We recently attended a most interesting talk, hosted by one of those highly recommended local history associations. The presenters were François and Catherine Schunck, who spoke about the internal refugees who fled Alsace at the beginning of World War Two.
There were two separate waves of Alsatian refugees, the Evacuees of 1939 and 1940 and the Expelled of 1940.
The Evacuation of 1939 - At least two years prior to the evacuation, a plan had been devised to evacuate people of the region in the event of an invasion by Germany. The plan concentrated on evacuating the people living in the narrow band between the Maginot Line and the border. When Germany invaded Poland, the plan was implemented and some 600,000 people were evacuated from Alsace and Moselle in September 1939. The evacuees were allowed thirty kilos of baggage and four days' worth of food. All else, including animals, had to be left behind. They were sent by train, in all types of cars, from passenger to cattle to freight, to the interior of France. Concurrent with the Battle of France in May and June of 1940 (which we touched on in this post), thousands more were evacuated.
Those Alsatians from the department of Bas-Rhin were sent southwest to the departments of:
Those Alsatians from the department of Haut-Rhin were to the departments of:
Those from Moselle were sent to the departments of:
The entire University of Strasbourg was evacuated and set up in Clermont-Ferrand.
The Expulsions of 1940 -After the Fall of France, in June of 1940, Germany annexed the Alsace region (yet again), and expelled some 87,000 people considered "undesirable". There was no plan for how to help them or where to send them.
In both waves of refugees, there was little order or plan for settling them when they arrived. There were a number of initial difficulties.
- Language - Most of the Alsatians, especially the older generation, spoke German with little French. Not only did those in the departments where they arrived speak French, with no German, but they viewed the refugees as highly suspect, speaking the language of the enemy.
- Food - No one had prepared or gathered enough for the thousands arriving, tired and hungry, on the incessant trains. Later, on a more cultural level, the Alsatians did not like the local fare and missed their sausages. In time, some opened shops selling Alsatian foods that they made locally.
- Housing - In the recipient cities, the refugees were placed in houses and apartments. In the countryside, however, they had to live in barns and farmhouses. At that time, the rural southwest could be quite primitive, without electricity or indoor plumbing. Many of the refugees were appalled.
And it was all for naught as, by 1942, all of France was occupied and there was nowhere else to go.
How would you research an ancestor who was such a refugee? Firstly, read through the superb finding aid produced by the Departmental Archives of Bas-Rhin, which lists every record series concerning the topic in the department. Secondly, if you know the town to which your ancestor was sent, check the 1946 census. Even though the war was over by then, it took time for people to return to Alsace after the war (and a few chose not to do so), so there is a good chance of finding them in hat census. For those who appear in the 1946 census, the place of birth, in Alsace, will be given. This will allow you to research in the pre-war records for that town. This will also show those who married local people, which will allow you to request the marriage register entry from the mairie, or town hall.
Catherine and François Schunck. D'Alsace en Périgord
©2023 Anne Morddel