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The Saar Protectorate was a short-lived protectorate (1947–56) partitioned from Germany after its defeat in World War II; it was administered by the French Fourth Republic. On rejoining West Germany in 1957, it became the smallest Federal German Area State (Flächenland), the Saarland, not counting the city-states of Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen. It is named after the Saar River.

The region around the Saar River and its tributary valleys is a geographically folded, mineral rich, ethnically German, economically important, heavily industrialized area. It possesses well-developed transportation infrastructure that was one of the centres of the Industrial Revolution in Germany and formed, around 1900, from the Ruhr Area and the Upper Silesian Coal Basin, the third-largest area of coal, iron and steel industry in Germany. From 1920 to 1935, as a result of World War I, the region was under the League of Nations mandate of the Saar. Near the end of World War II it was heavily bombed by the Allies as part of their strategic bombing campaigns.

Territorially, the post World War II protectorate corresponded to the current German state of Saarland (established after its incorporation into West Germany on January 1, 1957). A policy of industrial disarmament and dispersal of industrial workers was officially pursued by the allies after the war until 1951 and the region was made a protectorate under French control in 1947. Cold War pressures for a stronger Germany allowed renewed industrialization, and the French returned control of the region to the government of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1957.


The region had previously been occupied by France during the Napoleonic Wars, when it had been included in the First French Empire as the département Sarre between 1798 and 1814.

Post-World War IEdit

Under the Treaty of Versailles, the Saar area was occupied jointly by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and France. In 1920 Britain and France established for the League of Nations mandate of the Saar a nominally independent occupation government in an area separated from the previous Prussian Rhine Province (main part) enlarged by two Bavarian districts (Homburg and St. Ingbert), ceded from the Palatinate. This was sanctioned by a 15 year League of Nations mandate. However the Saar's coal industry, the dominant industry in the region at the time, was nationalized and directly administered by France.


DR 1935 567 Saarabstimmung

German stamp marking the end of the League of Nations mandate in 1935. The inscription along the top reads "The Saar comes home!".

On 13 January 1935, a plebiscite held in the territory at the end of the 15-year term, resulted in 90.7% of voters casting their ballot in favour of a return to Germany, and 0.4% voting for union with France. Others (8.9%) favoured the third option of a continued British-French occupation government. After several[Clarification needed]

years of political agitation and maneuvering by Chancellor Adolf Hitler for the re-union of the Saarland with the German Reich (Rückgliederung des Saarlandes) it was reincorporated in 1935. Its area was not redivided among the Prussian Rhine Province and the Bavarian Palatinate, but united with the latter as the Gau of Saar-Palatinate (Saarpfalz). In 1942 it was renamed Westmark (Western Boundary) of the Reich. This renaming intended its territorial enlargement by parts of German-occupied French Lorraine which, however, did not materialise.

Post-World War IIEdit

In July 1945, two months after World War II had ended in Europe, the allied forces were redeploying from the areas they had conquered into their respective zones of occupation. On 10 July 1945, US forces left the Saar area and French troops established their occupational administration. On 16 February 1946, France disentangled the Saar area from the allied zones of occupation and established the separate Saar Protectorate, which was no longer under the joint allied jurisdiction by the Allied Control Council for Germany.

The French policy towards the native population in the formerly German territory was completely different from that of the Soviet Union which governed the former eastern territories of Germany east of the Oder-Neiße line, an area also outside the jurisdiction of the Allied Control Council. While France refrained from expelling the Saar population (ethnic cleansing), as France generally had not agreed to the expulsions approved by the Potsdam agreement by the allies (a decision made without input from France), it still strictly refused to absorb war refugees who were denied return to their homes in the eastern annexed territories or post-war expellees from there, in the French Saar protectorate or the French zone.[1] However, the native population, returning after Nazi-imposed removals (e.g., political and Jewish refugees) and war-related relocations (e.g., evacuation from air raids), were allowed to return to the areas under French control. France aimed at winning over the Saar population for a future annexation.

The principal reason for the French desire for economic control of the Saar was the large coal deposits. France was offered compensation for the return of the Saar to Germany: the treaty permitted France to extract coal from the Warndt coal deposit until 1981.

With effect of 20 July 1946, 109 municipalities of the Prussian Rhine Province within the French zone were added to the Saar Protectorate. By 18 December 1946 customs controls were established between the Saar area and allied occupied Germany. By further territorial redeployments between the Saar Protectorate, constituted in early 1947, and neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinate (a new state established on 30 August 1946 in the French zone), 61 municipalities returned to Germany, while 13 other municipalities were ceded to the Saar Protectorate between 8 June 1947 and 1949, followed by one further Palatine municipality incorporated into the Saar in the latter year.[2]

In the speech Restatement of Policy on Germany, given in Stuttgart on 6 September 1946, the U.S. Secretary of State James F. Byrnes stated the U.S.' motive in detaching the Saar from Germany as "The United States does not feel that it can deny to France, which has been invaded three times by Germany in 70 years, its claim to the Saar territory".

On 16 July 1947 the Saar mark replaced the Reichsmark as legal tender in the Saar Protectorate, followed by the integration of the Saar into the French currency area on November 15 the same year. While only French franc banknotes circulated from 1954 on, Saar franc coins, designed similar to French coins, were issued too. On 15 December 1947 the Saar was constituted by its constitution as the Saarland, with an elected government under the control of the French high commissioner Gilbert Grandval. On 23 March 1948 the customs union with France was confirmed, taking effect on 1 April. In July the same year the Sarrois nationality replaced the German nationality of the Saar population.

Initially, a policy of industrial disarmament was pursued in Germany by the Allied powers (see industrial plans for Germany). As part of this policy limits were placed on permitted production levels, and industries in the Saar were dismantled as they had been in the Ruhr, although mostly in the period before the detachment (see also The 1949 letter from the UK Foreign minister Ernest Bevin to the French Foreign minister Robert Schuman, urging a reconsideration of dismantling policy). This policy was quickly reversed in mid-1946 or early 1947.

Under the Monnet Plan France attempted to gain economic control of the German industrial areas in its assigned zones, especially areas with large coal and mineral deposits, such as the Ruhr area (in the British zone) and the Saar area. Similar attempts to gain control of, or permanently internationalise, the Ruhr (see International Authority for the Ruhr) were abandoned in 1951, when France rejected the traditional aims of European hegemony predicated upon European enmity. In the face of U.S. and Soviet domination of Europe the French government took a historic step in deciding that the only viable political model for the future lay in European integration; this resulted in the Schuman Declaration in 1950, a plan drafted for the most part by Jean Monnet. The plan put forward France and Germany as the core of a new Europe, requiring a rapprochement and the establishment of close ties between the two states. As a first step France and Germany were to agree to pool their coal and steel resources (see European Coal and Steel Community). German participation in the plan was contingent upon a return of full political control of German industry to the western Federal Government of Germany. However, France delayed the return of the Saar in the hope of cementing its economic control over the region.

As had been the case from 1920 to 1935, postage stamps were issued specially for the territory from 1947 to 1959 (see postage stamps and postal history of the Saar).

Under French rule, pro-German parties[Clarification needed]

were initially banned. Much support was given to the Mouvement pour le Rattachement de la Sarre à la France, a francophile movement founded by Saar exiles in Paris in early 1945, with many of the exiles having returned after the war. However, a French annexation did not gain the support of a majority of the Sarrois. In the general election of December 1952, a clear majority expressed support for the parties who wanted the Saar to remain autonomous, although 24% cast blank ballots in support of banned pro-German parties.

Referendum and the Little Reunification with GermanyEdit

In the Paris Agreements of 23 October 1954, France offered to establish an independent "Saarland", under the auspices of the Western European Union (WEU), but a referendum held on 23 October 1955 rejected this plan by 67.7% to 32.3% (out of a 96.5% turnout: 423,434 against, 201,975 for) despite the public support of West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer for the plan. The rejection of the plan by the Sarrois was interpreted as support for the Saar to join the Federal Republic of Germany.[3]

100 saar franken

100 Saar franken coin

On October 27, 1956, the Saar Treaty established that Saarland should be allowed to join West Germany, as provided by its Grundgesetz constitution art. 23, and so Saarland did on January 1, 1957. Germany had to agree to the channelization of the Moselle. This reduced French freight costs in the Lorraine steel industry. Germany was also made to agree to the teaching of French as the first foreign language in schools in the Saarland; although no longer binding, the agreement is still in the main followed as the practice is well-established.

The treaty also stated that economic union with West Germany was to be completed by 1960, with the exact date of the replacement of the Saar and French franc by the Deutsche Mark being kept a secret called "Day X" (Tag X). Although the Saar joined West Germany (as Saarland) on January 1, 1957, the franc remained legal tender in Saarland until July 6, 1959. Thus on that date the Kleine Wiedervereinigung (little reunification) was completed, after 14 years of separation.

As a footnote in the overall settlement of the Franco-German conflict, which was dating back to the Napoleonic Wars, to the creation of the European Union and the process of European integration, the territorial dispute over control of the Saarland was one of the last between member states and even led to the European flag being given a politically neutral ring of twelve stars rather than the originally proposed 15 (one of which was to represent a nominally independent Saar).[4]


The Saar competed in the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, and the Saarland national football team participated in the qualifying section of the 1954 FIFA World Cup, but failed to qualify after coming second to the West German team, but ahead of Norway.[5] Helmut Schön was the manager of the Saarland team from 1952 until Saarland became a part of West Germany in 1957.[6]



  • Gilbert-Yves-Édmond Grandval 30 Aug 1945 - 10 Jan 1948 (takes office 7 Sep 1945)

High Commissioner of the French Republic in the SaarEdit

  • Gilbert-Yves-Édmond Grandval 10 Jan 1948 - 5 Mar 1952

Chiefs of the Diplomatic Mission of the French Republic in the SaarEdit

  • Gilbert-Yves-Édmond Grandval 1 Jan 1952 - 8 Jul 1955
  • Charles-Marie-Eric de Carbonnel 8 Jul 1955 - 27 Oct 1956

See alsoEdit

  • Saar, a League of Nations governed territory (1920–1935)
  • Sarre, a department of France (1798–1814)
  • Saar River
  • Monnet Plan plan for the detachment of German industrial regions for the benefit of France
  • Kehl directly annexed to France in 1945 and returned to Germany in 1953
  • List of French possessions and colonies


  1. Cf. the report of the Central State Archive of Rhineland-Palatinate on the first expellees arriving in that state in 1950 to be resettled from other German states. [1]
  2. Hans-Peter Schwarz, Konrad Adenauer: a German politician and statesman in a period of war, p489
  3. "Results of the referendum on the Saar Statute (23 October 1955)". Saarländische Volkszeitung. Saarbrücken. October 24, 1955. p. 10.;jsessionid=D56ABFCD5B07575A729089229C359CD3. Retrieved November 8, 2011. 
  4. Murphy, Sean (January 25, 2006]). "Irish Chiefs: Memorandum on the Role of Irish Chief Herald Slevin in the Design of the European Flag". Retrieved November 8, 2011. 
  5. Ashdown, John (2 June 2010). "World Cup 2010 special: part two – Have any player-managers ever appeared at a World Cup?". The Guardian. 
  6. Courtney, Barrie (May 20, 2004). "Saar - List of International Matches and Line-Ups". Retrieved November 8, 2011. 

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

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