The Germans regained Alsace-Loraine in 1940 and began a process of Germanizing the population with the elimination of the French language and culture. There were forced relocations and soon drafts in to the German labor squads and military. Teachers were replaced or reducated in the Reich. Instruction was now in German and speaking French not permitted. Alsatian is close to German, but French speaking children were facd with the difficult task of learning German. The beret was banned anmd wearing one was made a criminal offense. One Alsatian boy reported that his first school homework assignment was to draw a Jew. Just as the French had not trusted the Alsatians, neither did the Germans. The French village of Oradour sur Glane was the scene of one of the most vicious German attrocities in France during the War, and Alsatians were deeply involved. It would seem unlikely that boys going to the NAZI-controlled schools in either would have worn smocks during this era of German control. France finally regained the provinces with the Allied victories in 1944.
The Germans regained Alsace-Loraine in 1940. There was little fighting in Alsace. Most of the fighting took place further west as the German drove through Belgium and toward the Channel. In Alsace French troops simply pulled out and the Germans marched in arrayed in neat columns singing marching songs. They demanded food supplies from local authorities and took hostages to ensure compliance--mostly French speaking civil servants. In many countries these hostages were executed if the population resistyed the Germans. HBC has no information as to whay happened to the hostages, but there was no overt resistance on the part of the Alsatians to the Germans.
Strasbourg's Jews had been expelled from the city in 1388, and allowed to return only in 1791 when the French Revolution brought about the formal granting of French citizenship to all of French Jewry. In the 19th century the Jewish population in Alsace expanded significantly. So did anti-semitism. Alsace at the onset of World War II had proprtionally the largest Jewish population in France. Most French Jews in fact lived in Alsace. Many Jews fled Alsace as the German Army entered. The NAZIs as an early step in the Germinization process on July 16, 1940 ordered all Jews to leave Alsace. They were allowed one suitcase and food, but had to leave behind all gold and jewelry. There were not collected in ghettos, but taken in convoys to France. Latter they would be rounded up by Vichy officals and turned back over to the Germans for deportation.
School was made compulsory and the children had to attend the local schools. Parents could not keep their children out of the NAZI-controlled schools. Instruction was now in German and speaking French not permitted. Alsatian is close to German, but French speaking children were facd with the difficult task of learning German. French books were burned. Teachers were either replaced or reducated in the Reich for "Umschulung" (recycling). Some of the new German teachers wore Wehrmacht uniforms. There were also younger teachers wearing lederhosen. One Alsatian boy reported that his first homework assignment was to draw a Jew. He did not know at the time what a Jew was. [Ungerer, A Childhood Under the NAZIs, p. 42.] In Germany such assignments had been given while Jewish children were in the classroom, even called to rge front of the class so a teacher could show Jewish facial characteristics. This did no happen in Alsace as the NAZIs deported Alsatians Jews to France only a few weeks after seizing control. Clases began with a patrioting song followed by a prarer to God and the Fuhrer. Next the children were inspected for cleanliness. Apparently the Fuhrer disliked dirty children. A daily essay was required on events from the front. Children were offered monetary reqards for informing on their parents, but we know of no incidents where children did so. Great emphasis was placed on sport and athletics. There were special classes to build model airplanes--of course hoping to instill a desire to become Luftwaffe pilots. One boy recalls that the boys were no under great pressure or severely punished. He enjoyed his school days during the German occupation and he was a French boy who quickly learned German.
The beret was banned on December 18, 1941 and wearing one was made a criminal offense. Many parents made a quiet sign of resistance by sending their boys to school in all kinds of strange headwear. [Ungerer, A Childhood Under the NAZIs, pp. 57-58.]I do not know that smocks were simalarly banned, but they were a garment for children and thus could be banned by school regulations. Some boys did wear smocks in Alsace before the World War II, but they were not nearly as common as in the rest of France.
Alsace was formally incorporated into the Reich in June 1941, the same month the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. As a result youths were drafted into the Arbeitdienst (Work Brigades) and the military. There were forced drafts in to the German military. The Germans attempted to get Alsatians to volunteer for military service. Few did. The drafts were, however, impossible to avoid. Large numbers of Alsatians died in Russia. The World War II casualty rate in Alsace was much higher than any where else in France. French war caualties were limited because the French Army collapsed in June 1940 and spent most of the War in German POW camps.
After the Allied invasion of France at Normandy in a peaceful part of France, German troops pepetrated a particularly horrible murder. The peaceful French village of Oradour sur Glane was the scene of one of the most vicious German attrocities in France during World War II and Alsatians were deeply involved. Thr SS-Panzer Division Das Reich entered and then surrounded the small town of Oradour-sur-Glane, near Limoges in central France (June 10, 1944) and proceeded to kill 642 men, women, and children. On the eastern front this would not have been unusual. On the wesrtern front it was and has been documented in great detail. After the War, 21 men were tried by French courts for their part in the massacre (January to February 1953). The defendants were members of the SS Das Reich Division that had survived the war. None were officers who theoretically would carry a higher responsibility. The highest rank of the defendants were was that of Sergeant. Interestingly of the 21 men, 14 of them came from the French province of Alsace, which had been taken over by the Germans following the French surrender in 1940. These men had mostly been drafted by the Germans. (Few Alsatians had responded to German efforts to induce volunteers. The SS had at first been strictly German and highly selective. As the War went against the Germans, the SS became less selective, increasingly relying on drafts and even accepting foreigners.) In the view of the French the Alsatians were traitors. Most French thought that they should have refused to take part in the massacre and even helped their fellow countrymen to escape. Most French thougt them more guilty than the Germans. The lawyers defending the Alsatians said that with one exception they had been conscripted into the SS, that they had no choice but to obey and if they had refused they would have been shot. Newspaper accounts indicate that 13 of the Alsatians had been at liberty before the trial started, one of them had in fact become a police inspector since the end of the war. Another had won the Croix de Guerre (France's highest military medal for valour) after the end of the War while fighting with the French army in Indo-China (Vietnam). The German defendants had been in prisoner-of-war camps since the end of the war in 1945. The people of the province of Alsace wanted all the men freed at once while most French wanted them immediately executed. Two of the defendants were sentenced to death, the rest to prison for between 8-12 years. The verdicts produced an uproar in all parts of France. Most French thought the verdicts to lenient. Alsatians thought them too harsh. Demonstrations were held throughout Alsace for the release of the Alsatians. All 21 men were released quite soon after the trial had ended.
Just as the French had not trusted the Alsatians, neither did the Germans. The village of Oradour sur Glane in Alscae was the scene of one of the most vicious German attrocities during the War, even though it was at the time a part of the Reich. It would seem unlikely that boys going to the NAZI-controlled schools in either would have worn smocks during this era of German control. France finally regained the provinces with the Allied victories in 1944.
Most Alsatians were overjoyed at the defeat o
of the German Army at Stalingrad and carefully followed the advance of the Allies, especially after the June 1944 landings and Normandy. This was especially true of the French and Alsatian speaking Alsatians. We know less about German speaking Alsatians. After liberation in late 1944 the tables were turned. The Germans who had dispossessed French homes and shops were sent packing across the Rhine. School children were not allowed to speak German or even Alsatian or they would be punished. Of course no one was arrested for speaking Alsatian or even German--although Alsatians generally refrained from speaking German in public for several years. German books were destroyed, althogh it was no made illegal to have them.
HBC to date has very few personal accounts from French and German readers about Alsace-Loraine.
Alsatian boy: Tomi Ungerer