French Regional Differences: Individual Experiences--Alsace

Figure 1.--. 

HBC to date has very few personal accounts from French and German readers about Alsace-Lorraine. As Alsace is a border region, these accounts show a considerable variation in family backgrounds and experies. Hopefully ourAlsatian readers will add some additional acconts as HBC develops.

Individual Boys

We have some information about individual Alsatian boys or families.

Alsatian Family: Brad Peaseley

I am the descendant of Alsatians who were pro-French and evidently French-speaking (they had French given names), but German-surnamed (e.g., Baldensperger, Schley) and Lutheran. These ancestors actually migrated about 1871 to a heavily Lutheran town in Belfort--so they could stay in France. You may find this interesting, although not a subject germane to your site: My Alsatian ancestors named Baldensperger took to pronouncing their name as if it was French: "bahldawsperzhay"! [Brad Peaseley, E-mail message, October 9, 2002. ]

Alsatian Boy: Jean

Die Linden von Lautenbach is a German translation of the original French Les Tilleuls de Lautenbach" by Jean Egen, an Alsatian author. It is the story of an Alsatian family in the period 1914-45. I have been reading the beginning so far, but I like the book so much that I want to read it to the end as soon as possible. The story's hero is Jean, who is 11 years old. It is seen through the eyes of this boy. The author has a great sense of humor shown by the way he describes his experiences and adventures in the little village of Lautenbach. I found that a movie had been made with the same title ("The Linden Trees of Lautenbach") in 1983, directed by Bernard Saint Jacques. The language is mostly French, but German and Alsatian dialect also are being used in this film. Lucas Beiger plays Jean as a 10 years old.

Alsatian Boy: Tomi Ungerer

Tomi Ungerer has provided us a fascinating view of his Alsatian boyhood during World War II. His Tomi: A Childhood Under the Nazis was published in 1998) and by describes life in NAZI occupied Alsace from the viewpoint of the author, born in 1931. The book provides a great deal of information about Alsace, quite a lot about daily life under the Nazis, but unfortunately for HBC's perspective, only limited information about about clothing. The illustrations are particularly good; many of these are the work of the author, a talented artist.

Alsatian boy: Jean Egensperger

Jean Egen's book Les tilleuls de Lautenbach, published by Editions Stock, Paris, 1984, a novel about growing up in Alsace-Lorraine. A reader writes, "I read the German translation. Although the author (who's real name is Jean Egensperger) rarely writes about clothing, he nevertheless tells us that his mother used to order nice clothes from a department store in Paris for him and his brother. The book is an autobiography. It makes clear how French this Alsatian family feels, but also how many German habits and ideas they keep. The author mentions in the last chapter of the book, "The Black Years" that the author mentions that the Alsatians were not allowed to wear berets. Jean kept wearing the "Baskenmütze" pretending to be a Basque from the Pyrenees. Several of his cousins were imprisoned or drafted into the Wehrmacht. One of them, Kamill Schneider died May 8, 1945, when everybody was crying for joy over the NAZI surrender.

French Boy: Alain

I consider myself French, but I had Alsatian grandparents. My mother didn'd like the Germans , although she was able to speak fluently Alsacian, German and of course French. When we were children at home, she rarely spoke in German. Yet she taught us some German and Alsatian chants and stories. It was not the same case with my uncle who cared for me several years. Very early he spoke to me in pure German. To further complicate matters, we had a Spanish maid who was a nanny to me when I was litle. She would speak to me in Spanish. I also lived in Austria several years. School in France was of course taughr in French. As a result, as a boy I was a bit unsettled. So when I was 10-14 years old, I didn't consider French as the language of my mind. I found German more natural. Later when I was teenager I wrote generaly my personal work in German and avoided speaking Spanish. Now fir many years French has become my language, but I continue to I love German literature.

German family

Aerman reader writes, "Some time ago you asked for a remark about Alsace, the country between France and Germany. In medieval times most parts of Central and West Europe belonged to one political, cultural, religous, and economical environment, even Russia (and the Baltic countries). The kings, dukes, barons, lords and whatever married all over this part of the world. HBC presentsd this complexity in the royality pages. And the common people, e.g., craftsmen, priests, and intellectual persons like artists, musicians, scientist etc. were allowed to live were they wanted to do it (as long as the religion was accepted!) - E.g., my wife has relatives in Switherland. Some of the countries were rather centralized, e.g., United Kingdom, France, Prussia, Bavaria. Others - due to another legal system for heritage - were splitted in small areas. And there were always countries lying in between or at borders changing whenever a marriage (or war) changed the sovereign, e.g., Scotland, Tyrolia, in Scandinavia etc, in North America for another reason California and the Mexican california - in Alsace, too! In parts of Alsace, in Luxembourg, in The Netherlands, people speak some kind of a German dialect or a language heavily influenced by the German language. And you find relations, relatives, monuments, reminiscence etc in these border countries to both sides. To give you an example with respect to Alsace: A (small) part of Alsace, the Grafschaft Moempelgard (Montbeliard in French), at the south near the Swiss Border belonged to Wuerttemberg till about 1800. About 25 years ago, we visited Moempelgard and I showed my son (about 10 years old) the heraldic figure of Wuerttemberg above a yard gate, in German of course. The owner of the vinery yard came to us and told us in understandable south German dialect that his yard and the buildings were rather old, that his family reminds the old relation to Wuerttemberg as demonstrated by the figure in the keystone of his gate, that he has a son in about the age of our son and that there is a girl, also the only child, in a yard nearby, and that he has to manage that both will later marry each other to combine the vineyards of both families, vineyards split in ancient years due to the old rules of heritage in the former Grafschaft following the Wuerttemberg law and not the centralizing French law. Borders in Europe are political (may be also religious) borders, not so much borders of the people.

French Names

A HBC reader comments on why people in Alsace and other regions of France with traditinal non-French speaking populations have French names. He tells us, "If a French citizen has French given names it does not follow that his mother tongue is French. [HBC note: Given names means a child's first name asit is given by parent, unlike the last or family name which in inherited from the parents. Amercans usually say "first" names and the British "Christian" names because such names were often chosen from the New Testament.] French law requires that French citizens be given French given names. Parents thus have to choose French given names. Speakers of minority languages MUST give French names to their children, it is illegal to do otherwise. There has been considerable debate on this during the last decades of the 20 th century. This has been more an issue in Britanny (Bretagne) than Alsace. The authorities may have become somewhat more accommodating now that large numbers of immigrant Africans and Asians are becoming French citizens, but in the 19th century an Alsatian's name (before the German seizure of Alsace) gave no clue as to his cultural identity."


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Created: October 9, 2002
Last updated: 4:49 PM 12/14/2006