Shaping of European identity in the Alsatian community | France | Nazi Germany


Supervisors: Dr. Ruud Hendriks (course) Ms. Giselle Bosse (tutor) Mr.Clive Lawrence (language coach) Research and writing Group Number 19 Language training Group Number 114

André Feldhof ID 502243 Pigeonhole 189 Date: 07-01-08 Research paper (1A2) Version: Resit, Final paper

Introduction The French region of Alsace has often been characterized as the crossroad of Europe, a place where different currents connect and Europe comes together. Firstly, authors believe that Alsace links two major European culture zones: the Mediterranean culture of France, Spain and Italy and the Anglo-Saxon culture of Germany, the Netherlands and Great Britain (cf. Baas, 1945, p. 162). Alsace secondly is the border region between Germany and France; with the end of the Second World War it became the symbol for reconciliation between the two former enemies. Thirdly, after its capital Strasbourg was made home to the European Parliament and the Council of Europe, Alsace also stood for the desire to establish a new political Europe. While Alsace thus became a connector for Europe in a cultural, symbolic and political way, we may wonder how this reflected upon its citizens. This paper therefore investigates to what extent the Alsatian identity became more European with the construction of Europe after the Second World War. To this end, the paper uses two main concepts. The first one is the idea of “new medievalism” as presented by Woever in 1995 (quoted in King, 2000, p. 41920). It points out that European citizens today have intertwined affiliations between the local, regional, national and supranational level, thus between their city, their region, their nation and Europe. In addition, the paper also uses the concept of Castells and Ohmae (quoted in King, 2000, p. 420). According to them, in the complex relations between the different levels regions and cities contribute most in the shaping of identity. The paper is organized as follows: The first part outlines the Alsatian identity before the Second World War. In the second part it is described how this identity has changed directly after 1945. The third part focuses on the development of Alsatian identity up to today. The findings of this paper may help to understand how European identity develops in other regions today, especially those on the cultural frontier of the former iron curtain.


1. The Alsatian identity before the Second World War: voluntary patriotism and strong regionalism Alsace has been part of both France and Germany for a long time and both cultures have left their mark on its citizens’ identity. During the Middle Ages, Alsace was a part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. The cathedral of Strasbourg and the regional Alsatian dialect are distinct German features of this time period which still remain today. In the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, Alsace was turned over to France. After its integration, Alsace adapted much of French culture, such as the republican values of the French revolution, and it remained a part of France until the Franco-German War in 1870-71. After this war, in 1871, the French were forced to give Alsace to the new German nation-state as a war repayment. In consequence, many French felt humiliated and built up hatred against the Germans. They wanted to have Alsace back in France. Most Alsatians also wished to return to France. They felt oppressed by the German administration which dictated its terms upon Alsace in school education and culture (Hoffet, 1951, p. 156). Many members of the working class in particular proved “systematically hostile to Germany”, according to Hoffet. The Alsatian elite, on the contrary, was split between secret passion for France and open support for Germany (p. 141; Baas, 1945, p. 75). Local officeholders, on the one hand, aspired to maintain their positions under the German government and therefore became the Germans’ best friends. Many old protestant families, on the other hand, privately remained loyal to France and continued to be inspired by French culture and literature (Baas, 1945, p. 73). They could rise to higher positions than before, once Germany had to give Alsace back to France in the Treaty of Versailles. With Alsace’s return to France in 1918, patriotism erupted in the region (Hoffet, 1951, p. 44). The workers, on the one hand, embraced the return of the French values of freedom and self-determination and developed a strong feeling for their nation. The francophile elite, on the other hand, could now manifest its patriotism in the open and become a part of the French elite. However, patriotism in Alsace did not become as deeply rooted as in other French regions. Due to its history with Germany, the Alsatians were not as closely bound to love their country as a person from inner France. In principle, they could make a choice between France and Germany. Baas (1945) believes that most Alsatians hated Germany and voluntarily chose to love France; yet the mere possibility to make a choice gave them a more distanced standing toward their nation (p. 44). They rather took the position of an external spectator upon the French community. When talking about the French, they did not refer to 3

them as “us”, but as “them” or simply the “French of the inner part” (p. 44). In contrast, the Alsatians used the pronoun “us” only when they talked about their regional community. Consequently, Baas asserts that in Alsace, the citizens firstly felt connected to their region and only then to France (Baas, 1945, p. 71). However, like patriotism, Alsatian regionalism was different from the rest of France. According to Woever, the identity of a European citizen is generally determined by mixed, but distinct, affiliations between region, nation and Europe. A region in the middle of France would thus have a clear distinction between regionalism on the one hand and patriotism on the other. It would practice customs which are either characteristic of the region or more generally attributed to the nation. Alsace, however, had been shaped by two different nations and thus had a regional identity with a German and a French component in it. Rather than having a sharp distinction between region and nation, it therefore distinguished from Germany due to its French inheritance and from France due to its German component. Although Alsatians felt hostile toward Germany, it was the German component in its regional culture which inspired them with pride, because it made them special vis-à-vis the ordinary French. Alsatians, for instance, were proud of their German values of a “hardworking attitude, regularity, punctuality, honesty . . . hygiene and a sense of the environment” (Vogler, 1993, p. 529), because these were values which the French did not share (Baas, 1945, p. 45). Moreover, the Alsatians were proud of the Alsatian dialect. This dialect was widely practiced among the common people in Alsace and had its origins in the German language, thus distinguishing them from the French (Hoffet, 1953, p. 56). To conclude, the Alsatian identity before the Second World War was characterized primarily by a strong regional pride in its double culture. It corresponded to the concept of Castells and Ohmae, who hold that the region is the strongest factor of identification for European citizens. Yet, most Alsatians hated Germany and felt connected to the French nation only by free choice. Thus, their double culture was a rather autonomous identity that borrowed aspects from two cultures but also distinguished itself clearly from both.


2. The Alsatian identity after the Second World War: from regionalism to unhealthy patriotism After the events of the Second World War, the French nation rigorously suppressed the strong sense of Alsatian regional pride. To many French, the region had already seemed strange before the war due to the German component in the Alsatian culture. In 1940, Germany annexed Alsace again and made it a part of the Third Reich. German education returned into the schools and young Alsatians were sent to fight the war on the side of the Germans (Vogler, 1993, p. 446). Alsatian refugees who tried to escape new domination by Germany were only reluctantly admitted into other parts of France, “received sometimes as troublemakers and good-for-nothings” (Baas, 1945, p. 83). After the war, Alsace returned to France, but the French public opinion condemned the Alsatians as German traitors (Vogler, 1993, p. 507). Their culture with its Germanic dialect was suppressed and the government imposed French customs upon the region. The Alsatian became the “lowest creature in France that one [could] mock . . . without facing a consequence” (Castellino in Vogler, 1993, p. 507). The Alsatians themselves felt deeply ashamed about their involvement in the Third Reich. They felt that by obeying German law and submitting to its government they had failed to show their solidarity with France (Vogler, 1993, p. 446). Full of guilt, they desperately tried to appease the French by proving their patriotism to themselves and to the nation. An example may illustrate this. During the war, a large group of young Alsatian men called the Malgré-Nous (“Against our will”) was forced to fight on the German eastern front alongside the Nazis. When the Malgré-Nous came back home, the Alsatians “rejected them as bad French, excluded them from associations of ancient combatants and held them guilty for a crime that had been imposed upon them”, namely to support the German enemy (Vogler, 1993, p. 446). In order to be good French, the Alsatians even denied their regional identity. Had they been proud of their “double culture” before the war, now there was a “desire to forget the language and the culture, to undergo assimilation and to be like the other French in order to not longer have anything in common with the German enemy” (Vogler, 1993, p. 446). While the Alsatians tried to be the perfect French, however, they were still rejected as traitors. This dilemma led to a profound inferior complex in the Alsatian identity (p. 446). On the one hand, they were mocked and could not become equal members of the French community. On the other hand, they were not allowed to have a regional identity either and this made them feel as though they were in a “cultural no man’s land” without any real identity whatsoever (p. 522). 5

While Alsatians did not have a regional identity and only an unhealthy national identity after the Second World War, Woever’s concept of “new medievalism” also stated that citizens might feel connected to the supranational level. In this respect, identification with Europe could engender a positive development for Alsace. If Europe gained power and the nationstates lost influence, Alsace could maybe reassert itself as a region. It could then escape the restrictions of the French culture; its double culture could again be accepted in a Europe of diverse cultures. European integration might thus provide Alsace with the perspective to regain its regional identity. It might therefore have an interest to further open itself to Europe.

3. The Alsatian opening toward Europe European integration did not occur at once. Until 1968, Alsace was caught up in shame of itself, unhealthy patriotism and the feeling of being without real identity. However, in 1968 a new generation gained influence in Alsace which had scarcely inherited the former double culture with the despised German part (Vogler, 1993, p. 465). Its members could develop a relationship to their homeland with greater ease than the elderly. The change in generation consequently ended the feeling of guilt and allowed for a more pronounced regional identity. At the same time, cooperation in economy and culture increased more and more across Europe. Alsace now manifested the desire to open itself to Europe. This desire resulted in the launch of new political projects. From 1980 on, the regional and local councils in Alsace began to redefine Alsatian regional identity in order to “give back to Alsace its place in Europe” (Vogler, 1993, p. 466). The political actors now thought of Alsatian identity in a greater European context rather than exclusively in a national one. In 1990 the regional development program “Alsace 2005” was launched. Based upon a representative survey among a thousand Alsatians, this project tried to answer the question of how Alsace could “succeed in its opening to Europe while conserving its identity and its culture” (Wolfelsberger, 2007, p. 14). The paper proposed to increase Alsatian cooperation with its German and Swiss neighboring regions. Until today, this trans-frontier cooperation has resulted in the foundation of three “Eurodistricts” in the North, middle and South of Alsace. The Eurodistrict Strasbourg-Ortenau shall be presented as an example for the three.


Eurodistrict Strasbourg-Ortenau The Eurodistrict Strasbourg-Ortenau is a new European region which transcends the national border of France and Germany and which has a common political administration. It aims at establishing more cooperation between the regions on both sides of the Rhine (Vereinbarung über die Gründung des Eurodistrikts Straßburg-Ortenau, 2005, p. 4). To this end, the Council of the Eurodistrict – the highest political organ of the new region with representatives from both sides – can initiate common projects, which will then be coordinated by its administration. In the “White Paper Strasbourg-Ortenau”, the Council formulates six fields in which it seeks more cooperation, for example, infrastructure, environment and school education (Koenig et al., 2004, p.8). Many of the white paper’s propositions are merely demonstrations of good will. However, some concrete projects have also been launched. In the area of school cooperation, for instance, the White Paper proposes to enhance bilingualism of German and French students. In order to attain this goal, the White Paper suggests increased employment of bilingual teachers or to have language classes conducted by a native speaker. It also proposes the creation of entirely bilingual schools (p. 137). With regard to cultural life of both sides, the White Paper expresses the wish of gradually creating a “common cultural identity in the region Strasbourg-Ortenau” (p. 135). To this end, the ensembles of French and German theatres could be encouraged to regularly perform together. Likewise, their plays could be subtitled in the respective other language, so that cultural exchange can also reach the spectators of the plays. These projects demonstrate the wish of Alsatian political leaders to enhance the exchange of French and Germans and thus to contribute to a more European identity of the people. Among young people, this idea finds a lot of support. According to a survey by the newspaper Dernières nouvelles d’Alsace (DNA), 72% of the questioned youths in Germany and Alsace are in favor of the Eurodistrict. These young people clearly support more European cooperation and identity. However, globally 56% of the participants state that the cooperation project has only little significance in their lives (Howiller, 2005, p. 21). This may lead to the conclusion that they are not much inclined to open their spirit to the cooperation across the borders and thus to opening Alsace to a greater Europe. It reinforces the assumption that their identity is primarily regional (cf. Castells and Ohmae).


Conclusion Summing up, we can say that the Alsatian identity changed from a proud regional double culture to a feeling of unhealthy patriotism after the Second World War. The Alsatians felt guilty for their obedience to Germany and tried to prove that they were good patriotic French. However, the French did not fully accept them as French while they did not allow them to be Alsatians either. This cultural oppression led to a strong inferior complex and the feeling of being without real identity. In the search of a new identity, Europe could therefore provide a way out of the vicious circle. In response to the research question, we can say that a European identity was shaped by political projects which tried to enhance Alsace’s trans-frontier cooperation. These projects – the Eurodistricts have been mentioned as an example – intended to foster a more international Alsatian identity. Due to them, more interaction between Alsatians and their European neighbors regions could develop. However, for the Alsatian politicians, Europe primarily was an arena in which they could re-establish Alsace’s regional identity (Vogler, 1993, p. 466). While the French nation had restricted Alsatian culture, participation in a multi-cultural Europe could give Alsace the reason to maintain and to reassert its double culture. Europe thus allowed Alsatians to be proud of themselves anew. We can state that the concept of Castells and Ohmae found application in Alsace again with the opening to Europe. Moreover, Europe gave Alsatian politicians the possibility to “assure the radiation of Alsace” (Wolfelsberger, 2007, p. 45). They not only intended to reassert Alsace’s identity in Europe, they also projected to help other European regions with their experiences. Alsace’s difficult development toward a healthy regional and European identity could inspire regions who now struggled with the issue of Europeanization, especially those on the cultural frontier of the former iron curtain. To help them, Alsace signed multiple accords with other European regions, for example with Silesia in Poland or the western region of Romania (Région Alsace, 2007, p. 3).


References Baas, E. (1945). Situation de l'Alsace. Strasbourg: Les Éditions des l'est. Koenig, C., Langendörfer, U., Lavergne, P., Mastelli, G., Ruff, V., Saib, A., et al. (2004). Livre Blanc/Weißbuch Strasbourg-Ortenau. Retrieved October 18 2007. from Gildea, R. (Ed.). (1996). France since 1945. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Grosclaude, X. (2006). L'Alsace n'est plus francaise. Retrieved October 16, 2007, from Hoffet, F. (1951). Psychanalyse de l'Alsace. Paris: Flammarion. Howiller, A. (2005). Der Eurodistrict Strasbourg-Ortenau. Dokumente - Zeitschrift für den deutsch-französischen Dialog, 61(1), 18-23. L'Huillier, F. (1955). Histoire de l'Alsace. Strasbourg: Presses universitaires de France. Région Alsace (2007). La coopération transfrontalière et internationale. Retrieved October 18 2007 from Vassberg. (1993). Alsatian acts of identity. Clevedon: 1993. Vereinbarung über die Gründung des Eurodistrikts Straßburg-Ortenau. (2005). Retrieved October 22 2007 from Vogler, B. (1993). Histoire culturelle de l'Alsace: Du Moyen Age à nos jours, les très riches heures d'une région frontière. Strasbourg: La Nuée Bleue. Western, J. (2007). Neighbors or strangers? Binational and transnational identities in Strasbourg. ANNALS OF THE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICAN GEOGRAPHERS, 97(1), 158-181. Wolfelsberger, L. (2007). Le Projet Alsace 2005 (PowerPoint Presentation). Strasbourg: Association de Prospective Rhenane.


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