Baritone Robert Perkins tells of Germany during war
(This is the latest in an occasional series of posts about baritone opera singer Robert Perkins, a Glens Falls, N.Y. native)
Baritone Robert Perkins, a Glens Falls native who studied opera in Germany for four-and-one-half years, spent $2 for a pound for butter and 25 cents for one egg after World War I broke out in Europe.
“The press reports have not been exaggerations,” Perkins said, according to a report published July 2, 1917 in The Post-Star.
Press reports of the harshness of war were not mere propaganda, he said.
“The reports of German atrocities reach the country, but the people there brand them ‘a pack of lies told to get the world against us,’” he said.
“I saw the soldiers march off to war singing, ‘Germany above the world,’” he said. “They thought it was a romp. To lick the world was their aim.”
Telephone operators monitored calls to enforce a prohibition on speaking any language other than German.
“I once called a friend on the phone and addressed him in English. ‘Speak German please,’ came the command from central before my first sentence was finished,” Perkins said. “I have a friend over there, a Russian Jew, who is a naturalized German and who spoke to another Russian in the Russian language. He was held in jail for several days for the offense.”
Perkins said he had visited both German and French prisoner of war camps in his wide travels on concert tours, and the French took better care of prisoners than the Germans.
Perkins sat down for an interview with The Post-Star when he was in Glens Falls for a few days visiting his mother.
He was on a concert tour in Switzerland when the United States entered World War I, and the German government would not allow him to re-enter Germany.
It took a month for his wife to get permission to leave Berlin to join Perkins in Switzerland.
“My wife tells me that the declaration of war caused the wrath of the country to come toward America. ‘Get the United States’ is now the slogan over there.”
Once his wife joined him, they traveled to Paris to await passage to the United States on board The Rochester.
About 30 French aviators, headed to the United States to train U.S. military aviators, were on the same voyage.
“Believe me, the trip over here was some experience,” he said. “There was not a submarine sighted, but the two days in the danger zone were horrible. There was never a light on board, and after the dark no one was allowed to light a match or smoke a cigarette.”
Perkins had planned to embark on a United States concert tour, but became severely ill.
He spent 1918 in Glens Falls, occasionally performing locally.
He split his time between Glens Falls and Detroit, where his wife’s family lived, from early 1919 until his death in April 1921.