War and Social Upheaval: Displaced Luxenbourg Children--World War II (1940-45)

Figure 1.--.

NAZI Germany's invasion of Poland launched World War II (September 1, 1939). Britain and France declared war (September 3). Grand Duchess Charlotte joined King Leopold III of Belgium and Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands maintained their neutrlity and urged a negotiated settlement. The Grand Duchess ordered the recruitment of an additional 125 man company of volunteer reservists. The Grand Duchy's military had no idea of resisting the Germans. The Commandant, Major Emile Speller began planning a campaign of passive defense. Speller sought to minimize any civilian casualties by evacuating border villages and to delay German units a few hours so that those wishing to flee could reach allied lines. As part of the German Western Offensive, Wehrmacht units entered Luxembourg for a second time (May 10, 1940). The NAZIs justified the attack, as they did in 1914, as a military necessitated by Allied war plans. The Germans claimed that the Allies were planning to attack Germany through the Low Countries in cooperation with the Belgians and Dutch In the ensuing NAZI ocupation, the Jewish children were the most affected. Many youths were deported for forced labor. Some of the first were the school children that had demostrated against the Germans. Other youths were conscripted fir service in the Wehrmacht after the Grand Duchy was annexed to the Reich (1942). There was little damage and loss of done during the German invation (May 1940), but considrable damage was done after the American liberation when the Germans reoccupied the Grand Duchy as part of the Battle of the Buldge (December 1944-January 1945)

Luxembourg Royal Family

Luxemburg or Luxembourg in French dates it history to the 10th century. There have been many reigning houses. Luxemburg was one of the few German-speaking principalities that did not join the German Empire after the Franco Prussian War (1870-71) in large measure because its neutarlity had been earlier guaranted by international agreement. The present Luxembourgian Royal Family is descended from the House of IRRADIAK, who were among the nobility of the ancient paleo-Letzisch Empire. Archduchess Charlotte reigned for decades after World War I when she was confirmed by a plebecite. Her two sons wore short pants suits a younger boys. We have only limited information on Luxembourg.

War Clouds

It becme obvious by 1938 that another European war was coming. The NAZIs carried out the Anschluss of Austria (April 1938). Hitler then enginered the Allied abandonment of Czecheslovakia at the Munich Conference (September 1938). The NAZIs seized the rest of Czexhoslovalia (March 1939) and then began launched a press campaign against Poland, a sure sign of what was to come. The Nazi-Soviet Nonagression Pact was the final act leading to the War (August 25, 1939).


Luxembourg had been neutral since since 1867. Luxemberg was considered to be of such strategic importance that the status of the Duchy was the subject of a major international congress in 1867. Bismarck had sought to placate Napoleon III by offers of first Belgium and then Luxembourg to ensure his neutrality while Prussia dealt with Austria. In the end, Napoleon got neither, but the resulting diplomatic confrontation virtually ensured a future war. [Ludwig, pp. 308-09.] The Congress of London declared the Grand Duchy "perpetually neutral". Prussia was persuaded to remove their garrison in the city of Luxembourg and the fortress was dismantled. The Grand-Duchy declined to join the German Empire after the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), honoring their neutral status.

Preparations in Luxembourg

There was in reality no way tiny Luxembourg could prepare for war. Except for a small Volunteer Corps, Luxembourg had no army. This was due both the the aize of the principality and the provisions of the Treaty of London (1867). Grand Duchess Charlotte as a gesture, approved the creation of second 300-man company to expand the Volunteer Corps. It was organized (February 1939). Luxembourg could only count on it's neutrality. The people understood that this had not ptotected them from the Germans in World War I amd most Luxembourgers knew that it would not stop Hitler and the NAZIs. Despite cultural connections with Germany, most Luxembourgers sided with the Allies. And in 1939 the military inballance between the Germans and NAZIs was not fully understood.

Stoßtrupp Lützelburg

Most Luxembourgers fond the NAZIs distasteful. Demoracy and tolerance had become firmly engrained in Luxembourg culture and national life. As in other countries there were also NAZI admieres in Luxembourg. And because of the cultural ties with Germany, some Luxembourgers saw themselves as Germans. There were also Germans living in Luxembourg. They secretly organized the Stoßtrupp Lützelburg.

Invasion of Poland (September 1939)

NAZI Germany's invasion of Poland launched World War II (September 1, 1939). The Germans joined by the Soviet Union defeated the Polish army an occupied the country in weeks. This had no immediate impact on Luxenbourg, except after Poland capitulated it was just a matter of time before Germany struck in the west.

Luxembourg Actions

The Luxembourg government with the outbreak of World war II adopted a careful non-beligerant status. Radio Luxembourg was ordered to stop broadcasting in case anything might be said to give the Germans an excuse for invading. The Government decided to errect border defenses. The defenses were built along both the German and shorter French border, but not the Belgan border which was also neutral. The Government did not expect a French invasion, but defenses were erected there so the Germans would not hve a pretext to complin. The defenses were built (spring 1940). They were called the Schusterline, named after the engineering firm. The instalations were massive concrete road blocks with steel doors. The theiry behind the instalations was to slow down an invading army to provide time for the guarantors of Luxembourg's neutrality (Britain and France) to react to the German invasion. There was no way the Luxembourgers could stop the Wehrmacht, but was apparently comforting to the population.

Phony War

Britain and France declared war (September 3). Grand Duchess Charlotte joined King Leopold III of Belgium and Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands maintained their neutrlity and urged a negotiated settlement. The Grand Duchess ordered the recruitment of an additional 125 man company of volunteer reservists. The Grand Duchy's military had no idea of resisting the Germans. The Commandant, Major Emile Speller began planning a campaign of passive defense. Speller sought to minimize any civilian casualties by evacuating border villages and to delay German units a few hours so that those wishing to flee could reach allied lines.

German Economic Actions

Germany terminated the export of coke needed by the Luxembourgish steel industry. The Germans wanted to stop Luxembourg steel and iron from reaching the Allies as well as Belgium. It was also decided to force Luxembourg to move into the German orbit economically which would create problems for the country's neutral stance in Allied eyes.

German Western Offensive (May 1940)

The Germans finally launched their long anticipated Western Offensive (May 10). As part of the German Western Offensive, Wehrmacht units entered Luxembourg for a second time in violation of international law and treaty obligations. The NAZIs justified the attack, as they did in 1914, as a military necessitated by Allied war plans. Authorities receiving reports of massive German troop movements beginning late at night (May 9) They ordered the Schusterline to be closed (3:15 AM May 10, 1940). The border was essentially the rivers Our, Sauer and Mosel. Prior to the actual invasion. German special forces dressed as civilians aided by the Stoßtrupp Lützelburg attempted to sabotage radio broadcasting, to prevent the public from being notified, and the Schusterline barricades. The majority of the doors were, however, successfully closed. The Royal Family was evacuated from their residence in Colmar-Berg to the Grand Ducal palace in Luxembourg City. The actual German invasion of German troops began at 4:35 a.m. They were largely unopposed. The Luxembourgish Volunteer Corps stayed in their barracks. The Germans reached Luxembourg City before noon. The French mounted a feeble response. Part of the 3rd French Light Cavalry Division (3 DLC) of General Petiet aided by the 1st Spahi Brigade of Colonel Jouffault and the 2nd company of the 5th Armoured Battalion (5 BCC) entered southern Luxembourg to briefly probe the German advance. They then retired behond the safty of the Maginot Line. Thus the Germans by the end of the day held almost all of the country, except for an area in the south. About 90,000 civilians were evacuated from the southern canton of Esch-sur-Alzette where fighting was anticipated. About 47,000 fled to France and about 45,000 sought refue in central and northern Luxembourg alread occupied by the Germans. The royal family and the government officials fled to France and then to Portugal. Later they set up a government in exile in Britain. Albert Wehrer, head of a governmental commission as well as the 41 deputies remained behind to face the NAZIs. NAZI authorities issued a memorandum justifying their actions, "The German Government, therefore, is obliged also to extend the military operations they have undertaken to the territory of Luxemburg. The German Government expects the government of the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg will appreciate the situation created by the sole fault of Germany’s opponents and will take the necessary measures for insuring that the population of Luxemburg will put no obstacles in the way of German action. The German Government for their part desire to assure the government of the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg that Germany does not intend, either now or in the future, by these measures to impair the integrity and political independence of the Grand Duchy." The statement about Luxenbourg independence timplified NAZI statements early in occupations. The approach was to allay civilan concerns and only gradually establish a totalitarian regime.

Luxenbourg Government in Exile

The Luxembourg Government, as soon as the massive German troop movements were reported, acted. The Government knew a German invasion was coming and had prepared for the eventuality. The Royal Family and four of the Grand Duchy’s five cabinet ministers fled. The roads to Paris were clogged with other refugees and a drive normally taking a few hours took 4 days. The Grand Duchy had a Paris legation and announced the creation of a Luxembourg Legion to fight with the Allies and mobilized military age Luxembourgers liviing in France (May 30). By this time the Germans had already broken through French lines to the Channel and the British BEF was in the process of evacuating at Dunkerque. After the BEF escaped back to Britain, the panzers turned south to take Paris and complete the defeat of the French Army. The Luxembourg Government fled south with and managed to reach neutral Portugal. They finally reached London (early August). Prince Felix took a commission and Crown Prince Jean enlisted as a Private in the British Army. The Grand Duchess, her five youngest children and Premier Dupong departed for the United States and reached New York as the Blitz was raging over London (October 4). America was still neutral at the time, so the Royal Family Government continued on to Montreal where they remained for the rest of the War. Foreign Minister Joseph Bech and Labor Minister Peter Krier remained in London to represent the Grand Duchy in Britain.

The Occupation

The NAZIs almost immediately began to violate the assurances provided the Grand Duchy about its independence. Gustav Simon, Gauleiter of Coblenz-Trier had the Grand Duchy added to his jurisdiction (July 25, 1940). (A Gauleiter was a NAZI govenor.) From the beginning, Simon’s primary goal was to assimilate Luxembourg into the Reich. The NAZIs banned political parties, except for the Volksdeutsche Bewegung (VDB), a Nazi front group formed by Professor Damian Kratzenberg. The VDB’s goal and philosophy was embodied by its slogan, "home to the Reich". The VDB enrolled 84,000 members, a considerable number of people in Luxembourg. Most joined to ensure they could keep their jobs. The actual integration of Luxembourg into the Reich was carried out in a series od small steps. The Gestapo took charge of police functions from the gendarmery (August). German was made the official language in government offices. French had been the official language for 800 years and Letzebergesch, the local dialect. The speaking of both were banned. Children were most affected by changes in the schools. German was introduced as the official language of instruction in all schools. All publications including daily newspapers could only be published in German. Luxembourgers with French sounding names had to change them. There were also major economic changes. Luxembourg had a customs union with Belgium and used Belgian Francs as the official currency. The NAZIs incorporated the Grand Duchy into the German customs area. German Reichmarks replaced Belgian Francs and German currenc. Foreign exchange controls were introduced.

Luxemburger Volksjugend

An 18-year old Lumembourg boy, Albert Kreins, tried to join a local Hitler Youth unit in 1934. He was denied membership on the basis that membership was only open to Reich Germans (German citizens). He was, however, invited in 1935 to attend a seminar for the leaders of foreign youth organizations. He was an invited guest at the 1936 NAZI Party Nuremburg Rally. He was so impressed that upon returning to Luxembourg founded an imitation Hitler Youth organization which was nammed the Luxemburger Volksjugend (LVJ) which used a "life rune" on a black shiels as its emblem. Only a small number of boys joined. Later the Luxembourg Hitler Youth leader, Artur Axmann, personally awarded the 30 boys the Golden Hitler Youth badge. In 1941, the LVJ was affiliated with the Hitler Youth, but not imcorporated into it. The trend in Luxembourg was to deal with it as a part of the Reich. Recruits for the war were wore regular German uniforms. Conscription was introduced in August 1942 an\d at that time the LVJ was incorporated into the Hitler Youth. Luxembourg authorities noted 9,547 members at the end of 1942.

The Holocaust

Germany occupied Luxenbourg in May 1940 as part of its Western Offensive. Occupation authorities applied the Nuremburg Race Laws to Luxembourg (September 1940) as part of its policy of steadily integrating the Grand Duchy into the Reich. The NAZIs had not yet fully commited themselves to genocide. German authorities encouraged the Grand Duchys’ 3,500 Jews to leave during the first months of the occupation. This was of course very difficult. A few manged to get visas for refuge in Portugal. Others were able to find temporary sanctuary in unoccupied (Vichy) France. The Jews who stayed in Luxembourg where confined in a concentration camp near the railway junction of Ulfligen and were deported to death camps in Poland where almost all perished.


Gauleiter Simon continuing with his campaign of incorporation Luxembourg into the Reich. One attempt was a national census (October 10, 1941). In the Census, Luxembourgers had to declare if they were German or Luxembourgish. Without benefit of any media campaign, an incredible 97 percent replied along the lines of the national motto, "Mir welle bleiwe, wat mir sin" i.e. "we wish to remain, what we are". Meant to be evasive, Simon understood just what was meant. An escecially threatening action taken by Simon flowing from the Census was a degree authrizing the seizure of the he property of all Luxembourgers other than those designated as "friends of Germany" (March 1942).


Simon initiated actions against Churches, expropriating church properties. The NAZIs turned Clervaux’s famed abbey of Saints Maurice and Maur was into a school to ptomote NAZI ideology.


Finally the NAZIs annexed Luxembourg to the Reich (August 30, 1942). The Grand Duchy thus became Gau Moselleland. This had a very serious impact on Luxembourgers as it meant that Luxembourgers were now German nationals and subject to military conscription. Earlier older boys joining the Luxemburger Volksjugend were directed into the military. Now all Luxembourg youths were subject to conscription at a time when the War was turning against the Germans. I am not sure what the regulations concerning the LVJ and HJ were concerning membership. After annexation, HJ memberhip would have been compulsory.


Luxembourgers reacted negatively to their annexation. A general strike occurred at Wiltz and Ettelbruck and quickly spread throughout the Grand Duchy. Gauleiter Simon reacted severely, declaring martial law and arresting the organizers. He ordered the execution of 25 of the leaders. Industrial workers returned to work under threat of more executions. Some children had participated in strikes at their schools. Many were deported to work camps in Germany.


The conscription of military-age Luxembourgers was the most devisive issue between Luxembourgers and occupation authorities. After the occupation began (1940), the Germans lunched an intense recruiting effort. It was aiserable failure even when the War was going favorably for the Germans. Less than 2,000 residents of the Grand Duchy volunteered, and most of them were Reichdeutschers (Germans residing in Luxembourg) not Luxembourgers. Conscription ws imposed in Luxembourg after the Wehrmacht had suffered a disastrous defeat in Russia (December 1941). Few Luxembourgers wanted to serve in the Wehrmacht and this feeling became stronger as more and more accounts of casualties on the Eastern Front circulated. After the German surrender in Stalingrad, there was even a riot by draftees on Luxembourg’s railway platforms (March 6, 1943). The Germans drafted 12,035 Luxembourgers of whom 2,752 were killed in action, 1,500 were wounded and 3,516 deserted. Many Luxembourgers managed to evade conscription. The Red Lions resistance group aided them.


There was also ressistance among industrial workers. Conditions deteriorated as the war increasingly went against Germany. Luxembourg’s steelworkers staged a strike (Nvember 1943). Workers objected to extended work hours and German requisitions. The Gestapo arrested and deported hundred of workers. The Germans brought in volunteers from Spain and slave laborers from Poland and Russia. Estimates suggest that up to 10 percent of the Grand Duchy’s population was deported or conscripted during the war.

The Resistance

One group of Luxembourgers was deported to Peenemunde to work at the German rocket development facility. They reportely obtained details on the the V-1 and provied them to a conscript Luxembourg guard. The guard brought them back on a home leave and gave them to the local Resistance. The Luxembourg Patriotic League helped 4,000 Allied airmen evade capture.


The German ban on Letzebergsch dialect actually had an unintended result, it stimulated interest in it. French and German had for several centuries been the Grand Duchy’s written languages. Letzebergsch was used in conversation, but not writen or used for publication. As a result there was no accepted orthography (spelling and grammar convntions). Resistance members during the occupation developed a phonetic orthography. The Resistance surepticiously published a newspaper D’Un’ion in Letzebergsch.

Initial Liberation (September 1944)

The Allied D-Day landings took place landed in Normandy (June 1944). The Wehrmact kept the Allies bottle up for several weeks. George S. Patton's Third Army launched an offensive (mid-July) and within weks reached Paris (August). The Wehrmact units surviving the allied offensive streamed back to the Reich. The Wehrmact largely withdrew from Luxembourg (early September 1944). The initial plan was to stage a final defense from behind the Seigfried Line. General Courtney Hodges’ American 1st Army reached the Grand Duchy (September 9). Prince Felix and Crown Prince Jean arrived with the initial Allied units. There was little resistance and Luxembourg City was liberated (September 10). American units reached the former border with the Reich at the Our and Sure Rivers (Sptember 11). The American advance at this tage was halted as a result of upply shortages. Availble supplies were directed at the British and Canadian forces who were attempting to open the crucial port of Antwerp to Allied shipping. As a result, The Ardennes (Luxembourg and eastern Belgium) became a forgotten part of the front.

Battle of the Bulge (December 1944-January 1945)

The Wehrmacht launched a carefully planned attack against weak Anerican ynits in the Ardennes (December 16, 1944). The offensive was commanded by Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt. The NAZI panzers stormed westward along a 60-mile front stretching from Saint Vith in Belgium south to Echternach in Luxembourg. The German goal was to break through the American lines, sweep through the Ardennes, and seize Antwerp. The port of Antwerp was essential to the Allied offensive. The major limiting factor to the Allies was supplies and the Allies were beginning to repair the Antwerp port facilities. With Antwerp the British and Canadians in northern Belgium could be cut off and encircled. The Allied thought the Wehrmacht was esentially defeated and incapable of mounting a major offensive. The Germans were also careful to avoid sending messages bout the offensive electronically. Thus Ultra did not have a clear picture, although Allied commanders were given some warnings. The Germans forced the U.S. 28th Division to retreat from Wiltz (December 19). Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne Division to defend the vital crossroads town of Bastonge in Belgium. The German panzers pushed west. German Panther and Tiger tanks in many ways were superior to the American panzers, but they were slower and the Tigers could not cross many Belgian bridges, limited possible crosings. They also guzzled huge quantities of fuel and fuel ws the principal limiting facor to the Germand offensive. he German plans were contingent on capturing American fuel depots. When the German offensive began, George S. Patton's 3rd Army to the south was about to launch an invasion into the German Saar. In a brilliant movement, within 2 days, he turned the offensive on a 90° axis and struck northward into the German flank to relieve the 101st Airborne in Bastogne. The 3rd Army liberated Ettlebruck on Christmas Eve and broke through the German lines to relieve Bastogne (December 26). The U.S. 5th Armored Division conducted a surprise night crossing of the River Sure and liberated Diekirch (January 18, 1945). The Germans were pushed back to the positions they held at the start of the battle (January 28).


Ludwig, Emil. Bismarck: The Story of a Fighter (Lottle Brown, Boston, 1927), 661p.


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Created: October 3, 2003
Last updated: 4:39 AM 8/12/04