As mentioned in yesterday’s article, the German Imperial Territory of Alsace-Lorraine (Reichsland Elsaß-Lothringen or Elsass-Lothringen) was returned to France following the end of World War I. German troops departed between November 11 and 17, 1918, following Kaiser Wilhelm II’s abdication on November 9th and a very brief period during which a Soviet Republic of Alsace-Lorraine was proclaimed by an organization calling itself the Soldiers’ Council of Strasbourg established by insurgent seamen. French troops soon arrived and the Nationalrat proclaimed the return of Alsace to France on December 5, even though this process did not gain international recognition until the signature of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919.
Policies forbidding the use of German and requiring that of French were introduced. However, in order not to antagonize the Alsatians, the region was not subjected to some legal changes that had occurred in the rest of France between 1871 and 1919, such as the 1905 French Law of Separation of Church and State. The campaign of Francization included the forced deportation of all Germans who had settled in the area after 1870. For that purpose, the population was divided in four categories: A (French citizens prior to 1870), B (descendants of such French citizens), C (citizens of Allied or neutral states) and D (enemy aliens – Germans). By July 1921, 111,915 people categorized as “D” had been expelled to Germany. German-language Alsatian newspapers were also suppressed.
After the defeat of France in the spring of 1940, Alsace and Lorraine were once again occupied by Germany. The region was not formally annexed by the Greater German Reich, German chancellor Adolf Hitler drafted an annexation law in 1940 that he kept secret, expecting to announce it in the event of a German victory. Through a series of laws which, individually, seemed minor, Berlin took full control of Alsace-Lorraine, and Alsatians could be drafted into the German Army. Germany had been restructured into Reichsgau and Alsace was amalgamated with Baden while Lorraine was merged with the Saarland to become part of a planned Reichsgau to be named Westmark.
From 1942, people from Alsace and Moselle were made German citizens by decree of the Nazi government. Beginning in October 1942, young Alsatian men were inducted into the German armed forces. They were known as the malgré-nous, which translates into English as “against our will”. During the war, 130,000 young men from Alsace and Lorraine were inducted into the German army, many of them to fight on the Eastern Front against the Soviet Red Army. Most of those who survived the war were interned in Tamboy in Russia. The few that could escape fled to Switzerland or joined the resistance. In July 1944, 1500 malgré-nous were released from Soviet captivity and sent to Algiers, where they joined the Free French Forces. Others fought in Normandy against the Allies as the malgré-nous of the 2nd SS Panzer Division das Reich.
In more recent years, Alsatian is again being promoted by local, national and European authorities as an element of the region’s identity. Alsatian is taught in schools (but not mandatory) as one of the regional languages of France. German is also taught as a foreign language in local kindergartens and schools. However, the Constitution of France still requires that French be the only official language of the Republic.
Shortly after occupying the region in the spring of 1940, sixteen German stamps picturing Baron von Hindenberg were overprinted with the German word for Alsace, Elsaß (Scott #N27-N42) along with another sixteen for Lorraine (Scott #N43-N58, which will be dealt with when I reach the “L’s”). These are hidden in the Scott catalogue after France (“N” prefixes denote occupation stamps). Pictured today is Scott #N29, five pfennig bright green and perforated 14.