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Refugee Sketches - Dr. Louis Oliver Hartman - Sailing on a Refugee Ship - 1914

Dr. Louis Oliver Hartman (3 May 1876 – 30 June 1955) was a high-ranking bishop, elected in 1944, in the United Methodist Church. He was married to Helen Nutter. They had two sons, Mason and Richard.

THE BOMBARDMENT OF BELGRADE

Dr. Louis 0. Hartman, of Chicago, Superintendent of Dr. Hartman the Foreign Department of the Methodist Episcopal Board of Sunday Schools, was in Servia at the outbreak of hostilities. He chanced to be in Semlin on July twenty-ninth, the day the Austrians first attacked Servia, and gives the following account of the bombardment of Belgrade:

Just before my two friends and I arrived in Semlin, that little Servian town across the Danube from Belgrade, the natives blew up the railroad bridge connecting the two cities. About ten minutes after our arrival, the bombardment began. It all happened so unexpectedly that I could not believe my own ears or eyes.

I felt at first that it was all being staged for the benefit of an audience; that the shells which burst from the cannons did not really kill people across the river, but only lodged harmlessly in a prepared pit. Yet as the roar continued throughout the day, the horror of it all began to crush me."

The battle started when the Austrian warships steamed out of their places of shelter and moved up the Danube to a location from which they could open an effective fire upon the forts behind the city. With revengeful violence, they vomited broadside after broadside upon the age-old fortress of Belgrade, the nursery of anti-Austrian sentiment. Thick clouds of smoke hung over the vessels and the steady roar of their guns detonated through the historic valley. The Servians replied by firing at the ships, but their shells caused no damage.

That the Austrian cannonading was producing havoc in the city, however, soon became apparent. Buildings caught fire and burned with tremendous fury. Great volumes of black smoke rolled over the district near Prince Michael Street. The mass spread and became more dense until it almost blotted out that part of the town. All day, the Austrians hurled shell against the enemy, and all day the fort tried vainly to retaliate.

Towards evening, however, both sides gradually ceased firing, and as the sun slowly sank in a golden splendor far too brilliant for the close of such a tragic day, the Austrian warships steamed silently back to their retreats.

All day long an expectant and dramatic hush had hung over Semlin. People talked in undertones and walked swiftly, almost stealthily, when they appeared on the streets. Very few shopkeepers had opened their establishments because very few customers would care to trade on a day so eventful as this. Besides, a feeling of uneasiness pervaded the town; everyone seemed to harbor a secret notion that the firing might be turned upon us at any minute.

I noticed this anxiety everywhere; my waiter performed his duties with irritating distraction. I asked for coffee three times at luncheon and then received tea. But realizing his state of mind, I felt that his inattention might well be forgiven.

After the ships had withdrawn, more people came into the streets, but all still maintained an air of uneasiness. One old Serb near me pointed to the western sky, muttering sentences unintelligible to my ear. I looked to where I had noticed the marvelously golden sunset but a few moments earlier and, to my surprise, I saw a sky of blood.

One might have thought that a Supreme Hand had dashed a brush red with human gore against the blue canvas of the heavens. Probably the old Serb read a prophecy in the transformation of that sunset, and was muttering about the horrible days it presaged.

That evening, while we were eating Hungarian goulash in our hotel with two English war correspondents, the noise of bombardment once more thundered through the valley. We all hurried out into the darkness leaving the meal half untouched to see what new attack was taking place.

We found that the Austrians had come forth again and had resumed their terrific firing, this time with the aid of a powerful searchlight. The sharp inquisitive gleam of this instrument sought out vulnerable spots in the enemy's position and when it had discovered a favorable target, the ship's guns shot forth sharp flashes of fire which announced that the gunners had hurled destruction at the marks pointed out to them.

Spurts of flame like tiny discharges of lightning coming from the hill behind Belgrade showed that the fort still held out. Belgrade had lighted its street lamps in spite of the bombardment. We could distinguish the different thoroughfares by the paths of illumination, and everywhere we could see the little bits of brilliance which signified windows and doors.

It was a night of contrasts. From above, a new moon shed a faint, peaceful radiance upon wide sleeping fields. Below, the Austrian searchlight swept the river and Belgrade with vindictive brightness. Intervals of ominous silence, after a series of thundering broadsides, produced a distinct sensation upon our ears. With the shifting of the wind, we smelled alternately the pungent smoke of battle or the earthly fragrance of newly harvested fields.

Even though the reality of the conflict had come fully upon me during the day, towards the late hours of the evening, I once again vaguely sensed, with that uncertainty which a person feels in a dream, that it all could not be true, that a stage manager stood somewhere behind the wings directing the production. It took place with too much precision; it was too 'perfect' a battle.

With the vessels steaming up the placid river and firing upon the fort and with the fort replying quite precisely, the whole bombardment seemed too much a matter of fact, too perfunctory, an affair which did not greatly concern either contestant. When I went back to my hotel, however,—about two hours later, after the Austrians had again withdrawn—and saw the strained faces of the men and the tear-wet eyes of the women, the earnestness of it all struck me with renewed force.

My party left Semlin that evening on the last train taking civilians. As we rolled away from the scene of the conflict, we wondered what the outcome of that battle would be. Little did we realize that the firing we had witnessed would go down in the annals of mankind as the beginning of one of the most frightful world wars history will ever record."

IN SWITZERLAND

During the first few days following the outbreak of In Switzerland international hostilities, many Americans thought that Switzerland might be the country of refuge, but they quickly discovered the error of this notion, for the rush of Europe's dominant powers into the maelstrom of military activities sucked in the little Mountain Republic almost at once.

When the mobilization calls in Switzerland took proprietors, concierges, and waiters from hotels; cabmen, chauffeurs, and automobiles from the streets, the foreign visitors were forced to go. One of the passengers, who was a guest at the Hotel Alexandra in Lausanne at the time, told of the situation with great feeling.

I felt such pity for the men who had to quit their wives and families and occupations because in a far-off land a maniac had killed an archduke who meant nothing to them. One could see that they had no interest in the fight. A waiter in our hotel came in to serve tea one afternoon, upset with suppressed emotion. I remarked that he looked unwell.

He replied with terrible bitterness, 'Madame, I am aflame inside. After I have served you this afternoon, I must go to war, not because we have been wronged, not for our liberty, but because a madman wants to change a map. For his insane idea, we must give up our lives.'

On another occasion, I overheard one of those young foreigners who come to Lausanne to learn the hotel business—in this case an Englishman—say with a great deal of feeling, 'Just now, I have said good-bye to four dear friends, a German, a Frenchman, an Austrian, and a Swiss. We drank one last toast to our eternal friendship. Now they have gone to fight against one another. Perhaps my government will call me, so that I, too, may have to take up arms against them.' Two days later, he was called.

It seems to me that this great twentieth century conflict will teach us that we all—French, English, American, or Servian—belong to one great family, and that when one nation turns against another, we all suffer.

My own personal experiences are probably the same as those of all Americans who were in Switzerland at the time. On Tuesday, August fourth, only four days after the beginning of war activities, all the horses in Lausanne had disappeared. We tried all day to get our baggage to the station but we could find no conveyance.

After we had given up all hope of ever getting it to the train, our courier appeared with what he said was the last horse in the city, an old beast, too decrepit for military service. This poor creature pulled our trunks to the station, while we women—six of us—walked, for we absolutely could not get a carriage.

Before we left Lausanne, we saw hotels being closed all about us. The men had gone to the front, and the maids had gone to the harvest fields, in order to save the precious crops from rotting.

Everywhere we found Americans in distress. The banks had refused to cash checks, so that no one could pay hotel bills. Some proprietors began to ask payment because they had to pay cash for their milk and food, and the guests could give them no money. What the Americans will do when the hotels close, I cannot imagine.

As it was, many did not have enough money in cash to leave Switzerland. Perhaps they will have to walk as the Italian workers in Germany and Switzerland did. We saw thousands of these poor people with only the clothes on their backs and the little things they could carry, struggling to reach Italy. All their larger effects had to be left behind.

It was all horrible. My sympathy has been worn threadbare. I only wish that I could help the Americans who are still there.

 

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