The Saar plebiscite

Richard Cavendish remembers January 13th 1935.

The penalties imposed on Germany after the First World War included the permanent or temporary annexation of territory, including the Saarland area of the Rhineland, which was rich in coal. Under a League of Nations mandate of 1920 the Saar region was to be governed for 15 years by a commission appointed by the League, while control of the coal mines was given to the French, who pocketed the proceeds as part of their reparations. When Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, some of his opponents took refuge in the Saar, where they campaigned for the area to remain under the League, but the great majority of the people living there were Germans and there was rooted hostility to France. 

With the mandate’s 15-year term ending, the League of Nations arranged a plebiscite in the Saarland. The Nazis swung vigorously into action and Joseph Goebbels organised a powerful campaign for reunification with Germany. One consequence was that Jewish children were so badly bullied at school that the governing commission had to provide them with a school of their own. Most of the population was Roman Catholic and the church authorities mainly came out for the German option. To keep order, a force of some 3,000 Allied troops – most of them British – were moved into the Saarland before Christmas 1934. 

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