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Alsace-Lorraine (France) under German occupation (1870-1919)

Reichland Elsass-Lothringen

Last modified: 2016-11-10 by ivan sache
Keywords: alsace-lorraine | reichland elsass-lothringen |
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Flag of the German Empire - Image by António Martins, 9 December 2002


See also:


Imperial Territory of Alsace-Lorraine

From 1870 to 1919, Alsace-Lorraine (indeed Alsace-Moselle) was an Imperial Territory (Reichsland), part of the German Empire; accordingly the only official (national) flag was the black-white-red national flag. The Reichsland's coat of arms was was a combination of the arms of Lower and Upper-Alsace with, oddly enough, the arms of Lorraine. Oddly, because the territory of what is now the Department of Moselle was not completely included in the old Duchy of Lorraine, its Lorraine part representing only a small part of the old duchy. The shield, surmounted by a princely crown, was placed on the breast of the German Imperial eagle surmounted by an Imperial crown. This coat of arms could be used only by the authorities of the territory. The authorities also used a service flag, which was the national flag with the central shield of the coat of arms surmounted by the princely crown placed in the canton.

There was no official civila flag, either for the territory of Alsace-Lorraine, or for each of the districts (Upper-Alsace, Lower-Alsace and Lorraine). Written sources of that time report the unofficial use of flage, horizontally divided yellow-red (Alsace), horizontally divided red-yellow (Lorraine), and horizontally divided white-red-yellow (Alsace-Lorraine). The colours of the flag came from the central shield of the coat of arms of the territory.

[Elsass]

Traditional flag of Alsace - Image by Ivan Sache, 6 August 1998

flags in actual use at that time were, however, quite different, red-white (Alsace) and blue-white (Lorraine). The origins of these colours are unknown. This flag was short-lived and it is mentioned that the Alsatian flag became de facto the flag of the territory in the beginning of the 20th century. The service flag was also used as a national flag, unofficially.

In 1911, the territory was granted a new Constitution prescribing limited autonomy. Two flag proposals were designed, the first yellow-red-white (designed by the Prussian Heraldry Office), and the second red-white (based on the Alsatian flag) with a big yellow Cross of Lorraine in canton. Adopted by the Assembly of Alsace-Lorraine, the second proposal was rejected by the German authorities. This flag never had any official status, but is used now by the Alsace-Lorraine National Forum.
[Pascal Vagnat. Les identités régionales, nationales et supranationales dans la grande région Saar-Lor-Lux à travers les emblèmes : histoire, perceptions, conflits. Unpublished MSc thesis]

Pascal Vagnat, 6 August 1998


Soviet Republic in Alsace (November 1918)

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Soviet red flag - Image by Santiago Dotor, 26 November 2001

In October 1918, a group of German generals led by Luddendorff, refusing to recognize the defeat, attempted a last-ditch struggle, using the powerful German Navy. Mutinied seamen proclaimed a Soviet in Kiel, the main German port on the Baltic Sea. Supported by workers' trade-unions, the insurgents, marched against the neighbouring towns, carrying red flags.
At that time, several of the 15,000 Alsatians and Lorrains incorporated into the German Navy joined the uprising and attempted to rouse their homeland to revolt. On 8 November, the proclamation of the Republic of Councils in Bavaria was aired in Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace. The next day, thousands of demonstrators rallied on Kléber Square, the main square in Strasbourg, to acclaim the first insurgents returning from North Germany. When a train controlled by insurgents was blocked on the Kehl bridge, a loyalist commander ordered to shoot. One insurgent was killed, but his fellows took the control of the town of Kehl.

The insurged seamen established a Council of Strasbourg Soldiers and took the control of the town. Red flags were hoisted all over the town, including on the spire of the cathedral (142 m above ground level). A Council of Workers and Soldiers was then established, presided by the leader of the brewery workers' union. Their motto was: "We have nothing in common with capitalist states, our motto is: neither German neither French nor neutral. The red flag won." [There are three negations in the original sentence, which is also grammatically incorrect in French].
The social-democrat leader in Strasbourg, Jacques Peirotes (1869-1935), required the French generals "to bring forward the entrance of French troops in the town, the domination by the Reds being about to have a tragical outcome". Scheduled to 25 November, the entrance of the troops was brought forward to 22 November. The Council of Workers and Soldiers transferred all power to the French army and all the Decrees it had proclaimed were immediatly cancelled.

Such Soviets were also established in other Alsatian towns: the first of them was founded in Haguenau on 9 November, followed by Mulhouse, Sélestat and Colmar. All over the front, French and German soldiers fraternized and marched with red flags. In Lorraine, several Italian immigrants joined the insurrection. In Metz, the insurgents' Council occupied the town hall, on which was hoisted a Turkish flag whose crescent and star had been coloured with red lead paint.
[Didier Daeninckx, 11 novembre 1918 : le drapeau rouge flotte sur Strasbourg et l'Alsace proclame la République des soviets... Amnistia. net, 10 November 2000]

Ivan Sache, 26 November 2001


Proposed Rhenan Republic

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Flag of the proposed Rhenan Republic - Image by Ivan Sache, 14 February 2016

The article La République rhénane (The Rhenan Republic), originally published on 7 March 1899 by Gaston Moch in the Belgian review L'Indépendance belge, was reprinted the same year, together with other assays by Moritz von Egidy and Gaston Moch, in the book L'Ère sans violence (Éditions de la Revue Blanche, Paris), pp. 383-397.
Gaston Moch (1859-1935) resigned from the army in 1894, with the rank of artillery captain. In the rest of his life, he promoted pacifist ideals, the Esperanto language, and Franco-German friendship. His son, Jules Moch (1893-1985), a Socialist politician was MP (1928-1936, 1937-1941, 1945-1958, and 1962-1967) and Minister (Transports, Interior, National Defence in 15 cabinets of the Third Republic and Fourth Republic. Gaston Moch was a close friend of the German cavalry officer Moritz von Egidy (1847-1898), a pacifist and Christian reformer.

In the article, Moch first advocated for a European Federation based on a double entente cordiale between, on one hand, France and Great Britain, and, on the other hand, France and Germany. Moch called for a revision of the Treaty of Frankfurt that incorporated Alsace-Lorraine to the German Empire, as a Reichsland. The new status of Alsace-Lorraine should be "honourable for the two countries, satisfying for the whole population of Alsace-Lorraine (that is, the native, the immigrants and those who would come back home). The "neutralisation" of Alsace-Lorraine appeared to Moch as the best solution.
A similar solution was proposed by Rear Admiral Reveillère in La Vie Illustrée, 19 January 1899. Moch, however, rejected in his article, with due respect, two proposals of the admiral, that is, the establishment of a German "military protectorate" on Alsace-Lorraine, not required provided a treaty of friendship is signed, and the stationing of German garrisons in the fortresses of Alsace-Lorraine. Moch recalled that Moritz von Egidy asked the victorious German Empire to dismantle its fortresses, as a prerequisite to neutralisation.
Moch describes the proposed Rhenan Republic as follows:

1. Alsace-Lorraine shall be declared an independent and neutral country, for instance under the name of République Rhénane. The German Empire shall receive a compensation for the domains owned and the works performed in the country (for instance, the military establishments and domains would be sold to its profit).
2. The Rhenan Republic shall be "disarmed" (that is, the fortresses will be dismantled and the whole army will be disbanded). Moreover, France and Germany shall "disarm" the same way the stripe of their own territory that borders the new country, thus establishing between their armies a triple buffer zone made of neutral territories.
3. People living in the Rhenan Republic, or who would move there, and would declare their willingness to remain either a French or a German citizen, shall keep their citizenship and have all their civic rights preserved in the country, or, at least, under the status of the most favoured nation.
4. Finally, France, Germany and Rhineland shall sign a friendship treaty, whose elements are the following:
a) a permanent arbitration treaty;
b) a full economic alliance [Admiral Réveillère further pushed a commercial and colonial union between Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France;
c) a true defensive military alliance, which would not cause prejudice to any party […];
d) the establishment in Strasbourg, from shared funding, of a French-German model university, aimed at giving back to Alsace-Lorraine its natural duty of go-between and union point between the two great civilisations of central Europe.

Due to its civilising mission, Alsace-Lorraine shall not be a glacis, according to the retrograde concept of Bismarck, but a bridge, as pushed by Michelet. I have attempted to symbolize this status with a flag that I have designed four years ago, waiting for an opportunity to publish it.

The flag of the Rhenan Republic [image, p. 392] shall have a white background as a symbol of neutrality. It shall be crossed by two stripes, the one, vertical, blue-white-red, and the other, horizontal, black-white-red, interlaced when intersecting and recalling the two countries of which Alsace-Lorraine successively depended and between which it shall be, as Michelet said, "the good conciliator".

Ivan Sache, 14 February 2016