IT was just four weeks ago that they began to come, bringing the first news of defeat. Refugees are the heralds of the enemy’s triumph. It has been in Paris just as it was in Constantinople after Kirk Kilisse and Lulé Burgas. Only the names of the scenes of disaster are different. Are they Charleroi and St. Quentin’? We are still in the dark. For even since the tide turned the Government has not allowed the publication of the events so nobly redeemed from the Marne to the Aisne, in the valleys of the Grand Morin and the Ourcq. At the end of October, 1912, the Seraskerat, busily engaged in packing its precious papers for Brusa, gave out the news that “all was going well on the front.” But the refugees came pouring into Stamboul. Irrefutable denial of the official statements ! At the end of August, 1914, the Rue St. Dominique, busily engaged in packing its precious papers for Bordeaux, gave out the news that”all was going well at the front.” But the refugees came pouring into Paris. Irrefutable denial, again, of official statements ! Tchataldja saved the Turks and confounded the Bulgarians; the Marne saved the French and confounded the Germans. How history repeats itself !
But in Turkey the eleventh-hour victory, or check to the forward march of the enemy, did not save the refugees. In France it has been the same. Sacrificed, perhaps, to strategy in the latter case, though certainly not in the former, the war to the refugees has been all horror from the beginning, and has brought no day of joy and exultation in the sudden turn of the tide.
We thought in Constantinople that we should never live to see a repetition of the heart rending scenes (I use a hackneyed expression for once correctly) of aged and infirm, of women and children, without clothing, without food, without shelter, wandering through the streets of a great city, their faces stamped with a fear that was fresh and not yet allayed, with a grief for members of the family killed or missing, with a hopelessness that alms and kind words of cheer could not lift. For the disaster of husband and sons shot, of homes pillaged and burned, of crops destroyed, of business ruined, of exile in utter destitution, puts the refugee beyond the comfort of the sympathy of one who can say, “Yes, I know: for I have suffered as you are suffering.” For none can say that who has not himself been a refugee from war, from fire, from flood, from earth quake, from pestilence.
No, I must qualify this statement: I must limit it to refugee from war. For fire, flood, earthquake, pestilence these are sudden calamities which pass as suddenly, and are accepted with resignation, because they are beyond human control. But war does not pass quickly. It follows the victim : the fear remains. And it is not accepted: there is no resignation. ‘ For war is man willed and man made a breaking out of primitive passions that civilization has not conquered. It is man in collusion with the devil who fights. God has nothing to do with it. The victim suffers, and continues to suffer.
The French refugees hope soon to go home. For many the hope has already been realized. The Germans are retreating. Most of those who stay do not feel exiled. Paris is home to every Frenchman.
But the Belgians ! However much may be done to minister lovingly to the wants of these poor people, the alleviation of their mental suffering is impossible. Nothing grips one’s heart more than to see little children still under the spell of the terror of the awful scenes they have witnessed. To talk to children who had been driven from burning homes, who had been spattered with the blood of father and brother and mother, who even carried wounds on their own little bodies, was my sad task in Asia Minor during the Adana massacres. But this is Paris. This is Europe. This is the Christian world. And yet those old painful memories live again, and I see once more baby faces to which a smile cannot be coaxed.
Think what it must mean to have no husband, no grown sons, no home, no possessions, no money, no chance to work, and, placed against that, the responsibility of several little mouths to feed. To all of us, perhaps, at one time or other in our lives, the past has been naught and the present black. But the Belgian refugees have no future. We can give them no hope. When they ask, “When shall we be able to go back to our homes?” there is nothing to do but to turn aside and pretend that one has not heard the question.
Say what they will about anticipation of another’s intention, about necessity, about imperative considerations of national safety, the men who ordered, and the men who obeyed the order for, the invasion of Belgium will never be able to explain, will never be able to justify themselves. For the Belgians, ghosts, prisoners and exiles, have already come before the tribunal of world wide public opinion. The German cause is lost before it is pleaded,lost before it is fought to a decisive issue. And, as if there were not Belgians enough to accuse and condemn, there are the three times, within acentury similarly sinned against people of Northern France.’
When we first saw the refugees (and one well understands that they must have come in great numbers before they were noticeable in a city like Paris), they were all supposed to be Belgians. We took it for granted. We had reason to: for they were of the unmistakable Flemish peasant type. Their French, if they could speak the language at all, was halting. But soon we began to notice the Lillois. Then they came from Arras, from Amiens, from Soissons, from Senlis, from Beauvais, from Compiègne, from Château-Thierry, from Chantilly, from Meaux.’ As the German invasion spread and drew nearer Paris, the refugees appeared in our streets with their carts, their salvage of household goods, their cattle, their barnyard fowls. As the refugees poured in, the froussards poured out. The two streams met at the railway stations and the city gates, each fleeing before the Germans,but in a different direction !
The big heart of the larger and nobler Paris, which showed no fear for personal safety, no anxiety’ for personal comfort, no worry for “the treasures laid up on earth,” has been devoting itself these past four weeks to the wounded and the refugees.
I have always loved the “French of the people” that one sees exemplified so worthily by the population of. Paris, the French who work hard for their living and get more out of life than any other people in the world the real Parisians, sober, industrious, cheerful, warm-hearted, generous without advertisement, moral without cants I rejoiced in the un-paralleled example of civic courage they gave to the world during the Great Flood of 1910. But I love them more now, and I am glad that it is my privilege to have my home and raise my family among such a people.
The Parisians have had no time to think of what might have been of what might yet be in store for them. They have forgotten their own sufferings, their own cares, their own financial burdens, in the face of the greater suffering that has been so suddenly and so abundantly revealed to them. While they waited for the wounded, who, for some mysterious reason, have not come, they have ministered to the refugees.
Each arrondissement of Paris is vying with the others in providing clothing and warm food and shelter, in caring for the sick and the babies. There is more than generosity. There is tenderness. What a reflection upon our modern Anglo-Saxon civilization that we have taken the original King James’ version meaning out of the word charity, and have limited it to something impersonal, and, since impersonal, ergo repellent ! !In French, charite is still defined as love of God and fellowman.) So there is more than generosity. There is tenderness. I could fill a book with what I have seen in my own quartier of the poor helping the poor, of the charity that means taking the object of charity into your own home and sharing with him your crust. When you go among the common people of Paris, you find that every one has done it, and has done it as the perfectly natural thing to do. It is not only a civic duty, it is a civic privilege.
Who wrote that the French were a degenerate race’? Oh the presumption of ignorance ! I wish I could take the slanderer around Paris today.
I wish I could show him the Cirque de Paris, whose arena is famous in the world of sport, turned into a hospice for the refugees, where none applies in vain for a roof over his head, for medical attendance, for food, for clothing. The Government has made no appropriation, nor has the municipality. Out of the gifts of the people of the neighborhood all who come are ministered unto. It does not matter how many come. There is enough for all. And the first service rendered to them is the cutting off of shoes and rags, and the washing of the weary bruised feet by women volunteers.
I wish I could take the slanderer to the old Seminary of Saint Sulpice, which is soon to be the new Luxembourg Picture Gallery. There other refugees find a haven. The mother, footsore and desperate from the baby’s continual cry for milk and the other children’s cry for bread, is met with outstretched ,arms, and greeted with brimming eyes brave smile and a kiss. ‘,The kiss does more to renew her courage than food.) But there is food, too. And do you know, Mr. Slanderer, how that food has been cooked ? Across from the Seminary is the Mairie of the Sixth Arrondissement. The police men, attached to the poste there, are giving up in turns their rest and meal hour to do the cooking. When the influx was greatest, and the soup portion’would have given out, the policemen contributed more than their meal hour. Their meal, too, was slipped into the pot, and none knew but God…