"Germanization with kid gloves" in AlsaceLorraine, means priests in prison, business in bankruptcy, and families torn asunder
THE Bishop of Metz, Monseigneur Heintz, is a silent man. For the time being he lives in a monastery, somewhere in occupied France. His flock is not allowed to know his whereabouts. If they tried to get in touch with their shepherd, all sorts of trouble would arise for Madame Heintz, the bishop’s aged mother, at present residing in the “Hotel National” in Mulhouse. Residing, perhaps, is not quite the right word. Actually the lady of eighty-two years is scrubbing the floors in the hotel. Her roommates envy her this privilege. They are bored by their enforced idleness. Life in the “National” is no longer gay, since the hotel wras turned into the local Gestapo headquarters. The wine cellar, incidentally, now harbors hostages, Madame Heintz, among others.
The Gestapo fetched the bishop from his palace on June 20,1940, at dawn. The square-faced gentlemen prefer to work at this time. Human resistance is at its lowest ebb in the early morning hours; so Dr. Krieshammer, dean of the medical faculty of the Breslau university, and scientific expert of the secret police, discovered in long years of experimenting in Gestapo cellars.
Monseigneur Heintz offered no resistance whatsoever. For months, ever since the invasion, he had known that it had to come. He had committed the crime of being the much beloved spiritual leader of the ancient town of Metz. To the Nazis, this crime was unpardonable. Dr. Heintz had to leave the bishopric within half an hour, taking with him such belongings as he could carry in his hands, and no money at all. One hundred and five Alsatian priests, and sixty per cent of the Lorraine clergy had to follow him into enforced exile. The reason was obvious. Nazism is about to Germanize AlsaceLorraine. To achieve this aim, the churches—both Catholic and Protestant—must first be Nazified.
The plan was worked out by Dr. Otto Meissner, a man whose name figures rarely in the news although he holds one of the most influential positions in the Third Reich. He carries the title of Secretary of State, and is the chief of Hitler’s personal chancellery. He is one of the few leftovers from the republican era in Germany, having already served as Cabinet chief for both Fritz Ebert, the socialist President, and Field Marshal Hindenburg. Dr. Meissner, who claims to be an Alsatian, although the Alsatians say that he hails from Saxony and only spent his youth in their country, is famous for what passes for gallic wit in Germany. When he had sworn his oath of allegiance to Hitler, he murmured, Berlin gossip reports: “First it was the
saddler’s apprentice (the Nazi nickname for Ebert), now it is the paper hanger. Well, let’s embark upon another fourteen years of shame.” According to Meissner’s timetable Nazism should have another four or five years. The Alsatians believe he exaggerates, as usual.
Dr. Otto Meissner blueprinted the scheme for Germanizing Alsace-Lorraine ‘‘with kid gloves,” to use his own term. The people shall not be destroyed, but converted. They shall simply stop feeling French, and jump upon the Nazi band wagon. The system should only revert to mass executions and similar time-honored measures of establishing the New Order as a last resort. Meissner’s is a very ‘‘human” scheme. This is how it, works:
Alsatians and Lorrainers are deeply rooted in t heir religious beliefs. The cross is the pillar of their national existence. The cross must fall. After the expulsion of most of the clergy, religious orders were forbidden, and religious schools closed. The sisters of Ribeauville and the Frères de l’Ecole were suppressed, as was the Protestant Theological Seminary in Strasbourg. The ancient Strasbourg university was closed, and reopened as a German language college late in November, 1941. The new Nazi President, Dr. Karl Schmidt, declared at the opening ceremony that the sole ambition of the university would henceforth be ‘‘forging the spiritual weapons for the successful completion of the war.” One of these spiritual weapons is the total omission of French science in the curriculum. Medical students in Strasbourg do not hear the name of Pasteur, whose monument, in the city, was destroyed.
Dr. Meissner assigned a number of turncoats to important posts. His propaganda chief is an Alsatian expatriate of many years, Professor Leroux from Heidelberg university. Alsatian audiences are compelled to listen to concerts conducted by another expatriate, a man by the name of Georges Boulanger. Gestapo agents attend his concerts, watching who applauds, or who does not.
Conquest of Youth
BUT THESE are just the trimmings of Germanization. Its real aim is the conquest of the youth. In Strasbourg all parents of children above ten years were called into the Town Hall, where they had to sign a double oath: First, that they would educate their children in the Nazi creed, second that not a single word of French should be spoken at home. It was there and then, that the first hitch occurred. Seventy-five per cent of the parents refused to sign; they were even willing to incur the wrath of the Gestapo.
The older people, Nazism insists, are a lost generation. The system is bent on capturing the youth. In Alsace, another traitor by the name of Bickler is entrusted with this task. Herr Bickler first won Nazi fame for having designed a black flag with an inverted *‘Z” as a substitute for the swastika, which was forbidden under the French regime. Hitler found a congenial artist in him, and promoted the young man to the rank of Youth leader for Alsace-Lorraine. This was high promotion, in view of Hitler’s notorious preference for surrounding himself with blonde Youth leaders
Bickler’s work is to Nazify Alsatian youth. Their schools are Germanized. Their teachers are transferred to the newly-conquered territories in the East, and are being replaced by hooligans from the Reich who cannot even spell their own German language. Nazi gymnastics and Nazi singing are taught instead of reading and writing. School hours are irregular, since the most important hours, from ten to twelve noon, are reserved for military training. All Alsatian boys of more than ten years have to wear the brown shirt and carry the dagger. Their parents must pay for both.
The Germanization of names is compulsory. In certain villages in the Vosges the entire population had to change their names. Indiscriminately a woman baptized Nicole was labeled Gertrud, and Alphonse became Adolf. Occasionally communities had the right to make their own suggestions in
renaming streets, or inns. The innkeeper of the ‘‘Jardin de France,” a famous hostelry near Strasbourg, called his place ‘‘Zum Kirchhof” (Ye old cemetery), and got away with it. The Magistrate of Mulhouse asked respectfully for the honor of being permitted to give the main street the Fuehrer’s name. Permission was granted. It’s now Adolf Hitler street. It was Rue de Sauvage (Savage street) until the rechristening. The change causes much chuckling among the denisons of Mulhouse. On the other hand, Strasbourg had to tolerate the change of the name of its principal square from Place Kleber, commemorating the general of revolutionary fame, to Karl Roos Platz, celebrating the notorious traitor whom the French had to shoot in the first month of the war. The Nazi vandals destroyed all the historic monuments of Strasbourg. In Metz the monument of the unknown soldier was blown up. Libraries, public and private, were searched for French literature. The books were burned in huge bonfires, illuminating the country for four nights, from the fifteenth to nineteenth of December, 1940.
Even Memories Banned
NO MEMORY of France shall remain. No contact exists with France, either by mail, telephone or telegraph. Travel beyond the border of both French zones is forbidden. The use of the French language is being persecuted. A decree issued by Dr. Ernst, Nazi Commissioner of Strasbourg, another Alsatian expatriate who returned after the catastrophe of his country, makes it a punishable crime for a man to speak French, if he is known to understand German. Even the local patois, a queer French-German mixture, is banned. In Alsace-Lorraine correct German is prescribed. It is fortunate for Hitler that he does not live in this province.
The whole country lives under the terror of the rubber truncheon. Compared with the French era, the police force has been increased sixfold. There are a number of Alsatian turncoats among the German police, still wearing their old blue French uniforms, with the Prussian cap. The German policemen wear a green outfit. The people call them grenouilles (frogs). The Gestapo, of course, appears in mufti. They established their headquarters in the Hotel National, in Mulhouse, but they are so numerous that they soon had to acquire further barracks in the Avenue de Modenheim and at forty Boulevard Gambetta. These addresses are synonymous with terror. The Gestapo keeps a file on every citizen. They know of every man whether he used to belong to a patriotic organization. Old members of such orders as Les Souvenirs Français, Renaissance Française, Diables Bleus, Ancient Legionnaires, are mercilessly persecuted, although these fraternal organizations are about as dangerous as are our Elks, Knights of Columbus, or the American Legion.
Under the guise of Germanization a ruthless cut throat competition is unloosed against indigenous commerce. Alsatian turncoats as well as German newcomers vie with one another to drive the legitimate dealers out of business. A man by the name of Charles Hueber scored. Under the French regime he had been for a time the communist mayor of Strasbourg; now he acts as the Nazi chief propagandist in Alsace. By way of compensation the party appointed him as ‘‘director general of the Society for the Construction of Houses on Easy Terms.” He is entitled to requisition every house, home, and flat in the country, ‘‘desirable” for new German settlers. He receives a modest considera*tion in each case. For Charles Hueber the New Order means millions in graft. For Alsatian industry it means bankruptcy. The textile industry, mainstay of the country’s economic life, works eighteen hours a week, for lack of raw material. Lorraine is one of Europe’s most important coal producers. Yet there is no coal to keep the furnaces at home glowing. Germany confiscates it all.
Under such appalling conditions most industry and trade is being taken over by the Germans. The objects are neither sold, nor bought, but ‘‘leased” to trustees of the Nazi party, who run their acquisitions allegedly for the benefit of the party, actually for their own profit. Such enterprises, as are still retained by their legitimate owners, must hire ‘‘managers,” assigned to them by the German authorities. They run the enterprises with dictatorial power. Most of them have not the slightest business experience. They are loiterers and idlers who joined the party in time.
THIS system contradicts definitely the promises the German authorities made when invading Alsace-Lorraine. At that time assurance was given that persons and property in the country should not be interfered with. When a deputation of Alsatian citizens recalled this promise to Gauleiter Wagner, the frontman for scheming Dr. Meissner, who, for fear of hostile demonstrations, only rarely shows up in his beloved Alsace, the answer was the concentration camp for the entire deputation. The terror began.
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The terror is conducted by means of mass expulsions, which have so far made homeless and ruined 200,000 of a total population of 1,200,000 people.
The first to be expelled were the heads of large families. Nazism preaches fertility among the Germans, but does not care for the same phenomenon among the conquered people. At that, the family fathers were mostly substantial citizens. Their removal served also the other purpose of depriving Alsace of her upper class. As in the case of Bishop Heintz, the expelled citizens were given between a quarter of an hour and an hour to prepare for a bleak future. It was mostly a matter of luck, whether they would be thrown into concentration camps, removed to Germany, or shipped across the French border. They could take hand luggage, not exceeding one hundred pounds, with them, and money up to the amount of 2,000 francs. But most expulsions were carried out at night. There was no opportunity for a visit to the bank or to get in touch with a friend. Bank accounts, jewellery, larger sums were confiscated with no receipt.
The terror was worst among the Jews, who used to be a highly-respected class in Alsace-Lorraine, where they had dwelt for centuries. One day in July, 1940, thirty Jewish families in the Haute-Rhine were herded together. They had to pull up the weeds in the neglected streets, and to chant in unison: “We are
responsible for the war.” Throughout the country Jews were beaten, tortured, robbed. They have to wear a yellow “J” on their coats.
Families were torn asunder. The law prescribed that all French-born people must depart, leaving their Alsatian-born mates behind. Mixed marriages were dissolved. The rules of Germanization required an Alsatian-born man of eighty-two to divorce his wife, a native of Besancon, aged seventy-eight. Mothers had to leave their children. On the other hand a young woman, married to a French officer, had to leave her dying mother. In the Strasbourg hospital French-Catholic nurses were forcibly removed from their patients. When the surgeon protested, he was hustled from the operating room. The doctor had foreseen such an incident, and had performed 120 operations in the three precious days to be ready for any emergency. A judge was thrown into the same lorry with his criminals. Many police functionaries of the French regime were tortured in prison, before France could claim them. France, incidentally, raises her voice only timorously. One of the worst complaints, and certainly the gravest heartache of the people of Alsace-Lorraine, is that they feel abandoned by Vichy.
On August 11, 1941, the wave of terror reached its peak. On this day the mass expulsion of Lorraine far-; mers started. Every day peasants were registered in the “undesirable” category, in order to make their farms free for German settlers. But here the system of Germanization overreached itself. The sturdy farmers of Lorraine did not give up their homesteads without a fight. Many burned down their houses and barns, rather than let them fall into the hands of German plunderers. Whole villages went up in flames and smoke.
Nazi Governor Wagner realized that he was about to provoke open civil war. The time, coinciding with the start of the Russian campaign, was not propitious. So the system of expulsion was called off. Herr Wagner went as far as to call back such emigrees as had left the country immediately after the German invasion. He tried to lure them with honeyed promises of reparations. A few people did come back from Périgord, where a Lorrainer colony had settled. They were arrested and forced to return such goods as they had managed to get to France. Then they were kicked out again.
Persecutions were redoubled. Wagner decreed the concentration camp for anyone with a knowledge of the German-language-speaking French. Even wearing a French beret was made a punishable crime. Hotel and restaurant owners were requested to ensure good transmission of the German broadcasts, particularly those from the Russian front. Until then, sudden, boisterous gaiety on the part of the patrons had always drowned the Berlin waves. A man by the good German name of Meier, calmly drinking his bock in a Strasbourg beer cellar, complained that a victory announcement with its tremendous ruffle of drums and blaring Oi victory bugles burst into his reflective solitude. Wilhelm Meier of Bombach was condemned to two and a half years in jail.
SIMULTANEOUSLY, the propaganda campaign for Germanization shifted into high gear. On a single Friday in October, 1941, more than one hundred Nazi rallies were held in the district of Strasbourg alone. The principal speaker at many of these rallies was Prince August Wilhelm of Prussia, the late exKaiser’s fourth son. “Auwi,” as both his friends and his deriders call him, is supposed to be the Hohenzollern brainchild. History will decide whether he proved his political acumen in being the only Prince of the once ruling dynasty to join the Nazis. In spite of his demonstrative allegiance to Hitler, he has not risen in the party hierarchy higher than the modest rank of Rcichsredner (state speaker), which is Nazi-German for soapbox orator. But now, perhaps, his career is in the making. Auwi, it seems, wants to cash in on having studied at Strasbourg, in German Imperial days. He calls himself an Alsatian, with about as much right as Dr. Meissner. He is obviously out to become the puppet king of AlsaceLorraine.
His chances of becoming so with the consent of the people are nonexistent. The German propaganda backfires, and the Nazis are well aware of this fact. Party comrade Mueller, Kreisleiter (district boss) of Ribeauville had to admit in a speech, made at Carspach on July 14, 1941: “Instead of showingthemselvesgratetul to the Fuehrer who delivered them from the nameless disorder of a rotten democracy, the Alsatians attempt to deride the advantages of Nazism and show themselves completely hostile to Germany. French flags fly everywhere. Of a population of about 1,200,000 barely 5,000 have joined our organization. The people should feel ashamed of themselves.''
In a similar vein the Kreisleiter of Colmai, Herr Glas, complained about a “small clique of rumor mongers, malcontents, and malicious fools, objecting to anything their limited brains cannot understand. Their contribution to the re-establishment of good feelings consists of the wearing of French emblems and braindarkening caps, the so-called Basque beret, in the public use of the French language, and in listening to enemy broadcasts. We have been tolerant long enough. From now on anyone speaking French in public, wearing a brain-darkening cap, cursing the party, the state or the Fuehrer, whether in plants, shops, taverns, cars or on the streets, will be sent to the concentration camp. We will crush the dissatisfied minority.”
This minority includes ninety-five per cent of the people of AlsaceLorraine. The Rhine remains the frontier between two cultures, even if it is for the time being no longer the political border. Alsatians and Lorrainers are determined to live in the French manner. Everything French seems good to them, everything German is despised. Their national holiday is Bastille Day, July 14. On the last Bastille day a German policeman was stabbed in the ‘village of Hochfelden. Amazingly, the Germans did not retaliate with mass slaughter, such as they would most certainly have instigated after a similar incident in any other suppressed country. They abide by Dr. Meissner’s blueprint of Germanizaron with kid gloves.
They get nowhere. With the exception of a handful of turncoats, there is no contact between Alsatians and Germans. Even the atmosphere of terror does not break the spirit of resistance. “The people are cool to us in Alsace,” a German officer remarked, “they are cold in Colmar, and icy in Mulhouse.”
Sometimes the people lose their temper. Enrollment into the German Army and labor service has provoked numerous flights across the French border, and on to join the Free French forces of General de Gaulle. Both the escaping boys and their parents are well aware that the families of deserters are put into concentration camps. But they are willing to risk it.
Pressure only increases their resistance. The mass arrests the Germans conducted in the summer of 1941, failed to subdue the people. Some released French prisoners of war who crossed Alsace on their way home, were greeted at the station of Strasbourg by a crowd, shouting: “Vive la France ! Come back soon to chase the German swine!” This happened in the presence of German soldiers who remained indifferent.
By night the tricolor is hoisted on the spires of the churches. On the morning after Armistice Day, the celebration of which was forbidden by the German authorities, the town of Colmar staged a strange parade, j Hundreds of snails crept through the streets, their shells painted red, white, and blue, the colors of France.
The young men wear the Lorraine Cross, the symbol of Free France, under their lapels. They greet one I another with the syllable, “Elf!” which is the Alsatian V-signal, standing for “Vive la France!” Hundreds of them serve as officers with the Free French and even with the reduced Army of Vichy. Not a single Alsatian is an officer in the Reichswehr. The peasant girls still dream of going to Paris as chambermaids. True, Paris is occupied. So is AlsaceLorraine. But both remain French to the core. No one can Germanize them, kid gloves or no kid gloves.