- Les Alsaciens-Lorrains dans la Grande Guerre ed. par Jean-Noël Grandhomme et Francis Grandhomme
It is high time: with Les Alsaciens-Lorrains dans la Grande Guerre, Jean-Noël and Francis Grandhomme contribute an important study of Alltagsgeschichte of Alsace-Lorraine between 1914 and 1918. This book — the most extensive work on this topic so far — is based on meticulous research in numerous German and French archives and enriched with about 250, partly unedited, photographs.
The book is organized into seven sections. Following the battle front in detail, the authors remind us in the first chapter that in August 1914, Alsace-Lorraine immediately became an important battleground, allowing the French to temporarily regain Sarrebourg, Mulhouse, and Colmar. The front was then quasi-stabilized in September until the end of the war, with a German occupied zone (the Reichsland) and a French presence maintained around Thann, Masevaux, and Dannemarie. However, Alsace-Lorraine continued to be marked by the presence of the war.
Analyzing the situation of Alsace-Lorrainers in opposing armies, in the second and third chapters the authors give a detailed account of the daily [End Page 375] lives of these soldiers, breaking with myths and taboos that are still commonly accepted. We learn for example that while in 1914, some 3,000 men left the Reichsland to enlist in the French army, most Alsace-Lorrainers fit for military service joined the German army without almost any concerns: 250,000 in the first weeks, 380,000 in total. The image of the malgré nous that developed in the 1920s must therefore be revised as an anachronism. On the basis of multiple testimonies, the authors also question any physical or moral maltreatment in the ranks as a general German politic against Alsace-Lorrainers. In fact, and contrary to what happened in WWII, many of them made careers in the military (99). Alsace-Lorrainers have served not only on all the fronts of the German and French army, aviation and marine, Alsatian emigrants also fought in American and Canadian troops.
The experience of the 17,650 Alsace-Lorrainers who fought on the Allied side was, however, quite different from their compatriots. Many, like the descendants of optants (those who chose to leave German-occupied Alsace-Lorraine to preserve their French heritage) from 1872, were raised in the cult of the lost provinces. The clash of their divergent memories appeared in the post-war years.
The fourth chapter is the most interesting one. While describing in detail everyday life under German rule, the authors reaffirm what others have said, including vexations and police arbitrariness, but are also careful to take a more reflective and balanced view based on what can be confirmed. In fact, 3,000 to 4,000 individuals in total were arrested or expelled by the Germans during its occupation (257). But this chapter also looks at the French zone, where hundreds, accused of germanophilia, were evacuated and put into French prisons. Obviously, the ongoing harassments in the Reichsland were pain béni for French propaganda, which did not stop underlying the unanimous sentiment of hatred amongst the indigenous population against the German intruders. Meanwhile, however, numerous Alsace-Lorraine family photographs collected by the authors show German soldiers as being part of the decor (273).
Throughout the course of the war, the deprivations of food and liberty did enormous harm to the population, especially in 1917 and 1918, which ultimately led to the rejection of the Reich. Yet, the Alsace-Lorrainers remained rather loyal. Despite the fact that the population suffered under rising prices, local commerce — and especially the vineyards — actually profited from the presence of the soldiers (283).
The fifth chapter then looks at how (and by whom) Alsace-Lorraine’s political future has been discussed. Unfortunately, the authors concentrate rather on the French side, where intellectuals and exile-Alsatians have dominated the discourse since the creation of the Conférence d’Alsace-Lorraine in 1915. It would have been interesting to also see the German [End...