Delusions of Dominance
Biden Can’t Restore American Primacy—and Shouldn’t Try
THE French Government at Vichy did not have the power to prevent the German Government from virtually annexing Alsace and Lorraine. Without even going through the pretense of organizing a plebiscite, without waiting for a peace treaty to decide, the Germans, with their usual contempt for the rights either of individuals or peoples, have proceeded to the forcible Nazification of those two French territories. Alsace, a fertile plain with varied crops and important industries, has become part of the German province of Baden, administered by Gauleiter Robert Wagner. Lorraine, an agricultural land which also contains some of the richest iron mines in Europe, is joined to Sarre-Palatinat under the rule of Gauleiter J. Buerckel.
Few Americans know Alsace and fewer still Lorraine. Those who have visited there may have found it hard to differentiate these French provinces from adjacent German provinces. They might incline to adopt the German point of view that they are German-speaking and German-populated areas and belong naturally to the Reich. A closer study will lead to a very different conclusion. As to race, which in any question touching the Nazis cannot be overlooked, the majority of the population in both provinces is Celtic, of the Alpine group, short-headed with dark hair. They speak a dialect derived from German, like the Dutch and Flemish languages and the dialect of northern Switzerland. Like those, their dialect (especially in Lorraine) is unintelligible to Germans.
The Alsatians became officially French as a result of the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. Books could be filled with evidences of their French patriotism. It was in Strasbourg that the glorious "Marseillaise" was composed. Alsace and Lorraine gave the French Revolution three of its best generals -- Kellermann, who won the battle of Valmy, the Marne of 1792, Kleber, the hero of Fleurus and of the campaign of Egypt, and Ney, the "bravest of the brave." Another general of the Napoleonic wars, General Foy, said a few years later: "If ever the love of all that is great and generous were to fade in the heart of the inhabitants of the old France, they should get across the Vosges and come to Alsace to learn again the meaning of patriotism and national fervor." These words sound now almost like a prophecy.
When the two provinces were annexed by Germany in 1871, their inhabitants uttered, through their representatives at the Assemblée Nationale in Bordeaux, a celebrated protest which ended as follows: "We proclaim forever inviolable the right of the Alsatians and Lorrainers to remain part of the French nation and we pledge ourselves as well as our constituents, our children and their descendants, to claim it eternally, by every means, and against all usurpers."
Now Alsace and Lorraine are again under German rule. This time, though, it is not only the Prussians but the Nazis that they have to face. Today the old methods of denationalization are used, but they are pushed to the limit by icy Nazi logic. The process goes on constantly through propaganda in the newspapers, over the radio and at mass meetings for the "recovered brethren," by parades, by spying and betrayals, by persecutions, and by suppression of every detail that is French or might convey any French idea or memory. None of this is new, nor is it likely to impress the Alsatians and Lorrainers, in spite of the fact that it is more efficiently conducted than it was after 1871. The people of these provinces know better than any other Frenchmen how to cope with it.
In addition, the Nazis have worked out two new approaches to the problem of Germanization that make their rule over their unfortunate victims both more hypocritical and more stringent.
First, they start with the idea that the Alsatians and Lorrainers are Germans, loyal subjects of the Führer. Consequently they are free to enter all party organizations, to salute in the Nazi manner, to join the Wehrmacht, to receive instruction in Germany. They are expected to show their appreciation of their liberty, of the honor that is bestowed on them; they must be proud and enthusiastic citizens. They are told that they are even free not to make use of these liberal privileges; but no attempt is made to conceal the fact that things might become unpleasant for them should they not use their liberty properly. Never has the word freedom been employed more lavishly than at the beginning of the German occupation: everything the Alsatians and the Lorrainers were required to do -- attendance at meetings, registrations, and so forth -- was always done freiwillig. That meaningless word, however, is now disappearing as the resistance of the people grows.
In the second place, the Nazi leaders attach the greatest importance to what is done in Alsace and Lorraine, as they want it to have a demonstrative value. These two provinces are considered as a new field of experimentation, as a pure German land in which, unlike Austria, no Nazi movement existed before the occupation. On this ideal foundation is to be raised a perfect Nazi structure, a more perfect one than in the Reich itself where too much opposition still exists. The borderline between Germany and Alsace is strictly guarded, lest German minds not yet wholly converted to the new order be disturbed by the drastic methods employed in Alsace.
Let us now examine in more detail the ruthless and thorough German procedure used in Alsace and Lorraine since June 1940, and the resistance which it has provoked.
As soon as the Germans arrived they tried to eliminate all elements of the population which they considered unfit to be assimilated. The Jews were expelled first, of course; the French not born in Alsace and Lorraine went next, as well as the religious orders, and the entire civil administration, except lesser employes. Then, during the following months, train after train arrived in unoccupied France packed with Alsatians from the Bruche and Orbe valleys, where nothing but French is spoken, and with Lorrainers from the southern and western parts of that province. Whole villages were thus emptied. The inhabitants were forced to leave, on an hour's notice, their houses, their land (which had often remained in the same family since the Middle Ages), their machines, their cattle. They were given the choice of being transported to Poland with their possessions or being sent penniless to unoccupied France. Their farms were taken over by Germans from the Baltic area and Bessarabia.
These mass expulsions have stopped since the summer of 1941, as the labor shortage has become acute in the Reich. Individual expulsions, however, have never stopped, though the Germans have attempted lately to avoid this squandering of man-power by making wider use of forced labor and the concentration camp. Expulsion is one of the penalties incurred by the sin of attachment to France, even though it may have been expressed as long ago as before the First World War. The process hardly varies. One morning at dawn, without the least warning, an agent of the Gestapo, followed by soldiers or policemen, appears at the victim's door and gives him 30 to 45 minutes' notice to leave his home, his family, his job. Keys, check books, bank books, all valuables are confiscated, with the exception of 5,000 francs, plus 2,500 francs for each child, a valise of clothes, a watch, the rings that are usually worn. A policeman follows the victim step by step during the last preparations to see to it that he keeps only what is allowed. When the half hour is up, he is shoved into a military truck and herded to a sort of clearing station where he is locked up for four or five days, sleeping on a straw bed and receiving insufficient food and drink. There he waits with hundreds of others for a train to take him to unoccupied France. In the meantime, his office or farm will already have its new German proprietor, and his house, sealed up after his departure, will shortly be sold at auction together with its contents.
Innumerable opponents of the Nazi régime have been expelled in this way, without regard to social rank, physical condition or age -- the Catholic bishops of Strasbourg and Metz; women the day after childbirth; families whose head was working in Germany or was away for a few days and found on his return an empty home; even men and women 70 or 80 years old, and sick people and wounded. Though no complete figures are available, the Germans themselves acknowledge that at least 70,000 Lorrainers and more than 100,000 Alsatians have been deported to unoccupied France. This does not include the great number of those who fled without waiting to be expelled.
All reminders of France, every object that carries a French meaning, is sought after with the utmost care. The French language is, of course, banished from the schools and from all public places; it is forbidden to speak French at home or to listen to the British, Swiss or even to the German-controlled Paris radio. French names of cities, villages, streets and shops, French inscriptions on the tombs in the cemeteries must be Germanized. Monuments to the dead of the wars of 1870 and 1914-18 are removed or blown up. Family names and Christian names that sound French must be translated into German or changed; the police stations have lists of good German names from which the Alsatians may choose. The book shops cannot sell any more French books, and even private libraries have to be cleared of everything in that language, not excepting Bibles, prayer books, cook books, postal cards and photographs. Private collections of valuable books are confiscated and taken to Germany or simply thrown out in the streets to make bonfires.
Religion has always been an important factor in Alsace and Lorraine, some regions having a Catholic majority, others being predominantly Lutheran or Calvinist. The clergy of Alsace and Lorraine were well informed of the religious persecutions on the other side of the Rhine, and they took a very definite attitude from the beginning of the occupation. The Nazis were equally quick to strike back: the Catholic Bishops Ruch, of Strasbourg, and Heinz, of Metz, and their coadjutors were declared unerwünscht (undesirable) and expelled with a large number of curates and Protestant pastors. All seminaries were closed. The Protestant Faculty of Theology of Strasbourg had to move to Clermont-Ferrand in unoccupied France, the religious orders were driven out and their estates confiscated, the monastery for women at Saint-Odile, traditional sanctuary of the patron saint of Alsace, celebrated by Goethe, Taine and Barrès, was closed and its old walls of pink sandstone, which command a view of the whole plain of Alsace, are used as a school for German youth (Hochburg Deutscher Jugendbewegung). A Nazi attends every church service to take down the names of those present, especially of the civil servants, and to watch the preacher.
The main hope of the Führer lies with the young people. Religious teaching at school has become a lesson on "Mein Kampf," which literally replaces the Gospel. The catechism has been succeeded by that unbelievable parody which is called the Hitlerian catechism. Children are taught, before going to bed, to examine their consciences as follows: "My Führer, have I lived today in thy spirit, thou to whom we owe everything?" Here is the burden of a song taught in the schools in Alsace:
Wir wollen nicht mehr Christen sein, Denn Jesus ist ein Juden Schwein.[i]
To succeed in this campaign, the Nazis must keep the children away from the churches and from their families. Compulsory meetings and moving pictures are scheduled at the usual time of the church services, particularly on Sunday mornings. Family life is reduced to a minimum, as the children come home only for meals or to go to bed. Nearly every evening is taken up by some gathering of the Hitler Jugend or of the Bund Deutscher Mädel, both Party organizations that the children have to join. The child comes home late or may stay away all night, and the parents have nothing to say: the Party, they are told, is henceforth " the defender of the children against the tyranny of their parents."
The technique of Nazification goes still further. If bribery and lies do not destroy the moral conscience which is the backbone of resistance, the Nazis attempt to do it by playing on human failings such as ambition and vanity and, last but not least, sensuality. Full liberty of sexual intercourse is taught both in the schools and in the youth organizations. The girls learn that it is a duty "to give a son to the Führer" when they are 18 years old and an honor to do so when they are 13 or 14. Girls and boys are thrown together on all possible occasions, and girls are informed that the Party will take entire care of any child they may have from the moment of its birth. In the Parish of Mulhouse-Dornach, in May 1941, 12 girls preparing for confirmation were pregnant; so were 20 other girls out of 50 in the same city who came back from a Nazi vacation camp in the Tyrol.
The means of propaganda among adults are inexhaustible. It is practically impossible for a citizen of a free nation to realize what it is like to live in a country where everything -- newspaper, radio, posters, speeches, contacts with the administration, economic and financial regulations -- is directed towards the same end; where one breathes and eats completely one-sided and perfectly coördinated propaganda. This propaganda, furthermore, is backed by severe penalties. As the German saying goes: "Willst du nicht mein Bruder sein, So hau'ich dir den Schädel ein" ("If you don't want to be my brother, then I'll smash your head"). Heavy fines, prison or hard labor, concentration camp, transportation into Central Europe, not to mention capital punishment, are decreed for any resistance. And undoubtedly certain minds, though honest, can be taken in. The technique of conversion is illustrated by this authentic example. In a village in the south of Alsace the mayor's assistant was a builder, an intelligent and honorable man and a loyal French citizen. The Germans on their arrival offered him the post of Stadtkommissar. He would just have to join the Party, they said, and make a few speeches. He rejected the idea at first, but soon discovered that he really had little choice; finally he gave in. The following morning he found a huge swastika nailed on his door to indicate his new position. He was called to Party meetings every evening; speeches were passed on to him to read to his fellow-citizens from a platform on which he stood between two armed Brownshirts. He was soon ostracized by the people of his village, even by his own family, and his growing isolation left him more and more at the mercy of the relentless Nazi pressure. The time came eventually when he himself no longer knew exactly where he stood.
There is one aspect of the present state of affairs in Alsace and Lorraine, however, which can hardly be used for propaganda. It is the economic and financial situation. In spite of the magnificent promises of the Nazis during the early part of the occupation, the absorption of the provinces by the Reich has brought general impoverishment rather than prosperity. The Germans have seized all important business firms, first the banks which were absorbed by the Deutsche Bank and the banks of Baden, then the insurance companies, and now gradually all the industries. At the same time, the reichsmark was introduced as the only legal tender at the disastrous rate of 20 francs to the mark. (In 1918 the French had reintroduced the franc at the rate of 1.25 to the mark, even though the latter was already worth only a few centimes.) A rapid inflation of prices ensued, spurred by a rise of 80 percent in wages. This policy of high wages, intended to bring working-class support to the new régime, only made worse the difficult situation of industry and trade, which already were suffering from the requisitioning of raw materials, the lack of fuel and the transportation difficulties. The result was growing unemployment which made it possible to send many excellent workers to Germany. As early as December 1940, it was estimated that 20 percent of the industrial workers of Alsace had thus been forced into German factories; those who refused to go were denied unemployment allowances. Nor have the peasants been spared. Under the pretense of encouraging the Alsatian wine-growers to produce only high-quality wines, for instance, the Germans forced them to uproot a considerable proportion of their vineyards, thus doing away with any future competition that might threaten the German wine-growers of the Moselle.
Unlike certain occupied countries which were sometimes taken in for a time by the discipline and "correct behavior" of the German troops, Alsace and Lorraine showed, from the beginning, the most stubborn hostility. This contrasted markedly with the invaders' verbal tenderness for their "recovered brethren." Fifty years' experience of colonization had taught them that nothing good could come to them from the Germans. With a few exceptions, the only inhabitants who coöperate actively with the new régime are Germans who stayed on after 1918, became naturalized French citizens and then organized the fifth column in these provinces. The original hostile feeling of an overwhelming majority of the population has now grown into active hatred, as the military occupation has been replaced by a civil administration, the Party organizations and the Gestapo.
Resistance shows itself in sabotage, in the penetration of Hitlerian organizations by patriot representatives, and in a variety of individual and collective manifestations. At Ribeauville, in Saverne, for instance, Nazi standards fixed to the ruins of the old chateau were repeatedly torn down and replaced during the night by French emblems. Propaganda posters are always torn down. A snatch of the "Marseillaise" is suddenly heard in moving picture theatres or whistled at night in front of the Party meeting-places. Numerous boys and girls cross over to unoccupied France rather than go to work in Germany, although the trip is dangerous and their parents face concentration camps and even deportation by way of retaliation (8,000 Lorrainers were sent to Poland for this reason last June). The students of the University of Strasbourg, who have to continue their studies at Heidelberg or at Freiburg-im-Briesgau, take advantage of every opportunity to proclaim their convictions; though closely watched by young Nazis, they have formed groups of passive resisters. They can choose their own subjects for lectures in diction classes, and they never miss a chance to exalt France, freedom, the fight for independence. The books, alive with patriotic ardor, which Clausewitz and von der Goltz wrote after the conquest of Prussia in 1806 are used for ingenious paraphrases. Spiritual resistance centers around the churches; they were never so full.
These notes on the present situation of Alsace and Lorraine may conclude with a quotation from an address presented to Marshal Pétain and signed by 456 officers of the French Army, liberated from prison camps in Germany, who crossed Alsace on their way back to unoccupied France in the autumn of 1941:
"The undersigned officers, veterans of the war of 1914-18, prisoners of war in Germany, coming back from captivity, consider it a duty to tell Marshal Pétain, Chief of the French State, how moved they were by the enthusiastic and wholly spontaneous ovation they received from the population of Alsace on August 15, 1941, while they were on their way from Hagueneau to Belfort via Strasbourg and Mulhouse. During the entire trip, across fields and through villages and towns, our train was acclaimed from as far as the French uniforms could be recognized. We saw thousands of women in tears, men standing at attention and saluting, girls blowing kisses to us and crying: 'Long live France!' . . . All the population of Alsace from north to south thus showed forth, in most touching words and deeds, and with bold courage, its love and faithfulness to France."
[i] "We will no longer be Christians, for Jesus is a Jewish swine."