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Alsace-Lorraine 1871-1945

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Lee, Joo Hyung
Term Paper, AP European History Class, November 2007

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. The Franco-German War (1870-1871)
III. Alsace-Lorraine 1871-1914 : Assimilation into Germany
IV. World War I
V. The Interbellum 1919-1940 : Re-assimilation of Alsace-Lorraine into France
VI. World War II
VII. Conclusion and Analysis
VIII. Notes
IX. Bibliography

I. Introduction :
            Today Alsace-Lorraine is legally recognized as part of France, and its official name has become 'Alsace-Moselle'. However, it had not always been so - the rich iron deposits of Lorraine made it the prime target of both France and Germany, and underwent numerous changes of ownership throughout the wars fought between both powers. Although coveted by both, it was never truly accepted by either as other than as a source of exploitation. Its history of being constantly torn and juggled still marks itself deeply in its culture - hence its distrust, or rather reserved attitude for both sides. In order to understand present-day Alsace-Lorraine, one must understand the tragic history it had gone through.
            This paper will concentrate on the three wars fought by France and Germany (Prussia) between 1870 and 1945, from the Treaty of Frankfurt to the Second World War, as these were the main events that shape today's Alsace-Lorraine.

II. The Franco-German War (1870-1871)
            The term 'Alsace-Lorraine' corresponds to the territory originally named 'Elsass-Lothringen', (or 'Elsass-Lothringen,' following spelling reforms) by the Germans, which they had won from France at the Treaty of Frankfurt. The territory consists of 93% of Alsace and 26% of Lorraine (1)
            The Franco-German war lasted from July 19th, 1870 to January 28th, 1871. It opposed the Second French Empire against the German states, which were united behind the Kingdom of Prussia .The war was the product of years of culminated tension between the two entities. The fragile peace had shattered when Napoleon III forced King Wilhelm of Prussia to make prince Leopold withdraw his candidacy to the Spanish throne. The throne had been vacant since 1868 (2), and France could not allow Leopold, a Hohenzollern prince, to be seated ? it feared a possible alliance between Spain and Prussia, as then both would be ruled by Hohenzollerns - and King Wilhelm complied. But the French are still not satisfied by a single diplomatic victory, and wish to establish a final delivering blow. France sent an ambassador to Prussia, in order to demand this time that no Hohenzollern should ever become candidate to the Spanish throne. The ambassador bypassed all diplomatic procedures and confronted the King at his resort, with threats of war. Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck, feeling that the French had crossed a line (and knowing France's inclination to war) deliberately released a biased telegram to the media and foreign embassies - which would provide the French a pretext to declare war (3). The telegram would then continue to be distorted through misinterpretations and improper translations by the press, and eventually outrage the French public. France declared war on 19 July 1870, only five days after the telegram had been published.
            However, contrary to France's opinion of its military superiority, both sides were extremely mismatched. In addition to Napoleon III failing to gain allies from surrounding European countries, the German armies were by far superior - better equipped and better organized. The war ended with the siege of Paris, after a series of crushing French defeats (4). The Second French Empire was effectively overthrown by the coup-d'etat of Paris, led by Leon Gambetta and General Trochu on September 4. The 'Gouvernement de la Defense Nationale' (GDN) was proclaimed to be in power (5). It would become the first government of the Third Republic.
            An armistice was signed on May 10, 1871. The treaty forced the French to yield vast territories within Alsace, Lorraine and the Vosges to Germany. France ended up losing 1.4 million hectares of land, 1.5 million inhabitants and 20% of its mining and ironworks industry - along with 5 billion francs in indemnity, a staggering sum for the French (6). This marks the beginning of the tragedy in the Alsace-Lorraine, as it not only separates the lands from France - but also causes general animosity among the French against Germany, which would lead to the numerous conflicts between the two sides, including the First and Second World War.

III. Alsace Lorraine from 1871 to 1914 : Assimilation into Germany
            The Treaty of Frankfurt had presented the people of Alsace-Lorraine with a choice?: either to leave the region by October 1872 to maintain their French citizenship, or stay and lose it. Only 100 000 left for France (5% of the local population), and the vast majority stayed (7).
            It was at the Treaty of Frankfurt that the boundaries of present day Alsace-Lorraine were made. However, the creation of the province was not simply an annexation of territory imposed by a vainqueur. Such an act, surely to cause great hostility within France, was met with strong oppositon even in Germany itself. France had been a powerful threat, especially so since the Napoleonic wars. It was deemed unnecessary to provoke such a dangerous enemy. Yet the decision had been made, and the annexation is considered as a defensive measure, moving the French border away from their territories.
            A large number of immigrants from core Germany - usually strongly patriotic - came to install themselves in the region. They mingled with ease, being able to occupy relatively higher positions in work, and marry with the locals. However, they did not have the desired effect of 'conversion' of the locals. It must be noted that unlike its future counterpart, the German regime at the time was much tolerant towards those of French origin and their culture (approx. 10% spoke French as native language), and peace was quickly restored between locals and incoming Germans (8). This period marks the blending of both cultures in Alsace-Lorraine. Yet this would be the source of future conflicts and miscarriages, as neither Germany nor France can fully accept Alsace-Lorraine, half German and half French.

IV. World War I (1914-1918)
            Ever since the beginning of the First World War, the French and German sides both took confused and misdirected action against the people of Alsace-Lorraine, due to its vague place between the two countries. For the French, they were too German ? for the Germans, they were too French. Alsatians living in France were to be arrested and deported to camps, and treated with hostility from the french population in general; French soldiers would wrongly arrest and beat up old men? who would turn out to be former French soldiers, who had been honored for their service in the 1870s in the war against Prussia (9). This did not mean that the Germans treated them any better, and discrimination -such as the Saverne Incident (10) - caused public unrest in the region against the German army.
            Any ties with France were strongly discouraged. For example, the use of French was interdicted by law (even banal greetings, such as "Bonjour"), while large parts of the population mixed French into their everyday language. Even a single French word spoken was penalized with a fine (11). German immigrants tried to prove their patriotism by denouncing such acts to the authorities, and served as rapports for the local police. Thus the population is divided into a pro-German minority backed by the state, against a 'French' majority. Soldiers from Alsace or Lorraine were also discriminated against by German commanders. They were deemed untrustworthy by commanders, and had to undergo weeks of inspection and background checks by the police before being admitted into full service (12).

V. The Interbellum 1919-1940 : Re-Assimilation into France

            Alsace-Lorraine was returned to France after World War I. Yet the French government still mistrusted the region's population, and a strong if not forceful project of re-assimilation was implemented. The population was divided into four: those who would have stayed French if not for the annexation in 1871 were given an identity card labeled A, with blue, white and red stripes (approximately 59% of all residents). People of French origin who had one German parent, or were married to a German received a 'B-Card'. Foreigners were given 'C-cards', and Germans received the lowest 'D-card' (13). This received much criticism as it discriminated people by origin, and did not take into account those who remained loyal to France despite their nationality. This discrimination is expressed markedly : In December 1918 when the value of German currency hit the floor, people with A-cards were allowed change 1 Mark for 1.25 francs, while people with D-cards had to exchange 1 Mark for 0.80 francs (14).
            German stores were pillaged by French soldiers, and many Germans were forcefully expelled. They were allowed to bring only what they could carry, leaving behind all other personal belongings or land (15). Expulsions were implemented with harshness, and witnesses record how they were 'escorted to the other side of the Rhine River, permitted to bring only a sack and 300 Marks.' Many of these Germans, along with those who remained yet were discriminated against, were considered as neighbors and friends - fellow countrymen - by others, and such actions undertaken by the government caused them to look at France from a new perspective. Well-known public figures like Eugene Ricklin - baron of one of Alsace's largest families - who were strongly pro-France and opposed to German rule, were not exempt from the project of assimilation and forced expulsions. An estimated 200 000 Germans were expelled until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles (16). About half were allowed to return only after pressure on the French government by the United States (17).

            The Government considered the Frankization of the educational system in Alsace-Lorraine an urgent necessity. Teachers were given orders to switch from courses done in German to French immediately, overnight (18). Those who could not were relieved of their position as educators. Teachers were brought 'from the interior' (as opposed to Alsace-Lorraine, which was considered as a margin territory), carefully selected from those who knew nothing of Alsace-Lorraine or its history, people, and language. Most of the time, students were not even able to comprehend what the teachers were saying. On the other hand, teachers from the region had problems speaking French, and therefore normal education was impossible in either case. Alsace-Lorraine, strongly religious, also had to confront teachers who were complete atheists. Sometimes parents would refuse to let their children attend classes run by non-religious teachers (19).

VI. World War II (1939-1945)
            If Alsace-Lorraine had suffered during the First World War, it did so much worse during the Second. Most of the casualties constituted of men sent to the Russian front into dangerous missions. When the war began, the Government implemented a plan of dislocating the people living between the Maginot Line and the German front (20. However, no concrete plan had been put in place, and the inhabitants of Alsace-Lorraine had to move in conditions not unlike those of the Germans in the region after World War I. Beginning from September 1939, these people could take only what they could carry or load on a car. The less fortunate had to walk on foot, leaving behind all their belongings. While the economically capable were able to buy houses in South-East France, others had to do without. Those who could not afford a new habitat, the Government spread without much organization throughout regions such as the Limousin (21). The newcomers were not well accepted. Already differences in language and culture were apparent ? one that was too similar to Germans for their taste. The migrants were derisively called the "yaya", as instead of "Oui", they would say "Ja" as an affirmative (22). The newcomers were not so happy about the locals either, and instead of assimilating, the older generations would stubbornly keep their culture separate.
            It was obvious to any observer that ¡®core¡¯ French did not consider the Alsatians as true fellow countrymen. Public opinion was that they always sided with the winning side. Although no open conflicts erupted, such an atmosphere of peer pressure and isolation explains why following the end of the War and the armistice, most of the migrants requested permission to return to their homeland (23).
            The region of Alsace-Lorraine was not mentioned in the armistice of June 22, 1940 (24). Therefore although it was still legally French territory, Nazi Germany occupied the territory with military force, and annexed it as a part of the Third Empire. If Germany had been previously tolerant to local culture in Alsace Lorraine, the new regime was not so generous. In fact the German Government strove to follow the French plans of assimilation, in the German version. Roads were renamed, such as the rue de sauvetage, main street of Mulhouse, re-baptised Adolf-Hitler-Strasse. The region of Colmar was renamed Kolmar (25).
            Yet although they resented how France had treated them, the Alsatians were not entirely favorable towards the Germans either. One example would be how locals would subtly change the greeting "Heil Hitler" with the somewhat disconnected phrase: "Ein Liter" - one liter (26). A local military resistance forms against the Germans, independently from the RIF (Resistance Interieur Française) (27).

VII. Conclusion and Analysis
            The region of Alsace-Lorraine was at the center of turbulent times. It received the full impact of three wars during a period of roughly a century, each time growing in scale. Starting with the Franco-German war in 1870 to the end of the Second World War, it was subject to the whims and crushing forces of both Germany and France. It was the center of dispute for both, and symbolized the prize of the victor. Yet it was never truly accepted by either nation, except as a gain in its mining industry, just a statistical entity.
            The Alsace-Lorraine never played an active role throughout the period. It was the silent victim, forced to move along with the tides of war. The scars of these times still remain in the mentality of Alsace-Lorraine. The older generations still do not call themselves French - rather, they are 'Alsaciens-Lorrainens' between themselves. Such isolationism has been the subject of much criticism by the rest of France, but it must be understood that they had suffered much at its expense. It had been the abandoned child of France and Germany, a child of divorced parents - who would not accept it, as they saw too much of each other within the child.

VIII. Notes

(1)      Article : Alsace-Lorraine, from Wikipedia
(2)      Article : Franco-Prussian War, from Wikipedia
(3)      Article : Ems Dispatch, from Wikipedia. This refers to the 'Ems Dispatch' telegram. The telegram had been personally modified by Bismarck, giving nuances to the French that the King had insulted them, and to the Germans that the French had insulted the King. Although not the only cause, this is the igniting spark of the Franco-German war (1870 - 1871).
(4)      Baud 2001
(5)      Blanchenoix 2005, the coup-d'etat occurs within Paris, after news of Napoleon III's capture is public.
(6)      Article : Franco-Prussian War, from Wikipedia
(7)      Baud 2001
(8)      Uberfil 2007
(9)      ibid.
(10)      Henze 2005. This consisted of overly-harsh treatment against soldiers originating from Alsace-Lorraine; An officer allegedly proposed a bounty for any soldiers who would 'stab an Alsatian soldier'. Although it was not a serious remark, this enflamed the public.
(11)      Levy 1929
(12)      Article : Alsace-Lorraine, from Wikipedia
(13)      Blanchenoix 2005
(14)      ibid.
(15)      ibid.
(16)      ibid.
(17)      ibid.
(18)      Favart 1996. These are memories recounted by the author.
(19)      ibid.
(20)      Henze 2005
(21)      Hannam 2007
(22)      Favart 1996
(23)      ibid.
(24)      Blanchenoix 2005
(25)      ibid.
(26)      Article : Alsace-Lorraine, from Wikipedia
(27)      Blanchenoix 2005

VII. Bibliography

Note : websites listed below were visited in November 2007.
1.      Uberfil, François. Les mariages transfrontaliers entre Alsaciens et Allemands a Strasbourg entre 1871 et 1941 2007.
2.      Favart, Michel. "Les Alsaciens ou les Deux Mathilde". 1996.
3.      Rigoulot, Pierre. "L'Alsace-Lorraine pendant la guerre". PUF, 1991
4.      Levy, Paul. "Histoire linguistique d'Alsace et de Lorraine et La langue allemande". Les Belles lettres, 1929.
5.      Henze, Sam. "France, Germany and the Struggle for the War-making Natural Resources of the Rhineland". ICE Case Studies Number 158, August, 2005.
6.      Article : Alsace-Lorraine, from The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Micropedia Volume 12. 1998.
7.      Article : Alsace-Lorraine, from Wikipedia,
8.      Article : Franco-Prussian War, from Wikipedia,
9.      Article : Treaty of Frankfurt, from Wikipedia,
10.      Blanchenoix, Noelle and Chapelle, Pierrette. Histoire-Geographie 2e. Fernand Nathan, 2005.
11.      Baud. Histoire Geographie 2e, edition 2001. Hatier, 2001
12.      Article : Ems Dispatch, from Wikipedia,
13.      Ganse, Alexander. World History at KMLA; History of Alsace-Lorraine, Last revised November 24th 2007

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