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Borkum

Borkum, famous before the Great War "as the only spot on earth without a Jew," was also a great German military base. In 1900 it was little more than a sandhill, with a few lodging-houses and bathing-machines. Icebound in winter, it was the home of millions of wild fowl in summer. Though strong in fortification, Borkum is not great in size, being only six miles long and half a mile wide, with sand hills at each end. Borkum and Juist are two surviving fragments of the original island of Borkum (computed at 380 sq. m.), known to Drusus as Fabaria, and to Pliny as Burchana, which was rent asunder by the sea in 1170.

The German coast from Borkum to Wangeroog is about 60 odd miles in extent. It is a string of sandy islands backed by sand : the Ems river at the western end, on the Dutch border, leading to Emden. Otherwise, no coast-towns at all. There would be something on Borkum to defend the Ems approach channel to Emden. The Island of Borkum, the most western of the Frisian Islands, was practically in sight of Holland. It guards the channels leading to Emden Harbour and to some minor ports on the Frisian coast. Although one of the most important units of the North Sea fortifications, it was a military base and under control of the War Office. It was garrisoned and commanded by soldiers. Borkum was strongly fortified. It was said to have two batteries of 10- and 11- inch guns, and a 15- or 16-inch howitzer battery.

The fortification of Borkum, which was a topic of much discussion in the English press, began in 1909. Situated at the mouth of the Ems, and less than twelve miles from the coast, this island commands the approach to the river, and has been fortified on a scale commensurate with its strategical importance. For the defense of Borkum, the military are responsible. The defense works, which are well concealed among the dunes, are known to be extremely powerful. Besides the heaviest guns of position there are mobile batteries of quick-firers, operating along a railway which completely encircles the island.

The Ems estuary's importance bore no proportion to that of the three greater estuaries. The latter bore vessels of the largest tonnage and deepest draft to the very quays of Hamburg, Bremerhaven, and the naval dockyard of Wilhelmshaven ; while two of them, the Elbe and the Weser, were commerce-carriers on the vastest scale for the whole Empire. The Ems, on the other hand, only served towns of the second class. It was a most imposing estuary on a grander scale than any of the other three taken singly, with a length of thirty miles and a frontage on the North Sea of ten miles, or one seventieth, roughly, of the whole seaboard ; encumbered by outlying shoals, and blocked in the centere by the island of Borkum, but presenting two fine deep-water channels to the incoming vessel. These roll superbly through enormous sheets of sand, unite and approach the mainland in one stately stream three miles in breadth. But then came a sad falling off. The navigable fairway shoals and shrinks, middle grounds obstruct it, and shelving foreshores persistently deny it that easy access to the land that alone can create great seaboard cities. All the ports of the Ems are tidal ; the harbor of Delfzyl, on the Dutch side, dries at low water, and Emden, the principal German port, can only be reached by a lock and a mile of canal.

But this depreciation is only relative. Judged on its merits, and not by the standard of the Elbe, it was a very important river. Emden is a flourishing and growing port. For shallow craft the stream is navigable far into the interior, where, aided by tributaries and allied canals (notably the connection with the Rhine at Dortmund, then approaching completion), it tapped the resources of a great area. Strategically, there was still less reason for underrating it. It was one of the great maritime gates of Germany ; and it was the westernmost gate, the nearest to Great Britain and France, contiguous to Holland. Its great forked delta presented two yawning breaches in that singular rampart of islets and shoals which masks the German seaboard - a seaboard itself so short, in proportion to the Empire's bulk, that, "every inch of it must be important." Warships could force these breaches, and so threaten the mainland at one of its few vulnerable points. Quay accommodation is no object to such visitors ; intricate navigation no deterrent. Even the heaviest battleships could approach within striking distance of the land, while cruisers and military transports could penetrate to the level of Emden itself.

Everyone was talking of Borkum in 1910. A perhaps inevitable result of the tension between England and Germany was the amount of mutual espionage discovered to be going on in both countries. An incident that attracted wide attention was the arrest in 1910 of Lieutenant Vivian H. Brandon R.N. and Captain Bernard Frederick Trench R.M.L.I. By one accoun the former was arrested at Borkum and the latter at Emden, while another account states that the British spies were arrested at Borkum on Aug. 22 and 23. Brandon, was a brother-in-law of Sir William Bull. Trench was a grandson of Lord Ashtown and a descendant of Archbishop Trench. When arrested, both admitted frankly that they had come to Germany to collect Information which they Intended to place at the disposal of the British Government.

Some of the most valuable information, such as the defenses of Borkum and other Frisian Islands, sectional drawings of the new naval gun of Germany, and many other pieces of secret data were obtained for Great Britain through the efforts of voluntary workers. Captain Trench and Brandon, who, however, were caught by the Germans and imprisoned. But before they were caught they obtained and sent very valuable information to England. In the course of the trials of "Captains" Trench and Brandon, the public prosecutor emphasised his view that British gold had bought up the services of hundreds of agents scattered throughout Germany, all of them engaged in the business of transmitting important information to the British Admiralty and War Office.

They were tried before the Supreme Court at Leipzig, and were both sentenced to incarceration in a fortress for four years. The trial and conviction at Leipzig of Captain Trench and Lieutenant Brandon on 22 December 1910, followed as it was by a comparatively light sentence of four years' detention in a fortress - which it was hoped would be remitted before its expiry - did not intensify Anglo-German friction.

After having been in custody for the past four months, the British officers, Captain Trench and Lieutenant Brandon, R.N., appeared on 21 December 1910 before the German Imperial Court to answer charges of espionage amounting to high treason, alleged to have been committed at Cuxhaven, Borkum, and other places at the mouth of the Elbe. The trial took place in the so-called Great Court of the Reichsgericht, an oak- panelled hall of modest dimensions, the walls of which are adorned with life-size portraits of the first two German emperors. The court was filled as soon as the doors were opened, the witnesses' seats being occupied by a number of naval and military officers in brilliant uniforms.

The prisoners, who were both dressed in black, took their places at ten minutes to nine o'clock, and ten minutes later Dr. Menge, the Presiding Judge, opened the sitting. Dr. Arthur Zweigert, the Imperial Prosecutor, appeared for the prosecution, and Captain Trench and Lieutenant Brandon were represented by judicial Counsellor von Gordon. Captain Trench described his previous visits to Germany. Lieutenant Brandon, in reply to the Court, said that he was in the Admiralty Survey Service. He had never travelled abroad with Captain Trench before. He intended to collect information and place it at the disposal of a third person.

Captain Trench related how he went to Bremen by way of Bremerhaven. He inspected the position of the fortifications at the mouth of the Weser, and then went on a journey to the island of Sylt. Lieutenant Brandon described how he went with a guide to Heligoland, and made notes concerning the new harbor there. Asked why he noted his observations on postcards instead of in his notebook, and whether the cards were sent to England, Captain Trench denied that he had forwarded the cards. It was merely as a matter of convenience that he made notes on cards. He went to Sylt to get information with regard to different matters, including the economic condition of the inhabitants.

Counsel for the defence mentioned the novel, The Riddle of the Sands, relating to espionage on the Gertnan North Sea coast. Counsel produced the book, which Captain Trench said he had read three times. Captain Trench and Lieutenant Brandon were released from imprisonment in a fortress in Germany in May 1913, after serving two and a half years of their four year sentences.

Many other arrests, prosecutions, and sentences had taken place both in England and Germany since then, with the consequence that English travellers in Germany and German travellers in England, particularly where the travellers are men of military bearing and are in seaside regions, were liable, under very small provocation, to a suspicion of being spies. Visitors to what is known as the Black Country of Westphalia recollected, too, how ordinary English tourists who arrived at towns in the neighbourhood of Essen, the home of Krupp, such as Bochum, or Wesel, or Elberfeld invariably become the objects of police attention from the moment of their arrival at local hotels. It was certain that espionage on the part of the foreigner excited more real concern in Germany than was the case in England.

England had a worrying attack of Germanophobia. From rostrum and editorial column Germany was pointed at as a country whose abiding ambition was the ultimate conquest of England, and it was said often that the Hohenzollern was but biding his time for beginning operations to that end. The newspapers had heavy headlines stating that Germany was planning to convert Holland into a province for the undisguised purpose of bringing Germany into striking distance of Great Britain, by commanding harbors and coast line within easy steaming distance of Albion. Alarmists paraded circumstantial facts proving that Germany's activities at Borkum were transforming that Fricsian haven into a veritable "Gibraltar," adding thereby to the chain of North German ports bringing the naval power of the Kaiser a hundred miles nearer to England. "Borkum" was the favorite topic of the "silly season" in London journalism, and all English papers spasmodically prated of the "German peril."

Borkum, situated at the mouth of the Ems, 9 miles from the Dutch coast and between the channels called the Oster Ems and Wester Em, is the westernmost of the E. Frisian Islands. It possessed pleasant green pastures, which supported an excellent breed of milk-cattle. Of late years the island has become much frequented as a bathing place. By 1904 the island was visited by about 16,500 sea-bathers annually, up from 4,000 in 1890. In the village (2100 inhab.) was an old lighthouse, 153 ft. in height, and near it a new one, 40 ft. higher. The East side of Borkum and the Dutch island of Bottum were the haunts of thousands of sea-fowl, which breed there (ticket of admission to the breeding-place 30 pf.). The more important of the other E. Frisian Islands were also frequented for sea-bathing.

The inhabitants resided in a village at the west end. Most of the men were seafaring and the remainder supported themselves by husbandry and the rearing of cattle. In summer there was a regular steamer service between the island, Emden, and Leer, while in winter communication was maintained by ferryboat and steamer to Emden. The landing place was at a mole in Fischer Balje, which was connected with the village by a steam tram. There was a pier on the northwest side of the island, where landing was difficult from small boats when the flood current was running. There was telegraphic and telephonic communication with the mainland and the East Frisian Islands.

Borkum Island is connected with an extensive series of sands and sand banks, having a general northwest and southeast direction; the sands extending about 7 miles southeastward were mostly dry at low water and are named the Randzel. Borkum Reef extends nearly 7 miles northwest of the island, with Hohe Reef on its southern part, said to be extending. It formed the north side of the entrance to the Western Ems.

Borkum Flat extended about 4 miles northwestward of Borkum Island. The bottom is principally coarse white sand, with small yellow or red stones, sometimes with black or white gravel, and occasionally with red or white shells. The depths upon the flat vary from 11 fathoms at about 10 miles from the light to 16 to 19 fathoms toward its extremity; eastward of it the depths differ but little from it, but to the westward they are rather more marked, being about 2 fathoms greater in most places.

The district of Prussia known as East Friesland is a short, flat-topped peninsula, bounded on the west by the Ems estuary and beyond that by Holland, and on the east by the Jade estuary ; a low-lying country, containing great tracts of marsh and heath, and few towns of any size ; on the north side none. Seven islands lie off the coast. All, except Borkum, which is round, are attenuated strips, slightly crescent- shaped, rarely more than a mile broad, and tapering at the ends ; in length averaging about six miles, from Norderney and Juist, which are seven and nine respectively, to little Baltrum, which is only two and a half.

Of the shoal spaces which lie between them and the mainland, two thirds dry at low-water, and the remaining third becomes a system of lagoons whose distribution is controlled by the natural drift of the North Sea as it forces its way through the intervals between the islands. Each of these intervals resembles the bar of a river, and is obstructed by dangerous banks over which the sea pours at every tide scooping out a deep pool. This fans out and ramifies to east and west as the pent-up current frees itself, encircles the islands and spreads over the intervening flats.

Frisian Islands are a chain of islands, lying from 3 to 20 miles from the mainland, and stretching from the Zuider Zee E. and N. as far as Jutland, along the coasts of Holland and Germany. They are divided into three groups: - (i) The West Frisian, (2) the East Frisian, and (3) the North Frisian. The chain of the Frisian Islands marks the outer fringe of the former continental coast-line, and is separated from the mainland by shallows, known as Wadden or Watten, answering to the maria vadosa of the Romans. Notwithstanding the protection afforded by sand-dunes and earthen embankments backed by stones and timber, the Frisian Islands are slowly but surely crumbling away under the persistent attacks of storm and flood, and the old Frisian proverb " de nich vnll diken mitt wiken" ("who will not build dikes must go away ") still holds good. Many of the Frisian legends and folk-songs deal with the submerged villages and hamlets, which lie buried beneath the treacherous waters of the Wadden. The Prussian and Dutch governments annually expended large sums for the protection of the islands, and in some cases the erosion on the seaward side is counterbalanced by the accretion of land on the inner side, fine sandy beaches being formed well suited for sea-bathing, which attracts many visitors in summer.

The West Frisian Islands belong to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and embrace Texel or Tessel (71 sq. m.), Vlieland (19 sq. m.), Terschelling (41 sq. m.), Ameland (23 sq. m.), Schiermonnikoog (19 sq.m.),aswell as the much smaller islands of Boschplaat and Rottum, which were practically uninhabited. About the year 1250 the area of the North Frisian Islands was estimated at 1065 sq. m.; by 1850 this had diminished to only 105 sq. m. This group embraces the islands of Nordstrand, which up to 1634 formed one larger island with the adjoining Pohnshallig and Nordstrandisch-Moor; Pellworm, protected by a circle of dikes and connected by steamer with Husum on the mainland; Amrum ; Fhr; Sylt; Rom, with several villages, the principal of which is Kirkeby; Fan; and Heligoland. With the exception of Fan, which was Danish, all these islands belonged to Prussia. In the North Frisian group there are also several smaller islands called Halligen. These rise generally only a few feet above the level of the sea, and were crowned by a single house standing on an artificial mound and protected by a surrounding dike or embankment.

With the exception of Wangeroog, which belonged to the grand duchy of Oldenburg, the East Frisian Islands belonged to Prussia. They comprise Borkum (12 sq. m.), with two light-houses and connected by steamer with Emden and Leer; Memmert; Juist, with two lifeboat stations, and connected by steamer with Norddeich and Greetsiel; Norderney (55 sq. m.); Baltrum, with a lifeboat station; Langeoog (8 sq. m.), connected by steamer with the adjacent islands, and with Bensersiel on the mainland; Spiekeroog (4 sq. m.), with a tramway for conveyance to the bathing beach, and connected by steamer with Carolinenziel; and Wangeroog (2 sq. m.), with a lighthouse and lifeboat station. In the beginning of the 18th century Wangeroog comprised eight times its present area.

Gruss aus Borkum

The study of antisemitism has become part of the long debate about continuity in German history, about whether the Third Reich was the final episode in a sequence of developments that led directly to it, or whether it was a break in German history, an accident, a Betriebsunfall.

For German Jews, the break from routine provided by vacations was an almost sanctified part of their lives. Jews were renowned consumers of the Imperial German tourist industry.

Before the Great War the most famous antisemitic resort was the North Sea island of Borkum. Its antisemitism was famed through the "Borkum Lied" ("Borkum song"), especially the last verse, which said that those who come with "flat feet, crooked noses and curly hair" (mit platten Fen, mit Nasen krumm und Haaren kraus) must not enjoy the beach, but must be "be out! be out! out!" (der mu hinaus! der mu hinaus! Hinaus!).29 It became a usual practice at the island for the local orchestra to play this song at the end of each appearance, and the crowd would join in. The words were distributed on postcards, depicting a picture of Germans singing with hands raised and filled glasses, and a group of typical Jews, with "Nasen krumm und Haaren kraus," [Noses bent and hair frizzily] being turned away at the gate. This "Gruss aus Borkum" ["Greeting from Borkum"] postcard from Borkum shows a Jewish family being refused admission to a hotel.

By 1919 Jew baiting had been revived among certain reactionary elements in Germany, and it was believed by well-informed persons that pogroms are being prepared, and that the Kurfurstendamm, in which most of the rich Jews of Berlin lived, will some day see savage riots. By August 1919 Anti-Jewish societies had succeeded in making such watering places as Borkum, Kranz, and Zoppot quite impossible for Jews. In Borkum the municipal band played the so-called "Borkum Song", the text of which was so offensive that all the Jews left Borkum. Jews were actually driven from the hotels, and very much the same thing happened at Zoppot, near Danzig.

In mid-1924, the island and its song became the center of a political controversy. The Prussian socialist minister of the interior, Severing, forbade the band to play the song. During the 1920's the Lutheran pastor Ludwig Mnchmeyer used his pulpit and his local following to keep Jews off the North Sea island of Borkum. Mnchmeyer, assembled a group of children aged nine to fourteen and led them through the streets playing and singing the forbidden song. Of course, the children could not be arrested. Only after violent clashes between supporters and detractors of the anti-Semitic clergyman, intervention by state authorities, and a series of court cases did the Hanoverian Protestant church take disciplinary action. Mnchmeyer's anti-Catholicism, sexually offensive behavior, and an exodus of members of his congregation from the Protestant church added ammunition against him-and worried church authorities more than did attacks on Jews. Still, Mnchmeyer kept his position and his "Pastor" title until 1926.

The situation on Borkum revealed some significant tendencies within the Protestant leadership: fear of public disruption or scandal; acceptance of anti-Semitic stereotypes; and general weakness of will to defend the downtrodden. Those failings, troublesome enough in the Weimar Republic, would prove catastrophic in the Nazi era.




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