Bei uns in Deutschland
Cover and extracts from Bei uns in Deutschland (Brussels, 1919), First World War memoirs of the Flemish author Ernest Claes, based on his time in a German POW camp in Erfurt.
In August 1914, shortly after the German invasion of Belgium, writer Ernest Claes (1885-1965) was captured near Namur and transported first to a hospital in Gotha and, later, to the POW camp in Erfurt. His memoir Bei uns in Deutschland, based on his experiences in the camp, was published in the Belgian newspaper De Standaard in 1919 and, later that year, also as a book. The first extract deals with the confrontational encounters between British POWs and their German guards, and the effects that the outbreak of the war had on Claes’s fellow Flemish soldiers. One of them is accustomed to subordinating Congolese labourers and behaves chillingly authoritarian. In the second extract, Claes evokes how very differently the French and Flemish react to his translations of the war reporting in local German newspapers. The third section confronts the clichés he was fed in Belgium about the French, contrasting these with his actual experiences with these people in the camp. This provides a rare, documented example of real cultural encounters subverting age-old animosities between neighbours whose knowledge of one another was limited. In the final part, Claes talks about his friendship with one of the French colonial soldiers in the camp. He details the enmity between the French and colonial troops but also highlighting the patriotism of most Algerians when the Germans try to enlist them, as Muslims, into the Turkish army.