Alsace: a nation in-between


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Here is an essay I made on the situation of the French region of Alsace, its identity, since the 12th century but especially in the 20th century and the two World Wars.

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Alsace: a nation in-between

  1. 1. Gallorini Marguerite Πανεπιστήμιο Μακεδονίας Erasmus 2012/2013Alsace:a Nation In-betweenForeword: Alsace, Alsace-Moselle and Alsace-Lorraine do not refer to the exact same thing. Alsace-Lorraine was aterm used to talk about the territories (Alsace and most of the Lorraine) owned by the German Empire between 1870 and1918, and that had been given back to France after the First World War. However today, in order to differentiate presentLorraine from the part of it which was annexed in the past, it is more appropriate to name this Alsace-Moselle.Then again, as far as I am concerned I will refer to this area by naming it simply Alsace, in order to not load the text;what is more the focus of this paper will be mainly Alsace as we know it today, that is to say the region of Francecomposed of the Bas-Rhin and the Haut-Rhin, having for capital (and European capital) Strasbourg, a region rich bothin cultural and economical terms.Like many other regions, Alsace has a complex past. For many centuries she has been at the forefront of thepolitical and economical battle between two big powers of the time: Germany and France.Throughout the history of Alsace, we will be able to observe how a region with a strategic locus cantherefore be at the centre of European politics, though often to the detriment of its own population. We willfollow how her sentiment of nationalism has developed over the decades, whether it was more pronounced infavour of one side or the other, and we will also study the fate of Alsatians during and after each World War.In which manner did Alsace cope with her various occupations, and finally, are their consequences visiblenowadays?Alsaces historical ties to Germany and FranceBefore integrating France for good, Alsace had shared a common past with Germany for a longtime, and today still we can feel her Germanic and French influences, both culturally andgeographically (the first aspect going along with the latter, following the theory of culturaldiffusion).Alsace had been part of the political federation of the Holy Roman Empire, which existed from962 to 1806, and which comprised not only Alsace but also most of todays central Europe countries,as well as Sicily and Northern Italy (see Annex 1). The time where Alsace was part of the Empire was
  2. 2. Gallorini Marguerite Πανεπιστήμιο Μακεδονίας Erasmus 2012/2013the Golden Age for her cities: they acquired an autonomous status according to the Germanic idea of“free cities1” (notably Mulhouse and Strasbourg), and they expanded their economy – it is notablyduring that time, in 1434, that Gutenberg invented the impression in Strasbourg2.This wealth attracted France in the 14thcentury, which tried to talk her into joining the country;but Alsatian cities sought to keep their successful independence within the Empire.However with the beginning of the confusing Thirty Years War in 1618, European countriesmercenaries3kept sweeping the area, and the German Empire failed to protect Alsace against thoseattacks. At the end of the war in 1648, with the Treaty of Westphalia, the balance of power withinEurope fundamentally changed, and Catholic France came out as the great victor. Therefore a partof Alsace was ceded to her, though excluding the free imperial city of Strasbourg and the Republic ofMulhouse.The French hegemony kept on flourishing under King Louis XIV, who put Alsace back on her feetafter the raids, and all the while leaving her her intellectual and religious freedom. This bore fruit sowell that Strasbourg finally agreed to be annexed to France by the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697.In 1789 the popular French Revolution broke out, launching the concept of “nation”. It was ageneral revolt against the aristocracy, who were not seen as being part of the patrie by the popularclasses because they were not the ones ready to fight for the country. In fact this revolution was sosymbolic because the power of the aristocracy was a phenomenon found not only in France. Indeed,at that time, the European elite shared the same culture regardless of frontiers4(they were all Latin-speakers, Christians, made marriages between families...), and this network maintained their statusat the apex of states. On the other hand, the lower classes were divided within every country, andeven within regions: in every area they had their own culture, with a special dialect and so on – alack of unity used by the high classes to rule.Therefore Alsace, even if she was a newcomer, gladly joined the fight against the local nobility: itwas the key event bringing Alsace and France together. She was afterwards separated into Bas andHaut-Rhin in 1790, and in 1798 Mulhouse decided to join the French Republic (a hundred years afterStrasbourg), seeing that being part of France was actually helpful for the Alsatian industrial andeconomic development.The Holy German Empire was dissolved in 1806, replaced by the Confederation of the Rhin, andthen in 1815 by the Germanic Confederation in which Prussia stood as the core country.France, under Napoleon III at the time, declared war on Prussia on July 18th, 1870: all theGermanic countries mobilized against France, which suffered a heavy defeat. An armistice wassigned on January 29th, 1871; following this, Alsatian deputies went to Paris to attend a NationalAssembly in which they expressed their wish to stay in France. In spite of it, the gift of Alsace toGermany was part of the peace agreements.The German Empire (Second Reich) was proclaimed on January 18th, 1871 in the Hall of Mirrors ofVersailles (Galerie des Glaces), and the annexation of Alsace was realized with the Treaty of Frankfurton the 10thof May, by which she became a property shared by all states of the Empire. The Empirebelieved that it was Alsaces ultimate fate to be a part of them. To support this point, here is whatthe German historian and political writer Heinrich von Treitschke wrote in 1870 in order to justifythe annexation of Alsace:1 In the Empire, the idea of a free city, or free imperial city (freie Reichsstadt), meant that the said city was self-rulingand subordinate only to the emperor, not to a local lord or prince.2 It attracted a lot of renown clerics such as Luther and Calvin to come to Alsace in order to spread their ideas throughthis revolutionary means of communication.3 Spanish, French, Danish, Swedish, etc...4 Concept of high culture used and developed by many authors like T.S. Eliot, Ernest Renan or Ernest Gellner (amongothers).
  3. 3. Gallorini Marguerite Πανεπιστήμιο Μακεδονίας Erasmus 2012/2013These provinces are ours by the right of the sword ; and we will rule them in virtue of a higher right,in virtue of the right of the German nation to prevent the permanent estrangement from the GermanEmpire of her lost children. We Germans, who know both Germany and France, know better what is forthe good of the Alsatians than do those unhappy people themselves, who, in the perverse conditions of aFrench life, have been denied any true knowledge of modern Germany. We desire, even against their will,to restore them to themselves.The spirit of a nation embraces successive as well as contemporary generations. Against themisguided wills of those who are living now we invoke the wills of those who lived before them. […] [In]disregarding the wills of the Alsatians of to-day, we are only fulfilling an injunction imposed by ournational honour.5This speech is clearly a very autocratic one, where all notion of choice on the part of Alsatians isabsent: the Empire knows better, so it will impose its “truth” no matter what. However with theRevolution and the Age of the Enlightenment, the new concept of nation was founded on this veryidea of choice (on the individual basis, the choice originated from an empirical knowledge, free fromreligious mysteries which were not enough to imagine the world anymore). France had chosen toget rid of its nobility, to be an independent state in 1789. Alsace had chosen to stay and be part ofFrance, part of the patrie. But in 1871, Alsace felt betrayed by France, giving up on her and puttingher in the hands of another power.The general Friedrich Alexander Von Bismarck, governor in Alsace, implemented the same yearcompulsive education for boys and girls in German (French will be completely out of education in1873), a first step in a series of policies aiming at erasing the French influence from the region. Hewill also try to evict Catholicism. By these policies, the Empire wanted the creation of a new nation:school permitted to assure that Alsatians would speak German and have the same values and beliefsas the rest of the Germanic countries, so as to incorporate them better into the wider GermanEmpire, as a true German State.Language (and more globally, education) is of course one of the main means of owning a country:it gets directly at the building of ones scheme of thought, with which one can interact in a society.Several cases could be put in parallel to this one: for instance the situation of Ireland and England.The former had been ruled by the latter for many centuries, and England made sure that Englishwould be taught in schools instead of Gaelic, so as to “crush” the Irish identity on a long-term basis.In Republican songs (for a Republic of Ireland), many were written in Gaelic as a sign of protestagainst the English invader – and it was also a way to not be understood by the English. Nowadays,because of the English supremacy, Gaelic is less and less known and remained the first language inonly very few areas (mostly in the West, like the Aran Islands and Connemara), which are known asGaeltachtaí, an Irish word meaning an Irish speaking region. But apart from these exceptions, themain language used in the everyday-life remains English; and in the case of Germany and Alsace, thegoal was the same.Nevertheless, the treaty of Frankfurt permitted to Alsatians to keep their French nationality byemigrating in France, until October 1st, 1872. This was a moral challenge for the inhabitants, as theyhad either to choose to stay in their homes, but become German citizens; or to stay French, butleave their home and relatives, their life. Sources vary on how many Alsatians fled the region, butwe can give an order between 500.000 and 700.000 people, who were replaced by 400 000 Germans6 7.Not all of these Alsatians opted for France: some went to Algeria, Quebec, or even Argentina. Manyothers went to cities close by like Belfort or Nancy, that had been left French even after annexation.5 Von Treitschke, Heinrich: "Was fordern wir von Frankreich ?" in Deutsche Kämpfe: Schriften zur Tagespolitik, 1870,p.321 and p.3266, website of Jean-Pierre Maury (doctor in Political Sciences, Paris II)for the University of Perpignan, consulted the 30/03/20137 It is at this time that the Alsatians who fled the region and who took refugee in Paris in 1870 founded the AlsatianSchool. This establishment is now one of the best private schools of the capital.
  4. 4. Gallorini Marguerite Πανεπιστήμιο Μακεδονίας Erasmus 2012/2013Alsaces economy suffered a lot with the loss of the French market and the competitiveness ofthe states of the Empire. But, coming hand in hand with the policies aiming at making Alsace a morehomogeneous state, Bismarck had in mind to make of her the first industrialized state of theEmpire. So little by little, Alsace was back on tracks and she pursued her economic growth. In May1911 a Constitution of the region was adopted; however, the executive part was still in the hands ofthe Empire.There grows the paradox of Alsace: she was grateful and attached to France, but she was alsoattached to Germany, as the latter did her share too for Alsaces economic well being8 9. So, togetherwith the education policies started in 1870, after a few movements of opposition to the annexation,Alsace became resigned to live with Germans.On a political level, four political trends emerged in the 1890s, claiming an autonomy: a pro-German trend (minority), a pro-French trend (more popular after 1900s because of Frenchpropaganda and German issues10), a socialist trend, and a pro-Alsatian trend which had for motto“Alsace to Alsatians”11.In the 1900s, there was a general rebirth of affirmation of Alsatian identity, when tensionsbetween France and Germany grew again. Artists and intellectuals based themselves on regionalvalues; the Alsatian Museum of Strasbourg, founded in 1900, attested to the desire of theconservation of traditions. But, all the while inspired by its own resources, the Alsatian culture fedon both French and German sides12.This is one of the issues of “nationalism”: how is it possible to define a nation, based oncharacteristics like language, passed heroes, borders, when all these vary through time? Indeed,language evolves both with time and sometimes at the contact of other languages; passed heroeshave nothing in common with the present generations, except for belonging to the same country;but even then, a country does not have necessarily the same borders as before, the same people asbefore – and Alsace is an example showing how borders are moveable, being a region pertaining toeither one or the other power according to different periods. The fact that the main parties ofAlsace were pro-German, pro-French or autonomous show the internal struggle of the region, andnot only the international one between the two powers: a struggle for defining where Alsacebelongs. This autonomist party which claimed the independence of Alsace was an attempt to affirmAlsatian identity, against the quick amalgams which saw Alsatians either only as French, either asGerman, but not as people who had their own specific culture (these amalgams will be worst duringthe two World Wars).The First World War and the harsh return to FranceWhen the First World War broke out, Alsace remained a war line between France and the GermanEmpire (see Annex 2). This period was baleful for Alsace, experiencing moral divisions andseparations of families, as it was not uncommon to find Alsatians from a same family in both camps.Young men were enrolled in the army, either by loyalty and a sense of duty, either reluctantly – butnot following a patriotic feeling. In 1915, the German Empire seeked to contain mass desertions bysending young Alsatians to fight on the Russian front, and by controlling letters and permissions.Some of them were not even allowed to come back to their home if it was located in the Bas-Rhin,occupied by France since the beginning of the war. Whats more, Alsatian civilians were prey tosuspicion of espionage by both sides: they were easily called sales boches by the French, and8 Germany set up running water, electricity, gas, and the Social Security in the region, even in rural areas.9 Alsace, in spite of her population issues, will have globally a great economical and industrial supremacy during the 19thcentury, notably thanks to her textile industry and its derivatives.10 The Saverne case especially: a German officer, in Saverne, talked badly of Alsatians recruits. He was covered by hiscolonel, and they both were acquitted by the War Council. This provoked a political crisis in 1913 within the Empire. Itled to a great degradation of the relationship between Alsace and the German Empire.11 “La situation particulière de lAlsace et de la Lorraine de 1871 à 194512 Grasser, Jean-Paul: Une Histoire de lAlsace, ed. Gisserot, 1998, p.89
  5. 5. Gallorini Marguerite Πανεπιστήμιο Μακεδονίας Erasmus 2012/2013Franzosenköpfe by the Germans.The military rule of Alsace and its “germanization” became even greater since the beginning ofthe war. French was banned from churches, and it was all the more prohibited in the areas close tothe front line – something hard for the population used to using French words in their dialect.During those few years and until 1918, the hardening of German policies attacked individualliberties and condemned people more and more on petty reasons. This pushed Alsatians to becomerancorous of the Empire, and therefore at the outcome of the war, the French army was welcomedwith great relief. The Armistice was signed on November 11th, 1918, and France got Alsace back theyear after with the Treaty of Versailles.However when Alsatian soldiers returned, they faced a disconcerting situation and not a warmwelcoming, by coming back amidst the people they had just fought, even though most of them didnot have any grudge against France. And still, a few Alsatians were advocating on behalf of Germanyin the war13: even though the pro-German trend was still a minority, it existed nevertheless, until itrose just before the Second World War.But French policies in Alsace, at her return in France, will also be harsh for the inhabitants. Oneof the most straight-forward measure is the one which classified Alsatians in 4 categories, accordingto their degree of Frenchness, that is to say by checking their parents and grand-parents origin, andby which they had different civic rights – people with both German parents having the least rights.They were attributed different cards, on which was written their category – a measure not far fromwhat was going to happen in the Third Reich for differentiating Jews and other “unwanted” people.Another measure was the implementation of a purgatory policy, expelling all German inhabitants(the Altdeutschen, Germans from the ex-German empire) who had come after 1871 as public officials;once they had received the expulsion order, they had 24 hours to pack their belongings, allowingthem to take only 30 kilos. This passage has been immortalized by the famous and sometimescontroversial Alsatian drawer Hansi (see picture below). However, although this “crossing of theRhin” was presented by France as taking back control of what was hers14, in reality this brutalexpulsion torn families apart again – as sometimes only the German father had to leave his homeafter 47 years of living there, his French wife and children being allowed to stay.Around 11.000 people (German or of German descent) were expelled.The facts are that France, when reintroducing Alsace, saw her as only a repressed French area,without taking into account the profound transformations the region had experienced – or to put itmore accurately, France did not want to see those transformations. Indeed, her German heritage wasa taboo subject. Also economically, Alsace had now been used to the decentralisation system, andthus to a certain freedom of self-government permitted by Germany. Once more, when coming backto France, Alsace had to readjust after the loss of the German market. So on all those levels, thereturn to French realities was not an easy one as France had expected.13 Vogler, Bernard: Histoire culturelle de l’Alsace, Strasbourg, 1994, pp. 377-37914 It must be said that in this respect, Hansi played a role. Indeed, Hansi was one of these Alsatians who were absolutelypro-France, therefore giving the impression with his drawings that the whole of Alsace was of the same opinion,however reality was much different. He was really disappointed with many French policies/attitudes “too nice” toGermany in the years following the end of the war.
  6. 6. Gallorini Marguerite Πανεπιστήμιο Μακεδονίας Erasmus 2012/2013There were many a social problem as well: for instance, ethnic discrimination in the workplacewas common: high-placed jobs were given to French people coming from the rest of France, andtherefore who knew nothing of the Alsatian culture – neither did they know the Alsatian language,even though at that time Alsatian and German were the languages used in the region. On thismatter, France undertook the task of reintroducing French in the region without transition, exceptfor a few classes at school kept in German – like language and religion classes. This was a big shockfor Alsatian children, who did not understand their French-speaking teachers, therefore thelearning process was a difficult one. As for Alsatian in itself, it was considered as a German dialect(amalgams came back), so it was put to the rank of foreign language; a law was even passed whichbanished the use of Alsatian in the streets after 10p.m. (it will be cancelled afterwards in 1919 by theGeneral Maudhuy, but it had already contributed to creating a gap between the people and theadministration).This period had another consequence: the return of the revenants, those who, in 1871, had chosento go to France instead of staying and becoming German. They considered themselves as being purerAlsatians than those who had decided to stay, another injustice for those who had chosen to keeptheir life in Alsace all the while. These revenants knew both French and Alsatian, and so they wereusually given higher positions too.Therefore all this forced French nationalism, one could say, created another form of division: notonly was it Alsatian versus French, but also Alsatian and French elites versus popular/modestAlsatians. Indeed, French soon became a criterion for climbing the social scale, so bilingual Alsatianswere at higher positions (like the revenants), whereas the modest people speaking only the “dialect”of Alsatian remained in the lowest positions, without responsibility. In the end, it was less a choicebased on qualifications than one made on a certain preference towards people seeming moreFrancophile. Once again, the elite had another culture than the lower classes, this time at a regionallevel.This time saw the growing of the Alsatian pro-autonomy trend, composed for the main part ofthe modest Alsatians being left out of the new francized system. The main party was Heimatbund, inFrench La ligue de la patrie. A big part of its followers agreed with Nazism in the 1940s, but originallythis trend militated for things like French-German bilingualism and a regional assembly, so for abetter recognition of the region and of the will of its inhabitants. But it grew more extreme withtime: it banished some newspapers, got closer and closer to Nazism...In parallel of this autonomous trend, a nationalist one emerged, mainly composed of the French-speaking people who came to live in Alsace.The French state continued in its purpose, when in 1924 the French President of the timeÉdouard Herriot decided to suppress local laws, especially concerning education, languages andreligion; the protest movements to this were repressed by force. Afterwards autonomist partiesmade an alliance with the communists and they won the elections in 1928-1930, however theirsupport will diminish with the perspective of a new threat of war with Hitlers rising in the 1930s.Besides politics, religion was still very important in the social life. Of course, being French,Alsatian or German mattered; but often, nationality and religious beliefs went hand in hand. Indeed,Protestantism was spread by Germany, whereas France was Catholic; Alsace was both (even ifCatholicism was a majority compared to Protestantism15).So for some people, it was more important than the difference between nationalists andautonomists; and for instance in Alsatian families, if the daughter came to her parents to announcethat she had a companion, the question they often asked her was not necessarily “Is he German orFrench?” but “Is he Protestant or Catholic?”. And even though mixed marriages developed duringthe 1920s and 1930s, assimilation policies were still looked at with suspicion by both Catholics andProtestants, who feared the loss of their respective cultural identity.15 The Alsatian Catholic party notably benefited from a great support.
  7. 7. Gallorini Marguerite Πανεπιστήμιο Μακεδονίας Erasmus 2012/2013The Third Reich and the malgré-nousWhen the Second World War broke out, a third of the Alsatian population (nearby the front line)was evacuated to the South-West of France. The moved people had to hurry and could take only afew things, and then they had great difficulty to find their feet in a region with a different languageand culture, especially the elders. The assimilation was therefore not always successful: Alsatiansdid not speak well French, so talked together in dialect, and consequently French people did notconsider Alsatians as being true French, whom they easily called boches. They did not know anythingabout these newcomers, and saw them as intruders.The Armistice was signed on June 22nd, 1940. The fate of Alsace was not mentioned, andtheoretically she was still part of France; but in reality Alsace was appropriated by Germany,incorporated to the Third Reich. Therefore Alsatians felt abandoned by France once again, 70 yearsafter the Treaty of Frankfurt which had let them down already.More than two thirds of the evacuated Alsatians came back, the assimilation in the South-Westbeing so difficult, and the French of these regions themselves pushing Alsatians to go back wherethey had come from. Whats more, the memory of the last German occupation was not all that badfor the autonomists and some Protestants (who will be mostly the ones collaborating gladly with theNazis afterwards). The other part stayed out of Alsace: some of them by choice, some being refusedby the Reich; indeed, were banned from the new Reich all Alsatian Jews, Francophiles, foreigners,beggars and more... in short all those deemed “unfit” for the new superior nation. In this respect,the people who belonged to these categories but had not been moved out yet from Alsace, wereexpelled.Even though Alsace was part of the Reich, she was still not placed on the same rank as other partsof the Reich: Alsatians were only “members of the people of the German community”, Volksdeutsche,as opposed to the real Germans, the Reichsdeutsche. Soon, all the administration and educatingsystem in Alsace will be adapted to the German one.Germany, much like France after 1918, saw Alsace as a Germanterritory which had been stolen, and that with a little push towards agermanization, Alsatians would feel their Germanic roots resurfacequickly. Therefore the Nazis applied roughly the same policies thanthose of France after the First World War, in the other way around16:speaking French was not allowed, and for those living in the Vosges,they had 5 years to learn and speak German; during this time, it was“tolerated” to speak in dialect between them. But the Nazis went evenfurther by renaming streets and people, banishing newspapers andallowing only a few ones under control of the Reich, eliminatingunauthorized books (especially Marxist and Jewish literature),destroying monuments. In 1941 were implanted the Nazi party, theReichsarbeitsdienst (Reich Labour Service, which became obligatoryafter the failure of voluntary recruits), and the Hitlerjugend (HitlerYouth).The elite in the administration and in the industry was notanymore the French and Francophile elite, but the German one, whotook all Alsatian firms and replaced their Alsatian leaders byGermans. The region is sacked: it is a colonization.Military service, in the first place, was open to volunteers like the Labour Service. But, facing aheavy failure again, it became obligatory for Alsatians on August 25th, 1942, otherwise they would besent in concentration camps17. As they had been enrolled in spite of themselves, they were called16 Today still, my (Catholic) grand-father makes his prayers in German, as he has learned them.17 Lorraine, Jacques, Les conscrits sanglants, in Les Allemands en France, ed. du Désert, Alger-Oran, 1945 p. 286.Poster during the Germanoccupation of Alsace (1940)“Out, the French plunder!”
  8. 8. Gallorini Marguerite Πανεπιστήμιο Μακεδονίας Erasmus 2012/2013the malgré-nous, a term still well known in France today18. Alsatians had lost their power to choseonce again, by being labelled as Germans even though the majority felt French in the heart. This willhave a heavy weight in the Franco-Alsatian relations of the following years: a conceptual etiquettecan have long-lasting consequences.Of course all these forced measures were not implemented without any reaction: rebellions,manifestations and desertions occurred in masses, but their repression was severe. Many fleeingAlsatians, captured by German forces, were shot or sent in camps of “re-education” to wash theirbrains and make them agree with Nazism. To stop this massive haemorrhage, in October 1943 anorder was passed which introduced the collective responsibility of the family, who would pay forthe reluctant Alsatian: this direct threat to the relatives made sure that Alsatians went and stayed inthe German army, where they were isolated within German recruits for a better assimilation. Inexchange, the families of those sent to the army were correctly helped by the administration until1944, and they received decent allocations (more decent than the French ones in 1939/1940).Nevertheless, young malgré-nous were still running away more and more.Another great rebel reaction was the Alsatian Resistance which allied with the more globalFrench one. Many Alsatians were motivated by the common fight against the oppressor, whetherthey were large or small groups. There were also resistant movements, like the Front de la Jeunessealsacienne, or the Brigade Alsace-Lorraine, led by André Malraux from September 1944.The Liberation and the troubled post-war periodOn November 18th, 1944, allied troops entered Alsace and freed Mulhouse and Strasbourg a fewdays later. Germans resisted, but the whole of Alsace will be finally freed in March 19th. Once the warwas over, the liberation of prisoners in Russian camps was slow19because of political and diplomaticdealings; at their return, the malgré-nous were considered as traitors or as Nazi sympathisers.Besides the German camps, some Alsatians who had been sent to fight the USSR had beencaptured and sent in Soviet camps; at their return they denounced the terrible conditions there,where unsurprisingly the mortality rate was high. But for denouncing this, they were severelyattacked by the French Communist party, very powerful at this time.In May 1945, the newspapers which had been banned were allowed again in Alsace, and themayors which had been displaced by Germans took back their functions. But the Liberation wastarnished by the really weak situation of the region: the unhealthy environment due to thesuspicion towards Alsatians speaking their Germanic dialect, the uncertain fate of the missingmalgré-nous, the moral and material misery of the inhabitants and those who came back. DividedAlsatian families created tensions within communities: between those who had managed to flee toFrance, those who had had to fight for the Nazis, and those who had been deported. We find suchfamily dramas in all occupied countries: if we take the example of Ireland again, many a family hadchildren fighting in different camps, between the pro-IRA, the more peaceful independentists andthe nationalists.During the post-war period, many Alsatians were victims of the purgation, on the same level asthe collaborators: around 15.000 people were incarcerated preventively, and around 10.000 wereexecuted. In truth, the extra-judicial and judicial courts did not know how to react to the malgré-nous guilty of crimes (the most emblematic case on this issue being the massacre of the Frenchvillage of Oradour-sur-Glane by Nazi units). Should they be placed on the same level as Germans,therefore making a reality the incorporation of Alsace into Germany as Hitler had wanted? Orshould they separate them, based on their nationality, but then again how to differentiate thosewho had been forced to join the Nazis, and those who joined them in full knowledge of what theideology represented?18 On this very issue, a conference took place on June 11thlast year at the French School of Athens.19 The last malgré-nous, Jean-Jacques Remetter, will be freed in 1955 and go to Alsace.
  9. 9. Gallorini Marguerite Πανεπιστήμιο Μακεδονίας Erasmus 2012/2013Moreover, Alsatians summoned to court were often preys to anonymous denunciations, comingfrom people who wanted to get the goods and lands of others for instance. In this respect, thegovernment, after many movements of back and forth and many manifestations which took place inAlsace for the defense of their people, decided to grant amnesty to all the malgré-nous in 1953,considering their situation of forced enrolment. But those amnestied were seen as “bad French”,and suffered from an inferiority complex like most of Alsatians. It is still today a debate in Alsace, asa good part of the French population still sees Alsatians as having been on the side of theexecutioner. As Alphonse Troestler, nephew of a man who deserted the German army twice beforefinally dying on the Eastern front, said: “Alsatians have learned the History of France, but French neverlearned the History of Alsace. As Charles Péguy said, when we sell our brother, it is better not to talk about it”.20One of the common points between the German Empire/Germany and France was that both powers thoughtthat Alsace belonged to them, and that therefore she would gladly come back to either one after the “tyranny”of the enemy. This wrong assumption went against the will of the populations of the region, and this wascontrary to the idea of choice brought by the Enlightenment. Indeed, the history of Alsace was mainly one oflack of choice: she was used as a bargain for political arrangements, without paying attention to what thepeople living there would feel of such changes.Alsace was, in the end, only situated in the wrong place: her strategic locus between two major powers wasof great importance to both of them. Her population paid a heavy tribute for it, but nowadays at least she has aspecial status granted to her, permitting her to keep assets that she had owned prior to 1914, like a differenthealth insurance, more public holidays, religious classes at school and clerks paid by the State. As for the issueof the Alsatian language, it is less and less spoken by Alsatians – mostly by the elders – who now speak French.Since 1949, Strasbourg has been the European Councils seat and later, in 1997, seat of the EuropeanParliament. Indeed, Germany and France being part of the pillars of the European Union, this common regionwas both a political, historical and somehow logical choice.Alsace owns one of the very few French pacific war memorials, inaugurated in 1936 after the first drama ofthe First World War, but which immortalizes all her story: on the Republic Square in Strasbourg is the statue ofa mother (personification of Alsace) holding in her arms both her sons, one German and one French, but neitherof them wearing the uniform to distinguish them. They fought each other, but finally in death they come closeto each other and hold hands.20 Le Monde, Les plaies dOradour, February 18th, 2013:
  10. 10. Gallorini Marguerite Πανεπιστήμιο Μακεδονίας Erasmus 2012/2013Annex 1:Map of the Holy Roman Germanic Empire in the 1200sSource:
  11. 11. Gallorini Marguerite Πανεπιστήμιο Μακεδονίας Erasmus 2012/2013Annex 2:Map of the military fronts during the First World WarSource:
  12. 12. Gallorini Marguerite Πανεπιστήμιο Μακεδονίας Erasmus 2012/2013Bibliography:M. de Coulanges, Fustel: L Alsace est-elle Allemande ou Française? ... Réponse à M. Mommsen, professeur àBerlin par M. Fustel de Coulanges, Paris, ed. É. Dentu, 1870Vogler, Bernard: Histoire culturelle de l’Alsace, Strasbourg, ed. La Bibliothèque Alsacienne/La NuéeBleue, 1994Grasser, Jean-Paul: Une Histoire de lAlsace, ed. Alsatiques Gisserot, 1998Von Treitschke, Heinrich: Was fordern wir von Frankreich?, ed. Hirzel, 1870Meyer, Philippe: Histoire de lAlsace, ed. Perrin, 2008Websites: (Alsatian newspaper: Dernières Nouvelles dAlsace) (B&S Editions, based in the Moselle) (University of North Carolina at Pembroke) (website of Jean-Pierre Maury (doctor inPolitical Sciences, Paris II) for the University of Perpignan) (French newspaper: Le Monde) (Chronique de lAssociation des Anciens Élèves delÉcole Textile de Mulhouse (1896-1996), editions: Association des Anciens Élèves de lEnsitm)