Even though Elsaß-Lothringen (Alsace-Lorraine) was never a part of the Prussian State but an autonomous Reichsland of the German Empire, it is another of those politically incorrect questions that I am fond of, I am very interested in this French-annexed German territory, and I have been asked by a friend in France to write about this subject and give my view. So here is my attempt.
Elsaß-Lothringen today comprises the French départements of Haut-Rhin (Upper Rhine, Oberrhein), Bas-Rhin (Lower Rhine, Niederrhein) and Moselle (Mosel) but under German rule consisted of only two parts: Lothringen (Lorraine) and Elsaß (Alsace.) It is coloured orange in the map to the right showing the Province when it was a part of the German Empire from 1871 to 1918. Prussia is coloured blue, and the remaining German states shades of grey. For a detailed map of German Elsaß-Lothringen, click here.
The history of Elsaß-Lothringen is, however, far from stable and the territory has exchanged hands between France and Germany many times throughout the centuries. It was originally much larger, the second map to the right showing the holdings of Germany in this area at its greatest extent. Broadly-speaking, old Elsaß-Lothringen consisted of a French-speaking western part (Nancy/Nazig and Mömpelgard/Montbéliard - coloured blue) and the former Graffschaft Barr (coloured purple). The German areas broadly consisted of the modern Elsaß-Lothringen (coloured orange) with some parts of the Prussian Rhineland and Bavarian Palatinate (Preußisch Rheinland and Bayerisch Pfalz - coloured red). With the exception of the red areas, the whole of Elsaß-Lothringen passed to France at the conclusion of the
Napoleonic wars, and it was not until the defeat of France by Prussia in 1871 that the largely German-speaking (orange coloured) part of Elsaß-Lothringen, with capital at Straßburg (in French, Strasbourg), was returned to German rule.
The loss by France of this territory was the major contributing factor of anti-German feeling between 1871 to 1918 when it was forcibly annexed by France in disregard of the principle of the self-determination of peoples which was boldly proclaimed by the Allies but almost totally ignored (with the exception of East Prussia). German rule was initially unpopular in Elsaß-Lothringen and many residents who considered themselves French emigrated. Not until 1902 when the area was given a large measure of autonomy and self-government did the people of this territory finally begin to regard themselves as emancipated and free after centuries of oppression. With the grant of a constitution in 1911, both the German majority and French minority (in Lothringen - principally the Metz region) began to fully accept and embrace Germanisation. This period of true liberty (1911-18) was not enjoyed by the region either before or since and is regarded by most Elsaß-Lothringers as their 'golden period'.
The end of the First World War and the forcible annexation of the territory by France resulted in the suppression of the German language and of German culture. But before we look at the post-German era, let us look at the times before German incorporation.
The Time before 1871
Occupied by the Romans in the first century, Elsaß (Elsass, Alsace) became a Frankish duchy in the fifth century. From the 10th to the 17th century, it was part of the Holy Roman Empire of the Germans, and during that period, its territory was divided into a number of secular and ecclesiastical lordships and municipalities, which remained significant until the French Revolution. The mediaeval period was also marked by the growing importance of the cities such as Straßburg (Strassburg, Strasburg, Strasbourg), Kolmar (Colmar) and Hagenau (Haguenau) which, with the support of the emperors, gradually freed themselves from their feudal overlords.
The Protestant Reformation made important gains in Elsaß, and Straßburg, where the reformer Martin Bucer was especially prominent, became a centre of humanistic learning. Catholicism remained strong in the Habsburg-controlled areas and was later reinforced by France. When Catholic Church and State became separated in France in the early 20th century, only Elsaß-Lothringen was excepted (since it was then part of Germany).
French influence, which first gained importance in the 16th century, became dominant in the 17th. The Peace of Westphalia (Westfalen, 1648) gave France an informal protectorate over the area, and full control was established during the reign of Louis XIV. In the 18th century, Elsaß enjoyed considerable autonomy under the French crown. The economy prospered and French culture spread among the upper classes, although German remained the language of most of the people. The administrative incorporation of Elsaß into France was completed by the French Revolution, when its existence as a separate province, and the last vestiges of Freedom, ended.
The history of Lothringen is a little different and rather more complex because of its position between Germany and France. Like Elsaß, following the conquest of Gaul by the Romans in the 1st century, it became a prosperous area of communication and trade, and eventually became the nucleus of the Kingdom of Austrasia, reaching its apogee under the Carolingians in the 8th century. Its monastries were then homes of a cultural renaissance and its aristocratic families became leaders of the Frankish empire.
The name Lothringen derives from the name of a Carolingian king, Lothar (or Lothair), who reigned between 855 and 869, a kingdom which stretched from the North Sea to the Jura mountains. In 925 the kingdom was under the control of the German king. But without geographic or linguistic unity, it was soon divided into the duchies of Lower (Nieder-) and Upper (Ober-) Lothringen, of which only the latter part kept its name.
Through the rest of the Middle Ages, Lothringen, like other German duchies, suffered from the struggles among the princely families (the Dukes of Lothringen, the Lords of Barr (Bar) in the West, and Luxemburg to the north) and the great bishoprics (Metz, Toul and Verdun). The control of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Emperor weakened, and, despite the beginnings of French encroachment (in the 13th century) and encirclement by the Burgundian state (15th century), Lothringen remained independent under its dukes.
French domination of Lothringen dates from the 16th century when control of the duchy became vital in the struggles between the French kings and the Habsburgs, who ruled the Holy Roman Empire. In 1552 the French established a foothold by taking Metz, Toul, and Verdun, and they occupied the duchy a number of times in the devastating wars of the 17th century. Lothringen was given to Stanislaw I, former King of Poland and father-in-law of the French King Louis XV, by the treaties ending the War of the Polish Succession (1783). On Stanislaw's death, in 1766, Lothringen was incorporated into France as an administrative géneralité under an intendant (royal governor), with Nanzig (Nancy) as its capital. It was broken into départements during the French Revolution (1790). Nearly a century later, part of Lothringen (the mostly German part) was returned to the German Reich after the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 until it was forcibly seized by France again and reannexed in 1918.
The Story Since 1918
It has to be clearly remembered when discussing the passing of Elsaß-Lothringen to French control that this was neither the return of a French territory to the French motherland nor the wish of the inhabitants to be annexed by the French Republic. The two dominant thoughts of the inhabitants of this territory were (a) retention within Germany, or at the very least, (b) complete independence from France. When it became clear that neither of these would ever be achieved except (i) by force or arms, or (ii) the overturning of the Treaty of Versailles, this left only one realistic, non-revolutionary option: a bid for the kind of autonomy that Elsaß-Lothringen had enjoyed under German rule. Such a thought was unthinkable to the French whose one thought was the entire eradication of the German language and German culture - in short, a program of forced Frenchification (Französierungspolitik) or cultural and linguistic ethnic cleansing. Revenge was in the hearts of France following German defeat in 1918, not conciliation, for which it paid dearly in 1940. Revenge, as both French and Germans have learned through defeat and occupation, is a terrible tyrant.
Of the revolutionaries, three are prominent. They sought refuge in Baden-Baden across the Rhine in the new German Republic. These were René Ley, Dr. Kaspar Muth, and Count Rapp known colloquially as the 'Trio of Baden'. Not content with the annexation of Elsaß-Lothringen, and in the spirit of old French Imperialism, the French were at this time trying to detach and create a Rhine Republic (under French influence or control, of course) from the Prussian territory occupied by the Allies - ambitions not dissimilar to those of Emperor Napoléon III who paid for his folly with the Franco-Prussian war and the loss of Elsaß-Lothringen. Indeed, the French wanted nothing less than the castration of the German nation.
The 'Trio of Baden' were condemned to permanent exile and played no significant rôle in Elsaß-Lothringen affairs thereafter. On the 19 June 1924 a new character entered the political scene, Robert Schuman of the Lothringer People's Party (LPP) who publicly protested French policy in his occupied homeland before the French National Assembly. The 21 elected delegates from Elsaß-Lothringen walked out of the National Assembly in protest forcing the French to directly administer the territory from Paris more or less as a colony, which is what it was in reality.
At this time, the communist parties were supporting self-determination movements in Elsaß-Lothringen just as they did in the Saarland and Free State of Danzig so it was natural for the nationalist movements in the territory to become allied with them. (The communists, of course, were not so much interested in self-determination as in revolution for communist ends). The Elsaß-Lothringen Home Front, as it came to be called, made common cause with other groups wanting autonomy or independence from France such as the Bretons (of Brittany) and the Corsicans, and have continued to do so to this very day. Unwisely (though understandably), they have also identified themselves with the Palestinian struggle too. Protests by Elsaß-Lothringers in August 1926 led to a civilian massacre by French in the town of Kolmar that came to be known as 'Bloody Sunday'. By 1927 the predominant movement was for autonomy and around this banner all anti-occupation parties rallied as the only peaceful alternative to war or revolution. But even autonomy was not acceptable to the French as proved by the arrest on 1 December 1927 of the leader of the Elsaß-Lothringen Autonomy Party, Joseph Rossé. 29 days later the leader of an Elsaß-Lothringen Nationalist Party, Paul Schall, was also arrested. This was followed by the arrest on 3 January 1928 by the leader of another nationalist party, René Hauß.
The wave of arrests continued throughout 1928 with German-language magazines and newspapers like Dr. Schliffstaan and The New Elsaß being banned ... all in a supposedly democratic and free state. The strength of the autonomists may be guaged from the National French National Assembly elections in Elsaß-Lothringen where those supporting the cause of autonomy won hands down, gaining on average 50-60% of the votes. The liberty of these democratically elected delegates was to be short-lived, with the arrest and imprisonment of Dr. Eugen Ricklin, Joseph Rossé and Paul Schall, who served one year in prison and were banished from the territory. One may guague the anti-German hysteria generated at this time by the names on the French Government hit-list which included Albert Schweizer, Erwin von Steinbach (who lived 6 centuries before!) and the painter Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)!
I cite this information to illustrate the kind of relentless persecution the Elsaß-Lothringers faced simply because they were German and not French, and would not lie down and be culturally assimilated. The denial of political and cultural freedom continued right up until the Second World War in 1939.
Though some Nazi sympathy existed in Elsaß-Lothringen it was not great. The Germans (and French for that matter) of the province did not have the same cultural outlook as others in Germany or in neighbouring countries like the Sudeten Germans of Czechoslovakia. Theirs was a culture uniquely Elsaß-Lothringian with much French influence which is why the era of their greatest emancipation occurred in German Imperial times when the German government wisely gave them autonomy. It would be seriously wrong to suppose that the Elsaß-Lothringers welcomed the nazi invaders who simply substituted one form of tyrrany for another, even though the Germans liberated the French concentration camp at Arches (near Spinneln/Épinal) full of Elsaß-Lothringen political activitists.
The Nazi occupation offered only a brief relief from French ethnic and cultural cleansing in Elsaß-Lothringen. The nazis in their turn began expelling the French population as they did the Polish and Russian in the occupied eastern territories. The end of the war saw a concerted and determined effort by the French to Frenchify the region again. In 1945 all German language newspapers were banned ... again ... and nationalists were shot by Resistence tribunals. Joseph Rossé died in prison in 1951 in Eysses. Between 1945 and 1968 a vigorous Frenchification program was launched not unlike that pursued by the Chinese Han in Tibet or the disasterous Cultural Revolution.
Today both Germany and France are in the European Union (EU) and share a common currency, the Euro (€). Much time has passed and Elsaß-Lothringen has changed considerably owing to the vigorous post-war Frenchification process. These countries are on the planning board for dismemberment in a new federalist state. For the time being, Elsaß-Lothringers are pushing for Free State (Freiestaat) status not unlike that of Danzig between 1920 and 1939. I doubt they will achieve it. More than likely it will end up as part of a larger area connected to parts of eastern France.
The justice that Elsaß-Lothringen seeks, like Prussia, will not be realised until the return of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). At that time she will exist either as a separate nation or, more likely in my view, as a part of the German Nation which she always in her heart-of-hearts wanted to be. Moreover, she will bring to that nation the blessings of that which is good in the French, as the Protestant Huguenots did when Prussia gave them refuge from the murderous Catholic persecutions. In Elsaß-Lothringen, German and French names and ways freely mix giving them a unique culture that could so easily come to represent the best of French and German. For it is not only the German-speaking parts of Elsaß-Lothringen that have a fervent Elsaß-Lothringen national pride but the French parts too, principally along the Lothringen border with Nanzig (Nancy). Before anti-French sentiments developed on the German side of the divide thanks to the barbarism and oppression of Napoléon, and anti-German sentiments developed on the French side following the loss of Elsaß-Lothringen in 1871, French and Germans got on well. The same was true of Prussian and Pole at one time. The roots of the Elsaß-Lothringen problem lie in the French thirst for revenge against Prussia and Germany for her defeat at Verdun in 1871 (a war which France started), itself the result of imperial ambition and an arrogant outlook on her destiny, attitudes that have smitten both nations. Both France and Germany have been poisoned and destroyed by what the Bible calls "the pride of life" (1 John 2:16) - it has been the undoing of every nation that ever was and led to the permanent destruction of some.
One can't but help feel that a mistake was made in 1815 when the borders of a liberated Europe were settled following the final defeat of Napoléon. Elsaß-Lothringen should never have been left to France but placed under Prussian control or at least within the German Confederation which existed at that time before German unification in 1871. Though injustice still prevails over Elsaß-Lothringen because it is an unjust occupation by an imperialistic French mindset and power (the modern political 'enlightenment' not withstanding), I am optimistic about the future. Perhaps the return of Elsaß-Lothringen to Germany can be compensated for by giving France the southern French-speaking Walloon part of Belgium, and reuniting the northern Flemish part with Holland. There are many possible and just solutions.
With Christ at the helm in a Millennial Kingdom, the Elsaß-Lothringers may yet achieve greatness in freedom as a unique French-German brotherhood in the border region of the German Nation. And given the historical Prussian tendency to welcome and assimimilate peoples from other nations fleeing from oppression, perhaps - and who knows - Elsaß-Lothringen might even become a part of the Prussian Nation too.
The Flags of German Elsaß (left) and German Lothringen (right)
The Flags of the Imperial German Province of Elsaß-Lothringen (left) and the modern Free Elsaß-Lothringen Movement (right)
The flags and emblems of Elsaß-Lothringen are shown above. Note the Lothringen Cross on the Free Elsaß-Lothringen flag, known during the last war as the Lorraine Cross and emblem of the Free French (as opposed to the Vichy French), an irony given the history and eventual fate of Lothringen as a military conquest and continuing vassel of the French Republic.