1870: The Franco-prussian Wat and the annexation of Alsace and Moselle to the Reich


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In 1870

On 19 July 1970, Napoleon III declared war on Prussia. Very quickly, the French armies were defeated: in Alsace, first at Wissembourg and Frœschwiller and later at Strasbourg, and in Moselle at Gravelotte, Mars la Tour and Saint-Privat…
Marshall Bazaine allowed himself to be surrounded at Metz, causing Mac Mahon to make a fatal manoeuvre, leading to Sedan.
On 2 September 1870 after the defeat at Sedan, the Empire was toppled. A few brave, resistant strongholds should be noted: Thionville, Bitche, Phalsbourg, Neuf-Brisach, and Belfort.

The establishment of the Republic would not keep France from surrendering arms on 28 January 1871. The German Empire was proclaimed at Versailles on 26 February, and the signing of the Treaty of Frankfurt on 10 May made the territorial cessions official: Alsace–except for Belfort—but enlarged with the Upper Bruche Valley (Schirmeck – Saâles) and Moselle (without Briey, but with Sarrebourg and Château-Salins) were ceded to Germany. This was the first annexation and it was legal since it was voted into law by the French National Assembly gathered in Bordeaux, despite loud protests from the deputies from Alsace and Moselle.

In June 1971, both departments of Alsace and Moselle became the Reichland Elsaß Lothringen. Following the right to choose one’s nationality provided by the Treaty of Frankfurt, nearly 160,000 still residing in Alsace Moselle chose French nationality. Around 50,000 left the territory. At the end of the legal emigration period, many young people attempted escape in order to avoid military service in the German Army, which was made obligatory in 1872. German government workers and soldiers arrived in Alsace-Moselle.

Alsace and Moselle would develop and evolve within this new reality that was the Empire of Wilhelm II and the Bismarckian regime, which invested heavily in its new annexed territories. Beginning in the 1890s, Alsace and Moselle would experience a phase of relief. Economic prosperity, the setting up of progressive social legislation and the 1911 constitution were the main factors for this.