and escorting the victims. The rotation of responsibilities hints at the growing concerns within the SS leadership about the psychological effects on its police and security units of murdering by firing squad, which was one of the factors behind the increasing recourse to the use of gas, whether in mobile vans or, especially in Poland, through stationary facilities and extermination camps.

The Jäger Report illustrates not only a step-change in the scale and scope of mass-murder on Soviet and Soviet-annexed territory, but also the degree to which local commanders sought to improvise and take the initiative, often correctly assessing the direction of policy from Berlin, but also on occasions drawing criticism for overstepping the mark in terms of expanding the category of those to be killed. The growing scale and frequency with which Jewish women and children were killed in Lithuania from July and August 1941 enables us to the see “at ground level” the rapid shift from the mass murder of predominantly adult males to a genocidal campaign that encompassed entire families, and therefore entire communities, most likely at the instigation of Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich, and other members of the higher SS leadership.

The murder of five transports of almost five thousand German and Austrian Jews in Kaunas Fort IX on 25 and 29 November 1941 shows the intersection of the fates of the German and Eastern Jews in the months before gassing facilities were widely operational. (Browning, Origins of the Final Solution, p. 376.) It was perhaps with an eye to the complexities of the 1935 Nuremberg Laws (and also to the possibility of being called to account) that Jäger described one of his victims as being a “Reich German who converted to the Jewish faith and attended rabbinical school.” The killing of a German woman married to a Jew is also noted at Mariampole on 1 September.  Browning observes (Origins of the Final Solution, pp. 305-6)  that Jäger’s murder of these German Jews who were scheduled for “resettlement” appears to have been undertaken on his own initiative, which illustrates how the scope and pace of the Holocaust was determined by local decisions as well as by directives from Berlin.  Similarly, the shooting of a Jewish American man and woman, at Kaunas Fort IX on 2 August 1941, seems unlikely to have been approved from above, especially given that the USA was still officially neutral, even at the time when Jäger wrote his report.

Examples of Jewish resistance can also be found in the report. As more than 2,000 Jewish men, women and children were being led away at Zagare on 2 October 1941 “a mutiny arose, which was immediately put down; 150 Jews were shot immediately…”  Other events described in the Report as Jewish acts of resistance were in fact provocations orchestrated by the Germans, such as that of 30 August 1941, in which a shooting incident attributed to the Jews was used to justify their expulsion from Wilna Old Town and their concentration in newly designated ghettoes. This accounts for the Sonderaktion (special action) undertaken by EK 3 on 2 September, in response to “German soldiers shot at by Jews” which resulted in 3,700 deaths. (For details see Chronicles of the Vilna Ghetto.)

The Jäger Report also helps us to understand the inter-agency conflicts that were an endemic feature of Nazi rule in Eastern Europe, often pitting the security police, with their brief for racial re-organisation through forced relocation and mass murder, against civil administrators, the army and armaments officials, who contested among themselves access to, and control of, Jewish labour in the ghettoes. Jäger finishes the statistical section of his report by noting that his intention to kill the 45,000 Lithuanian Jewish workers and their families that remained in the ghettoes at Schaulen, Kaunas and Wilna was thwarted, at least for the time being, by “strong protests on the part of the civil administration (the Reichskommissar) and the Wehrmacht.”

While the report is overwhelmingly concerned with accounting for the sequential annihilation of Lithuanian Jewry, it also offers broader insight into the racial and political priorities of the SS in the occupied Soviet Union, and of the Nazis’ attitudes to others who had no place in the new Ostland. The single largest category of non-Jewish victims was recorded as “Communists.” This presents some definitional problems, as within this category some of the victims are more narrowly defined as Politruk (Commissars) whose murder had been formally authorised by the Army High Command on 6 June 1941, and others as “NKVD agents”, while the identities of the great majority receive no further elaboration. This raises the question as to whether their targeting was, at least in part, due to pressure from the local nationalist (and fiercely Anti-Semitic and Anti-Communist) militias which had independently initiated the murder of the Jews before EK 3 had taken control, and on which the Germans were heavily reliant.

The mass murder of psychiatric patients is also noted on two occasions – an overt extension of the supposedly clandestine policy that was already underway within the boundaries of the Old Reich, a campaign in which techniques of killing by poison gas were also being refined. Compared to the “Aktion T4” programme inside Germany, which by this time had become a matter of growing public controversy, the murdering of entire psychiatric hospitals could be undertaken with brazen speed and force in the occupied territories.

Small numbers of Soviet POWs were also killed by EK 3 within the timeframe of the report, although this does not appear to have been a significant feature of this unit’s operations, assuming the accuracy of Jäger’s figures. The shooting of a Roma family on 22 August at Dünauburg reminds us that this community was also subject to extermination on racial grounds. Jäger’s report also includes examples of punitive and reprisal killings against non-Jews for specific activities – for example the mayor of Jonava who was shot at Ukmerge on 1 August for supposedly having ordered the burning of the village. The specific justifications that were given for individual killings in these categories is perhaps indicative of the Nazis’ concern to avoid alienating those Lithuanians sympathetic to the occupation.

The final one and a half sheets of Jäger’s report are dedicated to observations regarding the clearance of prisons (“which as far as hygiene was concerned, defied description”), which he deemed to be “one of Einsatzkommando 3’s most important duties.” According to Jäger, on average each town had over 600 prison inmates, many of whom he considered to be the innocent victim of false denunciations for Communist sympathies, such as teenage girls who had apparently applied to join the Communist Youth League “in order to gain work.” On the occasion of the inspection of Jonava prison, Jäger carried out a a very public division of the inmates into three categories: “criminals, Communist officials, Politruks and other riff-raff (Gesindel)” who were shot (in some cases following a whipping); those serving shorter sentences who appear to have continued their detention; and the “quite harmless” who were released after a public homily, translated simultaneously into Lithuanian and Russian, that included the line “If we were Bolsheviks we would have shot you but as we are Germans we are giving you back your freedom.”

Jäger’s narrative digression here offers us the German occupiers’ perspective on the bitter ethnic and political tensions that pervaded Lithuania in the convulsive months surrounding the Soviet withdrawal and the German invasion.  In June 1940, following the Nazi-Soviet Pact, the USSR had occupied the Baltic States, including Lithuania. The repression of Baltic nationalists by the soviet security forces led groups such as the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF) to mobilise and radicalise Anti-Semitism into the Anti-Soviet cause, in anticipation of German “liberation.” The deliberate identification of the Jews with the Soviet invader and the repression of the NKVD, was not simply left to local sentiment, but was actively promoted by Kazys Skirpa, a politician in German exile since 1940, and intensified in the months leading up to the German invasion. (Browning, Origins of the Final Solution, p. 270.)  That Anti-Semitic groups – not only in Lithuania, but also across the western fringes of the Soviet Union – felt confident to begin mass killings in anticipation of the approach of German forces, and well before the Einsatzgrüppen could assert their control, helps to account for the speed and scale of the murders. (For further examples, see Klee et. al., Those Were the Days, p. 91 and passim.) Without the bitter mix of ethnic and political tensions in Lithuania in 1941, Jäger’s to ability harness active local support to kill in such large numbers would doubtless have been inhibited.

Jäger remained as Chief of Security Police in Lithuania until September 1943, after which he was redeployed to a similar role in the Sudetenland. Although Swiss by birth, he remained in West Germany after the War, and worked in agriculture near Heidelberg until his arrest in April 1959. He committed suicide in Hohenasperg prison on 22 June 1959, while awaiting trial, leaving a suicide note in which he denied responsibility for mass murder, diverting blame to the Lithuanians, and to Hamann,  who himself had committed suicide on 13 July 1945.

The murder of Jews in Lithuania continued until the German evacuation in 1944, and included further mass killings of children and adults, and deportations to camps such as that at Stutthof in German-occupied Danzig-West Prussia, where further killings occurred until the collapse of the Reich. EK 3 was, of course, far from being the only German unit involved in the Holocaust in Lithuania.

The structure of the Jäger Report

The Jäger Report is a nine sheet document, six of which are tabulations of killing activities, beginning with the date (usually a single day), the location, the composition of the victims (differentiating between male and female, and from August stating whether children were included) and then a total.

While the report does enable the reader to track the movements of EK 3’s killing squads, and to produce cumulative totals (which are given at the end and beginning of each sheet), it is not purely linear in its chronology, reflecting the shifting geographical priorities and focus of EK 3 at various points, and possibly the interpolation of figures that may not have originated directly from German personnel.

The report can be understood as having five sections:

The first section runs from 4 July 1941 on Sheet 1 to 29 November 1941 on Sheet 5, concentrating principally on killings in Kaunas, Mariampole, Panevezys and Rasainiai.  References to the killing of children begin to appear around 18th August.

This is followed by a record of killings of Jewish men, women and children in the Pogulanka forest at Dünauburg (Daugavpils in Lithuanian), where a ghetto was located in the old fortress citadel. The killings occurred between 13 July and 21 August but, unlike the first section, without daily totals.  Given that this series of shootings accounted for 9,585 victims, I have tabulated it separately even though the original document treats it as a continuation of the first section.  The killing of 573 “Active Communists” is also recorded in this total, but with no further elaboration.

The third section (bottom of Sheet 5 and Sheet 6) is focused on killings in and around Wilna beginning on 12 August and ending on 25 November.  The section begins with a summary of killings from 12 August to 1 September, but the remaining entries are all for separate dates.  The dated entries for the Wilna killings differ from those in the first section as they are almost exclusively concerned with the mass murder of Jewish men, women and children, averaging over 1,000 for each occasion.

The fourth section (Sheet 6) records the deployment of elements of EK 3 to Minsk between 28 September and 17 October 1941.  Killings at five locations are detailed, and totals are given for men, women and children, but no individual dates are given.

In Sheets 7 to 9 Jäger details the residual Jewish population held in ghettoes, and then reflects on the logistics of collection, transportation and murder.  His account ends with EK 3’s role in prison inspections, and particularly that of Jonava.

The statistics contained in the Jäger Report

Statistics from the Jaeger Report

The Jäger Report has been extensively quoted in Holocaust literature because of the richness of its data, including dates, locations, totals and the categorisation of victims, including women and children. However, there are instances where the Jäger Report’s details are less comprehensive, thereby diminishing its precision and clarity.

For example, on 26 and 27 November 1941, no sub-totals are provided for the nearly 3,000 men, women and children killed at Kaisadorys and Prienai. (In the table above I have created a category to take account of instances when the killings were reported in this manner.) The same applies to the entry for “mopping up” in Georgenburg (Yurburg), from 25 August to 6 September, where 412 men, women and children were killed.

Accurately totalling the killing of women and children is problematic in instances when the killings were not directly carried out by EK 3 personnel. The final entry in Jäger’s list is the addition of exactly 4,000 Jews killed in “pogroms and executions” prior to EK 3’s takeover in the locality. As this figure is undated and without any reference to any specific locations, its inclusion within Jäger’s total seems slightly anomalous. (In the table above I have treated this figure as referring to Jewish males, but uncertainty remains over the composition of this group of victims.)

The total of 137,346 deaths at the foot of the Jäger report is a widely quoted statistic that truthfully conveys the scale of the murders, but it is arithmetically problematic. There are several instances in the report where the component figures do not tally with the totals: the Alytus total for 13 August over-counts by one to 719; the Kaunas Fort IV total for 18 August over-counts by nine to 1812; the slightly confusing entry for the Dünauburg prison shootings on 22 August appears to under-count by 1 to 21; the entry for Wilna on 12 September under-counts by 100.

My conclusion in the table above counts the total for the report as being 137,439, of whom 135,383 were specifically recorded as being Jewish. (For an alternative adjusted figure of 137,437 see the Holocaust Controversies site.)

Using the Jäger Report in teaching and learning

“Is this everybody who died in the Holocaust on that day?”  This is a question that I was asked by a pupil when I first used the Report as a learning resource with my GCSE class.  Without giving them any contextual information about the document, I sliced up the killing records horizontally and tipped the strips of text out on to a large desk around which the class was arranged. I gave them little in the way of further instruction but they began to read to each other the now randomized details of killing and began to reassemble them date by date. I then guided them more closely by asking them to go online to identify the Lithuanian place names, none of which was familiar to them.  By gradually adding further information, and allowing the class to start drawing inferences from the material, we began to tentatively reconstruct the evidence in front of us.

To read, line by line, the destruction of the Jewish communities of Lithuania across the Autumn of 1941 is a sobering experience. It is (self-evidently) a document generated by mass murderers that reduced annihilated communities of men, women and children to rows and columns of statistics. How do we avoid perpetuating the objectification of the victims for whom Jäger’s neatly typed rows and columns are such a grotesquely unfitting memorial? The only two individual names that appear are those of Jäger himself, in the form of his signature, and of Joachim Hamann. When using the report in teaching and learning I am torn between the imperative of communicating the scale of the destruction, with the need to ‘restore’ – even at some token level – individual and familial identity.

Below you can find a plan for a lesson (or series of lessons) using both the Jäger Report and contextual evidence for Lithuanian Jewish life from the online collections of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM).

Lesson Plan

Part 1:

Objective: Contextualising Jewish life in Lithuania before June 1941.

Task: Using the USHMM’s collection of photographs of Lithuanian Jewish life prior to 1941, create a visual display showing examples Jewish family, economic and associational life.   The Yaffa Eliach Collection is particularly compelling in its detailing of Jewish life in Esiskes (Eysisky in the Jäger Report). Several hundred other photographs exist showing Jewish life, just one example among many being the Kaplan family of Kaunas (Kovno).

Part 2:

Objective: Understanding the scale and pace of the destruction of the Jewish communities of Lithuania, and other victims, July – November 1941.

Task: Using the Statistics from the Jaeger Report, interrogate the data to show

-the cumulative statistics for the mass murders of Jews in Lithuania

-the shifting ratio of male/female and adult/child victims in the Jewish communities of Lithuania

-the relative scale of the killing operations in various locations

-victims other than the Jewish communities

Part 3:

Objective: to understand the importance of witness and memory

Task: using the recorded testimony of survivors of the Holocaust in Lithuania, in the collections of the USHMM, explain how a museum can help to preserve memories of the events detailed in the Jäger Report.

Suggested resources from the USHMM interviews:

Extended interview with Avraham Tory, especially parts 5 and 6.

Interview with Abraham Malnik

Interview with Nesse Galperin Godin

Interview with Dora Goldstein Roth

What questions would you ask in such an interview?



Sources used:

-C. R. Browning, The Origins of the Final Solution, The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy (Arrow edition, London, 2005).

-E. Klee., W. Dressen & V. Riess, Those were the Days, The Holocaust as seen by the perpetrators and bystanders (English language edition, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1991).

-The website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum


-The Jäger Report (unabridged text in German and English) from


-Holocaust Education Education & Archive Research Team


-Holocaust Controversies Blog


A Note on place names:

In this document I have used the place names in their Germanised forms as they appear in the report.

Wilna is also known as Vilnius and Vilna; Kaunas/Kauen as Kovno; and Dünauburg as Daugavpils.

Dining into the EEC

While there is a rich historiography surrounding the formal negotiations for Britain’s entry into the the EEC, the role played by diplomatic hospitality has received comparatively less attention, and yet considerable resources were thrown into this, notably in the years 1968-1970. There is, of course, nothing new to diplomatic hospitality, as this has always been a key facet of the application of “soft power.”

The hospitality records of Christopher (later Lord) Soames for 1968-1972, while HM Ambassador to Paris, reveal the scale of this “campaign.” The drop-off in receptions for the year Sep 1971-1972 may perhaps be attributable to the agreement in principle reached with President Pompidou, during lunch meetings with Prime Minister Edward Heath at the Embassy on 21-22 May 1971, that France would not oppose British accession.

chart 9

The attendance list for Paris Embassy receptions reads like a Who’s Who of post-1945 France, excepting of course President Charles de Gaulle (d. 9 November 1970), whose absence is scarcely surprising given the bruising vetoes that he applied against the British membership applications in 1963 and 1967.

The spectrum of those who attended was, nonetheless, broad, including tough Gaullists such as Couve de Murville, who had opposed earlier British accession attempts. British hospitality reached into the inner workings of the French state, and groups of Prefects (lunch, 15 Feb 1970) and Deputies (lunch, 14 March 1972) were also welcomed.

Prominent recipients of hospitality included:

L=Lunch; D = Dinner

Alphand, Hervé: D 2 Dec 1969; L 19 Oct 1970

Beuve-Méry, Hubert [editor, Le Monde]: L 24 Mar 1969; drinks 30 Nov 1970

Chirac, Jacques: L 30 Nov 1971

Couve de Murville, Maurice: D 4 Mar 1970

Debré, Michel: L 20 Nov 1970; L 21 Apr 1971; L 28 Apr 1972

Faure, Edgar: drinks 8 Nov 1971

Mitterand, François: L 28 Jan 1969; L 22 Jul 1971

Monnet, Jean: L 2 Mar 1970; L 16 Sep 1970

Pompidou, Georges: L 22 May 1971

Schuman, Robert: L 21 Jan 1970; D 17 Apr 1970

The pre-history of the Conservative Party’s European difficulties

As the Conservative Government negotiates the terms of Brexit with its E.U. partners, this article explores the early History of the Party’s internal dissent on Europe, and the personal and political fault-lines that emerged between pro-Europeans around Duncan Sandys and Harold Macmillan, and the more sceptical Empire-focused Anthony Eden and his supporters in the Conservative Party establishment and the Foreign Office

The Ministerial Statements of 28 November 1951 and the Conservatives’ European Debate, 1947-1957