HL Deb 05 May 1915 vol 18 cc936-42

*LORD HYLTON rose to call attention to certain correspondence of Herr Ballin, chairman of the Hamburg-Amerika Line, as published in The Times newspaper of April 23.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I feel certain that many of your Lordships hold the view that in these times one newspaper article more or less cannot matter very much, and that the only thing that really signifies is a successful prosecution of the war. At the same time this article in The Times of April 23 does appear to me to disclose a rather remarkable history of duplicity and mendacity on the part of a very important man in Germany, who, it is well known, is an intimate friend and adviser of the German Emperor himself. In view of the world-wide Press campaign that is being carried on by Germany against us in neutral countries, I think it is questionable whether the time has not almost passed for our dismissing with a mere shrug of the shoulders a story of this kind. I have ventured, therefore, to put this Notice on the Paper to-day in order that the evidence may be perpetuated in some more durable form than the pages of a newspaper of what is, in fact, one of the last diplomatic cards played by the German Government previous to the outbreak of hostilities between Germany and our own country, and of a very audacious but unsuccessful attempt which was subsequently made, the card having been played, to revoke it.

I will endeavour to put the story in a nutshell. But first it is necessary that I should say a word or two as to who Herr Ballin is, and I think that if I quote what was said of him in The Times article of April 23 none of his friends can complain that it is an unfair description. The Times article uses this language about Herr Bailin— Herr Ballin is the most prominent Jewish business man in Germany. By skill and enterprise, and with the support of the German Emperor, whose friendship and confidence he enjoys, he gradually built up the great Hamburg-Amerika Steamship Company and extended its influence throughout the world. Not content with business success he sought to acquire and to use political influence. Since the beginning of the war the Hamburg-Amerika offices in New York have been the headquarters of pro-German propaganda, in the United States. In a book which I happened to pick up a little while ago entitled "Men Around the Kaiser," by Mr. Charles Wile, I read that Herr Ballin is looked upon by millions of his fellow-countrymen, in consequence of his great commercial and political achievements, to be perhaps the greatest man in Germany, and I have been told on excellent authority that the Emperor has repeatedly offered him a post in the Cabinet at Berlin, but that Herr Bailin has declined it up to now on the ground that he could serve the Emperor and the interests of Germany better in an unofficial than in an official position.

It was this man who on August 2 last despatched a long telegram to his chief agent in London, with instructions to get it immediately translated and inserted in The Times newspaper. The telegram was received in London, translated, and then transmitted to The Times, which did not, however, publish it; but it has been published since. I will trouble your Lordships with the quotation of only the last few words of that telegram. They run as follows— It must be stated again that Russia alone forces the war upon Europe, which no one hut Russia wants. Russia alone must carry the full weight of responsibility.—Yours faithfully, ALBERT BALLIN. I should like to call your Lordships' attention to the fact that soon after Mr. Ballin, in this telegram, had endeavoured to impress upon public opinion in England that Russia was the only enemy, that she alone was responsible for the war, the German Government authorised the printing and publication by a certain firm in Berlin of a translation into English by Imperial authority of a White Book which bore precisely the same indictment on the title-page as that which Herr Ballin used in this telegram. These words appeared on the title-page— How Russia and her ruler betrayed Germany's confidence and thereby made the European War. From that it is perfectly evident that at that time it was intended by Germany to hold up Russia as alone responsible for the war.

But very soon after the publication of this translation by the German publishing company a complete change took place. From that day to this we have had no more official and no more unofficial denunciations of Russia by Germany, and as your Lordships are aware it is now England that is the enemy and it is England alone that in the eyes of official Germany is responsible for the war. Accordingly, Herr Ballin cropped up again about a fortnight ago and granted an interview to a representative of the New York World. I will quote a few words from this interview, as reported in The Times of April 23. In it Herr Ballin sought to cast the whole blame of the war upon England, and in particular upon Sir Edward Grey. We all feel that the war has been brought about by England" [said Herr Ballin to his interviewer]. "We honestly believe that Sir Edward Grey could have stopped it. After this interview was made known The Times, not unnaturally, published articles in which it contrasted the very different voices of Herr Ballin in his telegram of August and in his interview of April, and very naturally asked how he could reconcile the two. Herr Ballin, it appears, thought, as his telegram of August 2 had never been published in The Times, that it had not been received. Accordingly he seems to have thought that he was perfectly safe in repudiating it altogether. He did repudiate the telegram, and in addition he actually had an article inserted on his authority in the Cologne Gazette which was headed "The Times as Calumniator." The Times then took the course of publishing the telegram that had been received from Herr Ballin in August, and I think Herr Ballin will now find it almost impossible to maintain his reputation in any degree as a veracious man after having repudiated the telegram sent out in his name on August 2. If he was simply a prominent man in Germany who held inconsistent views as to the responsibility for the war I should not have ventured to trouble your Lordships, but I think the whole story does show, as I said at the outset, a degree of duplicity and mendacity on the part of a man who, though not a Minister, is a most powerful man in Germany, one of those "powers behind the Throne" who have been known in every age and every country.

The other evening Lord Kitchener made a most stinging criticism on the conduct of the German Army, and pointed cut what an indelible blot had been cast on the honour of the German Army by their treatment of the British wounded and the British prisoners. I think the story of Herr Ballin will reflect in an almost equal degree on the fair fame and on the honour of German diplomacy. I do not know whether His 'Majesty's Government will think proper to order the printing and the distribution in neutral countries of copies of The Times article of April 23, but I think it might be an advantage that some course of that sort should be taken, because I believe His Majesty's Government are fully alive to the advisability of endeavouring to counteract in neutral countries the evil effects of the mass of literature that since the war began has been distributed all over the world, literally from China to Peru.

In that connection I should like to mention that I am not at all sure that the anti-English Press campaign of Germany does not extend to and operate in this country, for I happened to receive this morning a publication—I do not know whether your Lordships hive ever heard of it; I was not acquainted with it before—called War and Peace, containing an article headed "L'affaire Ballin: Six Straight Questions to The Times." The article is not signed, but on the face of it might certainly have been written by one of Herr Ballin's representatives in this country; and after what the noble Marquess the Leader of the House told us yesterday about the meritorious exertions of the numerous censors I think their efforts might be directed to ascertaining who is responsible for this article. I am not aware who is the proprietor or the editor of this journal. It contains only one advertisement which is immediately below the article "L'affaire Bailin," and it sets forth the qualities of a certain firm's "delicious chocolate obtainable everywhere." I will not give the firm a gratuitous advertisement. There is one rather curious point to note as regards the Press campaign of Germany, and that is the almost ludicrous contrast between their apparent anxiety to influence and to conciliate public opinion in neutral countries and their total disregard of any treaty or convention or any usage of war that has been accepted among civilised nations in the past.

In conclusion I will only notice one other point, and that is that in the telegram of Herr Ballin of August 2 reference is made to a letter that he addressed to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. Of course I have not the remotest idea whether that letter ever reached the noble and learned Viscount or whether it is of a public or a private character. It may be of a public character, in which case it is possible that the noble and learned Viscount may think proper, if he is able, to confirm the point that I have endeavoured to make—namely, that from the original telegram of August 2 it was at that time the policy of the German Emperor, through his official and unofficial agents, that Russia, and Russia alone, was responsible for the war. But quite apart from that I shall be well content if I have to some extent been able to show up the methods of Herr Ballin in particular and of German diplomacy in general.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just spoken has given your Lordships an account of a curious incident which The Times has brought to light. The Times unquestionably has been able to demonstrate complete inconsistency between two views expressed by Herr Bailin. In the first place there was a memorandum sent by Herr Bailin to The Times for publication, which The Times did not publish; in the second place there was a private letter from Herr Ballin to Mr. Walter, who, as we all know, has a historic connection with The Times, which letter Mr. Walter did not receive—it was superseded by the memorandum—but which Herr Ballin afterwards published, I think in the Cologne Gazette, as showing how wrong it was to impute to him the views which The Times had imputed" The Times as Calumniator" was, I think, Herr Ballin's expression. Well, The Times has completely vindicated itself, because it is clear that in the memorandum which has now come to light Herr Bailin did make the point, and made it very strongly, that Russia was the Power to blame for this war. The letter to Mr. Walter, dated, I think, earlier, which was published subsequently, took quite a different tone. It was a letter of a much milder type, and there was no reference to Russia.

All one can say is that Herr Ballin has been very unfortunate. He is a man of distinction in his Own country, and I find it difficult to bring myself to believe that there has not been some lapse of memory, some treachery of recollection in his handling of this matter, because the close proximity of the two documents and the divergence of view is a divergence of view which cannot be otherwise explained without making a great reflection on his sincerity. I myself have had the pleasure of knowing Herr Ballin in the past—not well—I have met him two or three times, and I have always thought him a man of the most interesting personality and of great eminence in his own country.

The noble Lord has referred to the fact that in the telegram reference was made by Herr Ballin to a letter addressed to myself. Well, in July, before the Serbian Manifesto, and when the political sky stretching between Germany and this country was clear and unbroken, Herr Ballin was in London and dined at my house. I did not know him well, but he called on me, and I asked him to meet certain people. The letter to which he referred was written after his return to Germany—some time subsequently—referring to the peaceful character of the occasion, and referring to the peaceful disposition of the German nation. There was nothing which remotely resembled the accusation against Russia which was contained in the memorandum. It was a private note. I have a great objection to publishing private correspondence. I think it is wrong in principle, and I think, even in the case of an alien enemy, there are some considerations to be extended to the moral right of those who wrote letters at a time when they were not alien enemies, and the letter was written at a time of peace. It is a letter which adds nothing to the matter on which The Times comments. It was a brief private communication written to me after he had dined with me in London.

I have told your Lordships all there is bearing on the matter for the purpose of making it clear that no State document, nothing of importance, is in my possession which could be disclosed and that would interest the public. Herr Ballin is a remarkable man. My personal knowledge of him is but slight. I have never had any correspondence with him on political or any other subjects. The letter I received I did not think it necessary to answer. Indeed, I have had no correspondence at any time in my life with him or with any other distinguished personage in Germany on public affairs. I think it right to make that statement, because there have been suggestions, I notice from the papers, that I might be in possession of correspondence with high personages in Germany. I have never in my life had any such correspondence. On three or four occasions, which are known to the public, and when I have been acting officially as Minister, I have had intercourse with high personages connected with the German Government. All these are eases in which the communications were with the cognisance of my colleagues and in which the circumstances were known to the public. I have known Germany well, and have been a keen student of her literature during most of my life, and I have often been there, but my friends there are men of letters whose occupations are not political. The noble Lord will appreciate why I have risen to make this statement. I wish no misapprehension to be in his mind with reference to the communication to which he has referred.