The Hague Reparation Conference, 1930

I have written before about Dr. Erich Salomon, the man who took photos of unguarded moments inside the League of Nations, the Supreme Court and other exalted corridors of power. His audacity was shocking: when the Kellogg-Briand Pact was being signed in 1928, he just walked into the signing room and took the vacant seat of the Polish delegate. Beruhmte Zeitgenossen in Unbewachten Augenblicken (Famous Contemporaries in Unguarded Moments) was his famous anthology.

The photos taken at the Hague are probably Salomon’s most famous. In “Get That Picture! The Story of the News Cameraman,” A. J. Ezickson writes:

The [second] picture had been taken at two o’clock in the morning in a conference room of The Hague. Louis Loucheur, French Minister of Labor, was holding his hands to his weary eyes; French Premier Andre Tardieu was slumped back on a couch, with eyes almost closed, apparently exhausted. Old Henri Cheron, French Finance Minister, seated in a high-backed chair, was dozing off. Between Cheron and Tardieu sat Germany’s Foreign Minister Dr. Julius Curtius, slowly succumbing to the smooth fingers of Morpheus. The light from a huge lamp in back of the couch was softly reflected on the delegates’ stiff shirtfronts and the high foreheads of Cheron and Loucheur. The meeting of men to decide the existences of millions of subjects! Unaware to these leaders, Dr. Salomon had stolen off to one side to focus his tiny camera and they never knew that their picture had been taken. On looking at the picture, the reader could almost feel that he had been present at this momentous meeting.

The first picture at the very top taken at 11 p.m. and showed Professor Alfred Besnard standing next to Loucheur who had his arms crossed. That was during the intense discussions of the Second Hague Reparation Conference (1930) to address the question of how Germany was to pay annuities of 600 million marks demanded by the Treaty of Versailles. Because annuities could not be deferred and because such a large sum was too heavy a burden, it was decided that Germany make the payment in kind instead of cash.

Yet, what they discussed here would matter little: soon their politics and power would be as quaint as their blackties and starched collars. The sun was emphatically setting on this type of power exercised from the cigar-smoke-filled and dimly-lit rooms in the chancelleries of Europe and the stately country homes in the shires. The series of humiliations that the Treaty of Versailles, the Hague Reparation Conferences and its product, the Young Agreement imposed upon Germany were so harsh that she would head into demagogic hands within three years and Hitler and the assembly line murder he created would soon sweep away all the trappings of gentlemanly diplomacy.

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