On this day: Britain declares war on Germany

August 4 1914: Start of the Great War


As the Balkan power keg lit up Europe, Germany made its move and invaded Russia, and then Belgium.

In keeping with the terms of the 1839 Treaty of London, the Great Powers were required to protect Belgium's neutrality.

The German invasion violated that treaty and Prime Minister Herbert Asquith told parliament that Britain had been given an 'unsatisfactory reply' to the British ultimatum that Belgium must be kept neutral.

Accordingly, at midnight he declared war on Germany, interrupting the progress of the Schlieffen Plan, Germany's planned advance through Belgium. From then for more than four years, Europe would be divided and at war.

Much of the fighting took place in Belgium, creating a refugee crisis amongst the Jews of Belgium. A Jewish Chronicle editorial from that October noted that their case was "more bitter" than that of other refuges from Belgium, because most were not even Belgian.

The paper noted: "They are, most of them, Jews who once migrated from the horrors of Russia and Poland, or who have fled at some time from the sharp antisemitism which they encountered in Austria, or from the inimical surroundings in which they found themselves placed, because they were Jews, in the land of the Kaiser.

"To Belgium they went for their livelihood, in exchange for those qualities of energy, sobriety, adaptability, which are the Jew's all the world over. They went to Belgium, many of these Jewish refugees, as to a haven of rest, so that the children born to them should have a prospect of life compatible with elementary notions of justice and of freedom. And now this terrible Holocaust has burst upon them, and they are wanderers once again."

What the JC said: As we write we are faced with the fact that Great Britain is engaged in a monumental struggle for life or death as a nation, a struggle that was none of her seeking and that was forced upon her...England has been all she could be to Jews; Jews will be all they can be to England. We to-day will place aside any individual feeling we may have harboured as to the course of international affairs, even the bitter feeling that this country in this titanic struggle is linked with Russia. We know but a single cause, a single passionate desire. Our cause is the cause of England, our desire is the triumph of England with all that she has stood and stands for, so that she may- overcome her enemies, and come forth from the crowning ordeal as free, great, and mighty as ever.

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    Last updated: 8:38am, August 4 2011