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French Historical Studies 23.1 (2000) 129-162
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From Liberation to Purge Trials in the “Mythic Provinces”:
Recasting French Identities in Alsace and Lorraine, 1918–1920

Laird Boswell *

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Nothing proved more important for the French at the Great War’s end than regaining
control of the lost provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. This was an event of momentous
political and symbolic significance. After a hiatus of close to half a century, the
nation took solace in the fact that it was once again “whole.” The euphoria that
followed the Great War’s end and Alsace-Lorraine’s return to the French nation,
however, was short-lived. Alsace-Lorraine’s complex place within French identity, the
nation’s enormous emotional investment in the lost provinces, and four years of
devastating losses all converged to transform the region into a site of contention
during the postwar years. The recovery of the border provinces involved far more than
the reacquisition of lost territory, and the reimposition of French rule proved far
more difficult than popular opinion and politicians, influenced by a massive and ever
present nationalistic literature on the region, had expected.

The lost province occupied a unique position in the French popular imaginary as the
most patriotic of regions. In the nationalistic climate that followed victory,
squaring the myth of a patriotic Alsace-Lorraine faithfully waiting for deliverance
with the reality of a German-speaking province that had benefited, in ways large and
small, from close to fifty years of German rule proved impossible. But there was far
more to the problematic reintegration than the widespread discrepancy [End Page 129]
between myth and reality. French bureaucrats and military officials came armed with
an ethnic vision of the borderland. In an attempt to recast Alsatian and Lorrainer
identity, they immediately set off to categorize the population according to its
ancestry and launched—to use the vocabulary of contemporaries—a large-scale épuration
designed to weed out “bad” Alsatians and Lorrains.1 Accommodation was not the order
of the day; instead, integrating the province within France meant denying its
Germanic characteristics, its regional and cultural identity. Between 1918 and 1920
the French thus undertook massive purges of Alsatian and Lorrainer society and
reimposed the French language in schools on a generation educated entirely in German.
A few years later (1924–25), Edouard Herriot’s Cartel des Gauches government would
awkwardly challenge the religious privileges located at the heart of border province
identity.2

Today, it has been long forgotten that the first French épuration of the twentieth
century took place not in the wake of the Vichy regime, but immediately after the
First World War in Alsace and Lorraine. Although more restricted in geographical
scale and less violent in nature (there were no summary executions), this purge was
massive in numbers and intensity. The infamous commissions de triage set up by the
French state to cleanse border province society are now erased from collective
memory. A few regional writers have mentioned them—with a mixture of regret and
bitterness—in their writings, and historians sometimes devote a few, though rarely
well-informed, sentences to them. The waves of purges and denunciations are thus seen
as a mere detail in the postwar history of the region, dwarfed by the “unforgettable
hours” of the 1918 liberation, the problematic transition from German to French rule,
the continuous administrative blunders of the French, and growing skepticism and
resistance among Alsatians and Lorrainers. Of all these events, however, the
commissions de triage rank as the most disturbing.

The complex events that followed the war’s end—from the celebrations of the
liberation to the purges and denunciations that followed on their heels—were part of
a larger process of reconfiguring and redefining national, local, and moral
identities in Alsace and Lorraine. This process was initiated by the heavy hand of
the state, but once under [End Page 130] way it did not always remain under state
control, and the process was soon relayed by local inhabitants eager to prove their
patriotic credentials, searching for ways to make their voices heard, or motivated by
personal gain, sentiments of revenge, and long-standing village feuds. But there was
more to the purges than redefinition of identities. The épuration in the lost
provinces illustrated three crucial characteristics of twentieth-century French
history: the development of increasingly racialized notions of Frenchness that found
their origins in the late nineteenth century, the state’s willingness to impose its
authority at the expense of republican values, and the centrality of collaboration
and resistance in determining national sentiment and trustworthiness. The purges,
however, need to be understood within the broader context of the myth of a patriotic
Alsace-Lorraine and the patriotic frenzy of the liberation, and it is with these two
moments that I begin this article.

The Mythic Provinces and French Identity

France had relinquished Alsace and a significant part of Lorraine (the
German-speaking areas and a francophone strip that included Metz) after its
shattering defeat in the War of 1870. But as France lost physical control of the
region, paradoxically, popular attachment to this little-known and distant region
grew. Between 1871 and 1914 Alsace-Lorraine became known in political discourse, in
the schools, and in the popular imagination as the “lost province” or the “twin
sisters” without which the nation could not be whole.3 On school maps the region was
shrouded in purple and black, the colors of mourning. Even after the 1890s, when
Alsace-Lorraine receded from the forefront of public discourse, it remained
profoundly anchored in the nation’s memory.

The myth of Alsace-Lorraine was born during the thirty years after the War of 1870,
and it was during this time period that the predominantly German-speaking provinces
(in 1910, 87.2 percent of the population considered German or German dialect as its
mother tongue), whose significant Protestant community (26.5 percent of the
population in Alsace in 1910) also distinguished them from the rest of the French
nation, became a constituent part of French identity and patriotism.4 Over time,
thanks in part to the drawings of the Alsatian caricaturist [End Page 131] l’Oncle
Hansi (the pen name of Jean-Jacques Waltz), the Alsatian (but not the Lorrainer)
village became the archetype of the French village, and the region to the east of the
Vosges mountains was transformed into a sentimental homeland of French nationalism.5
The seeds of future misunderstandings can be found in the paradoxical situation of a
nonfrancophone and culturally distinct region being invested with a degree of
patriotic symbolism on a scale known to no other French province. Alsace-Lorraine,
moreover, had been part and parcel of Germany, and its inhabitants German citizens
during the critical period of the construction of German national identity between
1871 and 1914. In France, the sense of the nation was substantially refashioned by
the new republican regime, and Alsace-Lorraine (or its absence) played an essential
role in this process.6

Much of the idealized vision of the provinces perdues was related to the profoundly
gendered and subordinate place Alsace and Lorraine occupied in the French imaginary.
Widely distributed popular imagery depicted Alsace and Lorraine alternatively as
sisters in mourning or young women in regional costumes faithfully waiting for the
return of the “motherland.” 7 The imagery of the twin sisters shedding tears of
sorrow, resisting the Germans through cunning and resourcefulness, or placed at the
mercy of the Germans (often in very sexual terms) proved enduring. After 1871, the
allegorical representations of Alsace and Lorraine came to represent French
patriotism and la revanche more than Marianne herself, and in a different register
than the increasingly popular Joan of Arc whose patriotism was more defensive in
nature. But the critical point was that the soeurs jumelles fitted in with cultural
stereotypes that represented France as feminine in opposition to a more masculine
Germany. To the French public Alsace and Lorraine became best known as feminine,
sometimes adolescent figures whose complex imagery embodied faithfulness, courage,
resignation, determination, and patriotism.8 [End Page 132]

While Alsace-Lorraine, its cities and countryside, and its regional costumes became
mythologized in the French imaginary, the majority of the region’s inhabitants
gradually accommodated themselves to German rule. In the late 1890s, however, the
growth of an autonomist movement, spurred by growing dissatisfaction with the
region’s second-class status in the Reich, signaled that unresolved questions of
regional identity remained central to cultural and political life in the area.9 The
region was of considerable symbolic importance to Germany—a point studiously ignored
by the French—and it benefited from the Empire’s solicitude. Strasbourg, whose
cathedral made it a powerful symbol on both sides of the Rhine, was the recipient of
substantial investments in infrastructure and was remade the German way.10 By 1914,
the region had spent close to half a century under German control, and for the new
generations the cultural and emotional links with France proved ever more distant.

The war’s outbreak, however, radically changed the provinces’ situation.
Alsace-Lorraine, which had gradually lost the central position in French political
discourse that it had occupied in the last three decades of the nineteenth century
and was relegated to what Marc Bloch termed the “discreet shadows,” was thrust anew
into the forefront of public concerns.11 The Germans placed the two provinces under
harsh military rule for the duration of the conflict—strict censorship was enforced,
freedom of movement limited, the use of the French language banned in public, and the
germanization of French speaking areas of Lorraine accelerated.12 In Lorraine alone
some two thousand to three thousand men and women were condemned for anti-German
declarations, ranging from speaking French to “inappropriate” behavior toward German
soldiers or the Reich. 13 The government arrested prominent politicians and
journalists and exiled some to Germany (perhaps four hundred during the course of the
war in Lorraine). German immigrants increasingly occupied positions of power and
confidence. All these [End Page 133] measures contributed to simmering conflict and
fueled growing anti-German sentiments. The two provinces paid a heavy toll during the
war. The vast majority of Alsatians and Lorrainers who served did so in the German
army (380,000); deeming them too unreliable to fight on the western front, the high
command sent most to the east. Fifty thousand never returned.14 By the war’s end, the
socialist Hermann Wendel sensed that the winds had shifted: in 1914, he argued,
four-fifths of Alsace-Lorraine’s population would have voted to remain with Germany;
in 1918—in retribution for the province’s suffering during wartime—the overwhelming
majority would have chosen France.15

Alsatians and Lorrainers did not fare much better in French hands. Soon after the
war’s outbreak, the French interned thousands of Alsatians and Lorrains living on
French soil; they were joined by some eight thousand Alsatians deported from parts of
southern Alsace “liberated” during the first weeks of the conflict, and by
unspecified numbers of Lorrainers taken hostage during the French army’s initial
advance.16 Even the fervent nationalist Maurice Barrès, whose patriotism could surely
not be questioned, complained in late 1914 that young Alsaciennes and Lorraines (the
region’s iconographic symbols), employed as maids and servants in Paris, had been
deported to concentration camps.17 Up until the November 1918 armistice, the French
continued to intern civilians (Albert Schweitzer among them) from AlsaceLorraine
whose loyalty was judged suspect. Countless others found themselves the victims of
discriminatory hiring or bureaucratic practices, not to mention denounced as Germans
or boches by patriotic citizens. The pervasive suspicion of Alsatians and Lorrainers,
the lingering doubts about their patriotic trustworthiness, did not disappear with
the end of wartime circumstances; on the contrary, these attitudes would extend well
into the postwar years, and decisively shape relations between the region and its new
rulers. [End Page 134]

Celebrating the Return to the Mère Patrie

French troops met with an enthusiastic welcome as they marched through Strasbourg,
Mulhouse, Colmar, and Metz in late November 1918. Hundreds of young women in Alsatian
headdress and costumes, sporting tricolor cockades, holding flowers, and waving
French flags or white handkerchiefs turned out to greet the poilus. The streets were
decked in tricolor flags, bands played the Marseillaise, bars gave out free beer to
soldiers, and huge crowds of people lined the streets, peered from windows, and
climbed on roofs to give French soldiers a welcome that exceeded all expectations
(especially in Strasbourg). But the animated welcome had more to do with the
understandable relief that the war (fought in part on Alsatian soil for the control
of the Vosges ridges) had ended, that famine and widespread shortages would be
averted, that Alsatian and Lorrainer soldiers would be returning home, and that
Alsace-Lorraine would not pay the heavy price of defeat but on the contrary share,
however ambiguously, in the fruits of victory. For the bourgeoisie, the arrival of
French troops meant social peace, and the end of the threatening revolutionary
movement of soldiers and workers that emerged in urban areas in the midst of the
German military collapse. French soldiers were soon followed by Marshal Ferdinand
Foch, and on 8 December by President Raymond Poincaré, who headed three specially
chartered trains carrying hundreds of senators, deputies, elected Paris officials,
members of alsacien and lorrain associations in exile, and journalists who came to
reclaim Strasbourg as France’s own.18

The spontaneous outbursts of enthusiasm for French troops often took a carnivalesque
and religious coloration and revealed how much underlying sympathies for France had
developed during four years of German wartime military dictatorship. But spontaneity
was only part of the story. Local authorities played a crucial role by forming
“reception committees” that printed posters calling upon “truly Alsatian young women”
(those of mixed ancestry were presumably unwelcome) to greet their liberators in
Alsatian costumes, and gave them precise instructions on how to do so.19 The Alsatian
costume, a rarity at the time, [End Page 135] was worn only in rural villages on
festive occasions, and its use in 1918 was the object of debate both among urban
elites and rural inhabitants; some opposed this masquerade and could not understand
why Strasbourg’s demoiselles wanted to be “disguised as peasants.”20 But the costume,
shunned by French revolutionaries, had, thanks to widespread popular engravings,
become for the Third Republic a dual symbol of Alsace’s quaint “attachment” to France
and its sense of local identity.21 Out of “charming daintiness” (the words of the
Michelin guide), Alsace presented itself to its liberators in the traditional
“uniform” that the French had expected women to wear. 22 Alsatian writer René
Schickele had a more dyspeptic view: he questioned whether all young women who wore
the costume on 18 November were of longstanding Alsatian ancestry; a few years later
he noted that the costumed women at a Paris exposition could not speak a word of
Alsatian dialect or German.23

Most French had a one-dimensional understanding of the complex motivations behind the
patriotic upsurge in November 1918. Air force captain René Chambre was one of the
first soldiers to enter Alsace on 19 November 1918; his encounter with hundreds of
flag-waving Alsatians, including numerous blond women in costume marching toward the
French border, constituted for him the materialization of the “entire vision of our
childhood . . . We are entering the dream fully alive.” 24 The French mistook the
celebrations and rejoicings of the liberation as another confirmation of Alsace’s
out-and-out patriotism, and this contributed to reinforcing popular perceptions of
Alsace as the most patriotic of provinces. Glorified images of the liberation of
Alsace would soon make it into schoolbooks and forge enduring memories in the minds
of French schoolchildren.

The celebration did not reach epic proportions everywhere, however. Industrial parts
of Lorraine along the German border proved more subdued in their welcome. Some rural
Protestant regions in Alsace (the region of Saverne) displayed markedly less
enthusiasm than larger cities, and rural areas in general tended to downplay their
welcome. In northern Alsace (Oberbetschdorf), military authorities claimed Catholics
greeted French troops with enthusiasm, while Protestants [End Page 136] adopted a
“reserved, almost hostile” attitude; the liberation revived long-standing enmities
and led to clashes between youths of both confessions.25 The protestant Hanauerland
was reputedly refractory to French influence, but some soldiers appear to have met
with a warm welcome, while others faced a more reserved reception.26 Protestants,
closely bound to German culture via Lutheranism, worried about their future as a
minority in a Catholic country. Some Catholics, on the contrary, welcomed the return
of French rule.27 Wine growers worried about their economic future in the world of
French viticulture. And the numerous Alsatians and Lorrains who had fought in German
uniform discreetly returned to their homes and kept a low profile.

No sooner had the celebrations died down than French civil and military authorities
turned to the task of administering the newly recovered provinces and “reintegrating”
them within France. They proved ill-prepared for the task, however. Within a few
years France had squandered the important reservoir of sympathy with which it began,
and had succeeded in alienating, in ways large and small, a substantial portion of
the Alsatian and Lorrainer population. While Alsace-Lorraine constituted a key war
aim, until the final months of the war the government had done little preparation to
reestablish governance in the region.28 And the French ignored the advice of even the
most rabidly patriotic Alsatians and Lorrains who urged them not to import large
numbers of bureaucrats unfamiliar with the region’s particularisms, but to rely
instead on the services of carefully chosen local elites, some of whom had spent
decades in exile.29

The war’s end also brought about a gradual shift away from the heavily gendered
representations of the province. The twin sisters became increasingly referred to as
children. This was not accidental: the twin sisters had resisted German rule largely
on their own, and it was time to return them to the nation’s control. “France comes
to you,” wrote General Henri Gouraud, “as a mother comes to her dear child, [End Page
137] lost and later found.” Speaking in Strasbourg, Raymond Poincaré, the president
of the Republic, spoke of the “children we have regained [enfants retrouvés]” and
added “the plebiscite is completed. Alsace has thrown herself, crying with joy, at
the neck of her long lost mother [mère retrouvée ].”30 Now that the children had
returned home, however, it was time for them to follow the household’s (French)
habits.31 Patriotic Alsatians internalized this discourse and underscored their pride
at being “obedient children.” 32 When Poincaré arrived in Strasbourg, wrote one
commentator, he found a daughter (Alsace-Lorraine) “already sitting comfortably on
her mother’s lap.”33 But interestingly enough, France was not only reunited with its
daughter, but also its sons who had been absent from the imagery of the lost
province. “What nation,” wrote Louis Madelin, “had witnessed among its sons such
fidelity?”34 The imagery of a mother returning to embrace her long-lost children,
combined with the obsession with fidelity, set the tone for French policies in Alsace
and Lorraine. Some patriotic essayists argued that even those “children” most
compromised by the German Empire should be allowed to return to the family’s fold,
much like children who had “disowned their mother but are conscious of the
wretchedness of this unnatural act.”35 The growing emphasis on family reflected the
view that Alsace was biologically part of France.

It was but one step from the familial imagery of the mère patrie and her children,
destined in large part for popular consumption, to the ethnic and racial discourses
that also structured the encounter between the French and the Alsaciens-Lorrains. The
vast literature on the “Alsace-Lorraine question” published during the period of
German rule (and especially during the Great War) was far from devoid of racial
undertones. From caricatures to pamphlets and academic works, Alsace-Lorraine was
increasingly described as having formed the borderline between Celts (i.e., the
Gauls) and the Germanic tribes—an outpost of Latin civilization on the Rhine.
Alsace-Lorraine, it was argued, had been part and parcel of Gaul; it later came under
Roman control when Caesar conquered Gaul and fixed its boundary along the Rhine
river.36 [End Page 138] The Romans brought with them Latin culture, and, historians
Ernest Lavisse and Christian Pfister maintained, latinity perhaps struck deeper roots
in Alsace-Lorraine than in the rest of Gaul.37 But the longstanding unity with France
was not just historical or cultural, it was racial. The Alsatian “race,” wrote
Camille Jullian of the Collège de France, was gauloise (Gallic), not Germanic, and
the Alsatians did not physically resemble the Germans—on the contrary, these “eastern
meridionals” were vivacious, supple, and had a distinct and flexible frame.38 Others
distinguished a “Latin race” on one bank of the Rhine and a “Germanic race” on the
other side. 39 After the Great War, the 1919 Michelin guide to Alsace’s battlefields
continued to underline the region’s French racial character: The Alsatian race
remained, by and large, of Celtic type; Alsatian men, though chiefly blond, did not
have the same facial and physical characteristics as Germans; and Alsatian women,
thinner than German ones, resembled women from northern France.40 This literature
found its roots in the racial nationalism that emerged in the late nineteenth
century. Its purpose was clear: to demonstrate that Alsace-Lorraine had been part and
parcel of France (i.e., Gaul) from the beginning, and shared with the nation a common
racial (Celtic), cultural (Latin, “meridional”), and geographic (the Rhine as a
natural frontier) heritage. This was a profound shift from Fustel de Coulanges, who
had argued in 1870 that Alsace might well be German by race, but that it was French
by choice.41

Cleansing and Categorizing: Defining Frenchness

The growing ethnic and racial discourse surrounding Alsace-Lorraine influenced French
military officials, civil servants, and even those returning from exile ( les
revenants) in the immediate postwar years. French authorities quickly set forward on
a massive purge and categorization [End Page 139] of Alsatian and Lorrain society in
the hope of reshaping the region’s identity. Their objective was threefold: to expel
those of German blood in the hope of restoring racial purity; to categorize
inhabitants according to their ethnic background; to purge society of those Alsatians
and Lorrainers suspected of having collaborated with the Germans or of harboring
sympathies for the German cause. 42 These three undertakings were closely
interrelated. The French wanted nothing less than to recast the sense of national
allegiance in Alsace-Lorraine, and they did so following racial, ethnic, cultural,
and moral criteria. Different understandings of what it meant to be French
crystallized around the épuration in Alsace-Lorraine.

What explains the decision to cleanse, categorize, and purge? The desire for revenge
that had been latent since 1870, the enduring myth of Alsace-Lorraine as the most
patriotic of provinces, and the profound hostility and hatred of the Germans that
emanated from the Great War are the most obvious factors. After four years of war
propaganda that focused on the barbaric nature of German soldiers and the
“atrocities” they had committed on French soil,43 it was difficult to envisage
accommodation with German officials—even in Alsace-Lorraine. During the war, German
military authorities had arrested, interned, imprisoned, and even executed a certain
number of Alsatians and Lorrainers for a whole range of antinational crimes ranging
from Deutschfeindlichkeit to spying; the purges were designed to uncover those who
had denounced “good Alsatians.” Restoring the province to the patriotic purity so
dear to the myth meant cleansing it of German influences and indigenous traitors.
Other factors played a role as well. An influential number of Alsatians had opted for
French citizenship and established themselves in France after the War of 1870;44 they
organized interest groups and, after 1918, pressured the regime to act against German
settlers. They often worked as consultants and advisors for the government, and some
returned to Alsace where their knowledge of the region and its dialect, albeit dated,
was much needed by the authorities.

German immigrants were the first targets of administrative reprisals and popular
resentment. One month after the 11 November armistice, 150 Alsatian men met in
Strasbourg to form a comité d’épuration whose objective was “to purge Alsace of the
boches who deserve it” and to cleanse Strasbourg’s municipal administration. “Good
Alsatians” could [End Page 140] not stand idly by and watch the boches preserve their
influence.45 French authorities expelled large numbers of Germans (more often than
not, without a hearing), and pressured countless others to leave. They quickly turned
their attention to the bureaucracy, and by late 1920 some 11,500 German civil
servants had either voluntarily or forcibly departed. Schoolteachers, because of
their role in the teaching of language and the dissemination of wartime propaganda,
found themselves first in the line of fire. The new French rulers targeted
high-ranking municipal and regional administrators, railroad workers, and
bureaucrats, along with German pastors and priests. They also expelled political
opponents such as Socialists and autonomists.

German immigration had played an important role in the social and economic life of
Alsace and Lorraine after 1870. On the war’s eve close to 300,000 Germans (including
70,000 members of the military) lived in Alsace-Lorraine. They had settled, by and
large, in the towns and occupied key positions within industry, the liberal
professions, the civil service, and within the skilled and unskilled work force.
Germans comprised 35 percent of Strasbourg’s inhabitants at the beginning of the
century. By 1918 some Germans had been established in Alsace-Lorraine for decades.
Their relatively high intermarriage rate with Alsatians strengthened regional social
ties to Germany.46 The growing links between the immigrant communities and Alsatians
made the massive repatriations in the postwar years all the more difficult.

More than 110,000 German men, women, and children living in Alsace crossed the Rhine
back to Germany between late 1918 and late 1920. Some had been expelled, others lost
their jobs, and yet others driven by fear quickly packed up and left when they saw
the new order of things.47 Approximately 100,000 Germans in Lorraine met the same
fate. Near Strasbourg, those expelled, allowed only a few hand-held suitcases,
crossed the Rhine with their heads bowed under the jeers of “patriotic” (and
sometimes rock-throwing) Alsatians who cried “death to the boches” and “in the Rhine
with you.” Amused French soldiers stood and watched. Old Alsatians complained of an
“ignominious” and “pitiful” spectacle. 48 Later, Alsatian Catholic historians
sympathetic to [End Page 141] autonomism (a broad movement that campaigned for
regional self-determination) placed the blame on mobs led by hysterical women,
unemployed journeymen, and men “in bourgeois clothes” who taunted and insulted the
Germans, pelted them with horse manure, and spat at them. Unable to explain
convincingly why Alsatians had turned with such fury against Germans, the authors
accused those whose sense of regional identity was presumably tenuous: women and the
down-and-out.49 This was easier than confronting the fact that the war and liberation
had shattered the mythical unity of Alsatian society.

While Germans fled the region en masse, the new French administration was busy
issuing identity cards to all Alsace and Lorraine residents over the age of fifteen.
In theory these identity cards did not confer citizenship, they merely accorded
different travel rights to individuals based on their ancestry. The state classified
individuals into four categories, A, B, C, or D, depending on their birthplace, the
birthplace of their parents, and sometimes that of their grandparents.50 Individuals
born in Alsace-Lorraine, and whose parents (or grandparents) had once been French
citizens (because they were born in Alsace or Lorraine before 1870) acquired the much
sought after Carte A . Those born in Alsace-Lorraine who had only one French ancestor
(a German- or Swiss-born mother or grandmother, for example) were given a Carte B.
Authorities gave citizens of the defeated powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey,
and Bulgaria) a Carte D, and all other foreigners (e.g., Italian immigrants) received
a Carte C . A child whose father was of longstanding Alsatian heritage (Carte A), but
whose mother had a Carte B because her family had a small German component, ended up,
more often than not, with a Carte B. 51 An Alsacienne whose spouse was from Baden,
across the Rhine, would be issued a Carte A ; her husband, however, had to make do
with a Carte D, and their children Cartes B. Some of the most patriotic, francophile
Alsatians had [End Page 142] German blood in their veins, and they reacted with
predictable outrage at their second-rate classification.52

By distinguishing between “pure blooded” Alsatians and Lorrains , those of mixed
ancestry, boches, and foreigners, the card system crystallized public opinion around
issues of ethnicity. A Carte B was a stain that few wanted to display in public; it
led to continuous suspicions and humiliations (“the boches called me French—now that
we are French, lo and behold I am boche”). 53 The Carte A , on the other hand,
conferred legitimacy (and potential Frenchness) on its holder. Many of those who
penned denunciations (of Germans, of fellow Alsatians and Lorrains) in the year after
the armistice made their Carte A status clear, and often signed their letters “good
Frenchmen,” or as some put it, “alsacien pur sang” or “une bonne Alsacienne, Carte
A.”54 The classification of the population was a divisive issue in the postwar years,
because it was thought, not without reason, that identity cards would have a direct
bearing on citizenship in the future. The establishment of a system of identity cards
based on ethnicity sent a powerful message to Alsatians and Lorrainers, and it was
all the more powerful because French citizenship was founded on a combination of jus
soli and jus sanguinis.55 When it came to questions of citizenship, however—and the
stipulations of the Versailles Treaty would spell this out—Alsace-Lorraine was a case
apart. 56 This was a telling point. After all, if the mythic Alsace-Lorraine
represented quintessential Frenchness, why should citizenship matters be different
there than in the rest of the nation? True enough, it would have required
considerable political deftness to adopt more open policies in the wake of four years
of conflict with Germany. But far more was involved here, I would argue, than the
contingencies and consequences of the Great War.

The classification system paved the way for the recriminations, denunciations, and
purges that would leave enduring marks in border [End Page 143] province society. By
categorizing people according to their ethnicity, the French provoked profound
divisions within Alsatian and Lorrainer society, and contributed to weaken the social
cement that bound communities together. The state’s objective was to strengthen its
authority and to create multiple categories of Alsatians and Lorrainers with
different rights. The card system relegated 40 percent of all adult residents to
second-class status and fueled legitimate fears concerning their future. True
enough—and contrary to common assumption—the cards did not confer French citizenship;
they only constituted a form of identification and discrimination. But there were few
reassurances here for 10 percent of the population categorized as mixed heritage, and
the 28 percent determined to be Germans, many of them longstanding residents.57 In
December 1918, only those with the much sought after Carte A (59 percent of all
residents) could travel freely throughout Alsace-Lorraine. The Carte A was also a
passport to voter registration (i.e., political rights) and currency exchange (and,
though not officially, employment). Moreover, the card system encouraged Alsatians to
discriminate between themselves: some Carte A holders soon thought those with Carte B
should cede them their place in food lines.58

The large-scale categorization of individuals was eerily premonitory of restrictions
placed on the rights of the newly naturalized in the late 1930s, and especially of
the Vichy regime’s policy toward the Jews. Beginning in 1940 the French state devoted
considerable efforts to defining who was Jewish and who was not, and the first Statut
des Juifs placed racial criteria at the forefront. In both 1918 and 1940, then, the
republican concept of citizenship was jettisoned in favor of an increasingly racial
one—something that pointed to profound tensions in France between competing visions
of nationhood.59

The Mechanisms of the Epuration

After the First World War, weeding out Germans and categorizing residents of
Alsace-Lorraine according to their ethnic purity was not [End Page 144] enough; it
was necessary to purge the Alsatians and Lorrains , identify and punish those
politically, morally, and socially compromised by association with the German regime.
To organize these purges and give them a semblance of legality, the French
established commissions de triage on 2 November 1918.60 The concept of triage had
been forwarded as early as 1915 by the abbé Emile Wetterlé, former Alsatian Catholic
deputy to the Reichstag, who escaped to France in 1914, joined the cause of French
nationalism, and made a profession of writing rabidly anti-German pamphlets.61 Once
the lost provinces had been recovered, Wetterlé argued, France had to sort out the
immigrant Germans from the true Alsatians and Lorrains; and he also proposed to use
triage to separate the wheat from the chaff among civil servants in
Alsace-Lorraine.62 But Wetterlé resisted any larger forms of discrimination against
those (save the most guilty) who had collaborated with the Germans in ways large and
small.63

French authorities, however, took the concept of triage one critical step further.
Inauspiciously named—triage , after all, evoked the grim “sorting out” of wounded
soldiers first developed by the French army in the Great War’s field hospitals—the
triage commission’s role was to sort out “good” and “bad” Alsatians and Lorrainers,
to classify them according to their degree of patriotism, their morality, and their
activity under German rule, so as to weed out undesirable elements of all kinds and
sentence the guilty to surveillance in Alsace-Lorraine, internment in the “interior”
of France, or expulsion from French territory.64 In 1918 few could ignore that triage
had acquired new and poignant meaning on the field of battle. In wartime, the triage
of the wounded separated those who would live from those who would not; in
Alsace-Lorraine triage separated those deemed fit to belong to the national community
from those who were not.

The commissions de triage , which functioned from November 1918 to October 1919,
operated in a legal vacuum. While French troops occupied [End Page 145]
Alsace-Lorraine on 18 November 1918, and while France’s claim to the region was not
seriously challenged by the Allies, the exact mechanics of the territorial handover
would only be spelled out by the Versailles treaty. In the seven-month interim, the
region was governed by a civil-military administration responsible to the War
Ministry,65 and its inhabitants found themselves in an intermediary position: they
were not yet French citizens nor did they enjoy the same judicial rights as the
French. The ratification of the Versailles Treaty in June 1919 brought their
ambiguous position to an end; in the words of the Commissaire général de la
République in Strasbourg, the treaty turned “Alsatians into French citizens” and
brought the triage commissions to an end, for “the grievances formulated against bad
Alsatians no longer have any reason to exist.” 66 This was an understated way of
admitting that the crimes with which many Alsatians had been charged had no basis
under French law.

The triage commissions are best described as military decision-making bodies with a
hand-picked civilian component. Located in significant urban areas, they were
presided by an officer appointed by the commanding general, and staffed by two
Alsatian or Lorrainer members: one named by Paris, usually a patriotic Alsatian or
Lorrain émigré returning after a long absence, and another (most often a trusted
local notable with francophile sentiments) chosen by the local military
administrator. Of the six Alsatians named by Paris to serve on the commissions de
triage of northern Alsace, four lived in Paris and two served in the army; all six
had probably opted for France in 1871. 67 The triage commission’s decision was
reviewed by a general, who passed it on to a triage review commission68 that could
uphold or reverse the judgment. The final decision, however, was taken by the
commanding general. From start to finish the army was firmly in command.

The triage commission’s powers, and its indifference to the rights of the accused,
were even more troubling than its composition. On the basis of rumors, accusations,
denunciations, or official requests, the triage commissions convoked “suspects.”
There was no consistent sense of who was a suspect, what kind of accusations merited
investigation, and what constituted acceptable evidence.69 Paris had instructed that
[End Page 146] triage commissions had no right to review questions of citizenship and
could only investigate Germans under exceptional circumstances, but these directives
were consistently ignored.70 The commissions de triage called in suspects by mail,
providing them with only a cursory mention of the charges (“for an affair that
concerns you”; “to answer for anti-French acts”). At best, the triage commissions
solicited letters and additional evidence concerning suspects, although they were
under no obligation to do so. Hearings were expedited quickly and in secrecy: the
accused faced the three-person triage board alone; they had no right to legal
representation, nor could they call witnesses in their defense. On the other hand,
they could be confronted with their accusers, who enjoyed the right to call witnesses
to buttress their accusations. 71 In some cases, the accused never saw their accusers
and had to defend themselves in the face of charges made by “good patriots.” In
others, the commissions condemned the accused without ever having granted them a
hearing.72

The commissions de triage were little more than sham trials that openly trampled on
the rights of the accused. Opponents of the trials drew parallels with the
Inquisition and intimated that the boche terror was being replaced with the tricolor
one; others denounced them as comités de salut public .73 Communication between
“judges” and “suspects” was difficult, if not impossible, and the commission’s
members, who had virtually no legal background, found themselves ill equipped to
undertake investigations about a society of which they knew little, and in a language
they did not comprehend. Of six officers presiding over triage commissions in
northern Alsace, two spoke not a word of German, one understood it, and another had
some knowledge of dialect as well; only two spoke both dialect and German. None had
the slightest legal background. 74 The commissions were thus linguistically and
legally poorly prepared for their task. And the accused often had difficulty
following proceedings conducted in French. Finally, a high turnover rate also plagued
the commissions de triage: Wissembourg’s military administrator complained in early
1919 that three presidents [End Page 147] succeeded themselves over the course of
three weeks, and a similar situation prevailed in Sarre-Union.75 The problems of
staffing and bureaucratic inertia, however, worked both ways: the expeditiousness and
sheer incompetence of the commission worked to the detriment of the accused in
certain cases, while on the other hand their inefficiency probably saved greater
numbers of civilians from trial.

The Triage of Germans and Alsatians

Who was brought before the triage commissions? What crimes did these inquisitive
bodies charge them with? And how were they judged? Surviving archival records limit
our ability to answer these questions. The commissions de triage kept no transcripts
of the interrogations of suspects, accusers, and “witnesses,” and preserved copies of
letters of denunciations and other accusatory documents erratically. They did,
however, keep lists of accused individuals, and sometimes outlined the charges and
provided an explanation for the commission’s verdict. To back themselves up, they
often quoted from letters of denunciation and the testimony of the defendants and
their accusers.

The number of people brought before the commissions de triage is open to question.
Strasbourg’s triage commission alone deliberated more than forty-three hundred cases
between January and October 1919, and this figure may have reached fifteen thousand
in all of Alsace and Lorraine.76 But the ramifications of triage extended well beyond
those individuals called before the commissions. The triage commissions received and
gathered information on people who they never brought in for questioning, either for
lack of time or of evidence. And large numbers of individuals participated in the
triage process by sending in denunciations and serving as witnesses for the
accusation, and even larger numbers—friends and family members of the accused—were
indirectly affected.

Imposed from above by administrative fiat, the process of triage would have failed
without the ongoing flow of denunciations that sprang from below. In the months
following the armistice, the triage commissions received “an avalanche of
denunciations” from Alsatians [End Page 148] and Lorrains of all walks of life aimed
at neighbors, political opponents, coworkers, and competitors.77 In December 1918,
Strasbourg’s police were too overwhelmed by the flood of denunciations to undertake
detailed inquiries in each case.78 Some denouncers, in a wonderful example of the
power of bureaucracy, came armed with “certificates of denunciation.” 79 Without
active cooperation from the region’s inhabitants, the purges (given linguistic and
other problems) would have faced insurmountable difficulties. Why did people
cooperate? The war, and the uncertainties and divisions it engendered, were greatly
responsible for the growing practice of denunciation. Following France’s victory,
however, it was no longer a question of identifying enemies in wartime, but finding
ways of affirming loyalty to the new state and shaping national identity at the grass
roots.

The accuseds’ putative national sympathies (or lack of them) were at the heart of the
vast majority of cases. Initially, the army’s goal had been to investigate past and
present members of the German officer corps, denouncers who had worked for German
intelligence, and “women of easy virtue” suspected of sexual relationships with the
enemy and whose “bad conduct” continued under French rule.80 But triage commissions
quickly cast a wider net and investigated individuals of “mixed heritage,” denouncers
and spies (real and imagined) of all kinds, and those of dubious patriotic
allegiances. A certain Mr. X, notaire at Hochfelden, argued that all individuals who
might have had a “pernicious influence” needed to be investigated. This included
German immigrants, along with influential political and cultural brokers: mayors,
pastors, and schoolteachers; officers in the German army; and the young apaches
(ruffians) responsible for spreading bolshevism rounded off a list that reflected the
concerns of a small-town notable.81

Despite official instruction to the contrary, the triage commissions consistently
brought in German citizens for questioning, partly because they saw their task as
cleansing the recovered provinces, and partly because a large number of the
denunciations in their hands targeted Germans. In northern Alsace (excluding
Strasbourg), Germans accounted for 53 percent of some six hundred individuals
referred to the commissions [End Page 149] de triage.82 The Germans, much like their
Alsatian counterparts, faced a variety of accusations, ranging first and foremost
from the denunciation of “patriotic” Alsatians during wartime, to “spying,” to more
Kafkaesque charges of “pangermanism” and “Germanophilia.” (Over time some triage
commissions recognized that it was not surprising to find Germans accused of
“Germanophile sentiments”; after all they were German.) But the charges needed not be
spelled out in detail—having German or Prussian sentiments was guilt in itself and
being German was reason enough to be “considered suspect.” 83 Thus one woman was
expelled as a “German woman, undesirable first and foremost because of her boches
sentiments,” while the triage board described another one as a “recalcitrant boche
woman who is hostile to everything to do with our cause,” and a Württenberger couple
was denounced for having behaved like “outrageous boches” during the war. 84 The
leitmotiv of countless denunciations and verdicts was the impossibility of
assimilation and the need for purification. A German tramway engineer was charged
with having sent Alsatians to the front lines (how was not specified), but the real
issue at stake was his nationality: “How can it be that such a guy has not yet been
expelled? And yet he’s a pure-blooded Prussian,” wrote the denouncer, who added
incredulously, “Does one believe, perhaps, that one can make a boche into a
Frenchman?” 85 Another letter writer accused a German of having denounced him for
speaking French in a wine bar in 1915: invoking his “French-Alsatian” heart and his
duty to his “dear French patrie” he asked for the expulsion of this “ sale
boche-traître.”86

As a rule the commissions de triage proved more understanding of Germans married to
Alsatians and Lorrains. The verdict thus depended on the suspect’s nationality and
the strength of his ties to Alsace and Lorraine. Auguste Glasser, an upholsterer in
Strasbourg married to a woman from Baden (Germany), was first condemned by the triage
commission as a “hateful and violent German; will always be a danger to our
cause—must be repatriated” until members of the commission realized he was an
“Alsatian of French origin,” whereupon they crossed out all [End Page 150] their
previous comments and presumably dropped the charges. 87 It was testimony to the
complexity of the situation that even triage commissions displayed confusion about
who was Alsatian or Lorrainer (and thus French) and who was German. Overloaded with
cases, the commissions also displayed sloppiness in their judgment: one accused was
listed as Alsatian “son of Germans”—an impossibility given that the identity card
system had clearly stipulated that the children of German immigrants could not be
categorized as pure-blooded Alsatians.88

Alsatians figured prominently (40 percent) among the accused in northern Alsace.89
The most common accusation (over half the cases for which charges are specified), and
the one that met most often with harsh sentencing, was leveled against those who had
denounced fellow Alsatians during the war for harboring pro-French sentiments,
singing the Marseillaise, or hiding a French flag. While some of these charges, no
doubt, contained elements of truth, in other cases denouncers used the war, which had
a profoundly divisive effect on Alsatian society, as the best possible means of
incriminating their enemies. Close to one-third of the cases involved charges of
“Germanophilia” or “pangermanism.” These catchall categories encompassed anyone
suspected of having public or even private sympathies for the German Empire or German
culture. Finally, the triage commissions brought in smaller numbers of Alsatians on
charges of “Francophobia,” “anti-French crimes,” or “guilty toward France.”90

Those accused of having turned in fellow Alsatians and Lorrainers during the war
faced the most difficult trials. The receiver of registry fees in Soultz-sous-Forêts
(Bas-Rhin), whose spouse was German, was charged with having denounced Alsatians to
German authorities during the war. He argued in his defense that he had been forced
to report “Germanophobic” remarks that came to his ear. The triage board’s verdict,
however, was unambiguous: he was guilty and was marked for expulsion to Germany.91
Albert Nusbaum, an Alsatian schoolteacher in Soufflenheim, was accused of having
denounced a colleague for [End Page 151] “Francophilia,” and for having struck a
child who exhibited “francophone sentiments” after the armistice. The commission de
triage judged he should be evacuated to the interior of France. 92 More troubling,
perhaps, were the cases of those who, because of their positions, had to collaborate
with German authorities. An Alsatian forest warden, accused of having led German
troops through the Schirmeck woods in 1914, argued in his defense that he was only
fulfilling his duty as a fonctionnaire. The triage review board thought otherwise,
declared his mission “undignified of a good Alsatian,” and sentenced him to
surveillance outside his place of residence.93 In the same vein, a hunting warden
accused of guiding German troops during the war’s early days was sentenced to
“evacuation in a concentration camp”; the review board noted that “a good Alsatian”
should not have accepted the order to undertake such a task.94

The trials and the denunciations inevitably centered on distinguishing “good”
Alsatians who had remained faithful to France and “bad” Alsatians who had
collaborated with the Germans, exhibited “German sentiments,” and continued to do so
in the present. On those grounds the trials were troubling to the majority of
Alsatians and Lorrains who, after all, had been German citizens for the better part
(if not all) of their lives and whose sons had often served in the German army. The
records of the commissions de triage contain countless cases questioning the moral
and patriotic credentials of Alsatians and Lorrainers. Brumath’s triage commission
charged that Dr. Kassel from Hochfelden, motivated by money and glory, displayed an
“anti-French attitude” during the war, and decided to expel him in keeping with the
“unanimous opinion” of the pays. 95 The commission pronounced on the expulsion of
another Alsatian, accused of being the flagbearer for Brumath’s Kriegerverein
(veterans’ association), that he was under no “obligation to join,” and in another
case the insults a “Germanophile” resident of Erstein directed at French troops were
judged to reflect the fact that he was a “bad Alsatian.” 96 Mittelhausen’s village
cartwright, charged with denouncing a Belgian civilian, was expelled to Germany [End
Page 152] on grounds that he was “a bad Alsatian with pernicious instincts,” and an
unnamed compatriot—brought for unspecified reasons—was found to be a “dubious-looking
unscrupulous Alsatian.”97 Finally, the triage review board, after having examined the
sermons and letters of Bischwiller’s pastor, expelled him so he could no longer exert
his influence on “good Alsatians.”98

For the triage commissions, “bad Alsatians” included those supportive of regional
autonomy as well as those whose past or present politics were judged to be dangerous.
There had been some talk in both Germany and Alsace-Lorraine as the war neared an end
of organizing a plebiscite to determine the region’s future, or of according the
region autonomy. The French government opposed both these ideas vigorously, and the
triage commissions did not hesitate to punish those sympathetic to regional autonomy
and independence. Eckwersheim’s Alsatian schoolteacher was transferred to another
post for having flown the Alsatian flag after France’s victory, and the priest who
directed Sélestat’s library was expelled on grounds of having declared that he “was
no more German than French, but only Alsatian” and was a partisan of
Alsace-Lorraine’s neutrality. The commissions de triage condemned others for backing
a plebiscite.99

Part of the process of refashioning and purifying Alsatian and Lorrainer society
involved purging disproportionate numbers of cultural mediators who occupied
positions of moral influence in communities, such as priests, pastors, and
schoolteachers. In Alsace alone it is estimated that triage commissions removed 921
schoolteachers (either Germans or Alsaciens-Lorrains) from their positions.100 More
than others, priests, pastors, and schoolteachers needed to make their allegiances
known to the new state in no uncertain terms or risk losing their jobs, and more so
than others they were the victims of denunciations. Hauled before the triage
commission, a professor at Haguenau’s lycée, accused of German sympathies, committed
himself “to be a good and loyal servant of France.” Despite the fact that there was
no compelling evidence in the case, the commission decided to evacuate him.
Molsheim’s Alsatian pastor, Jacques Bucher, who did not “deny his German sentiments
but declared his readiness to serve France with devotion,” [End Page 153] met with
the same sentence.101 The commissions de triage placed hundreds of religious,
educational, and state officials on trial for collaboration with the German regime.
In large numbers of cases concerning civil servants, however, personal vengeance and
jealousy, combined with the designs of unscrupulous Alsatians hoping to acquire newly
vacated jobs, also motivated denunciations and, by extension, purge trials.

The commissions de triage’s binary worldview, of an Alsatian and Lorrainer society
divided the “good” from the “bad,” the pure and the impure, depending on the
patriotism and the morality of the accused, reflected the enduring mythology of the
lost provinces. But it also reflected that “pure blooded” Alsatians and Lorrainers
(unlike Germans) could not be purged on racial grounds. The purge commissions thus
turned to judging people’s intentions and sentiments in order to purify Alsatian
society.

What kind of sentences did Alsatians receive at the hands of the commissions de
triage? No overall figures are available, but some tentative numbers can be pieced
together from the records of the commissions in the northern-most parts of Alsace.102
In close to half the cases for which the decision is known, the commissions dropped
the charges altogether—an indication that numerous accusations lacked solid
foundations. One-fourth of the accused were sentenced to surveillance in Alsace,
while smaller percentages were assigned to residence in France (6.7 percent),
expelled to the French-occupied zone of Germany (6 percent) or, in the case of civil
servants, transferred to other positions (8 percent). 103 Those condemned were
stripped of their voting rights. The expulsion of old-standing Alsatians (Carte A)
proved disturbing to the population and prompted protests.104 It demonstrated that
triage was also about political vengeance, that no one was protected, that proper
ethnicity was not a sufficient criteria. The triage commissions of rural northern
Alsace, however, appear to have been more lenient than others. In Lorraine, the heads
of the triage review board complained that the commissions had proved far too
receptive to “slanderous denunciations” [End Page 154] and had expelled too many
individuals, many of whom never received a hearing.105

In March 1919, four months after the triage commissions set to work, the state
directed that only four types of sentences be given to condemned Alsatians and
Lorrainers: surveillance in their place of residence; exile and surveillance in other
parts of Alsace-Lorraine; expulsion to Germany; and surveillance in the interior of
France.106 The last option, which authorities now placed on the back burner, had been
the punishment of choice in the three months after the armistice. Between December
1918 and March 1919, Strasbourg’s triage review board had sent one-third of all
condemned Alsatians to surveillance and internment in la France de l’intérieur. But
authorities soon realized that this strategy might backfire. Alsatians would surely
be embittered by their forced exile, and their position as German speakers, and in
some cases their sympathy for regionalist or autonomist ideas, could only distress a
French public unfamiliar with the newly recovered provinces. It made more sense,
vis-à-vis both French and Alsatian public opinion, to place them under surveillance
in Alsace proper. And in “grave cases” state authorities encouraged the review boards
to expel Alsatians without hesitation to Germany, and to do so quickly, before the
ratification of the peace agreement turned them into full-fledged French citizens.107
In the hands of the triage review board, the state’s new directives resulted in
assigning fewer Alsatians to residency in France, expelling far more to Germany, and
sentencing an increasing number to surveillance in Alsace proper.

Over time, however, triage commissions had grown weary of the flood of contradictory
denunciations. In Benjamin Vallotton’s patriotic novel . . . et voici la France, the
president of Ixebourg’s commission de triage, eyeing a stack of accusatory dossiers,
complained of the “bedlam” and wondered how he could choose between two petitions:
one calling for the expulsion of a hotel owner (a German married to an Alsatian) and
another arguing that he would make a fine Frenchman. The president dismissed evidence
concerning other individuals by arguing, “If we listened to everybody, there would be
no one left in Alsace.” Even Vallotton, [End Page 155] whose support for French rule
and hatred of Germany colored every page of the novel, could not but criticize the
pervasive climate of denunciations that pitted Alsatians against each other and
deeply divided the smallest of communities.108 “Defiance, calumny, and délation were
the great wounds of the new Alsace,” wrote the comtesse de Pange, who regretted that
personal conflicts paralyzed society and marred social relations.109

The Meaning of Denunciation

In the months following the armistice, patriotism became the language of social and
cultural conflict. Beyond the common accusations against those who had turned in
“unpatriotic” Alsatians to the German authorities during the war, the denunciations
encompassed a whole range of personal vendettas, family feuds, village hatreds, and
commercial clashes directed at “German immigrants,” Alsatians, and Lorrainer natives,
all couched in the language of French nationalism. In the hope of avoiding
investigation, those who thought themselves compromised by their activities under
German rule tried to regain, in the words of Metz’s triage commission, a “French
virginity” by informing on others, and especially on German immigrants. The language
of “virginity” suggested that patriotism was tied to moral purity (in the image of
the twin sisters) and that contact with Germans could only pollute the French
character.110 Business owners denounced competitors and former workers. An Alsatian
locksmith denounced a Saxon who had opened up shop next door; soon thereafter the
Saxon sold him his shop and left.111 Those with an eye on German-owned businesses
called for a boycott of their stores in the hope of later purchasing them at
rock-bottom prices. 112 It was the syndrome, wrote a Moselle senator, of “Ote-toi de
là, que je m’y mette.”113

The climate of denunciation left profound scars at the grass roots. What small town
had not endured its bitter set of denunciations and counterdenunciations? Patriotic
Alsatians wrote to newspapers to denounce neighbors and coworkers, and their
accusations became part of [End Page 156] the public domain and the pervasive rumor
networks. The widespread practice of délation gave birth to a climate of fear and
silenced public opinion in smaller towns and the countryside.114 But most telling, in
the end, was that the majority of Alsatians and Lorrainers who backed French rule
squarely placed the blame on the French for encouraging an unhealthy climate of
délation.115 There was, of course, some truth to this. But the argument ignored that
délation needed no outside encouragement; it reflected the deep fault lines that
crisscrossed Alsatian society. Inhabitants of the region imagined (and so did the
French) that Alsace-Lorraine was still a homogeneous society, tightly bound by
networks of local and regional solidarity. By 1919 this was no longer the case.

The denunciations provided a vehicle for expressing the enmities, jealousies, and
rancors engendered during the wartime years, structured along national and ethnic
lines. The denouncers, who invariably characterized themselves as “good Frenchmen” or
“good Alsatians of long-standing Alsatian heritage,” labeled their counterparts
“boches,” influenced by “boche” ideas, “bad Frenchmen,” or lacking a pure Alsatian or
lorrain descent. In doing so they staked a claim on what constituted Frenchness, and
they clearly influenced the commissions de triage’s deliberations. In the eyes of
denouncers, nationality was not just related to ethnicity, but also to national
sentiment, public morality, and political behavior. The parallel with the widespread
practice of délation under the Vichy regime (some three to five million letters
penned by “good Frenchmen” who denounced Jews, communists, Freemasons, business
competitors) is striking.116 In both cases the disorientation produced by military
defeat and the radical changes in political legitimacy opened the floodgates to waves
of denunciations.

Denouncers used the language of nationalism because this was the language the state
wanted to hear, and the language denouncers knew would work. It enabled denouncers
both to establish their patriotic virtue and to achieve their objectives: doing away
with competitors, village enemies, political opponents, civil servants, and those
tainted by their association with Germans. In this sense, as Sheila Fitzpatrick has
underlined, denunciations can be understood as weapons of the [End Page 157] weak.117
Between the armistice and the ratification of the Versailles treaty Alsatians and
Lorrainers did not enjoy French citizenship and rights. Ruled by a civil-military
administration and troubled by the psychological disorientation that resulted from
the changeover from German to French rule, inhabitants of the region had few means to
defend their interests at their disposal. The absence of a well-established,
respected, and sizable local elite that did not owe its existence to France made it
difficult to challenge the state’s purge of regional society. Denunciations thus
fulfilled numerous and contradictory functions: they gave a voice to the “little
guy,” they provided a means for people to seek “justice,” to establish their national
legitimacy, and to solve their long-standing grievances.

Aftermath

Judged over the long term, however, the purge trials failed on all counts.118 Large
numbers of citizens had been called before these bodies, and even if the triage
commission found many innocent of all charges, reputations had been damaged, and the
bitterness would be enduring. Among Alsatians and Lorrainers, few things would unite
rightists and leftists, Protestants and Catholics, autonomists and assimilationists,
as much as their hatred of the purge trials.119 The large-scale triage of border
province society—sorting individuals on the basis of their national worthiness and
their ethnicity—weakened social structures and severely compromised the inhabitants’
perception of the Republic. In their parody of justice the triage commissions
undermined the appeal of republicanism—a critical error since Alsace-Lorraine had
been outside the French nation during the crucial founding decades of the republican
system.

Few in France at the time paid attention to the vigorous critique of the purges by
small numbers of Alsatians and Lorrainers during the 1920s.120 Even the patriotically
inclined Journal d’Alsace et de Lorraine [End Page 158] complained (in May 1919) that
the triage commissions had been the fundamental error of French policy.121 The Ligue
française pour la défense des droits de l’homme et du citoyen criticized, as late as
1921, the expulsion of Alsatians to Germany. The Ligue worried about the ongoing
climate of despotism in Alsace, and remarked with irony that French revolutionaries
had posted a famous signpost on the banks of the Rhine reading, “Here begins the
country of liberty.”122 Robert Redslob, a well-known professor of international law
in Strasbourg, wrote vigorous articles in Le Temps, one of France’s leading dailies,
arguing that the triage commissions had been little more than a “fox hunt” (chasse à
courre), high courts that judged the patriotism of the accused.123 German rule in
Alsace-Lorraine had been recognized by an international treaty, and there was no
legal basis for prosecuting citizens for their support of a constitutionally
established regime. Associations of Alsatian civil servants campaigned to overturn
triage commission verdicts and defended those who had been pensioned off,
transferred, or demoted.124 In 1928, the conseil général of the Haut-Rhin called for
a review of the verdicts imposed on “innocent victims” by the commissions de triage.
But the ministry of justice responded that nothing could be done: the triage
commissions were not tribunals, nor did they have links to the ministère. The only
recourse was thus parliamentary. In November 1929 the Alsatian deputy Marcel Stürmel
proposed to the Chamber of Deputies a strongly worded bill granting French citizens
the right to appeal the triage commissions’s verdicts and request financial
compensation. Deputies referred the proposed law to the Alsace-Lorraine committee,
and it was eventually shelved. Stürmel proposed the same bill again in June 1936 and
met with the same result.125

Conclusion

Alsace-Lorraine has consistently been on the margins of modern French historiography,
relegated there by historians who see the [End Page 159] German-speaking region as
little more than an interesting anomaly with minimal relevance to the nation’s
history.126 But border regions—contentious ones in particular—are fruitful sites to
explore the relationship between national myths and reality, along with the
problematic reconstruction of national belonging and sentiment. 127 The complex
process of reconfiguring and redefining identities in a region that symbolized French
national identity sheds light both on the state’s shifting definition of Frenchness
and on how local inhabitants tried to shape it.

The postwar purges brought into sharp relief multiple understandings and practices of
what made up Frenchness. The first was a racialized sense of Frenchness that grew out
of the neonationalism of the 1880s and the aggressive social Darwinism of the fin de
siècle.128 The civil-military administration arrived in Alsace-Lorraine influenced by
a racial view of what constituted an Alsatian or Lorrainer and set out to make the
region conform to the myth. By establishing a system of identity cards based on
ancestry, the state awakened latent conflicts in society and pitted individuals
against each other. The identity cards sent a clear message: they indicated that in
the eyes of the state, Frenchness in the border provinces was determined by blood,
and they intimated that the attribution of citizenship would not follow the same
rules as in the rest of the nation. The fear that German blood would pollute the
French national community echoed acrimonious wartime debates—notably ones concerned
with how to come to terms with the “children of the barbarians” whose mothers had
been raped by German soldiers. In the eyes of some, the racial impurity of these
children was a threat to the French family and civilization. 129 Similarly, German
blood in Alsace-Lorraine jeopardized the nation’s purity.

This racial view of Frenchness that was at odds with the republican concept of
citizenship coexisted with one based on imputed national sentiment, morality, and
culture. Not content with categorizing the population according to their bloodline,
the state purged Alsatian and Lorrainer society. The French believed that cleansing
the German past and present would be enough to allow underlying French national
sentiment [End Page 160] (as they imagined it) to resurface. While ostensibly the
purges were not about nationality, the issue was never far from the center of the
proceedings. The triage process suggested that Frenchness was both complex and
contingent: being a “good Alsatian” was not just a question of having the correct
family tree, it was related to patriotic sentiments, to political and moral acts, to
one’s standing in the local community, and to the role one had played under German
rule.

The racialist understanding of Frenchness faded from public view as the identity card
system was phased out and the triage commissions closed down. It would remain below
the surface, however, throughout the interwar years. The moral and cultural sense of
nationhood also became less prominent as republican rule was reinstated in
Alsace-Lorraine; it would reappear in force during times of tension, most notably at
the outbreak of the Second World War.130 After the War of 1870, Fustel de Coulanges,
Ernest Renan, and others had made much of the fact that Alsace and Lorraine were
French by choice, and up to the First World War the region was commonly used to
illustrate the contrast between a restrictive German ethnocultural view of nationhood
and the more “enlightened” French republican position that emphasized the voluntary
adhesion to the values of the national community. Ironically, by 1918, the republican
view of nationhood was clearly most on the defensive in the region that, in theory,
exemplified it, thus illustrating the profound impact of late-nineteenth-century
nationalist thought and of the First World War on understandings of the nation in
France.

The redefinition of identities was not just a top-down affair—even if the state made
sure it retained the upper hand—but it was also relayed and forged through conflict
at the local level. For Alsatians and Lorrains the question was how to construct and
reconstruct a sense of French identity after having been German for the better part
of their lives. Troubled by the switch to French rule, and worried that the card
system and the triage commissions would transform them into second-class citizens
(with second-class rights), the region’s inhabitants intervened—through the medium of
denunciations—to defend themselves as best they could and establish their patriotic
credentials. Denunciation was thus a form of resistance, but it simultaneously
undermined the cohesiveness of local communities.

The events surrounding the dramatic reintegration of Alsace-Lorraine [End Page 161]
after the Great War suggest a comparison with the actions of the state and of
individual citizens during other times of crisis in the twentieth century. The
parallels between the denunciations of 1918–20 and those of the Vichy years, between
the purges in postwar Alsace-Lorraine and the 1944 épuration , the tendency to pass
judgment on acts of collaboration and accommodation to evaluate national belonging
and sentiment, are too striking to be ignored. Postwar Alsace-Lorraine was a
laboratory of things to come: the use of purges to cleanse the national community of
unwanted elements, the practice of denunciation as a complex and multifaceted
expression of resistance and powerlessness, the weighing of moral criteria to
determine national worthiness, the systematic classification of the population—all
these techniques would be used on a more extensive and sinister scale later in the
century. And, significantly, regimes turned to these practices to assert (or
reassert) their authority and extend it over the entire nation.

In the end, little word of these divisive conflicts filtered into public discourse in
France. The purge trials would never gain a place in the nation’s memory, and
attempts to claim compensation for the victims would meet with indifference. The
French political class had no interest in reviving an issue that raised disturbing
questions about the nature of French republicanism and understandings of citizenship.
It was one thing to admit abuses that could be chalked up to the exigencies of
wartime—and Parliament did so in 1927 when it voted modest indemnities for Alsatian
and Lorrainer civilians wrongly interned during the war131 —but it was quite another
for the republican regime to acknowledge large-scale abuses of human rights, the
indiscriminate use of purges, and the pronounced turn toward racialist and moralistic
discourses of nationhood during peacetime. To do so would have been to recognize the
limits of French republicanism, limits that were drawn in sharp relief when the time
came to integrate culturally and linguistically different regions.

Laird Boswell is associate professor of history at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison and author of Rural Communism in France, 1920–1939 (Ithaca, N.Y.,
1998). He is currently working on problems of national and cultural identity in
twentieth-century Alsace and Lorraine.

Notes

* An earlier version of this article was presented to the 1997 German Studies
Association meeting in Washington, D.C. The author thanks Florence Bernault, Suzanne
Desan, and the referees for French Historical Studies for their critiques of earlier
drafts. The research was undertaken thanks to a grant from the German Marshall Fund
of the United States.

1. The term épuration was often used at the time, by both friends and foes of the
process. See, for example, “L’Epuration,” in Le Journal d’Alsace-Lorraine, 15 Dec.
1918; Commission de triage: organisation, Archives départementales du Bas-Rhin
(hereafter ADBR) 121 AL 902; unsigned police report, 1919, in Archives nationales,
Paris (hereafter AN) AJ 30 170.

2. This article does not address the linguistic and religious conflicts in detail. On
language and education see Stephen L. Harp, Learning to be Loyal: Primary Schooling
as Nation Building in Alsace and Lorraine, 1850–1940 (DeKalb, Ill., 1998), chap. 9.

3. On the memory of the provinces perdues, see François Roth, La Guerre de 70 (Paris,
1990), chap. 20.

4. In Lorraine, German immigration helped the Protestant population reach 12 percent
in 1910. The number of Protestants grew from seven thousand to seventy-four thousand
between 1870 and 1914 (François Roth, La Lorraine annexée: Etude sur la Présidence de
Lorraine dans l’Empire allemand, 1870–1918 [Saint-Ruffine, 1976], 139–40). Religious
statistics for Alsace include military personnel; see Joseph Rossé, Marcel Stürmel,
Albert Bleicher, Fernand Deiber, and Jean Keppi, Das Elsass von 1870–1932, 4 vols.
(Colmar, 1936–38), 4:222; for statistics on language, see p. 198.

5 . See Jean-Jacques Waltz, Mon Village: Ceux qui n’oublient pas: Images et
commentaires par l’Oncle Hansi (Paris, n.d.).

6 . On German identity during this period see Alon Confino, The Nation as Local
Metaphor: Württemberg, Imperial Germany, and National Memory, 1871–1918 (Chapel Hill,
N.C., 1997) and Celia Applegate, A Nation of Provincials: The German Idea of Heimat
(Berkeley, Calif., 1990). On France, see Raoul Girardet, Le Nationalisme français,
1871–1914 (Paris, 1983); Robert Tombs, ed., Nationhood and Nationalism in France from
Boulangism to the Great War, 1889–1918 (London, 1991); and Pierre Birnbaum, “La
France aux Français”: Histoire des haines nationalistes (Paris, 1993).

7. Among the most famous was Jean-Jacques Henner’s 1871 painting Elle attend, which
depicted a young Alsatian woman, dressed in black with the traditional Alsatian noeuf
(headdress), waiting patiently for France’s return.

8 . See Georges Bischoff, “L’Invention de l’Alsace,” Saisons d’Alsace 119 (1993):
34–69; Gerd Krumeich, Jeanne d’Arc à travers l’histoire, trans. J. Mély, M.-H.
Pateau, and L. Rosenfeld (Paris, 1993), 176–87; Ruth Harris, “The ‘Child of the
Barbarian’: Rape, Race, and Nationalism in France during the First World War,” Past
and Present 141 (1993): 204; Maurice Agulhon, Marianne au pouvoir: L’Imagerie et la
symbolique républicaine de 1880 à 1914 (Paris, 1989).

9. Autonomism was a complex and ever changing movement. For a perceptive discussion
see Paul Smith, “A la recherche d’une identité nationale en Alsace, 1870–1918,”
Vingtième siècle: Revue d’histoire 50 (1996): 23–35.

10 . The Germans undertook large-scale urban renewal projects, erected imposing
administrative buildings, and transformed the city into a center of higher education
that boasted the world’s largest university library on the eve of World War I—a
library that remains to this day one of France’s best. John E. Craig, Scholarship and
Nation Building: The Universities of Strasbourg and Alsatian Society, 1870–1939
(Chicago, 1984), 60.

11. Marc Bloch, L’Etrange défaite (Paris, 1946), 155.

12. On Lorraine during wartime, see François Roth, La Lorraine annexée, 593–653.

13. Roth, La Lorraine annexée, 600.

14. Rossé et al., Das Elsass, 1:300. A smaller number—twenty thousand to thirty-eight
thousand—fought in French uniform; these included some ten thousand who had crossed
the border in the weeks before the war’s outbreak to enroll in the French army. They
were joined by Alsatians and Lorrains who lived in France, deserters, and prisoners
of war who chose to join the ranks of the French army. On these issues, see Roth, La
Lorraine annexée, 626–27, and Alfred Wahl and Jean-Claude Richez, La Vie quotidienne
en Alsace entre France et Allemagne, 1850–1950 (Paris, 1993), 247.

15. Rossé et al., Das Elsass, 1:339.

16 . The majority of those interned would eventually be released, although French
authorities would continue to intern Alsatians and Lorrainers throughout the war
years. See Jean-Claude Farcy, Les Camps de concentration français de la Première
guerre mondiale, 1914–1920 (Paris, 1995), 51–62. On the treatment of civilians during
wartime see Annette Becker, Oubliés de la Grande guerre: Humanitaire et culture de
guerre: Populations occupées, déportés civils, prisonniers de guerre (Paris, 1998).

17. Maurice Barrès in L’Echo de Paris, 3 Dec. 1914, cited in Les Alsaciens-Lorrains
en France pendant la guerre (Paris, 1915), 87. French authorities consistently
referred to internment camps as camps de concentration during the First World War.

18. On the voyages of Foch and Georges Clemenceau see AN AJ 30 249; on Strasbourg’s
liberation, see Archives municipales de Strasbourg (hereafter AMS), Evènements
historiques 19 and Archives contemporaines, II, 2; and 1918: Les Glorieuses journées
de Lorraine et d’Alsace (Nancy, 1919). On the liberation of Alsace see the work of
Jean-Claude Richez, “Conseils ouvriers et conseils de soldats: Revendications de
classes et revendications nationales en Alsace en novembre 1918,” Mémoire de
Maîtrise, Université des lettres et sciences humaines de Strasbourg, 1979, and “La
Révolution de novembre 1918 en Alsace dans les petites villes et les campagnes,”
Revue d’Alsace 107 (1981): 153–68. For the patriotic perspective, see Jacques
Granier, Novembre 18 en Alsace: Album du cinquantenaire (Strasbourg, 1969).

19. AMS, Archives contemporaines, II, 1.

20. Charles Spindler, L’Alsace pendant la guerre (Strasbourg, 1925), 709; Auguste
Braun, “L’Entrée des français à Strasbourg: Récit détaillé des évènements,”
Manuscript, n.d., AMS, Archives contemporaines, II, 2.

21. L’Alsace et les combats des Vosges, 1914–1918, 2 vols., Guides illustrés Michelin
des champs de bataille (Clermont-Ferrand, 1920), 1:7.

22. Strasbourg, Guides illustrés Michelin des champs de bataille (Clermont-Ferrand,
1919), 12; Louis Madelin, Les Heures merveilleuses d’Alsace et de Lorraine (Paris,
1919), 60.

23. René Schickele, “Das Ewige Elsass,” in his Die Grenze (Berlin, 1932), 18–20.

24. Granier, Novembre 18 en Alsace, 50–51.

25. Administrateur militaire de Wissembourg to haut commissaire de la République à
Strasbourg, 3 Mar. 1919, ADBR 121 AL 904. The mayor, schoolteacher, pastor, and a few
youths were soon hauled before the commission de triage . For other examples see
Richez, “La Révolution de novembre 1918 en Alsace,” 164–65.

26. See Jean de Pange, Les Meules de Dieu: France-Allemagne Europe (Paris, 1951),
155; for the reserved welcome, see the novel by Pauline de Broglie, comtesse de
Pange, Le Beau Jardin (Paris, 1923), 8–9.

27. For more on the problem of confession, Alfred Wahl, Confession et comportement
dans les campagnes d’Alsace et de Bade, 1871–1939, 2 vols. ([Strasbourg], 1980),
2:1130–33.

28. During the war it did establish the Conférence d’Alsace-Lorraine whose role was
to plan for the resumption of French rule. The Conférence’s opinion, however, was
purely consultative in nature. See Procès-verbaux de la Conférence d’Alsace-Lorraine,
2 vols. (Paris, 1917–19).

29 . See Emile Wetterlé, Ce qu’était l’Alsace-Lorraine et ce qu’elle sera (Paris,
1917), 313–16, and L’Alsace-Lorraine doit rester française (Paris, 1917), 236–37.

30. 1918: Les Glorieuses journées, 41, 59, 64.

31. Georges Delahache, “La Réadaptation de l’Alsace,” Revue de Paris, 15 Mar. 1925,
327.

32. One Alsatian wrote (5 Dec. 1919) to the haut commissaire de la République in
Strasbourg that he was “proud . . . to be the obedient child of such a worthy and
good representative of the French state” and signed his letter “your devoted child.”
ADBR 121 AL 899.

33. Madelin, Les Heures merveilleuses, 7.

34. Madelin, Les Heures merveilleuses, 240.

35. Wetterlé, L’Alsace-Lorraine doit rester française, 233–34.

36. Authors often invoked Caesar’s Commentaries of the Gallic Wars to support the
view that the Rhine was the border of Gaul. See Jules Roche, Alsace-Lorraine: French
Land (Paris, n.d.), 7–8. For caricatures see Henri Zislin, Sourires d’Alsace (Paris,
n.d.).

37. Ernest Lavisse and Christian Pfister, La Question d’Alsace-Lorraine (Paris, n.d.,
[1917]), 3.

38. Camille Jullian, L’Alsace française: A un ami du front (Paris, n.d., [1917]),
4–5. For a more extended discussion see idem, Le Rhin gaulois (Paris, n.d., [1915]),
and Peter Schöttler’s excellent analysis in “Le Rhin comme enjeu historiographique
dans l’entre-deux-guerres: Vers une histoire des mentalités frontalières,” Genèses 14
(1994): 63–82.

39. Charles Weimann, France et Allemagne: Les Deux Races (Paris, 1918).

40. L’Alsace et les combats des Vosges, 1:6. For other examples of ethnic themes, see
Georges Delahache (pseud. of Lucien Aaron), Petite Histoire de l’Alsace-Lorraine
(Paris, 1918), 12; Wetterlé, L’Alsace-Lorraine doit rester française , 22; Benjamin
Vallotton, . . . Dis-moi quel est ton pays? . . . (Nancy, 1919), 8; 1918: Les
Glorieuses Journées, 62; Jeanne et Frédéric Regamey, L’Alsace au lendemain de la
conquête (Paris, 1912), 1–3. For a more balanced view, see Rodolphe Reuss, Histoire
d’Alsace (Paris, 1934). See also Karl-Heinz Rothenberger, Die elsass-lothringische
Heimat-und Autonomiebewegung zwischen den beiden Weltkriegen (Frankfurt, 1976), 35.
Lucien Febvre has penned a brilliant critique of the ethnic interpretation (Le Rhin:
Histoire, mythes et réalités [Paris, 1997]).

41. Fustel de Coulanges, “L’Alsace est-elle allemande ou française?” in his Questions
contemporaines, 2d ed. (Paris, 1917), 96–99.

42. The word collaborated was not used at the time.

43. John Horne and Alan Kramer, “German ‘Atrocities’ and Franco-German Opinion, 1914:
The Evidence of German Soldiers’ Diaries,” Journal of Modern History 66 (1994): 1–33.

44. Alfred Wahl, L’Option et l’émigration des Alsaciens-Lorrains 1871–1872 (Paris,
1974).

45. Letter of J. Ringeisser, secretary of the Comité d’épuration, 27 Dec. 1918, ADBR
121 AL 899.

46. François Uberfill, “L’Immigration allemande entre 1871 et 1918,” Saisons d’Alsace
128 (1995): 63–71.

47. See the figures in Rossé et al., Das Elsass, 4:87. On expulsions from Metz see
Philippe Schillinger, “Metz de l’Allemagne à la France, 1918–19,” Annuaire de la
société d’histoire et d’archéologie de la Lorraine (1974): 123–31.

48. Letter from an old Alsatian whose brother had been expelled, 13 Dec. 1918, ADBR
121 AL 899; “Zum Abschied an der Rheinbrücke,” Strassburger Neuen Zeitung, 3 Dec.
1918, reproduced in Rossé et al., Das Elsass, 4:408–9.

49. Rossé et al., Das Elsass, 1:522.

50. This was not a complete novelty. During the war the French state had classified
Alsatians and Lorrainers according to their degree of trustworthiness and their
national heritage. Those deemed reliable received a carte tricolore allowing them
substantial freedom of movement.

51 . For the instructions concerning the various cartes see Général commandant
l’armée, “Arrêté relatif à la police dans les communes d’Alsace-Lorraine,” 14 Dec.
1918, AMS, Archives contemporaines, II, 5; Avis officiels pour l’arrondissement de
Château-Salins, no. 10, 5 Mar. 1919, in AN AJ 30 170. Both Rossé et al., Das Elsass,
1:529, and Wahl and Richez, La Vie quotidienne en Alsace, 118, argue that the
children of a long-standing Alsatian (Carte A) married to an Alsatian woman of
partial German ancestry ( Carte B ) would receive a Carte A if they were still
considered minors, and a Carte B otherwise.

52 . Spindler, L’Alsace pendant la guerre , 757. See also Georges Delahache,
“Strasbourg, 1918–1920,” Revue de Paris (1920), 196–97.

53. Delahache, “Strasbourg,” 197.

54. ADBR 121 AL 906.

55. For a general description of citizenship on each side of the Rhine, see Rogers
Brubaker, Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany (Cambridge, Mass., 1992).
See also Dominique Schnapper, La Communauté des citoyens: Sur l’idée moderne de
nation (Paris, 1994).

56. Citizenship would be determined by the provisions of the Versailles treaty. In a
nutshell, the treaty stipulated that those who had been French before 1870, as well
as their descendents, would be reintegrated into French citizenship. However those
with a German father or grandfather among their ascendents did not qualify for
reintegration and had to apply for naturalization. See Traité de paix entre les
puissances alliées et associées et l’Allemagne, et protocole signés à Versailles le
28 Juin 1919 (Paris, 1919), 47.

57. Foreigners accounted for 2.9 percent of all residents (Carte C). Statistics from
Grayson L. Kirk, “French Administrative Policies in Alsace-Lorraine, 1918–1929”
(Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin, 1931), 137. Figures on the breakdown of
identity cards are similar for Strasbourg. See ADBR 121 AL 952.

58. Rossé et al., Das Elsass, 1:529; Wahl and Richez, La Vie quotidienne en Alsace,
118.

59. In the second Statut des Juifs (June 1940) the definition of Jew mixed religious
and racial criteria. See Michael R. Marrus and Robert O. Paxton, Vichy France and the
Jews (New York, 1981), 92–95; François and Renée Bédarida, “La Persécution des
Juifs,” in La France des années noires, ed. Jean-Pierre Azéma and François Bédarida
(Paris, 1993), 2:136–39. For changes in citizenship law see Vicki Caron, “The
Antisemitic Revival in France in the 1930s: The Socioeconomic Dimension
Reconsidered,” Journal of Modern History 70 (1998): 24–73.

60 . See ADBR 121 AL 899, and “Instruction concernant l’administration de
l’Alsace-Lorraine et ses rapports avec l’autorité militaire,” in ADBR 121 AL 902.

61. In March 1915 French authorities had also set up triage camps (dépôts de triage)
to “sort through” individuals who had been arrested or evacuated because of their
nationality (Germans, Alsatians, Lorrains, and so on) or because they were considered
suspect. Wetterlé probably borrowed the concept of triage from here. See Farcy, Les
Camps de concentration, 189–93.

62. Emile Wetterlé, La Grande guerre: L’Alsace-Lorraine (Paris, 1915), cited in Rossé
et al., Das Elsass , 1:530. During the war, Wetterlé thought that triage needed to be
undertaken in the French internment camps where Alsatians and Lorrains were unjustly
victimized and taken for Germans. See Emile Wetterlé, Ce qu’était l’Alsace-Lorraine
et ce qu’elle sera (Paris, 1917), 306–8.

63. Wetterlé, L’Alsace-Lorraine doit rester française, 211, 232–34.

64 . Triage also evoked the internment camps (camps de triage) for foreigners
(including Alsatians and Lorrainers) set up by the French during the war.

65. Bulletin officiel d’Alsace et Lorraine 1 (1918–19): 1.

66. Commissaire général de la République à Strasbourg, 21 Oct. 1919, ADBR 121 AL 902.

67. Quartier général de l’Armée, 15 Dec. 1918, ADBR 121 AL 902. They could have also
been descendents of Alsatians who had opted for French citizenship. Northern
Alsace—the Bas-Rhin—had eight commissions de triage.

68. The review boards were called Commissions de triage et de classement du 2e degré.

69. Note of Colonel Michel, Président de la commission de triage de Haguenau, 24 Jan.
1919, ADBR 121 AL 902.

70. Jeanneney, sous secrétaire d’état à la présidence du Conseil, 18 Jan. 1919, ADBR
121 AL 902.

71 . In theory, suspects could not be confronted with their accusers without the
suspect’s approval. See ibid.

72. For a novelistic rendition of an interrogation before a commission de triage see
Henri de Turenne and François Ducher, Les Alsaciens, ou les deux Mathilde (Paris,
1996), 214–17. This novel is based on the television series by the same title
produced by Pathé Télévision, La Sept/Arte, France 3, SR , WDR, SDR, SWF, and RTSI
(1986).

73. F. Oesinger in Radical , 27 Apr. 1919, clipping in ADBR 121 AL 968; Abbé Ch.
Thilmont, Devant la commission de triage (Strasbourg, 1919), 1, in AMS , Fonds
Peirotes, box 13.

74. Sixième corps d’armée, 1 Dec. 1919, ADBR 121 AL 902.

75 . Administrateur militaire de Wissembourg, 7 Jan., 1919, ADBR 121 AL 902. On
turnover see Commissaire de la république de Haute-Alsace, 4 Mar. 1919, AN AJ 30 170.
Presiding officers regularly took home leave or had themselves transferred to other
posts in the army, if they were not demobilized altogether.

76. These figures include German citizens. Répertoire de la commission de triage,
AMS, Evènements historiques 20. There is also another Répertoire de la commission de
triage for Strasbourg in ADBR 121 AL 905. Surviving records of the triage commissions
are not complete enough to provide a reliable indication of the number of accused for
the whole region.

77. Commission de triage et de classement du 2e degré (Metz) à commissaire général de
la République (Strasbourg), 7 July 1919, ADBR 121 AL 902.

78. Commissaire spécial to haut commissaire de la République à Strasbourg, 19 Dec.
1918, ADBR 121 AL 899.

79. Commission de triage de Strasbourg, 28 Dec. 1918, ADBR 121 AL 905.

80. ADBR 121 AL 902. I have found no written record of cases of women pursued for
fraternizing with the enemy.

81. Ibid. Mr. X was probably a member of the triage commission.

82. Close to 20 percent of them came from neighboring Baden. This is based on what
appears to be a partial list of those brought before the triage commissions in
northern Alsace (encompassing the regions of Brumath, Erstein, Haguenau, Molsheim,
Strasbourg-Campagne, and Wissembourg). See Liste nominative des individus déférés à
la commission de triage des Alsaciens-Lorrains, Mission militaire et administrative
de basse Alsace, ADBR 121 AL 904.

83. Commission de triage, Centre de classement du second degré, ADBR 121 AL 903, Feb.
1919.

84. Commission de triage de Strasbourg, ADBR 121 AL 900, 6 May and 31 Dec. 1919.

85. Ibid., 22 July 1919.

86. Ibid., 12 Dec. 1918.

87. Ibid.

88. Commission de triage, Centre de classement du second degré, ADBR 121 AL 903, Jan.
1919.

89 . See Liste nominative des individus déférés à la commission de triage des
Alsaciens-Lorrains, Mission militaire et administrative de basse Alsace, ADBR 121 AL
904. Women accounted for close to 18 percent of all Alsatians brought in for triage.
Unfortunately the charges leveled against Alsatians in northern Alsace are known in
only one-third of the cases. The triage commissions kept poor records, some of those
convoked failed to appear, and in some cases the commissions condemned without ever
clearly specifying the charges.

90. Ibid.

91. Commission de triage, arrondissement de Wissembourg, ADBR 121 AL 904, 8 Feb.
1919.

92. The term evacuate was ambiguous: in some cases the commissions wanted the suspect
placed under a résidence surveillée in the interior of France, and in others they
wanted the accused to be placed in an internment camp. Commission de triage, Centre
de classement du second degré, ADBR 121 AL 903, Feb. 1919.

93. Ibid., Mar. 1919.

94. Ibid., Jan. 1919.

95. Commission de triage, arrondissement de Wissembourg, ADBR 121 AL 904. The triage
review board reviewed Kassel’s sentence and, given his regrets and appeals for
clemency, decided to evacuate him to the interior of France. See ADBR 121 AL 903.

96. Commission de triage de Brumath, ADBR 121 AL 904. For Erstein, see Commission de
triage, Centre de classement du second degré, ADBR 121 AL 903, Jan. 1919.

97 . Commission de triage, Arrondissement de Wissembourg, ADBR 121 AL 904, and
Commission de triage de Strasbourg, ADBR 121 AL 900.

98. Commission de triage, Centre de classement du second degré, ADBR 121 AL 903, Jan.
1919.

99. Commission de triage, Arrondissement de Wissembourg, ADBR 121 AL 904; Commission
de triage, Centre de classement du second degré, ADBR 121 AL 903, Jan. and Feb. 1919.

100. L’Alsace depuis son retour à la France, 2 vols. (Strasbourg, 1932), 1:400.

101. Commission de triage, Centre de classement du second degré, ADBR 121 AL 903,
Jan. 1919.

102 . Liste nominative des individus déférés à la Commission de triage des
Alsaciens-Lorrains, Mission militaire et administrative de basse Alsace, ADBR 121 AL
904. There is a record of the sentence for 60 percent of Alsatians charged.

103. Using these figures and if one assumes (tentatively, to be sure) that some nine
thousand Alsatians and Lorrains were brought before the triage boards, then 540 would
have been expelled to Germany, 2,160 assigned to residence in Alsace, 603 assigned to
residence in France, and 720 civil servants transferred.

104. Letter of Grunbach and Richard to haut commissaire de la République (Colmar?),
13 Feb. 1919, AN AJ 30 170.

105. Commission de triage et de classement du 2e degré (Metz) à commissaire général
de la République (Strasbourg), 7 July 1919, ADBR 121 AL 902. In Strasbourg, the
triage review boards, which reconsidered and, if necessary, overturned the decisions
of the town’s commission de triage, did not judge and condemn in entirely the same
fashion. The purges in Strasbourg had been more extensive and exemplary than
elsewhere. By the time cases reached the triage review board, however, the charged
political climate had subsided, and the boards increasingly discounted excessive,
fabricated, and unfounded denunciations.

106. See ADBR 121 AL 103, Mar. 1919.

107. Rapport de la commission interministérielle des Alsaciens-Lorrains, n.d. (winter
1919), ADBR 121 AL 902.

108. Benjamin Vallotton, . . . Et voici la France , vol. 3 of Quel est ton pays?
(Lausanne, 1931), 52–53.

109. Comtesse Jean de Pange, Le Beau Jardin, 63, 78.

110. Commission de triage et de classement du 2e degré (Metz) to Commissaire général
de la République (Strasbourg), 7 July 1919, ADBR 121 AL 902; Thilmont, Devant la
commission de triage, 8.

111. Commission de triage de Strasbourg, 11 Apr. 1919, ADBR 121 AL 900.

112. See, for example, Commission de triage de Strasbourg, 28 Jan. 1919, ADBR 121 AL
906.

113. Jean Stuhl, senator of the Moselle, to Ministre des affaires étrangères, 2 Mar.
1925, AN AJ 30 296.

114. See Bernard Klein, La Vie politique en Alsace Bossue et dans le pays de la
petite pierre de 1918 à 1939 (Strasbourg, 1991), 58–59. French distinguishes between
dénonciation, which is more neutral in character, and délation, a term that carries a
highly pejorative connotation and encompasses an element of treason and unsavory
interests (unlike délations, dénonciations can be done in the public interest). But
the line between délation and dénonciation (not to mention mouchardage) was, as
always, a fine one.

115. Spindler, L’Alsace pendant la guerre, 750.

116. See André Halimi, La Délation sous l’occupation (Paris, 1983).

117. Sheila Fitzpatrick and Robert Gellately, Accusatory Practices: Denunciation in
Modern European History, 1789–1989 (Chicago, 1997), 188. She is referring to James
Scott’s Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (New Haven, Conn.,
1985). See also Sébastien Fontenelle, La France des mouchards: Enquête sur la
délation (Paris, 1997).

118. For the substantially different, “official” French view see Alexandre Millerand,
Le Retour de l’Alsace-Lorraine à la France (Paris, 1923), 30–31.

119. “But one is astonished to find, after ten years, how bitter are the memories of
the people concerning these commissions and their work” (Kirk, “French Administrative
Policies in Alsace-Lorraine,” 46).

120. See, for example, Thilmont, Devant la commission de triage ; Abbé Dr. Haegy,
“Eine kritische Stimme aus der Übergangszeit,” Elsässer Kurier , 20 Feb. 1919,
reproduced in Das Elsass, 4:409–13.

121. Journal d’Alsace Lorraine, 25 May 1919, cited in ADBR 121 AL 902.

122. For the war years see AN AJ 30 310, and for 1921, AN AJ 30 227, letter of the
Ligue to Président du conseil, Oct. 1921.

123. Redslob’s article is cited in “Proposition de loi tendant à faire réviser les
décisions des commissions de triage en Alsace et en Lorraine et à assurer réparation
du préjudice pour les victimes de ces commissions de triage,” in Annales de la
Chambre des députés, 14e législature: Documents parlementaires, 117, 2eme session
extraordinaire de 1929 (Paris, 1930), 143–44.

124. “Für die Opfer der Commissions de Triage,” Unidentified news clipping, 16 Oct.
1924, AMS, Fonds Peirotes 40.

125. See “Proposition de loi tendant à faire réviser les décisions des commissions de
triage.” For 1936 see Annales de la Chambre des députés: 16e législature: Documents
parlementaires, 133. Stürmel’s close links to autonomism did little to help the bill.

126 . Alfred Wahl, Jean-Claude Richez, and Freddy Raphaël have done much to
problematize the region’s history. But my point is that scant attention has been paid
to the region by historians in the rest of France.

127 . On the role of frontier regions in an earlier period see Peter Sahlins,
Boundaries: The Making of France and Spain in the Pyrenees (Berkeley, Calif., 1989).

128 . See Zeev Sternhell, La Droite révolutionnaire: Les Origines françaises du
fascisme, 1885–1914 (Paris, 1978), chap. 3; and Tombs, ed., Nationhood and
Nationalism in France.

129. See the pioneering works of Harris, “The ‘Child of the Barbarian’”; and Stéphane
Audoin-Rouzeau, L’Enfant de l’ennemi, 1914–1918: Viol, avortement, infanticide
pendant la Grande guerre (Paris, 1995).

130 . See Laird Boswell, “Franco-Alsatian Conflict and the Crisis of National
Sentiment during the Phoney War,” Journal of Modern History 71 (1999): 552–84. This
article addresses the relationship between religion, language, and national identity
in greater detail.

131. See Camille Maire’s introduction to François Laurent, Des Alsaciens-Lorrains
otages en France: 1914–1918: Souvenirs d’un Lorrain interné en France et en Suisse
pendant la guerre (Strasbourg, 1998), 26.