Alsace-Lorraine (Reichsland Elsaß-Lothringen, generally Elsass-Lothringen) was a territorial entity created by the German Empire in 1871 after the annexation of most of Alsace and parts of Lorraine in the Franco-Prussian War. The Alsatian part lay in the Rhine Valley on the west bank of the Rhine River and on the east of the Vosges Mountains. The Lorraine section was in the upper Moselle valley to the north of the Vosges Mountains.
The region became part of Eastern Francia in 921 during the reign of King Louis the German, later becoming part of the Holy Roman Empire. It gradually became part of France between 1552 (Metz ceded to the Kingdom of France) and 1798 (Republic of Mulhouse joining the French Republic). After the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the area was annexed by the newly-created German Empire in 1871 (Treaty of Frankfurt).
French troops entered Alsace-Lorraine at the end of the World War I in November 1918 and the territory reverted to France at the Treaty of Versailles of 1919. The area was annexed by Nazi Germany in 1940, but reverted to France in 1945 at the end of World War II and has remained a part of France since.
The territory was made up of 93% of Alsace (7% remained French) and 26% of Lorraine (74% remained French). For historical reasons, specific legal dispositions are still applied in the territory, properly and legally now known as Alsace-Moselle.
In the ninth century, this region became part of the heartland of the Carolingian Empire of Charlemagne (Charles the Great). When Charlemagne's grandsons divided his Empire at the Treaty of Verdun of 843, the region was in the middle of Lorraine (Lotharingia), part of a narrow middle strip granted to Lothar with German- and French-speaking kingdoms to either side. Buffeted on both sides, the new kingdom did not last long and the region that was to become Alsace fell to the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation as part of the duchy of Swabia in the Treaty of Meersen in 870. At about this time the entire region began to fragment into a number of secular and ecclesiastical lordships, a situation which lasted into the 17th century and was a common process in Europe.
One of the most powerful secular families of Swabia was that of the Staufen or Hohenstaufen. In 1152, this family placed its leading member on the German throne as Friedrich I Barbarossa. Frederick was instrumental in recovery of the monarchy from its dissipation following the Investiture Contest. Part of the reason was his policy of building up imperial lands in support of the monarchy and in 1212, Alsace was organized for the first time as we know it today to be one of them. Frederick set up Alsace as a province (though not provincia but procuratio was used) to be ruled by ministeriales, a non-noble class of civil servants. The idea was that such men would be more tractable and less likely to alienate the fief from the crown out of their own greed. The province had a single provincial court (Landgericht) and a central administration with its seat at Hagenau.
During his reign, Emperor Friedrich II designated the bishop of Strasbourg to administrate the Alsace, but the authority of the bishop was challenged by Count Rudolf of Habsburg, who received his rights from Friedrich's son Konrad IV. Straßburg (Straße means street, and burg means fortification), which had been an episcopal see since the 4th century, began to grow to become the most populous and commercially-important town in the region. In 1262, after a long struggle with the ruling bishops, its citizens gained the status of free imperial city. A stop on the Paris-Vienna-Orient trade route, as well as a port on the Rhine route linking southern Germany and Switzerland to the Netherlands, England and Scandinavia, it became the political and economic center of the region. Cities such as Colmar and Hagenau also began to grow in economic importance and gained a kind of autonomy within the "Decapole" or "Dekapolis", a federation of 10 free towns.
Around this time, German central power declined following years of imperial adventures in Italian lands, which ceded hegemony in Europe to France, which had long since centralized power. Now France began an aggressive policy of expanding eastward, first to the Rhône and Meuse Rivers, and when those borders were reached, aiming for the Rhine. In 1299, they even proposed a marriage alliance between Philip IV of France's sister and Albrecht of Austria's son, with Alsace to be the dowry; however, the deal never came off. In 1307, the town of Belfort was first chartered by the counts of Montbéliard.
During the next century, France was to be militarily shattered by the Hundred Years War with England which prevented for a time any further tendencies in this direction. After the conclusion of the war, France was again free to pursue its desire to reach the Rhine and in 1444 a French army appeared in Lorraine and Alsace. There it took up winter quarters, demanded the submission of Metz and Strasbourg and launched an attack on Basel.
In 1469, following the Treaty of St. Omer, Upper Alsace was sold for money by Duke Sigismund of Habsburg to Charles of Burgundy who also ruled over the Netherlands and Burgundy. Although Charles was the nominal landlord, taxes were paid to the German Emperor. The Emperor was able to wreak this tax and a dynastic marriage to his advantage to gain back full control of Upper Alsace (apart from the free towns, but including Belfort) in 1477 when it became part of the particular demesne of the Habsburg family, who were also hereditary rulers of the Empire. A little later, in 1515, the town of Mulhouse joined the Swiss Confederation, where it was to remain until 1798.
By the time of the Reformation in the 16th century, Strasbourg was a prosperous community, and its inhabitants accepted Protestantism at an early date (1523). The reformer Martin Bucer was a prominent Protestant reformer in the region. His efforts were countered by the Roman Catholic Habsburgs who tried to eradicate heresy in Upper Alsace. As a result, Alsace was transformed into a mosaic of Catholic and Protestant territories. On the other hand, Mömpelgard to the southwest of Alsace, belonging to the counts of Württemberg since 1397, remained a Protestant enclave in France until 1793.
This situation prevailed until 1639 when most of Alsace was conquered by France to prevent it falling into the hands of the Spanish Habsburgs who wanted a clear road to their valuable and rebellious possessions in the Netherlands. This occurred in the greater context of the Thirty Years War. So, in 1646, beset by enemies and to gain a free hand in Hungary, the Habsburgs sold their Sundgau territory (mostly in Upper Alsace) to France, which had occupied it, for the sum of 1.2 million thalers. Thus, when the hostilities finally ceased in 1648 with the Treaty of Westphalia, most of Alsace went to France with some towns remaining independent. The treaty stipulations regarding Alsace were extremely Byzantine and confusing; it is thought that this was purposely so that neither the French king or the German Emperor could gain tight control, but that one would play off the other, thereby assuring Alsace some measure of autonomy. Supporters of this theory point out that the treaty stipulations were authored by Imperial plenipotentiary Isaac Volmar, the former chancellor of Alsace.
The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) had been one of the worst periods in the history of Alsace and other parts of Southern Germany. It caused large numbers of the population (mainly in the countryside) to die or to flee away, because the land was successively invaded and devastated by many armies (Imperials, Swedes, French, etc.). After 1648 and until the mid-18th century, numerous immigrants arrived from Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Lorraine, Savoy and other areas. Between 1671-1711 Anabaptist refugees came from Switzerland, notably from Bern. Strasbourg became a main center of the early Anabaptist movement.
France consolidated its hold with the 1679 Treaties of Nijmegen which brought the towns under her control. In 1681, France occupied Strasbourg in an unprovoked action. These territorial changes were reinforced at the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick which ended the War of the Palatinate (also known as the War of the Grand Alliance or War of the League of Augsburg), although the Holy Roman Empire did not accept and sign the document until 1697. Thus was Alsace drawn into the orbit of France. However, Alsace had a somewhat exceptional position in the kingdom. The German language was still used in local government, school and education and the German (Lutheran) university of Strasburg was continued and attended by students from Germany. The Edict of Fontainebleau which legalized the brutal suppression of French Protestantism was not applied in Alsace and in contrast to the rest of France there was a relative religious tolerance (although the French authorities tried to promote Catholicism and the Lutheran Strasbourg Cathedral had to be handed over to the Catholics in 1681). There was a customs boundary along the Vosges mountains against the rest of France while there was no such boundary against Germany. For these reasons Alsace remained coined by German culture and also economically oriented towards Germany until the French Revolution.
The year 1789 brought the French Revolution and with it the first division of Alsace into the départements of Haut- and Bas-Rhin. Alsatians played an active role in the French Revolution. On July 21, 1789, after receiving news of the Storming of the Bastille in Paris, a crowd of people stormed the Strasbourg city hall, forcing the city administrators to flee and putting symbolically an end to the feudal system in Alsace. In 1792, Rouget de Lisle composed in Strasbourg the Revolutionary marching song La Marseillaise, which later became the anthem of France. La Marseillaise was played for the first time in April of that year in front of the mayor of Strasbourg Philippe-Frédéric de Dietrich. Some of the most famous generals of the French Revolution also came from Alsace, notably Kellermann, the victor of Valmy, and Kléber, who led the armies of the French Republic in Vendée.
At the same time, some Alsatians were in opposition to the Jacobins and sympathetic to the invading forces of Austria and Prussia who sought to crush the nascent revolutionary republic. Many of the residents of the Sundgau made "pilgrimages" to places like Mariastein Abbey, near Basel, in Switzerland, for baptisms and weddings. When the French Revolutionary Army of the Rhine was victorious, tens of thousands fled east before it. When they were later permitted to return (in some cases not until 1799), it was often to find that their lands and homes had been confiscated. These conditions led to emigration by hundreds of families to newly-vacant lands in the Russian Empire in 1803-4 and again in 1808. A poignant retelling of this tale based on what he had himself witnessed can be found in Goethe's Hermann und Dorothea.
In response to the restoration of Napoleon I of France, in 1814 and 1815, Alsace was occupied by foreign forces, including over 280,000 soldiers and 90,000 horses in Bas-Rhin alone. This had grave effects on trade and the economy of the region since former overland trade routes were switched to newly-opened Mediterranean and Atlantic seaports.
The population grew rapidly, from 800,000 in 1814 to 914,000 in 1830 and 1,067,000 in 1846. The combination of factors meant hunger, housing shortages and a lack of work for young people. Thus, it is not surprising that people left Alsace, not only to Paris, where the Alsatian community grew in numbers, with famous members such as Baron Haussmann, but also to far away places like Russia and the Austrian Empire to take advantage of new opportunities offered there. Austria had conquered lands in Eastern Europe from the Ottoman Empire and offered generous terms for colonists in order to consolidate their hold on the lands. Many Alsatians also began to sail for the United States, where after 1807 slave importation had been banned and new workers were needed for the cotton fields.
The newly-created German Empire's demand of territory from France in the aftermath of its victory in the Franco-Prussian War was not simply a punitive measure. The transfer was controversial even amongst the Germans themselves - German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck was strongly opposed to a transfer of territory that he knew would provoke permanent French enmity towards the new state. However, German Emperor Wilhelm I eventually sided with Helmuth von Moltke the Elder and other Prussian generals and others who argued that a westward shift in the new Franco-German border was necessary and desirable for a number of reasons. From a nationalistic perspective, the transfer seemed justified since most of the lands that were annexed were populated by people who spoke German (Alemannic) dialects. From a militaristic perspective, shifting the Franco-German frontier away from the Rhine would give the Germans a strategic advantage over the French, especially by early 1870s military standards and thinking.
However, domestic politics of the new Empire might have been the decisive factor. Although it was effectively led by Prussia, the German Empire was a new and highly decentralized creation. The new arrangement left many senior Prussian generals with serious misgivings about leading diverse military forces to guard a pre-war frontier that, except for the northernmost section was part of two other states of the new Empire - Baden and Bavaria. As recently as the 1866 Austro-Prussian War, these states had been Prussia's enemies. Both states, but especially Bavaria had been given substantial concessions with regards to local autonomy in the new Empire's constitution, including a great deal of autonomy over military matters. For this reason, the Prussian General Staff argued that it was prudent and necessary that the new Empire's frontier with France be under their direct control. Creating a new imperial territory (Reichsland) out of formerly French territory would achieve this goal since although an imperial territory would not be officially a part of Prussia, as it would be administered directly from Berlin it would effectively be controlled by Prussians. Thus, by annexing territory Berlin was able to avoid delicate negotiations with Baden and Bavaria on such matters as construction and control of new fortifications, etc. The governments of Baden and Bavaria, naturally, were in favour of moving the French border away from their territories.
It is important to note that memories of the Napoleonic Wars were still quite fresh in the 1870s. Right up until the Franco-Prussian War, the French had maintained a long-standing desire to establish their entire eastern frontier on the Rhine, and thus they were viewed by most 19th century Germans as an aggressive, war-mongering people. In the years prior to 1870, it is arguable that the Germans feared the French more than the French feared the Germans. Many Germans at the time thought creation of the new Empire in itself would be enough to earn permanent French enmity, and thus desired a defensible border with their old enemy. Any additional enmity that would be earned from territorial concessions was downplayed as marginal and insignificant in the overall scheme of things.
The annexed area consisted of the northern part of Lorraine, along with Alsace. Not affected by this was the town of Belfort and the area around it (now the French département of Territoire de Belfort), because the inhabitants there were predominantly native French speakers, unlike in the rest of Alsace. Also, the town and area of Montbéliard, to the south of Belfort, was not included, despite the fact that this was a Protestant enclave, as it had belonged to Württemberg from 1397 to 1806. This area corresponded to the French départements of Bas-Rhin (in its entirety), Haut-Rhin (except the area of Belfort and Montbéliard), and a small area in the northeast of the Vosges département, all of which made up Alsace, and the départements of Moselle (four-fifths of it) and the northeast of Meurthe (one-third of Meurthe), which were the eastern part of Lorraine.
The remaining département of Meurthe was joined with the westernmost part of Moselle which had escaped German annexation to form the new département of Meurthe-et-Moselle.
The new border between France and Germany mainly followed the geolinguistic divide between Romance and Germanic dialects, except in a few valleys of the Alsatian side of the Vosges mountains, the city of Metz and in the area of Château-Salins (formerly in the Meurthe département), which were annexed by Germany despite the fact that people there spoke French. In 1900 11.6% of the population of Alsace-Lorraine spoke French as mother language (11.0% in 1905, 10.9% in 1910). The fact that small francophone areas were affected was used in France to denounce the new border as hypocrisy, since Germany had justified them by the native Germanic dialects and culture of the inhabitants, which was true for the majority of Alsace-Lorraine. However, the German administration was tolerant of the use of the French language and French was permitted as an official language and school language in those areas where it was spoken by a majority (this relatively tolerant policy contrasted with the policy of French authorities against the use of German after World War I).
The Treaty of Frankfurt gave the residents of the region until October 1, 1872 to choose between emigrating to France or remaining in the region and having their nationality legally changed to German. By 1876, about 100,000 or 5% of the residents of Alsace-Lorraine had emigrated to France.
Under the German Empire of 1871-1918, the territory constituted the Reichsland or Imperial Province of Elsass-Lothringen. The area was administered directly by the imperial government in Berlin, and was granted some measure of autonomy in 1911. This included its own flag, and the Elsässisches Fahnenlied as anthem. The infamous Saverne Affair (1913) however showed that this status was of no high value in the eyes of the Berlin government.
FVp: Progressive People's Party. formed in 1910 as a merger of all leftist liberal parties.
In October 1918, the German Imperial Navy, which had spent most of the war since the Battle of Jutland in ports, was ordered to fight, in order to weaken the British Royal Navy for the time after the war. However, the sailors refused to obey. At that time, about 15,000 Alsatians and Lorrainers had been incorporated into the Kaiserliche Marine. Some of them joined the insurrection and the German Revolution, and decided to rouse their homeland to revolt against the monarchy of the Emperor.
The same day, Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated and Philipp Scheidemann declared Germany a republic in a speech from the Reichstag. As Alsace-Lorraine had been administered by Berlin and the Emperor, and had no state government and monarch like other German states, the departure of the Emperor left an even larger vacuum of power.
Similar to other areas of Germany, the former seamen established a Soldiers' Council of Strasbourg, and took the control of the city. A council of workers and soldiers was then established and presided by the leader of the brewery workers' union. Their motto was: 'Neither German neither French nor neutral.'
On November 11, the Armistice with Germany (Compiègne) was signed, ending the war. The same day, the Diet of Strasbourg proclaimed an Independent Republic of Alsace-Lorraine. The Landtag parliament proclaimed itself the "National Council of Alsace-Lorraine" and the sole legal authority there. The next day, the National Council took over all functions of the Statthalter and of the Secretary of state, and proclaimed the sovereignty of Alsace-Lorraine. Eugen Ricklin and Jacques Peirotes were in charge.
However, even today the territory enjoys laws in certain areas that are significantly different from the rest of France - see for example the statute of Alsace-Moselle.
The département Meurthe-et-Moselle was maintained even after France recovered Alsace-Lorraine in 1919. The area of Belfort became a special status area and was not reintegrated into Haut-Rhin in 1919 but instead was made a full-status département in 1922 under the name Territoire de Belfort.
After France was defeated in the spring of 1940, the area was administered from Berlin by the Nazis until they were defeated in 1945. During the occupation, all inhabitants of military age were subject to conscription into the German army, and in some cases engaged in repression against French citizens during the Second World War (see for instance the massacre of Oradour-sur-Glane).
Many young men from Alsace-Lorraine were also drafted or volunteered to serve in the German Wehrmacht or the Waffen-SS during the Second World War. This led to numerous problems and recriminations after the war.
The French government pursued, in line with its traditional language policy, a campaign to suppress the use of German. Both the German language as well as the local Germanic dialect Elsässisch were for a time banned from public life (street and city names, official administration, the educational system, etc). Largely due to this policy, Alsace-Lorraine is today very French in language and culture. Few young people speak Elsässisch today, though the closely-related Alemannisch survives on the opposite bank of the Rhine, in Baden, and especially in Switzerland. However, while French is the major language of the region, the Alsatian dialect of French is heavily influenced by German, in phonology and vocabulary.
In recent times, official and private initiatives have been trying to reverse this process to preserve the area's unique Franco-German cultural heritage. France is one of four nations (together with Andorra, Monaco, and Turkey) that never signed the Council of Europe Framework Convention on National Minorities.
|Year||Population||Cause of change|
|1875||1,531,804||After incorporation into the German Empire, 100,000 to 130,000 people left for France and French Algeria|
|1910||1,874,014||0.58% population growth per year during 1875-1910|
|1921||1,709,749|| Death of young men in the German army,|
Deportation of German newcomers to Germany
|1936||1,915,627||0.76% population growth per year during 1921-1936|
|1946||1,767,131|| Death of young men in the French army in 1939-40, |
Death of young men in the German army 1940-45,
Death of civilians and many people still refugees in the rest of France
|1999||2,757,592||0.84% population growth per year during 1946-1999|