Thirteen men and one woman solemnly posed for this picture in Evere, on 14 August 1914, ten days after the invasion of the country. At the feet of these civilians, a sign read: “Peaceful Belgians waiting for … German barbarians”. The second part of the inscription, the one that directly accused the enemy, would be hidden afterwards. One of the persons appearing on the photograph probably deleted that part under the occupation for fear of reprisals. The sign recalls that in the course of the first weeks of the war, mobilization was not only a matter of soldiers. Defending the country was everybody’s business. As from 5 August, the mobilisation was stimulated by the massacres of civilians under the advancement of Reich troops. The Germans were no longer just invaders. They became, as stated by this photograph and soon by the entire allied propaganda, “barbarians”.
The German advance caused a bloodbath. Dreading that civilians might start organizing themselves and lead an armed resistance, the Reich troops sacked entire cities and villages. Executions, hostage taking and civilian deportations took place in Wallonia, Flanders, and the North of France. In the little city of Dinant alone, more than 600 men and women were shot, while several neighbourhoods were burned. In three weeks’ time, the acts of violence committed by the German soldiers caused 5,000 victims among the Belgian population. Civilians no longer escaped the violence of the conflict, serving sometimes even as human shields. The war became total.