The pivotal years from 1918 to 1925
The way Alsace was francized after the Armistice of November 11, 1918 turned the enthusiasm that marked the return to France into unease.
This aspect of our region’s history, which has traditionally received little attention in history textbooks or political discourse, is often overlooked.
The purpose of this small exhibition is to inform the general public about this, and even to re-establish the historical truth.
A BRIEF HISTORY
Alsace has been part of the Germanic empire since the High Middle Ages. From the end of the 13th century, the Habsburg dynasty, originally from Upper Alsace and German-speaking Switzerland, reigned and would reign for centuries over the Holy Roman German Empire.
In the first half of the 17th century, Alsace, like Germany, was ravaged by the politico-religious Thirty Years’ War, losing half its population. The Treaty of Westphalia officially put an end to this in 1648.
As one of the belligerents, the French royalty immediately seized the Habsburg lands of Alsace, gradually taking control of the entire province; the Free City of Strasbourg was the last to surrender in autumn 1681, following serious threats of destruction in the event of refusal.
However, Louis XIV was careful to advise his servants not to touch Alsatian customs.
Then came the war of summer 1870 and the blitzkrieg conquest of the province, which would not officially become German until the Treaty of Frankfurt in May 1871, which stipulated that Alsace and Moselle would remain German forever. Around a hundred thousand inhabitants (the “optants”) will choose to move to the other side of the Vosges.
But the vast majority remained loyal to the land of their birth, and eventually settled for life in the “Reichsland”, the new land of the German Empire.
Two generations later, when war broke out in 1914, Alsatian men, with a few exceptions, were bound to fight under the German uniform of what had become their homeland.
The south of Alsace had been liberated
On December 2, 1914, General JOFFRE visited the victorious French army and the people of THANN.
During his speech, he uttered these words that have remained engraved in the memory of Alsatians:
“OUR RETURN IS DEFINITIVE:
YOU’RE FRENCH FOREVER.
FRANCE BRINGS YOU,
WITH THE FREEDOMS IT HAS
RESPECT FOR YOUR PERSONAL FREEDOMS,
OF YOUR CONVICTIONS,
OF YOUR MINDS.
JE SUIS LA FRANCE :
YOU ARE ALSACE.
I BRING YOU
THE KISS OF FRANCE “.
Will these promises be kept? Alsatians hope so…
It’s autumn 1918, and we knew the end of the war was near. Germany was defeated by the Allied armies.
When the Armistice was announced on November 11, 1918, unbridled joy swept through the towns and villages.
RIQUEWIHR witnessed the hasty departure of German troops.
Even before censorship had been officially abolished, the last people to leave could read “VIVE LA FRANCE” in large letters , wave hastily made tricolored flags and hear the MARSEILLAISE being sung.
The war was over: bullying, vexations, deprivation of food and freedoms, the measures that the German military dictatorship had imposed on the Alsatian population during the war, had all come to an end in the space of a few days.
French troops gradually entered Alsace between November 17 and 24. The welcome of the victorious soldiers was accompanied by patriotic demonstrations, with decorated and pavoised streets, young girls in Alsatian costume, and receptions with vin d’honneur, all to the great joy of the town’s inhabitants.
Testimonies seem to agree: the whole of Alsace plebiscites the victors.
Yet other voices are being heard, barely perceptible, but clear-sighted!
“What will become of Alsace and Lorraine?
After 48 years of German presence, the reintegration of Alsace into France was not without its problems:
- It was true that German soldiers had returned to the right bank of the Rhine. But what will become of the many German civilians who settled in Alsace between 1870 and 1918?
- What will the future hold for their families, their Alsatian spouses and their German-born children in what is now French territory?
- How are children and young people, who until now have only spoken Alsatian, their mother tongue, or German, going to learn the French language that has become compulsory ?
- What will become of the tens or hundreds of thousands of Alsatians and Mosellans who, having become German citizens under the Treaty of Frankfurt of May 10, 1871, served and fought loyally in the army of their adopted country? How will they be received on their return to French Alsace? Will they find their place? And will those who died on the battlefields in German uniform be honored?
All these questions, and many others, will have to be resolved by the new national and regional authorities, and find an appropriate response…
SO MANY PROBLEMS AHEAD… !
The situation in Alsace in general, and all the problems it faced in particular in the post-war years, were discussed by Charles SCHEER, Member of Parliament for the Haut-Rhin, in his speech to the Chambre des Députés on December 12, 1921.
His speech was then posted in every commune in France.
At the MUSEUM, a film entitled “Pour l’Alsace, un monde en guerre” (For Alsace, a world at war), an exceptional document produced with archive footage from the army cinema, shows in particular how the return of our province to France was achieved.
Among the directors of this film (Les Dockeurs) is Riquewihr-born Nicolas Engel.
Screening time: 26 minutes.