|French Troops Occupy Strasbourg|
Alsace, except the Belfort district, and Lorraine had been annexed by the German Empire on 14 August 1870. Article 2 of the Treaty of Frankfurt (10 May 1871) provided Alsace-Lorraine inhabitants could choose French nationality up to 31 October 1872 but would in that event be obliged to leave the country. After that time, they would become Germans.
During the Great War, approximately 250,000 residents of Alsace-Lorraine were mobilized in the German army. They served mainly on the Eastern Front. The law of 5 August 1914 allowed some of them to gain French nationality by signing an act of engagement in the armed forces for the duration of the war. The majority of them were sent to North Africa and the overseas territories, some becoming workers in the weapons factories.
|Georges Clemenceau and Raymond Poincaré Visit Alsace|
Those who chose to fight on the Western Front often took on an assumed name to avoid retaliation. The situation is also complex for civilians, sometimes interned in German or French camps on the suspicion that they were too Francophile or Germanophile.
From February 1915, a committee was tasked with looking into all the administrative, religious and school problems that would arise were Alsace-Lorraine to be reattached to France. On 6 October 1918, it was decided that the “Recovered Provinces” would be occupied by French troops in the same way as the liberated French departments.
On 17 November, the French army entered Mulhouse. The president of the Republic, Raymond Poincaré, born in Lorraine, and Clemenceau were hosted in Lorraine and Alsace from 8 to 10 December 1918. They bestowed the French marshal’s baton on Pétain on 8 December 1918 in Metz.
|Petain Receives His Marshal's Baton in Metz, December 1918|
After the initial joy, unease arose when Clemenceau opted for rapid assimilation, without taking into account the specifics dear to these populations, or even their language, which was not French. Lorraine became the French department of Moselle, while Alsace, was divided into Upper Rhine and Lower Rhine. Around 110,000 German residents were evicted, while the problem of “mixed” families emerged. Again, the Alsatians and some of the Lorrains were asked to choose between the French and German nationalities. They were divided into four categories, each with a specific identity card.
Source: French Army Museum Blog