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The invasion of Alsace Lorraine by the German Empire (1870-1918)

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  1. Introduction
  2. Alsace-Lorraine, between French nationalism and Pan-Germanism
  3. The reality of the situation in Alsace-Lorraine
  4. Conclusion

The regions of Alsace-Lorraine shaped the relationship between France and Germany ever since its integration in the German Empire in the wake of the Franco-Prussian war of 1871, and until its recovery by the Third Republic of France in 1918. During this period from 1871 to 1918, both sides argued in a passionate climate about the recurrent question: are Alsatians and Lorrains German or French? There was of course an economical interest of both countries to possess these regions as regards to the importance of iron and steel industry in Lorraine by instance. However, the heart of the “Alsace Lorraine question” is mostly symbolic. Indeed, Alsace and Lorraine were an important political symbol for societies and governments on both sides of the Rhine.

On the one hand, the integration of Alsace and Lorraine permitted to glorify and legitimate the newly created German Empire in a pangermanist perspective. On the other hand, the desire for the recovery of these regions was used by French Third Republic leaders to heighten French nationalism and patriotism after a great humiliating defeat and another change of political regime.

Originally Alsace-Lorraine was a part of France where the Alsatian dialect, grammatically close to German, was spoken. During the Franco-Prussian war, though, those two regions were invaded by Prussia. In the wake of the French defeat, the Frankfort Treaty was signed the 10th of May 1871 .The integration of Alsace and Lorraine was of great symbolic importance for the new German Empire founded the 18th of January 1871 in Versailles and an important shift in the balance of power in Europe.

[...] The “revanchisme” was everywhere in the school book, by instance the famous Le Tour de France par deux enfants by Giordano Bruno in 1877 highlights the strong link between France and the lost provinces. The issue of the language was the most recurrent. Alsatians and Lorrains were presented as deprived of their own language. A lot of novels and songs were written about the figure of the Alsatian teacher telling students to never forget the French language. C. Definitions of the concept of nation determined by the Alsace Lorraine issue. Germans and French were encouraged to refashion the concept of nation itself, depending on the Alsace Lorraine issue. [...]

[...] The difficulties of Alsace and Lorraine under the German rule became even greater during the First World War. Alsatians and Lorrains were supposed to fight within the German army, but a part of them left to fight with French troops. In consequence, Alsatians and Lorrains were fighting against each other. Besides, during the conflict the regions were placed under a harsh military rule, with strict censorship and limited freedoms. B. Rise of French “revanchard” nationalism. After France lost the two regions in 1870, the popular emotional attachment to them grew from 1871 to 1918. [...]

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