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Wittenberg scandal

15 April 2016

April 14th, 1916.

WITTENBERG, so a morning contemporary has informed us, “once had an honourable place in history as the home of the Reformation”; and we are asked to regard the latest incident for which it will be memorable as another illustration of corruptio optimi pessima. We are inclined, however, to think that this is no case of a fall from a great height of goodness to a depth of wickedness. Dr Martin Luther was the spiritual progenitor of Oberstabsarzt Dr Aschenbach and that other criminal, Herr Kommandant General von Dassel; and it is a case of “like father, like son”. The disregard of solemn treaties as mere “scraps of paper” has its analogue in Luther’s broken vows; the ruins of Louvain and Reims and Ypres are of a piece with the havoc he made of the Catholic Church and Creed; the gross living of so many Germans of to-day is the reflection of his table talk. His modern descendants have been false to civilization. The story which Mr Justice Younger has extracted from the evidence relating to the treatment of the prisoners of Wittenberg Camp even surpasses in horror, by reason of its prolonged cruelty, the story of the Black Hole of Calcutta. It is worse also because the perpetrators of the crime make a profession of the very quintessence of civilization, to which no other nation might assert its claim. The claim, however, is one that no nation would care to assert, if it means the cowardly and brutal desertion of typhus-stricken prisoners, left to shift for themselves, without medicine, appliances, or even mattresses to die upon. And what must the world think of the bestowal of the Iron Cross, that mark of Imperial favour, upon the medical officer of the camp, the unspeakable Aschenbach, who visited his charges once only, and then clothed in a panoply of defence against all possibility of infection?


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