Three men in a railway carriage
less the western front, in his life. Neither the inflexible Foch nor the suave Wemyss shook hands with Erzberger (or included him in their final triumphant selfie).
The German, not incidentally, had on his way to France seen for the first time the devastation wrought among the mud of Belgium and France. Foch and Wemyss were both pushing for impossible terms and most likely knew it; Erzberger, with his country no less in ruins than most of Europe, and America now in the war, opted for an end.
He came home not to celebrations. Not to ticker-tape or berets and caps in the air. Nods of pragmatic acknowledgement and, in the streets and in the armies, bitter exhausted relief, which soon turned to hatred, as he surely must have known it would. Germany had been left with nothing, and had to pay extraordinary reparations; even Foch felt that the conditions pressed upon it, which led directly to the Treaty of Versailles, might have gone too far.
The scuttling of the German fleet at Scapa Flow is often seen even here as an act of heroic, last-ditch sacrifice, but there was real hatred for Erzberger among the naval officers, a hatred that was only to fester. He was assassinated three years later while out for a walk in the Black Forest by members of a disbanded Marinebrigade.
More crucially, Ludendorff, co-commander with Hindenburg of the German armies, helped create the “stab in the back” myth, which argued Germans had not so much lost the war as been betrayed by Bolsheviks, Jews (and of course Erzberger): later he would take part in the Beer Hall Putsch. Anyone who doubted the strident correlation between first and second wars, and the cankerous power of simmering resentment, need only reflect on the fact that in 1940 Hitler demanded the French sign their surrender in the very same train carriage, by then preserved as a historical monument.
“Lest we forget”, we rightly say of the 1914-18 dead, and “never forget” of the Holocaust; seldom can there have been a more visceral reminder of the direct causal link between the two.
One other consequence of both
Anca Dumitra is exceptional, as, if this portrayal is accurate, was the real Ana
‘Devastating’: Chris Rogers as Erzberger,Pip Donaghy as Foch and David Bark-Jones as Wemyss in WWI: The Final Hours. BBC/72 Films