“Wipe out the Vons!” The Pietermaritzburg Citizens Vigilance Committee and the sinking of the Lusitania, May 1915
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The Pietermaritzburg Citizens Vigilance Committee was an extra legal body which discovered disloyal persons of German extraction in the city following the riots caused by the German torpedoing of the British passenger liner Lusitania in May 1915. A public indignation meeting created the Committee and gave it a broad mandate to ferret out suspect enemy aliens. The European polity of Pietermaritzburg was essentially British; there were relatively few Germans, so the Committee worked quickly. It discovered no disloyalty, but it did discover much intimidation by so-called patriots, which it condemned. It is easy to see its work as an anti-German witch-hunt, but it also served as safety valve for passions inflamed by the Lusitania atrocity.