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Tuesday, November 11, 1997 Published at 17:15 GMT


Historians expose German WWI atrocities

The war reports were dismissed as propaganda

Historians have shed new light on atrocities at the beginning of the World War I.

At the time, reports of horrific acts by German troops in Belgium were discredited as propoganda. But a study of German military archives has revealed that 6,000 civilians were murdered by the Germans in Belgium in 1914.

[ image: The German troops killed more than 6,000 civilians]
The German troops killed more than 6,000 civilians
Arriving in the southern Belgium town of Dinant, the troops wrongly thought they were coming under fire from the town's residents. They responded by destroying the town and killing the civilians.

Newspapers at the time did report the Dinant killings. But their coverage of World War I also included much propaganda. An article in The Times of London in 1917 claiming the Germans shipped bodies from the front to a corpse-rendering factory was made up.

A senior lecturer in European history at Trinity College in Dublin, Dr Alan Kramer, says it was difficult for people after the war to distingiush truth from fiction.
[ image: The hunderds of graves are testimony to the killings]
The hunderds of graves are testimony to the killings

"In the 1920s in Britain and France there was a reaction against war which has meant that everything the government published within wartime was regarded with suspicion."

But the new evidence, some of which comes from Germany's military archives, suggests that the Dinant executions were not a one-off. According to Mr Kramer, German soldiers deliberately murdered more than 6,000 civilians throughout occupied Belgium during the first six weeks of the war.

Kamiel Feyaerts was a child when the Germans arrived in his village. But he says he will never forget that day. "They shot dozens of people in my village. I remember them [the Germans] making nine people dig a hole and then they shot them.

"On the troops' belt buckles it said 'God fights with us', but they came to our town and shot all these people. They were very bad men."

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